First Major Novel in Malayalam

Indulekha, written by O. Chandu Menon and published in 1889, is regarded as the first major novel in Malayalam with literary merit. Though Kundalatha (1887) of Appu Nedungadi, is the first Malayalam novel, literary critics and readers for more than a century worship Indulekha for its superior status and hence the label of the first major novel.

The novel narrates the story of a Nair tharavad in Malabar. Through Indulekha and her relationship with Madhavan – the novels takes us through the feudal system, polygamy, conflicts between tradition and modernity that existed during the later part of the 19th century.

Indulekha is a beautiful girl, who along with religious texts and percussion has studied the foreign language –English. This forms the crux of the narrative – learning English – showing up over and over, building layers of meaning to the story and thereby reflecting the impact a language has on a society.

When her beau Madhavan goes against the wishes of her uncle, the latter decides to marry off Indulekha to a rich Namboodiripad. However, Indulekha rightly rebukes the pompous Namboodiripad, who in turn believes ‘English’ to be the culprit.

The novel was definitely ahead of its times with the leading lady portrayed as intelligent and educated, and someone who does not bow down to tradition or family pressure. It also talks about equality and freedom for women. Towards the end of the novel, the author encourages parents to educate their girl children, especially in English.

However, this last part, though inconsequential to the plot narrative, has been removed from the print edition. The newer editions of Indulekha that are available in book stores now does not have the last couple of pages that talk about the need for educating girl children. Sometime during the mid-1950s, this particular part was axed from the book. These revelations were made in the Mathrubhumi weekly (April 2014 edition).

Though it is not known why or who were behind this act, it should be noted that such a progressive idea was cut out in a much modern era.

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