Holding Up the Communists: The Lives of K Pankajakshy and K Parvathy

[Below is a translated excerpt from the biography of one of the tallest leaders of the communist movement in Kerala, Com N E Balaram, titled Balaram Enna Manushyan (Balaram The Man), written by CPI leader and activist and daughter of N E Balaram, Geetha Nazeer.

The lives of communist leaders of mid-twentieth century Kerala are much-discussed, but little is known of the women who worked behind the scenes, enabling their activism — their sisters, mothers, wives, and other female kin. Also, much less is known about women who worked with them to set up their social welfare agenda.

The excerpt below brings to light two extraordinary women : K Pankajakshi, and K Parvathy. K Pankajakshy was N E Balaram’s life-partner who help up his life and created the environment in which he could pursue a career as a political activist and politician; K Parvathy played a vital role in setting up rescue homes for women, working with the dynamic Law Minister of the First Communist Ministry, V R Krishna Iyer. The excerpt is from the chapter titled ‘Parasyamaaya Jeevithasaahacharyangalilekku’ (Towards an Open Life) which describes the time soon after the ban on the Communist Party was lifted, when comrades began to come into the open again. Balaram, who was not really interested in marrying and settling down, was persuaded by his cousin. Geetha Nazeer writes:]

… My mother had a job. She had scored excellently well in the SSLC — Matriculation — exam, but had been constrained to work without continuing her education. This was because she had six siblings. Only two of them had jobs — the eldest, Balakrishnan and Narayanan. Both were in the army. One of her older brothers, Gangadharan, had worked in the railways but had been dismissed for his union activities. Her only sister Parvathy had just completed her degree in Law. The other two brothers, Sreedharan and Subrahmanyan, were students. All the expenses in the house had to be met from the meagre earnings of Mother’s father. Amma, who registered herself in the Employment Exchange, got an appointment in just a week. In 1950, she entered employment as a minor — as a clerk in the Thalasshery court. Independence had come, but Aiya Keralam (United Keralam) had not yet arrived. Malabar was part of the Madras Presidency. Amma belonged to the Karuvaandi family in Kathirur. It was a joint family. The eldest uncle was in the army but his wife and children stayed in the Taravad. The other brother, Gangadhara Marar, was a communist and so knew my father. And besides, he was also a relative. Once, when they were still underground, Father and some of his comrades had come for a meal, Amma had opened the door for them. … when this marriage alliance arrived, Mother’s father was not happy with it. There was after all someone stuck at home now who’d lost his job because of Communism and trade unionism. The children had not yet secured regular employment or incomes. Some of them were still students.

Amma was our Valyachhan’s (This is how we called our mother’s father, Sankunni Marar) sole support. Marrying father, who was unemployed, would mean trouble for her. Besides, he also knew well that Father’s family was in a bad shape. But our grandmother Lakshmikkutty said, ‘He’s a good man’. The rest, they will handle together.

Father was shuttling between Kozhikode and Pinrayi, busy with Party work and his work with the Party newspaper, Deshabhimani. He was greatly pressurized to accept the marriage proposal. In the end, they were married on 2 June 1954; Pappettan [the cousin who brought the proposal] was the master of the ceremony; it was a simple wedding conducted in the family home. After that, things were, as Amma says: ‘Because he worked at Deshabhimani in Kozhikode, he’d come home once a week. Then the two of us would go to Pinarayi. It was convenient because Sunday was a court holiday.’

Father’s family was in dire straits. His brother-in-law, the husband of his sister Yasoda, was in the army but did not have a significant income. His brother Nanu worked for a pittance at a cashew factory. The youngest, Govindan, was unemployed. Their father was aged. The police had confiscated their assets, moveable and immoveable and so the house was in real jeopardy. My parents’ conjugal life began with my mother embracing the family that had become an orphan because of my father’s political activism. Until his death, my mother made sure that he could rely upon that strength. Even now, we children rely on it, to some extent. Though her name is Pankajakshy, her siblings used to call her Cindrella, after the fairy-tale princess. My grandmother reduced it to Cinda. Father used to call her by that name, too. We were so happy as children in that house in which that name resounded. The members of Amma’s family are generally gentle and mild. She too is like that. Her nature was complementary to his eminence. That was the chemistry of their mutual fit…

… Parvathy valyamma [senior aunt] had finished her Law studies and had practiced first in Koothuparambu first and then in the Thalasshery Court with V R Krishna Iyer, when he became the Law Minister in the first Communist Ministry of 1957. Krishna Iyer, who had decided to open Rescue Homes for women as part of the newly-formed Social Welfare Department, asked Parvathy if she was interested in joining this work. That is how she gave up her practice and took up this new responsibility. Homeless women, insecure sex workers, and destitute women were to be sheltered in these new homes, and they were unavoidable in the social climate of those times. It was a social justice programme that called for considerable attention and tact. Valyamma immersed herself in it and kept postponing marriage plans. In a way, her services were an important chapter in the advancement of women here. She devoted all of her life to it. She deserved to be remembered separately and at length. She lived in those homes with those women and travelled across districts and could come home only on holidays … [ from Geetha Nazeer, Balaram Enna Manushyan, Kozhikode: Mathrubhumi Books , 2020, pp. 97-100]

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