From Class to Community

25 décembre 2015

K. N. Panikkar
Literature as History of Social Change
Social Scientist
Vol. 40, No. 3/4 (March-April 2012), pp. 3-15

(12) In both Thottiyude Makan and Randidangazhi, the conception of society and its dynamics are derived from concepts of class and class struggle. However, Thakazhi's magnum opus, Kayar (Rope), published in 1978, departs from class in favour of community. Secondly, while these early novels are confined to the story of a generation, Kayar, conceived on an epic scale with several stories and sub-stories; themes and sub-themes, narrates the process of social transformation involving several generations, focusing on the historical evolution of modern society in Travancore. It is not the story of an individual or an institution or a movement, but of an epoch, covering the events of five generations. Thakazhi himself has explained its scope:

I have tried to depict in this work the process of transformation in all aspects of life of a specific region of Travancore, from a particular stage to the introduction of land reforms. I have tried to narrate all changes in society beginning with the story of human thirst for land. There is no hero. There is no heroine. Society is the hero. [Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Kayar, Kottayam, 1978, p. 10].

The novel is focused on changes in institutions as experienced by individuals, which accounts for the large number of characters — about 1,000 — who reflect different dimensions of social transformation. The themes and sub-themes are so large that they provide a large enough canvas to represent the tumultuous history of society. Among them, there are three dimensions which overshadow the others in importance: land control, man-woman relations and political consciousness.

The process of social transformation leading to modernisation of the state of Travancore was enclosed within the history of two defining events: kandezhuthu, the first systematic land settlement in the eighteenth century, and the land reforms introduced by the Communist government in 1957. The beginning of the change was heralded by the arrival of the Classiper (land classifying officer) in the village to conduct land settlement. The settlement introduced a fundamental change in revenue collection by replacing the traditional mode of payment in kind by cash. This was a part of the broader changes then taking place in the economy. The ongoing process of monetisation of the economy had a far-reaching impact on the rural society. Thakazhi traces the changes it wrought through meticulous portrayal of the life of six Hindu feudal families who progressively lost control over land. The decline of their control over land correspondingly leads to a rise in the /13/ fortunes of the Christian and Muslim communities. The members of these communities, who had begun their career as petty traders [petit commerce] or dependents of the Nair families, become owners of large land-holdings. A typical example of this change is depicted through the character Outha, who becomes a substantial cultivator, wealthy enough to give paddy in charity to the former Nair landlords who are in penury. Outha's gesture is a humane retribution for the feudal oppression these families had traditionally practised. The changes in agrarian relations introduced in 1957 dealt yet another blow to the feudal system. In fact, changing control over land is central to the process of social transformation that Kayar depicts.

A remarkable dimension of the novel is the manner in which it shows how women's sexuality, and its manipulation and control by patriarchal authorities in the feudal order, impinged upon social relations. Protests and resistance against the traditional system, which did not recognise freedom of choice for women in conjugal matters, were few and far between. Women were completely under the control of the head of the family, who took decisions in accordance with the prevailing practices and family honour. In most cases, women submitted themselves to these decisions. Yet, there were a few who asserted their independence and idealised enduring relationships. With the decline of the feudal order and the influence of liberal ideas, man-woman relations underwent fundamental changes, which find articulation in the life of later characters in the novel.

Unlike Thottiyude Makan and Randidangazhi, Kayar is not a political novel. It is primarily an account of social relations. But changes in society, particularly the formation of new classes, have political implications. Kayar is not sensitive to these implications, and therefore suffers from a disconnect between the social and the political. The relationship between social transformation and politics remains unstated and unrecognised. Not that political events do not attract attention. They do. The narrative touches upon political events such as the emergence of democratic aspirations, end of feudal rule, conduct of elections, rise of the Communist and Naxal movements, etc. These do not happen in a vacuum. They are in fact by-products of social change. Nevertheless, their relationship with the emergence of classes is not explored in the novel. Is this because, by the time he wrote Kayar, Thakazhi had given up the concept of class in favour of community? The social context of the novel is the rise and decline of communities, and not the emergence of classes and the ensuing class struggles. As such, Kayar does not explore the incidence of class conflict, as in his earlier novels, but foregrounds the possibility of collaboration and accommodation of communities. His earlier novels, like Thottiyude Makan and Randidangazhi, were rooted in the belief that literature could influence the course of history. Therefore, the characters of these novels try to challenge and overcome history. The characters of Kayar belong to an entirely different genre. They accept the course of history as inevitable and follow its trajectory. In doing so, Kayar shares the /14/ limitations of contemporary Indian literature, which tends to shy away from the problems of social justice and human emancipation. Whether literature should undertake such a task can hardly be a matter of debate.

Thus, the literary works of Thakazhi tend to interrogate history in different ways. In his early novels, Thakazhi subscribed to the view that man is the creator of history who carves out a future of his own choice by defying and overcoming the present. Influenced by such a view of history, these novels revolve around the different dimensions of class struggle through which the oppressed and exploited seek to create a new world. Both Mohanan in Thottiyude Makan and Koran in Randidangazhi defy the present in order to create a different future. They bear testimony to the faith of the writer in the ability of man to intervene in the historical process and influence its direction. All the three novels which are rooted in such a view were written almost together, in a period of radical expectations in Kerala society: 1947 to 1950. However, by the time Thakazhi wrote Kayar (1978), a sea-change had occurred in the social and political life of the region. The experience of the intervening period appears to have adversely affected his faith in the possibility of overcoming oppression through violent social and political confrontations. He continued to be sympathetic to the plight of the poor and 'steadfastly adhered to the essence of Marxism', which continued to influence his social vision. At the same time, he was critical of the politics pursued by the communist Party, particularly the support it extended to the colonial rule during the Second World War. He also disapproved of Ranadive' s strategy of what he described as 'acid bulb revolution' [Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Ekanta Padhikan, p. 13]. How these political perspectives affected his creative life is difficult to ascertain, but they undoubtedly effected a change in his conception of the relationship between man and history. In Kayar, Enippadikal and other later novels, history dominates in a way that the role of human agency is almost overlooked. Unlike in the early novels, in his later works, man is not the maker of his own destiny. This change in the conception of the relationship between man and history is also indicative of the nexus between literature and history that Thakazhi entertained in his later life. In doing so, did he overlook the ideological function that literature necessarily performs in society? To the extent that the journey of Thakazhi from Thottiyude Makan to Kayar denotes a change in his conception of the structure of society and the nature of its inner dynamics, such a conclusion is in the realm of plausibility.