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'He was a heavyweight writer'

By Shobha Warrier in Chennai
March 30, 2005 16:48 IST
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She is Kamala Surayya.

To the English reading audience, she is Kamala Das. For Malayalis, she will always be Madhavikkutty because she writes short stories and novels in Malayalam.

She is one of the most appreciated (and criticised) writers in Malayalam.

Guru of a whole generation

Like her, O V Vijayan was proficient in both Malayalam and English. But, he was at his most creative in his Malayalam writings.

Kamala Das spoke exclusively to about her friendship with O V Vijayan.

Vijayan, 75, passes away

"Vijayan was always considered a heavyweight writer in Kerala. His first novel "The legend of Khasak" itself made him famous. Later on, he wrote a few more novels, but I do not recollect reading the others.

He and his sister O V Usha were independent in their thinking. Most of the writers here shunned me after my conversion to Islam, but Vijayan and Usha would call me to their home in Kottayam. I used to go there as though on a picnic, carrying food with me.

I would even take my cook with me, and we had fun. I could always make Vijayan laugh. Probably that was why Usha called me to Kottayam. I always had a good time with them.

He was not well; was suffering from Parkinson's and was not able to talk. But he was a good listener and laughed a lot. I used to take ripe mangoes for him, which he loved. We used to have simple vegetarian lunch together.

Then, the practice stopped because he went to Palakkad and from there to Hyderabad. But I remember with gratitude that he remained friendly with me throughout. I think he was not prejudiced in any way, and he didn't have any religious prejudices too. I found this rather refreshing.

I admire and respect him for the hard work that he has done.

I knew him for a long time but only as an acquaintance. He lived in Delhi and I in Mumbai. He used to come to our place in Mumbai, but not frequently.

Then, of course, he would tell me I should not write in English. Later on, I heard to my amusement that he also turned to writing in English.

He used to give me lectures on why one should stick to one's mother tongue. I told him English was also my mother tongue because I grew up in Kolkata among English speaking people; and went to a European school.

I didn't hear much Malayalam in Kolkata or Mumbai.

I don't think he was a friend at that time, just an acquaintance. But he became my friend when he came to Kottayam with his sister Usha.

I don't recollect seeing Vijayan in perfect health at point of any time. He was very frail when he was in Delhi. I always thought of him as a very thin person. But he could converse then.

Twice when I went to Kottayam, his wife Teresa was there; she was looking after him very well. More than illness, the decision to come and settle down in Kerala must have hurt him.

It hurts me. If you enter the literary scene here, you find more than admirers, there are people who are scandalmongers.

He could not recover probably because he lived in Kerala. If he had not come to settle in Kerala, he might have had a healthier life. He may have created more characters. This, I am speaking from my personal experience. Kerala is not a state good for writing.

I am not a critic, so I don't want to comment on his writing and be judgmental. He got a lot of admiration from his readers, and I suppose that is enough.

I feel his death is a great loss to Malayalam literature."

(Kamala Surayya spoke to Special Contributing Correspondent Shobha Warrier)

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai