A Reply: Thottaikkattu Madhavi Amma

Translated by J Devika

Thottaikkattu Madhavi Amma (1888- 1968) was born in Ernakulam. Her mother, Thottikkattu Ikkavu Amma was a well-known playwright whose play Subhadrarjunam won much critical acclaim in the late 19th century. Madhavi Amma gained proficiency in Malayalam, Sanskrit, English and other European languages and was known as a poet and commentator on poetry. Her major works are Hemapanjaram (a translation of Seeta Chatterjee’s A Cage of Gold), Saradamani and Tatvachinta. She was active in the Ernakulam Women’s Association and was nominated an unofficial member to the Legislative Council of Kochi in 1925. She was the President of the Women’s Conference held as part of the Nair Conference at Karuvatta in 1929. In 1932, she married the prominent Nair reformer, Mannath Padmanabhan. This short article was a response to a pen-portrait published by the Malayala Manorama in a series on the members of the Kochi Legislative Council.

[A later version of this translation has appeared in my book Her-Self, Stree/Samya, Kolkata 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]

[ Tottaikkattu Madhavi Amma, ‘Oru Marupadi’, Malayala Manorama 19 Sept. 1925]

I read the Malayala Manorama of Chingam (August- September) the thirteenth. Let me greet you, first of all, for making my visage look attractive as part of your ‘character sketches’ of the members of the Legislative Council of Kochi. However, since I do hold that the work of newspapers, which perform the duty of popular representation in another fashion, is to circulate truthful news among people, inquire into their needs and point to solutions, I can, unfortunately, look upon that figure only as an instance of hyperbole.

However, I hereby fulfill my responsibility as a member of the Legislative Council by making a clarification regarding your assertion that “the vote in favour of the government during the debate about the Excise Department was probably out of the conviction that men are worse affected by the evils of alcoholism.” I do not have much to say, really. Women are not in favour of measures that bring harm to men. Moreover, Iam aware of the fact that all women are not widows or unwed; and that even such women are unavoidably dependent on men in diverse ways. I would like you to know that since the mothers, sisters and wives of drunkards suffer deeply from such habits of their men, I would be the first to support prohibition on behalf of these unfortunate women.

In an issue which both the government and the people agree to be necessary for public well-being, but in which differences in policy choices– mostly hanging within guesswork– persist, I do not think that legislators should vote without explicit agreement, or for the simple purpose of showing off one’s partiality to the people. Voting along with the government committed to the welfare of the people should not be read as a sign of being on the opposite side, in intention. The above-mentioned issue was one such. Therefore my humble insistence is that voting was uncalled for. It was an adjournment motion brought up to point out to the government that a “difference in policy” was necessary to effectuate prohibition, put forward in the criticism of the Budget. A representative of the people also produced the contrary opinion. Therefore, it must be known, first, that both these opinions surfaced from the side of the people.

Now I have a few words on “ difference in policy”. The formulators of this argument have demanded that liquor shops should be closed down, and that trees must not be given for toddy tapping. Since there is no need to repeat here what the opponents of this demand had to say, I will cite only the government’s policy. The government does recognise the evils of drinking; its interest is certainly to discourage it. For this, its policy has been to raise the taxes on liquor and gradually reduce the number of trees allowed for tapping. Other than this, if the guidelines suggested by the above members are to become acceptable in the small state of Kochi, the neighbouring Tiruvitamkoor and British Malabar should also consent to the same policy—shutting down the liquor shops and disallowing trees for toddy tapping. This was what the government had announced. Besides the urgency of generating consciousness among the people regarding the dangers of drinking, and seeking the most expeditious means towards this end has not been lost on the government. The easy and effective means identified towards this end was to institute sermons and other sorts of advice from the pulpits of churches, so as to reach the Christian population, which   (as the formulator of the argument himself informed) is worst affected by the excesses of drinking. Here my objection was to the government’s negligence in implementing an appropriate scheme of education that would direct individuals to honest livelihoods, making them aware of not only the dangers of drink but also all other social evils, from childhood onwards. I do believe that I have voiced this criticism before the government from within my own perspective, during the debate on the Education Department.

Leave a Reply