Magnificent memorial

The evocative memorial erected for Takazhi Sivasankara Pillai, the grand old man of Malayalam literature, is the first for any author in the country. An eight-day Takazhi Sahitya Sammelan is scheduled in Shankaramangalam from April 8 to 17, reports M.S. Unnikrishnan

Takazhiís memorial has been set up in his sprawling house Shankaramangalam, 20 km south of Allapuzha town
Takazhiís memorial has been set up in his sprawling house Shankaramangalam, 20 km south of Allapuzha town

The silent wail of Kadalamma (sea-mother) seems to resonate in the quietitude of Takazhi Shivashankara Pillaiís magnificent memorial as the raison díetre of the complex is the presence of the essence of his most famous fictional work, Chemmeen.

Chemeen, (first published in 1956), is the tragic tale of Karuthamma and Pareekutty whose unrequited love\ hangs in the air of the memorial. The recreation of the memorial with Chemmeen (Shrimps) as the leitmotif, with awards and accolades received for the classical novel (which was later made it into an award-winning celluloid opus by the late Ramu Kariat) making their presence everywhere, give it an enchanting feel and touch.

Chemmeen was the first Southern movie to win the Presidentís Gold medal. The film, produced by an 18-year-old scion of a wealthy family of Kochi named Babu Seth for a staggering Rs 40 lakh in 1964, was directed by Ramu Kariat, who had earlier won the Presidentís silver medal for his movie Rosie

Photograph of Takazhi with his wife Karthyayani Amma
Photograph of Takazhi with his wife Karthyayani Amma ó Photos by M.S. Radhakrishnan

Takazhiís memorial, set up in his sprawling house Shankaramangalam, about 20 km south of Allapuzha town, known for its criss-crossing waterways and canals, is like no other.

The place is full of memorabilia from the life, times and works of the author. He had two honorary doctorates and received the Padmabhushan and Jnanpith awards the same yearó1985. Both Chemmeen and Kayar also earned Takazhi the State and Central Sahitya Akademi awards, besides numerous other accolades.

It, of course, took quite a bit of breast-beating by the admirers of Takazhi for the Kerala Government to step in and take over the complex in 2000, to create a befitting memorial for the grand old man of Malayalam literature. Takazhi, who was born on April 17, 1912, died on April 10, 1999. The memorial is now coming up nicely, thanks to the interest being taken by G. Sudhakaran, a vocal minister in the Communist-led Kerala Government. The state government had sanctioned Rs 15 lakh last year and Rs 20 lakh has been provided in the 2008 budget, which will be sufficient for giving a big boost for creating and maintaining additional facilities in the complex.

The Government has now constituted a 25-member Takazhi Smaraka Samiti, headed by the youthful Dr A Razaluddin, who retired as the Director of Publications, Kerala University, to manage the affairs of the memorial.

The Optima typewriter from Russia, a ďcompensationĒ for the translations of his books
The Optima typewriter from Russia, a ďcompensationĒ for the translations of his books

Takazhi was a story teller of the proletariat, who wrote about the fisher folks, the farming community, the untouchables and the underdogs, and the bureaucracy, with equal felicity and depth, rarely seen among his contemporaries.

The lay people and the connoisseur alike could relate to his characters and the typical Malayalam languague he used, spoken in the rice bowl of Alleppey district, known as Kuttanad, which lies below the sea-level, endeared him to one and all.

His books continue to be bestsellers, not only in the original, but also in the translated versions, in India and abroad. Chemmeen was translated into 27 odd Indian and foreign languages, and went to many reprints, though like most Indian regional language authors, Takazhi too got short-changed as far as royalty for foreign translations of his works were concerned. Chemmeen was translated into 12 foreign languages under the auspices of Unesco, and sold millions of copies in the United States, England, Russia, France and many European countries. His magnum opus Kayar (Yarn) was also a best seller. The book told the story of three generations of a farming community and the idea for the novel he derived during his days as a Vakil (lawyer in the lower courts) at the Ambalapuzha Taluk. (Takazhi had passed the pleadership exam to qualify to don the robs of a lawyer in the lower courts).

The "left-leaning" Takazhiís works were immensely popular in Russia and other countries of the Communist bloc too, and the royalty for his books that continues to pour in, is more than sufficient to take care of the needs of his widow, Karthyayani Amma, (whom Takazhi used to address as Katha), in the twilight of her life.

She has been allowed to stay in the memorial for the rest of her life for a nominal rent of Re 1 per month. An Optima typewriter, prominently displayed in his study, tells an interesting tale about Takazhiís dealings with the Russians. Karthyayani Amma said Takazhi had acquired the typewriter from Russia over 50 years ago as "compensation" for the translations of his books, as his Russian publishers only paid him in kind. Yet, Takazhi was not short of cash and the sprawling paddy fields which he bought near his house, were from the royalties of his books, though many publishers continue to default on royalty payment.

In fact, only recently, the Kerala Government had cleared around Rs 1.5 lakh backlog in royalty, owed by the National Book Trust, for Takazhiís books. DC Books and Poorna are the two major publishers of his works now, though many others hold the rights of some of his other books. The new committee headed by Dr Razaluddin is trying to bring under one umbrella so that the books of the author could be published under one roof.

Shankaramangalam, which had been trodden by many literary giants, is being given a gentle makeover, with a life-size statute of the author already getting a pride of place in the eye-catching smriti mandapam.

Karthyayani Amma fondly remembered M.T.Vasudevan Nairís stay in Shankaramangalam for several days while filming a documentary on Takazhi. The documentary continues to be a major draw with appreciative audiences, even three decades after it was filmed by MT.

Razaluddin said Takazhiís daughter had promised to gift a 38-cent plot near the smriti mandapam to the Takazhi Memorial which will facilitate the expansion of the complex, with an auditorium, a library, a reading room and a hall to bring Takazhiís characters alive through wall paintings, like in the Shakespeare gallery in England.

A visit to the Takazhi memorial was like a romantic journey through his works and times. Thought-provoking and nostalgic, it exuded the smell and feel of an era, which is fast vanishing from the lush landscape of Kerala.