M.T. Vasudevan Nair and N. Mukundan
MT, as he is called is a path-breaking fiction writer who wrote about changes in Kerala society as it evolved from older matrilineal forms. He and Mukundan both hailed from modest rural families and had to go to great lengths to satisfy their thirst for literature.
M.T. Vasudevan Nair autographs a book
There was no TV, no radio, etc said Mukundan so only reading was available. MT spoke of how difficult it was to get published. When the poet Vallathol asked money for lunch at an appearance, they made fun of him: “A poet, and he asks for money?”
A writer in those days had to write about society, not himself, or psychological ruminations on a character. In those days the Form vs. Content argument was won by Content.
KumKum and Talitha relaxing
Mukundan said he read Maupassant for the drama in his short stories, and Chekhov for his novels filled with mystery and a problem to be solved.
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1. M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Mukundan in conversation
MT, as he is called is a path-breaking fiction writer who wrote about changes in Kerala society as it evolved from older matrilineal forms. He was also an influential editor who got many writers published for the first time, including the interviewer, Mukundan. He had to travel several miles to go to school from his village. The library did not have any interesting books but MT was fascinated by reading. In those days if a boy could read Ezhuthachan's Ramayana without blundering too much he was considered educated, just as a a boy was considered competent for farming if he prevented the buffaloes from nibbling at the paddy. He borrowed books from a neighbouring person. Since poetry was a game you could play alone, MT would wonder, and think and write.
There was not TV, no radio, etc said Mukundan so only reading was available. But shortage of kerosene in post-war days meant there was little time at night. He would ask to be allowed to read a little more Dostoevsky in semi-darkness of a hurricane lantern, and his mother would allow him, and he would fall asleep reading. Mukundan said most writers do not read, but MT is the best-read writer he knows.
MT spoke of how difficult it was to get published. Even if you had talent, it was hard even to get an education and he gave the example of a boy who could not afford even the Rs. 2 fees in college. Senior writers like Basheer published their own books and went around peddling them in campuses. Then there was censorship to contend with. The tough-guy CP Ramaswamy Iyer banned his book, Premalehana. Similarly, Basheer to had to contend with many difficulties. MT recalls he would be sent to fetch the short stories of a writer appearing in the Mathrubhumi paper. Sometimes he would have to copy out portions of the Ramayana and return it. When the poet Vallathol asked money for lunch at an appearance, they made fun of hi: “A poet, and he asks for money?”
Mukundan recounted the near uselessness of money in those days when there was nothing to spend it on in the villages. Now there are mobile phones, TVs, cars, etc Poets cooked their own meals, and there's a photo he remembers of MT, Basheer and all with the latter cooking fish curry.
A writer in those days had to write about society, not himself, or psychological ruminations on a character. In those days the Form vs. Content argument was won by Content. It was MT's role to bring out the importance of Form. If modernity of a kind flowed into Malayalam, it was on account of MT. MT chimed in that writers wrote about problems in society and wanted t make strong statements, e.g., land for tillers. Later they took on psychology. Change will happen in language over time, and the style will change too.
Tharoor mentioned his cousins reading Camus, Sartre, and so on in Malayalam, and asked if world literature made an impact. MT replied that he had red Latin American literature in English, but once he started writing all tat was in the background. “The nature around and the people were waiting to meet me in the novels.” Alas, the nature has been lost to an extent. If I have painful experiences I want to share, then it is through the novels others can share it.
Mukundan said he read Maupassant for the drama in his short stories, and Chekhov for his novels filled with mystery and a problem to be solved. When he went to Paris and saw Picasso's cubist painting he was inspired to write stories in which he could write as Picasso painted, with several layers from different angles. He concluded by saying Malayalees are open to ideas, and that's why Marx came to Kerala before other places in India. “But we have to keep rooted, otherwise we'll float away,” he said at the end.