Mahila Samajams Must Belong to Ordinary People: G Vasumathi

Translated by J Devika

[This essay which appeared in 1960, is an echo from the 1930s, The voice may well be that of the woman shaped by the Malayali ‘Renaissance’ — that of the Navoddhana Mahila, so prized by the Kerala Model enthusiasts later, for being the moderniser of family life. The Navoddhana Mahila was one who identified herself as an active domestic subject, the bearer of the new values of her modernised community, such as modesty, thrift, efficiency, and committed to the duties of the modern wife and the mother. ]

Continue reading “Mahila Samajams Must Belong to Ordinary People: G Vasumathi”

Swimming Hard, Staying Light: Annie Thayyil on Facing the Challenge of Staying Alive

Translated by J Devika

[These translated chapters and the excerpt from a third chapter are from the autobiography of the veteran Congress woman Annie Thayyil (Annie Joseph) (1920-1994) (Edangaziyile Kurisu, Kottayam: DC Books, 1990), who was a prominent presence in politics in the Cochin state and among the first women to contest and win the elections in pre-Independence Cochin state. She was a member of the Cochin Legislative Council between 1945 and 1951, but struggled to stay in heavily male-dominated politics, supporting herself through her writing, and often at the brink of penury.  She however  ran a press, edited a paper and a magazine (Prajamitram and Vanitha) , earned a law degree in between, and served on Central Social Welfare Board, Catholic Congress, and later, on the National Minorities Commission. As a translator of classic literature to Malayalam and a writer, she was also on the executive council of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. Her life was a remarkable quest for lightness and independence, as is evident from these chapters.

But equally interesting — and disturbing — is the dynamics of her relationship with her household help — the subaltern — Velama.  The critical history of the power dynamics between women in unfolding Malayali modernity needs to be traced through accounts such as these.] Continue reading “Swimming Hard, Staying Light: Annie Thayyil on Facing the Challenge of Staying Alive”

Activism, Married and Unmarried: K Devayani

Translated by J Devika

K Devayani (1922-1999) was a well-known communist political activist from Travancore, Travancore who lived through the most turbulent times for the communist movement — the 1940s and 50s. She entered public life through the social reformist movement, the Atmavidya Sangham, and the became the secretary of several workers’ unions in the Alappuzha-Ambalappuzha area. She was one of the founders of the communist women’s organization the Mahila Sangham and a member of the Communist Party since 1942. Her remarkable memoir Chorayum Kaneerum Nananjha Vazhikal is one of the most widely read of the writings of the women of her generation.  But it also brings to light the serious limitations that even women who sought to be communist revolutionaries faced — it was as though the norms of female respectability would simply not change no matter what.

Below are excerpts from this memoir. Continue reading “Activism, Married and Unmarried: K Devayani”