‘Headstrong, Mannish, Perfervid’: The First-Generation Malayali Feminist and Her Times

(This introductory essay first appeared in the book Her-Self (Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005), a collection of  (translated) essays by Malayali women written between the 1890s and 1940, compiled and translated by J Devika. This was written soon after the first flush of discovery; I have grown more critical of this legacy now! )


Writing to C.W.E. Cotton, Agent to the Governor of Madras in response to his inquiries regarding a certain Lakshmikutty Amma from Tiruvitamkoor, M. E. Watts, the Dewan of Tiruvitamkoor remarked:  “This clever young Nair lady has got on by her own efforts. She is headstrong, mannish and full of the perfervid spirit that espouses lost causes”. The young lady in question was the daughter of a retired senior official in the Tiruvitamkoor Education Department, and had taught at Queen Mary’s College, Madras, before she proceeded on leave to London for studies in 1926. There she is said to have completed studies in a year and then set off all by herself on a tour of Europe, with the help of friends, she claimed. Watts observed that Lakshmikutty had made friends with K. M. Panikkar and the “Strickland crowd”, and her antecedents made her rather suspect. Watts had been informed that early in the 1920s, as a schoolteacher in Thiruvananthapuram, she was deeply interested in Gandhi and non-cooperation, and even tried to popularise these subjects among her pupils. He, however, remarked that now she      was on her way back to Thiruvananthapuram, the best place to cool her ardour. 1 Continue reading “‘Headstrong, Mannish, Perfervid’: The First-Generation Malayali Feminist and Her Times”