People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 08, 2012




CPI(M) Cadre Wins Sahitya Akademi Award


S P Rajendran


A FULL-TIME worker of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and eminent Tamil writer Su Venkatesan has won the Sahitya Akademi award for the year 2011. The award goes to his debut novel Kaaval Kottam which captures 600 years of the history of Madurai between 1310 and 1920.


The 1048-page novel begins with the pillage of Madurai, known as Koodal Maanagar, by Malik Kafur, the general of Allauddin Khilji  and the killing of Karuppu, a security guard. Subsequently, it fell into the hands of Vijayanagar kings and the descendants of Karuppu returned to Madurai as security guards, offering a unique security system till the British took over. All these have been dealt with in a gripping narrative.


“The novel has its roots in the research I did on the compulsory settlement camp set up by the British in the Goodalur-Cumbum valley to lodge the security guards of Madurai after their defeat. It took me 10 years to complete the novel and it was published in December 2008,” the 41 years old Venkatesan, hailing from Tiruparankundram near Madurai, said.


Kaaval Kottam is about the security system that prevailed in the Madurai Fort. It was unique in the sense that the guards would repay the money or goods if they were not able to prevent the houses from being burgled.


“In every village there are kaavalans (guards) and kallans (burglars). The question was: Who was great: kaavalan or kallan? But a kallan would not enter into any territory which was under the control of a kaavalan from his village,” Venkatesan explains.


Kannakol poduthal (breaking into a house or palace by making a hole in the wall) is an art perfected by these kallans and one of them could even enter the palace of Thirumalai Nayakar: he decamped with a ring of the king.


In the novel, the people of Thathanoor, a fictitious village, are responsible for the security of Madurai and resist the attempt of the British to demolish the fort for the purpose of expanding the city. After defeating them, the British settle them in camps and declare them as notified communities. They were denotified only after the country gained independence.


Powerful strong women characters are another interesting aspect of the novel. Whether it is the wife of Karuppu, a pregnant woman leaving the city in the wake of its defeat to raise a generation of great warriors, the queens of Vijayanagar or the wives of kallans and kaavalans, they all possess an extraordinary streak of independence.


An active worker of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Venkatesan became the Madurai South taluk secretary of the CPI(M) and was fielded as the party’s candidate in Tiruparankundram in the 2006 assembly elections. Now he is serving as Madurai Rural district secretariat member of the party.  He was elected general secretary of the Tamilnadu Progressive Writers and Artistes Association (TPWAA) last year and is working on the editorial board of Semmalar, the Tamil art and literary monthly of the CPI(M). Working with Venkatesan in this very board is yet another dedicated worker of the party and senior TPWAA leader, Melanmai Ponnusamy, who is well known as a Tamil writer. He too had bagged a Sahitya Academy award some years ago. 


“My close association with the CPI(M) for the last 20 years and my activism could be said to have shaped my novel,” Venkatesan said.


Asked whether the politician in him did not come in the way of his creativity, he asserted that politics and creative literature were inseparable for anyone who loved society deeply.


Venkatesan has written about the historic city of Madurai that is a witness to 2500 years of history. “Every nook and corner of the streets and lanes have history embedded in it. The city has seen both a glorious and hoary past,” he says.


“Usually, if a city gets destroyed, life would come up in a nearby place, rechristening it with a prefix pudhu (new) to the name of the old city. On the contrary, life in Madurai blossomed at the same place every time it was destructed,” notes Venkatesan.


Besides, he says, the city has inspired every writer since the Sangam Age. Writers have elaborately dealt with Madurai's way of life and society in Sangam literature, Bhakthi literature and so on. When he felt that the city's mammoth historicity is missing in modern Tamil literature, Venkatesan decided to make the town the hero of his novel Kaaval Kottam. “Madurai is,” he says, “an endlessly stimulating subject.”


Kaaval Kottam is the first debut novel to get a Sahitya Akademi award; this is the recognition for local history written intricately and elaborately,” he says.


The CPI(M)’s Tamilnadu state committee has welcomed the announcement of the award and congratulated Su Venkatesan, one of its dedicated workers. CPI(M) state secretary G Ramakrishnan, TPWAA president S Tamilselvan and leaders and cadres and writers from all platforms across the state expressed happiness and sent greetings to him.


The party’s Central Committee member and former education minister of Kerala M A Baby, eminent writer and historian P Govinda Pillai and many other writers and artists have extended greetings to Su Venkatesan.