Translated by J Devika
A popular singer in communist meetings since the 1940s, P K Medini (1933-) represents the generation of working-class women who entered public life through left mobilization. She was born in Cheeranchira in the Alappuzha district in 1933 as the daughter of Kankaali. Her mother Paappy was a good singer. Her family was active in left union work She had to stop studies in Class 4, and then she became a coir worker at the age of 12 but was nurtured as an artiste by the cultural group formed by the union. Eighty-seven year-old Medini has been much-interviewed and documentaries have been made of her life. She continued her political career and was a panchayath president both at the village and block levels in the 1990s and after.
K Meenakshy, in contrast, was almost completely forgotten, though she was an enormously important figure in Alappuzha during the 1930s and 40s. Her work of organizing women workers was of tremendous value, as was admitted by many of her peers, In her time as the Secretary of the Travancore Coir Workers’ Union (when the male leaders were all under arrest or underground) and the leader of the Mahila Sangham, she brought to the fore questions like equal wages for equal work and encouraged factory committees for women workers to raise issues such as domestic violence.
In the short excerpt below, Medini acknowledges the great debt her generation owed to K Meenakshy. It is from her interview with M C Josephine, (‘Nisvavargathinte Paattukaari’, in Porattangalile Penperumakal, Thiruvananthapuram: Desabhimani Book House, 2007]
“… My mother Paappy was a good singer. The interest in music came to me from my mother who was always humming the thiruvathirakkali and ammana songs [both forms of non-stage performance dance practices common among women of most social groups in Malayali society then. Women danced this in homes and private spaces, and such occasions brought together women of many houses in each locality]. My brother P K Bava was the secretary of the trade union. Another brother Sarangapaani was beginning to write small songs and sing (he wrote for Udaya Studio later). So progressive ideas were prominent in my family background. A family of twelve children and their parents without a tiny bit of land of their own. A childhood in which dreaming was forbidden. If you labour, you could carry on living. A time when only those who paid tax above Rs 5 could vote …
“… I cannot say a word about my life forgetting K Meenakshi chechi. … This was the time of the Jap-viruddha (anti-Japanese) agitation, in 1942. There was great food shortage all around. The time when the slogan No more war was gaining currency everywhere. The fear that India would be affected if there was another war was growing. K Meenakshi was a thiruvathirakkali instructor. There was also the strong influence of the idea that the arts and culture must be used to teach people about the issues that affect the country …
“… I was studying in Class 4. One day I was on my way to school, but hearing a song floating out of a shut house, I went up close, poked my finger in a hole in the wooden planks of the wall to make it big so that I could listen. Someone from the house came out and caught me by the ear. Hearing me cry out loud, Meenakshi chechi came out of the house. She held me close and comforted me, and I said, “I want to learn how to dance the thiruvathira.”
The living struggle now looms in Bharatha-bhumi
The fascist plunderers now loot Bharatha-bhumi. …” (pp. 42-43)