Malayalam literature boasts of many writers who were often far ahead of their times

For that first plunge into Malayalam literature start with these literary giants(Clockwise from top left) Vaikom Muhammad Basheer — Youtube; PC Kuttikrishnan (Uroob) — Sreedharantp/Malayalam Wikipedia; MT Vasudevan Nair — Mullookkaaran/Wikimedia Commons; Kamala Surayya — PTI
Features Reading Monday, April 18, 2016 - 09:30

It’s no secret that Malayalam literature occupies a special niche of its own in the galaxy of literatures in the country. Its history of writers who were often far ahead of their times, its healthy dose of socio-cultural critique are all worth appreciating, but quite intimidating to start with. To help get started on the road to understanding Malayalam literature, here’s five iconic authors that just have to be read.

MT Nair

Madathil Thekkepaattu Vasudevan Nair, born in 1933, is one of the doyens of post-independence Malayalam literature.  Popularly known as MT Nair, he also was a screenplay writer and film director. He announced his presence to the world at just twenty, by winning a prize at the World Short Story Competition conducted by The New York Herald Tribune. He won the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for his debut novel Naalukettu (translated to English as The Legacy) in 1958. MT’s works revolve around family structures, particularly matrilineal families, and the influences of culture and tradition on family relationships. Randamoozham, which retells the Mahabharata from Bhimasena’s perspective is widely regarded as his masterpiece. Other notable works translated into English are ManjuKaalam, and Asuravithu.

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer

One of the most well-known revolutionary authors from Kerala, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, is known for his quick wit, dark humour, and sarcastic retorts, attributes that make his writing such a pleasure to read. What made his writing style so unique was his refusal to distinguish between the written and the spoken language. Some of his best known works, BalyakalasakhiShabdangalPathummayude Aadu and Mathilukal, are based on recurring themes of love, poverty, and hunger. His writing is often thought of as a translator’s nightmare, since it is almost impossibly difficult to do justice to his colloquial references. He was conferred the Padma Shri in 1982 and is remembered as the Sultan of Beypore, where he died on July 5, 1994.

Kamala Surayya

Kamala Surayya, born in 1934, was not only a leading Malayam writer, but also a widely acclaimed English poet of her time. Her candid treatment of issues related to female sexuality in her work got her praise and brickbats in equal measure. Pakshiyude ManamNeypayasamThanuppu, and Chandana Marangal are some of her famous short stories, which have been translated to English. Her recurring themes are love, despair and the anguish that follows. Neermathalam Pootha Kalam, stands out amongst all her other novels, by receiving praise from a cross section of society. She died at the age of 75 in Pune, where she spent her last few years.


Popularly known by his penname Uroob, PC Kuttikrishnan, born in 1915, is regarded as one of the most progressive writers of Malayalam literature. His first novel, Aamina, was published in 1948. Apart from novels, he has also penned over twenty short stories, written plays and even screenplays for films like NeelakuyilRaricharan Enna Pouran, and Ummachu. Sundarikalum Sundaranmarum is even today seen as one of the most progressive works in Malayalam literature, and won him critical accolades. The novel chronicles the lives of thirty characters, across three generations from eight different Malabar families, set during the Second World War period. He was a recipient of many awards, including the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award, Ashan Centenary Award and MP Paul Award. He passed away in 1979 in Kottayam.

Lalithambika Antharjanam

Lalithambika Antharjanam, born in 1909, broke the shackles of a conservative family and emerged as one of the most renowned writers of Kerala. Her writing bore major influences of Gandhian principles and of that of VT Bhattatripad. Her works dealt with the role of women in the society, the perception of women as individual entities and the nature of the “sexual contract.” Agnisakshi, her most celebrated work, is the story of a Nambudiri woman who tries to overcome the social and political obstacles posed against her by society. The novel drew widespread criticism but also won her both the coveted Kendra and Kerala Sahitya Academy Award.

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