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Malayalam novels

AGNISAAKSHI: Lalithambika Antharjanam; Current Books, Round West, Thrissur-680001. Rs. 40.

OONJAL: Vilasini, Sulabha Books, Thrissur-680004. Rs. 320.

THE WORKS under review are novels by two well-known writers, Lalithambika Antharjanam (1909-1987) and Vilasini (M. K. Menon, 1928-1993), which have already gone into many editions since they first appeared three decades ago.

Lalithambika was primarily a short story writer though she also wrote poems and plays. She fully imbibed the spirit of the social renaissance movement that had swept Kerala in the early part of the last century and endeavoured to further it. Agnisaakshi, her only novel, is a short one so far as novels go. She fashioned it late in life out of a novel project that she had abandoned years earlier.

M. K. Menon, who wrote under the pen name "Vilasini", spent the best part of his life abroad as a journalist. At an early stage in his literary career he set his mind on writing long novels. He created Oonjal out of strands separated from his incomplete first novel, which he had conceived as one with more than 100 characters. In a prefatory note, he mentions two reasons for his inability to complete that massive novel: one, he had bitten off more than he could chew; two, living far away from home, he could not fully absorb the changes Kerala society had undergone. Years later, with the four-volume, Avakasikal, Vilasini claimed the distinction of being the author of the longest novel in Malayalam.

Agnisaakshi tells the story of a Namboodiri woman, who is drawn into the struggle for social and political emancipation but cannot easily shake off the chains of tradition that bind her. The young rebel eventually comes to terms with herself in the solitude of an ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas. Within this thin story framework the author provides a realistic picture of individuals and the society under the compelling pressure of circumstances.

Oonjal opens with the protagonist, a Singapore-based journalist, coming home to Kerala on holiday after a gap of ten years. His vacation project is to persuade his childhood sweetheart, now a widow, to finally join him. The story is told in a series of backward and forward movements. The stream-of-consciousness technique is employed liberally to embellish the narrative.

The two writers have invested the family tales that they are narrating with wide relevance by devoting particular attention to social and personal relationships. Hence their continuing appeal.

B. R. P. BHASKAR

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