My Father Malayattoor Ramakrishnan
Brahmashri Koovapadi Viswanatha Ramakrishna Ayyar, later contracted to K.V.Ramakrishna Iyer (which is on his passport) and known to the world as Malayattoor Ramakrishnan. Not the whole world, of course, but the places where it counted. He was a wannabe politician, even narrowly lost an election in the 1950’s. When he became a writer he adopted the Malayattoor tag. Actually, our village is called Thottuva while Malayattoor is the village across the River Periyar (Malayalam for Big River – now mostly holes and dry sandpits). Malayattoor has always been better known as it houses a Christian shrine dating back to the 1st century. St. Thomas (doubting T himself) is reputed to have landed there before setting sail again and dying (okay, okay, attaining martyrdom!) in Madras on the East Coast. India was Christian long before all those pale faced believers.
Well, anyway, Malayattoor has a better cache than Thottuva, and so …First lesson in co-branding.
Before I forget, he was my father, who contributed 50% DNA to my genetic make-up. There was no money in any of his career options of writing, communism and the law. Impelled by sheer circumstances, he “saw” my mother, who was a 17-year old college student from neighbouring Tamilnadu. She blissfully dropped out of college and embarked on a full time career as a housewife.
He later competed in an all-India special recruitment for the prestigious Indian Administrative Service and embarked on a successful bureaucratic career aside from his writing.
He won the state government literary award for his book “Verukal” (“Roots”) which was heavily autobiographical and was partly a homage to my aunt who had taken up the financial burden of educating her kid brother – something somewhat unexpected for the daughter, whose only ambition was supposed to be to get married.
He went on to a remarkable dual career in government as well as writing. He finished about 20 books, 15 short story collections, scripted or directed a dozen movies and also found time to dabble in painting. Some of his work is exhibited in the state art gallery at Trivandrum (he was honest enough to admit: they have hung me right next to Raja Ravi Varma’s masterpieces, surely someone is sucking up!)
He was the first “Tamilian” (technically, Malayalam was an alien tongue) to write in his adopted language. He was successful in blending the two languages when needed – a king of Talayalam! He was also adept in introducing English words comfortably in his writing.
His output was funny, entertaining and titillating by turn. Some of his better known works.
First “literary” output: A 1 page article (1948?) on the hippopotamus – it seems a specimen had just been imported into the local zoo. Someone actually commissioned the piece and paid him a rupee.
Verukal (“Roots”): His best known book, translated into English and many Indian languages. Winner of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award. Standard joke among literary Mallus (we had a Roots before Alex Haley!)
Yakshi (“The Witch”): Physic thriller, influenced by Kerala legends of beautiful women who seduce men and later kill them. In the story, a beautiful woman falls in love with a disfigured man. He cannot “rise to the marital challenge”, blames his impotence on his wife (“no wonder I cannot do it, she is a witch”) – he ends up murdering her.
Dwandwayudham (“The Duel”): Traces the life of Raghavan, from his life as a totally god-fearing boy to a godless communist in his younger days, and swinging to a confused mental state at the end. It is a good exposition of the duel in our minds, between our desire to be a theist, an atheist or an agnostic.
Chembarathy (“Hibiscus” – a flower): an adolescent is seduced and murdered by a rich boy. The triangle is completed by a “goody-goody” guy. Everyone, however, blames a third man.
Sarapanjaram: (“Bed of Arrows”) Middle aged rich, bored, housewife is seduced by the virile young horse groom (lots of soft porn!). She is forced to marry him by “society”, which is a bad thing for everyone as she is finally forced to shoot him down.
Gayatri: (A Hindu prayer): Chronicles 3 generations of brahmins. Oldest is a very learned and spiritual man. The son is reduced to being a commercial priest, conducting rituals for a price. The grandson is a rebel, has tossed away his sacred thread, and horrors, eats meat and smokes. There is a daughter in the mix, who inconveniently falls in love with the local washer man, an inferior caste. The neighbours find out and she is forced to elope. The old man dies of the shock. The Brahmins refuse to even cart the corpse to the burning place. Finally 4 strangers act as pall bearers, including a dreaded Christian and Muslim. (Trivia: the film won the Indian National Award for “Best Film on National Integration” that year.
Iyer the great : An ordinary middle class guy chases a pet parrot up a tree, bumps his head and suddenly develops clairvoyance. How he deals with his new found super powers is the story. His mother thinks he son has become divine overnight and gives him a homily on how he should not ruin the divine-ness by such impure things like sleeping with your wife. (Trivia: the parrot in the movie was called Maitreyi, my daughter’s name. As she never got a birthday present from him, I guess this will have to do!)
Some big shoes to fill, eh? Just remembered – he never wore shoes after he quit his job in 1981.
Some You Tube Links
Yakshi – full movie:
Sarapanjaram – full movie:
Chembarathi – full movie:
Song from Gayatri (won K J Yesudas the National Award that year):
Iyer The Great : Malayalam Full Movie (Mammootty Sixth Sense)