Beauty, More Beauty: A Tribute to Madhavikkutty

Losing Madhavikutty is not easy to bear. I like to rephrase the loss, hoping that it will make the void bearable: something flowery, perhaps, like ‘Kerala’s Ever-beautiful One has escaped captivity in an unkind world’. I like to think that she has become what she wanted to be, described to me many times in our short but intense friendship — a butterfly-princess, blessed with eternal youth, flitting painlessly from one beautiful body to another. The distance that the social scientific eye allows evades me now; and maybe admitting that would be necessary to bid good-bye. All of Kerala is getting ready for a grand funeral; even the middle class which once recoiled with horror from her, is celebrating. But how can one forget what Malayalees did to her? How they hated her because she refused to trivialise the body? How they insisted on reading her subtle defence of aesthetic womanhood as a crass expression of masculinised desire? How they could not see her kinship with Mahadevi Akka and Meera? How they rubbished her as useless to women because she was sceptic of rationalistic feminism? How they heaped insults, calling her a ‘dainty little madam with literary talent’? How her amazing range in short stories was reduced to a tailpiece of modernism in Malayalam literature?

Leave the Malayalees to their fate. They celebrate perhaps because only death could domesticate this woman.

Below is the translation of chapter 16 from Madhavikutty’s autobiography in Malayalam, Ente Katha.

Guinea Pigs

There are many reasons  why I reject the moral norms that are acceptable to society. This morality is built upon the perishable human body. I believe that ideal morality that’s worthy of respect should be built upon the eternal human soul, and if one is powerless to seek it out, at least upon the human mind. Society, in my eye, is an ugly hag. She tenderly cloaks in her warm blanket all the hate-mongers, liars, traitors, the selfish ones, and the assassins. Those who hate the cozy warmth of this blanket are left outside shivering. I too could find a warm and peaceful space within this moral blanket, if I could lie, put up a false face, betray, and spew hatred. But then, I wouldn’t be a writer. The truths lodged in my throat would have never seen light. The first and foremost duty of a writer is to make a guinea pig of himself. He must never try to escape life-experience. He must expose himself to the chill of the mist and the heat of the fire. His legs have no rest. They lead him right up to the murderer’s den. His sense organs will have little respite. He will laugh, drink liquor, make love, lie unconscious, desperately ill, and break into sobs. His main task is to record the different aspects of human life. The human body will finally fall prey to  fire or the worms of the earth. The human being is the prey of the earth. The earth is nourished by his marrows. But his words may be deathless. He does utter, at times, truths that time cannot swallow.

The writer is he who has exchanged rings with, is betrothed to, the future. He speaks not to you but to your future generation. That knowledge is present in his mind, and that’s the reason why he does not turn silent even when his body is hurt by the rocks that some of you fling at him.

Some people told me that writing an autobiography like this, with absolute honesty, keeping nothing to oneself, is like doing a striptease. True, maybe. I, will, firstly, strip myself of clothes and ornaments. Then I intend to peel off this light brown skin and shatter my bones. At last, I hope you will be able to see my homeless, orphan, intensely beautiful soul, deep within the bone, deep down under, beneath even the marrow, in a fourth dimension,. I do not wish to display before you this bright-coloured, smooth, radiant, warm body that’s nothing but a worthless shell. This is but a play-acting doll. Its movements are as unimportant as those of a doll. But my invisible soul asks you, will you be able to love me, will you be able to love me someday when I am stripped naked of this body that is my garment….you shake your head, that’s impossible. Its worth is exactly that of its clothes and ornaments. Remove the voluptuous breasts, the luxuriant locks, the fragrant pubic hair…in our eyes, what remains is an object we don’t need. It is pathetic, that soul…And yet, I persevere. When the reader finally meets with my soul, I believe, that will be a meeting as pure, as unsullied, as that of the wayfarer who stumbles upon a sacred abode within the heart of a vast forest after having lost his way in it, wandering, wandering, tired and thirsty.

We settled down in a compound called Dhanustra near the sea in the month of June, lit bright by the blue sky, the red gulmohar flowers, and the yellow butterflies. In that one-and-a-half acre compound, there were two little houses facing the sea, and facing the road was a dilapidated six-storeyed building. The space between these houses and building, and the path that ran right from the road on the right up to the western gateway to the sea were paved with glittering red gravel. From my bedroom in the second little house where  I lay reading novels, I could hear the sound of the gravel shifting when someone walked in past the gateway. Near the window on the western side of my bedroom grew a large luxuriant nandyaarvattam bush, and the scent of those flowers lingered in my room for many days.

There was a lawn in front to play badminton in. The hedges were of henna, well-trimmed. Balsams, sown in neat rows. The yellow caterpillars flitted about in the 11 O’clock sunlight. My second son Priyadarshan, who ran around trying to catch them, in his dark-green shirt –the sweetness of those days is all I remember today. In the square-shaped courtyard, bougainvillea and the Rangoon creeper cast cool shadows on both walls. I hung a brass lamp there. As I sat on the topmost step at dusk one day, the grey-eyed young man came up and sat at my feet. I wanted to kiss his red lips tightly. I noticed that his lips quivered as he spoke:

“Are you falling in love with me?” I asked him, laughing.He hid his face in the folds of my saree. My children ran about the lawn playing games. Inside, at the drawing-room table, upon a sofa, sat my husband, busy with his files…

My eldest son Monu who had been down with fever since two or three days, suddenly collapsed as he was getting out of bed. I called in a pediatrician, fearing that it was polio. I took him to a hospital without delay. The doctor said that it was the pre-polio phase. The only treatment was to raise the temperature in his arms and legs. I became exhausted; I missed my younger son and husband; the hospital was full of inconveniences. I lost my mental strength as well. I looked ready to burst into tears at all times. My six-year-old son asked me several times from his sick-bed.

“Amma, why are you crying?”

My handsome friend came to visit me in hospital one day. My son was asleep. I could not find any words that could express gratitude. His kissed my overflowing eyes.

“Aami, I love you,” he said. I wept, hiding my face in his bosom.

“Everything’s going to be fine, my darling,” he murmured.

Who was he to me? What did he expect from me, this young man, who decked my tresses with cool nandayarvattam blooms, in that summer when the gulmoharars blazed bright? Sometimes, when I stood close to him, body pressed on body and eyes moist, I told him, “You can do whatever you want. I am yours”.

But he would shake his head: “In my eyes, you are a goddess. Your body is pure to me. I will not insult it…”

When we stepped out into the light and wandered aimlessly, the sun set ablaze those grey-coloured eyes. We had no place to be at peace. But as we walked hand in hand in the sun, we were the denizens of heaven. Gods who had descended into the world of humans by mistake.

3 thoughts on “Beauty, More Beauty: A Tribute to Madhavikkutty”

  1. One of the most heart warming obituaries I have read about Kamala Suraiya (I’d like to refer her by the name she was buried in, for that is what she was in her last moments). She was able to break traditional oppressive conventions, without resorting to conventional radacalism of the elite scholarly/writer class.
    A beautiful piece for a beautiful woman. An interesting read. Thanks.

  2. writer of the millenium,only she takes one to the eternal love and nostalgia without a blanket of morality.

  3. My Neermathala flower garlands to Amie, Kamala, now Suraiya. The honest woman in the world.

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