Home >Politics >Policy >M. Sukumaran, the Kerala writer who mirrored what’s left of the Left, dies at 75

Bengaluru: M. Sukumaran, a Malayalam writer who has won both the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award and Kendra Sahitya Academy Award (in 1976 and 2006), the highest official literary honours in his home state and in India, died of heart-related ailments in Trivandrum on Friday. He was 75.

His life is a classic case of a writer who embraced communism as an ideological solution to human suffering— much like many others in Kerala, a land known for diehard comrades— but fraught with its parliamentary party extension, Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The party, of which he was trying to provide insight for the masses all his life, bothered him after a point so much that he started picking up its holes one by one, quite famously in a 1979 novel ‘Sheshakriya’ (funeral rites).

It ran as a series in the then popular Malayalam magazine ‘Kala Kaumidi’ and the communist leadership is said to have intervened to stop it from being published.

“The party was furious, a senior leader issued even death threats to Sukumaran," said a CPM leader, requesting not to be named.

Consequently, Sukumaran was suspended from the party. The abrupt departure so profoundly disconcerted him that he quit writing in 1982. He made a brief comeback with a an award winning short story ‘Pithrutharpanam’ (In memory of ancestors) in 1992 and a small novel ‘Janithakam’ (Genetics) in 1994, but quickly ebbed back to his hiatus.

Eventually, he got shut out to oblivion, as far as public memory goes, by the same ideology that made him a writer in the first place.

“He was the finest example of a particular conflict for an artist in Kerala… to choose between the two things he loved the most, his freedom of expression and his love for communist ideology. Therein lies both his success and tragedy," said, over the phone, S Jayachandran Nair, Kerala’s legendary journalist, writer and editor.

Nair was a personal friend of Sukumaran and was the editor when Kala Kaumudi published Sukumaran’s last work in 1994.

Nair adds that Sukumaran maintained himself as a staunch, ideal humanist until his last breath, leaving behind nothing much more than a single room flat a few possessions to his family members, apart from thousands of loyal fans across party lines.

He was committed himself to certain values in public life, Nair says, unclenching himself from amassing huge wealth being one of them. It is a story that one could find in the life so many of the yesteryear communists icons in India, such as former general secretary of Communist Party of India A.B. Bardhan, who died in 2015 after almost 50 years of political career, leaving behind just a rusted steel cupboard, some clothes and books, and a red suitcase.

The novel

The novel ‘Sheshakriya’ was published as a series in popular Malayalam magazine ‘Kala Kaumudi’, which irked his beloved Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala, leading to his oust. By then, he was already thrown out of work as a clerk in accountant general office in Thiruvananthapuram, for unionizing workers.

The novel talks about a Dalit, Kunjayappan, finding himself at odds with the ways and means of the party he holds dearest, the communist party. He feels that the party is not working for its professed ideals, such as equality in the society, but is also mindlessly contradicting them as any bourgeois party.

“Like there are ups and down on this earth’s surface, there are highs and lows among its men. Even God can’t change it. In chasing this myth of equality, you will sacrifice yourself one day," Kunjayappan’s wife warns him once, worried of where his doubts in the party would lead him.

A mere expression of Kunjayappan’s doubts leaves him jobless, as the upper caste editor of the party magazine where he was working dismisses him for indiscipline. However, despite an invitation, his unflinching loyalty to the party stops him from joining the parallel, violent communist movement where many of his similar-thinking peers had found solace, the Naxalite upsurge.

Finally, Kunjayappan hung himself at the end of a tree outside his house. He had planned to make a swing for his son at that place. His suicide note asked the family to not to bother anyone with his death, and pleaded to not show his son any signs of poverty, fearing the mere sight of a poor house would make him go through the same path as his’.

Sukumaran has hardly given an interviews in the last two decades. But in a rare 2016 interview in Malayalam magazine Madhyamam, he was asked whether the hero in the novel is himself.

He replied saying he didn’t write the novel thinking of one person, but many. He attributed his memories at accountant general’s office as a key factor in shaping up the novel.

“A situation was there, of being unable to present or seek redress the problems faced by workers… The party was build to fight against capitalism, but it had become part of it now," he said.

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