Dear all,



A Note on Remembering Kamala Surayya, Honoring of C Ayyappan

Yesterday, at the venue of Book XPLO 2009, about 40 people gathered to
remember Kamala Suraiyya and honor C.Ayyappan. V.C.Harris ,
C.R.Omanakkuttan and K.K.Baburaj spoke.C.Ayyappan gave an autographed
copy of his recent anthology to Sumi Joy, inagurating its sale at


Naming/interpellation/reference is a complicated issue while thinking
of Kamala Suraiyya.Which name would represent her correctly? How will
we fix her identity? Is she kamala Suraiyya who wrote with the pen
name Madhavikkutti? Or Kamala Das who wrote as Kamala Suraiyya?

This complexity is not limited to her name. It extends to her
oeuvre.It represents a complex and complicated author’s world. Thus
assessing her as a writer is not at all a simple task .Her place in
Malayalam literary filed is unique. We cannot find another writer like

Her status as a bilingual writer explains the nature of her writing
.In fact every woman inevitably have to be bilingual while writing in
one’s own language. They have to transgress the phallic language in
which they are immersed.

As a poet she made breakthrough in Indian English writing in 50s and 60s.

 “My Story”( partly story, partly autobiography) evoked much furor in
Kerala when it came out. If we are to juxtapose it with the
overwhelming ‘reception’ given to her posthumously in Kerala, we could
understand all the contradictions defining  the Malayali society.
“MyStory” is a work which defies all definitions.

Harris narrated his  personal experience of translating her stories
and difficulties in finding a publisher. How Penguin Books delayed and
eventually rejected the manuscript( she thought it was because
Khuswant singh was in the advisory panel), how it subsequently got
published through Orinet Longman, and her immediate response to
reading the translation. She invited him for a feast at her home!
There she introduced Harris to some other guests as a Malabar muslim
who is blessed with the  traditional wisdom of reading faces and
predicting future!  He was chased down by those guests for telling
their fortunes!

She has played with her life in similar fashion all through. She was
an author who took such games seriously in her writing—Harris
concluded his commemorative speech.

Then he narrated how he   accidentally came to know about  C.Ayyappan.
It was during “Kurichi struggle’, a dalit social movement in Kottayam.
A Dalit feminist group performed a play, which inspite of its amateur
/ imperfect rendering caught the imagination of the audience.While
enquiring about it Yesudasan, a scholar told Harris that it draws on a
short story by C.Ayyappan.

Finding a copy of C.Ayyappan’s short story collection published by N B
S was also very difficult.. Nobody at the bookshop was aware of such
an author. In the end he managed to get hold of one copy from the

Fascinated by Ayyappan’s stories, Harris decided to make a film out of
one of his stories. Though the script was completed, it is yet to
materialize due to financial reasons.


C’R Omanakkuttan began his speech by noting that though Kamala
Suraiyya lived in Ernakulam, he met her only once. But C.Ayyappan
never met her. It is not intentional or accidental. Even prominent
literary critics like M. Leelavathi and M.Achuthan who were colleagues
of Ayyappan never recognized or acknowledged him as a writer.

Omanakkuttan shared the joy and wonder in finding powerful short
stories like “kaval bhootham’ and “arundhathee darsana nyayam’three
decades ago.Ayyappan’s place is Malayalam is unmatched and unique.

Omanakkuttan also shared his experience  as a colleague of Ayyappan in
Ernakulam Maharajas College.He also pointed out the opposition he
faced from some fellow members of MGUniversity board of studies when
he argued that C.ayyappan’s story should be included in the syllabus.
All the Malayalam professors in the committee were ignorant of the
existence of such an author.

Though Ayyappan wrote about  twenty odd short stories over three
decades, those stories are powerful enough to question the Malayalai
literary establishment, he opined.


Baburaj also began by sharing the surprise in reading Ayyappan in late
80s, during his student days. Those were days when the regime of
modernism prevailed in Malayalam literature. There was something which
questioned the nature and authority of dominent literary imagination
in his stories. It is a constitutive problem for traditional theories
and critics that an author like Ayyappan remain invisible to them.
They can’t see anything beyond / below middle class .His stories
foregrounded the subaltern masculinity which was erased through
multifarious reform discourses. His stories  broke the silence and
gave voice to the subaltern male in such a disruptive way that instead
of asserting “aham’ ( like in Modernist classics like “Alkkoottam’ by
Anand), it inevitably ended in diffusing the subjectivity.

Subaltern male agency is forced to live in underground or appear only
through ‘magic’/ masquerade in Malayali literary traditions which are
built on violence toward the subaltern. ( vasavadatta in Kumaranasan’s
writing being a case in point).Ayyappan broke with these traditions
and wrote by discarding such formulae which celebrates violent

C.Ayyappan in his brief response thanked all who spoke about his writing.

Chandran K K offered vote of thanks.

 (prepared by bpr 040609)

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