Modernism in Malayalam Literature By Satchidanandan, K.
Although it is difficult to trace the beginnings of modernism in Malayalam literature to a single author or text, there is general agreement about its high points: the publication of ‘Kuruksetram’ (Kuruksetra, the scene of the battle of Mahabharata: composed 1951–7; published 1960) by K. Ayyappa Paniker (1930–2006) in poetry and Khasakkinte Itihasam (The Legends of Khasak, 1969) by O.V. Vijayan (1930–2005) in fiction. Some earlier works of these authors, for instance Paniker’s ‘Oru Surrealistinte Premaganam’ (The Love Song of a Surrealist, 1952) and Vijayan’s ‘Moonnu Yudhdhangal’ (Three Wars, 1957) have been seen retrospectively as displaying features of modernism. Early signs of literary modernism may also be found in the fiction of Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, especially Shabdangal (Voices, 1947) with its non-linear narration and bleak attitude to life, and Chagmpuzha Krishna Pillai’s posthumously published Baudelairean poem Padunna Pishachu (The Devil that Sings, 1949), with its surreal images and obsessive preoccupation with evil. Poets such as N.V. Krishna Variyar, M. Govindan, and G. Kumarapillai and the playwright C.J. Thomas are regarded as transitional figures whose work presages modernism. However, it was Paniker’s ‘Kurukshetram’ that marked a decisive departure in poetry by freely mixing meters, breaking linear structure, and expressing in fresh, sometimes surreal, images the dilemma of contemporary life.