Perhaps the only novel to have been reprinted nearly every year for over a hundred years, Indulekha (1889) is widely held to be the first Malayalam novel. Often called an 'accidental' and 'flawed' work, at its core lies a love story. The setting of the novel is the Nair community of Kerala, which had for centuries practised polyandrous matriliny, a most unusual form of inheritance through the woman whom both property and authority flavoured. It gives us glimpses of prevalent social practices much debated amongst a people already under colonial pressure to change their ways of life. Written by a Nair, Indulekha is not a grandiose outpouring but the author's effort to achieve certain social goals: firstly, to create a novel much like those of the English authors he had read, and secondly, to illustrate Nair society at that time, both of which met with success. The novel influenced the deliberations of the Malabar Marriage Commission which it predated, and of which Chandum enon was a member. This novel will appeal to general readers interested in Indian writings in translation. Students of literature, history and culture, political and legal theory, and gender studies, will also find it useful.
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one of the best books in malayalam
Indulekha is the first complete novel written in Malayalam. Written towards the end of the 19th century, this book attempts to portray the weird social cutoms of Kerala during that time through the twists and turns in the lives of its protagonists Indulekha and Madhavan.
Indulekha's sophisticated, bold and headstrong character came as a real surprise to me, given the period in which the story is set. The author O. Chandumenon takes liberties to digresses from the plot towards the end of the book, by including a lengthy discussion on religion, atheism, science and the role of the Congress party in the future of India. It is apparent that Chandumenon uses Madhavan to push his own opinions on those topics.
Though it's prose uses an arcane dialect of Malayalam (don't try speaking like that in present day Kerala!), I would consider Indulekha as a must-read for those interested in Malayalam literature.
Please note: This review is of the Malayalam version of the book and not of the English translation by Anitha Devasia (shown in the book cover here)
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