Prof. Panmana Ramachandran Nair reminisces about his classmates, including G. Vivekanandan, a sanctuary of boundless compassion for all.

G. Vivekanandan held the positions of Director of the Kerala Government’s Public Relations Department, Founding Managing Director of Kerala Film Development Corporation and Editorial Committee member of Kerala Kaumudi. It was with admiration for the author of ‘Kallichellamma’ that we classmates of the 1955 Malayalam MA class befriended G. Vivekanandan. The novel has just been serialized in K. Balakrishnan’s Kaumudi weekly. He won the first prize in the essay writing contest held by Kaumudi weekly that year on the topic ‘Daily Diary of a College-going Youth’. It contained an unforgettable depiction of a student who had been through the furnace of life experiences. After Kallichellamma, ‘Yakshipparambu’ was a novel that was published serially in the weekend edition of Kerala Bhooshanam daily during our M.A. study period. At times the classroom was the venue of his novel writing. However the activity was never carried out in the classes of Krishna Pillai or Guptan Nair. A. Ramachandran and I sat on either side of the novelist in the last bench. We would read and exchange each completed sheet. Neither alterations nor embellishments were done before dispatching to the daily. We would directly head to the Post Office, send the ‘matter’ to Kottayam and help ourselves to tea at ‘Jacob’s Café’ in Spencer Junction before returning to the class.

The plot of ‘Yakshipparambu’ was a ‘painkili’ type romance story set in the backdrop of the Government Women’s College in Thiruvananthapuram. I remember an interesting incident. Those days several college girls used to subscribe to just the weekend edition of the daily in the mail. Three lengthy love letters that were bound to set the youth’s hearts aflutter appeared in successive weeks. When no such letter appeared in the next four issues, the daily’s office received letters from several lasses requesting further long love letters. Giving in to the constant coercion of the editor, the novelist eventually created situations and promptly plugged in three love letters as required.

A. Ramachandran and Chandrasekhara Warrier

G. Vivekanandan endeared himself to everyone including teachers with his rustic nature of getting along easily with others. Our acquaintance from those days grew into an indescribably strong bond that continued unabated till his demise in 1999. When I returned to Thiruvananthapuram ending seven years of Malabar life, it was none other than him who helped me buy land for building house near his Jagathy residence, within two months. We were neighbors for 32 years. He was elder to me by 9 years. During our relationship lasting 44 years he was not just a friend or elder brother to me, but also a guardian.

M.S. Chandrasekhara Warrier enrolled for M.A after adorning the editorship of many papers. After his studies too he was editor of ‘Kerala Bhooshanam’ and ‘Kerala Dhwani’ dailies and ‘Manorajyam’ weekly in Kottayam. Later he also served as Editor at D.C. Books. He wrote weekly reports for a long time under the pseudonym ‘Siddharthan’ in Manorajyam weekly. These have been collected in five books including one titled ‘Siddharthante Jeevithachinthakal.’ These are invaluable tomes. Warrier leads a retired life in Rajanivas in Kumaramangalam in Thodupuzha.

Marthandam Soman Nair who was a story writer, drama actor and drama artist in All India Radio passed away recently at P.T.P. Nagar in Thiruvananthapuram.

Evoor Parameswaran who was the Malayalam language expert in Union Public Service Commission was a children’s litterateur, limerick poet and researcher in Thullal literature.

Sandeshakavyam researcher and author Champakkulam Appukkuttan Nair was Deputy Director in Kerala University’s Manuscript Library. Champakkulam and his wife Santha who was Joint Secretary at the Secretariat as well as an English language poetess, lived in Kochulloor in Thiruvananthapuram. They both passed away recently.

Indira Devi also worked at the Manuscript Library. E.N. Godavarma held the Deputy Editorship in Mathrubhumi daily for a long time. Adinadu Gopi was born in my Taluk. He studied in the same high school as me. He was Professor at Varkala and Kollam Sree Narayana colleges. Linguist and educationist Vellayani Arjunan was Encyclopedia Director.

Soon after his M.A. studies, A. Ramachandran left for Santiniketan to study painting. He is based in Delhi since long and is a world renowned painter. It was A. Ramachandran’s extraordinary craft that beautified my first book, a collection of children’s poems called ‘Mazhavillu’ that was included in the gift set of Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangam and published in 1964, with 16 lovely pictures. I have preserved those exquisitely colorful pictures even after several reprints have come out.

Rema Devi was Professor at Kollam Fatima Matha National College. She is married to Viswanathan Nair who was my classmate at Kollam Sree Narayana College. Prasanna Kumari who was the daughter of litterateur N.K. Damodaran was Malayalam Professor at Chempazhanthy S.N. College and the wife of my elder brotherly friend and Kerala Kaumudi editorial advisor N. Ramachandran. She is no more. Santha Kumari was a high school teacher and a language expert at Poojappura Education Department. She lives in Punnapuram in Thiruvananthapuram. Vasantha Kumari served as high school teacher in Neyyatinkara Taluk.

An Extraordinary Principal

Dr. C.S. Venkiteswaran was the Principal during the first year. He needs a detailed introduction. All post graduate courses then had exams only in the final year. I think preliminary English for honors was the only exception. Christmas exam and final term exam were held without fail. Everybody took them too. An exam method introduced by Dr. Venkiteswaran who had then arrived from America came to be known as the ‘American model’. There would not be any teachers to supervise the exam in the exam hall. A peon would have kept all the papers for writing the answers on the table. The teacher would arrive; distribute the question papers and leave. We took as many papers as needed and wrote. The last two students had to collect all the papers and hand over to the department. How systematically this model was implemented at that time!

The Principal could turn out anywhere anytime. He was a man of short stature with short, thorny hair. Not much of a looker, he had medium complexion and a slight stoop. He always wore a dark suit! He gave strict instruction to the workers to meticulously groom the croton plants planted in rows in front of the college and beautify them by trimming their tips from time to time. That beauty was never again reproduced. There was not a leaf or piece of paper lying astray. One thing came to his notice soon after he took charge as Principal. There was a bit of smoking going on here and there in the campus. The next day he sent a notice to the classes warning against smoking in the campus and penalties for violators. Punishment was unnecessary. The Principal made a round of the campus two times each on two days. That’s all. Nobody disobeyed.

Two months before our University exam, the existing Board which had one year tenure left changed and a new one came in its place. This was due to the conspiracy and anonymous letters of some who were sure that they would not get first class if the existing Board continued, aided by the influence of their acquaintances. On the morning of the exam start day I went to ‘Satyaniketanam’. I touched the Principal’s feet and sought his blessings. He said, ‘No harm will come to Ramachandran due to the change of Board. Do well in the exam.’

The viva voce exam following the valuation of the written exam was at 10 am in the Malayalam Department of University College. All four Board members including the Chairman were there. All the students came along as it was announced that the exam results would be declared at 2 in the afternoon. The peon summoned us upstairs one by one. When I went, the Chairman said, ‘Please have a seat Ramachandran Nair. Our congratulations! You have got First Class.’

I asked immediately, ‘Who’s got the rank, sir?’

‘That is not decided yet. Well, wish you all the best.’

Nobody else spoke. I got up and walked downstairs. I could only give my friends a look and quietly slip away.

I went directly to Satyaniketanam. Ilamkulam sir came out.

‘I have First Class’ I said.

‘Rank?’ sir asked.

‘”That is not decided” is what the Chairman said’.

‘Oh is it so…let it be whatever it is. Am I not proven right, have you not got First Class? Ramachandran, you will do well.’

My eyes welled up.

Now I had to meet Meenakshi amma teacher. Even though teacher left service in 1956, she continued staying in her Sasthamangalam residence for a long while. Teacher came to the doorway when I went there. I touched her feet and paid obeisance saying I have First Class. Teacher helped me rise up. I was in tears. Teacher wiped her eyes too.

‘Have a seat, Ramachandran. You have truly kept the word that you gave me, haven’t you? I am elated.’

Not only me, nobody can quite forget teacher’s motherly love for her disciples. Teacher’s elder daughter M.K. Leela who was Hindi Professor in N.S.S. College once told me that some girls had privately stated that ‘teacher has more love towards boys.’ Leela replied to them that it could be because her mother did not have sons of her own.

Her second daughter M.K. Latha who was Konni High School Headmistress, had an untimely demise. Latha’s husband K.N. Raghavan Nair instituted ‘Konniyoor Meenakshi Amma Memorial award’ in her memory. I consider the fact that I was its first ever winner (in 2005) for my work of criticism ‘Navayugasilpi Rajarajavarma’ as a great blessing of the teacher.

After meeting teacher, I went to my residence. I apprised Vivekanandan chettan of the developments. He could not write the exam as he was already employed in the second year. He said, ‘There is something the matter. Anyway let us go to the University Office tomorrow.’

I did not feel any enthusiasm. The next day afternoon we both went to the University Office. Chettan was friends with an important person there. We went to the Examination Section as instructed by him over phone. What we learnt from there: Among M.A. students (Evoor) Parameswaran and I have First Class and same marks. Meaning both has First Class and First Rank. Among honors students, Chandrasekhara Warrier too has First Class.

The next day Vivekanandan chettan gave my picture to Kerala Kaumudi newspaper, with the note ‘Panmana Ramachandran Nair, Malayalam M.A First Class, First Rank’. It appeared in the next day’s paper. Four days later another picture too appeared in Kerala Kaumudi, with the note, ‘Evoor Parameswaran. I too am Malayalam M.A. First Class, First Rank’!

Beloved Writer and Beloved Editor

While I was working in the Lexicon Office, Vivekanandan chettan and I lived in one half of the house named Thevarathala near Cotton Hill School. From the time of our studying together in University College, we used to go to his home in Koliyoor regularly. Father’s name was Govindan and mother was Lakshmikkutty. Vivekanandan was the eldest of nine children. He was called Kuttappan at home. Mother would get busy cooking dishes when she learnt or our coming. She knew that tapioca and mussels were the favorites of both of us. Mussels in Malayalam is chippi; for those in central Kerala it is kakka and for northern Kerala people it is kallummekkaya. The father had suffered heavy financial losses from running chit funds, etc. Govindan asan was a legendary Ramayanam reader. Kuttappan told him on the day of introducing me itself that Chattampi Swami Thiruvadikal called my father ‘Bhagavathar’ and that I recited poetry mellifluously. He made me recite a portion of Ramayanam that day itself. Then it became a routine. Gradually I became a close relative for all the siblings. They conveyed many things to their elder brother through me that they were hesitant to do so directly.

I do not know of another writer who reached the top echelons rung by rung through the suffering of hardships. Financial difficulties put an end to his education in the eighth standard. He did manual labour including carrying stones. After five years he passed Madras matriculation; he followed it with the compounder exam. After a long military service he became a compounder in a government hospital for two years. Then he studied intermediate for two years. He went back to the compounder job for two years, which he had quit when he passed B.A and joined for M.A. In between he was announcer in All India Radio. It was while being a newsreader there that he became the first Cultural Development Officer in Public Relations Department. While being PRD Director, he became the first Managing Director of Film Development Corporation. He was the one who identified the picturesque land in Thiruvallam and established Chitranjali Studio.

What attracted me most in his personality was his boundless compassion for the disadvantaged.  He regularly looked after all patients who approached him with letters of writers and other friends from all parts of Kerala, through their entire treatment. He must have imbibed this compassion from the experiences he earned as a compounder in the hospital. He had a team to assist him in patient care. Prominent members of the team included novelist Pala Sreedharan who was his fellow compounder, Pongummood Krishnan Nair who was affectionately called seer by K. Balakrishnan who recognized his sincerity and capability, Thirumala Janardhanan Nair and friends’ wives and nurses Santhamma and Indira.

Wards 16, 17, 18 and 19 of Medical College were then known as ‘chronic wards’. Most of the neglected people from all wards were shifted to these wards after a few days. There were hardly any visitors for most of these chronically ill and helpless people. He made it a practice to visit these wards with some ‘inlands’ and help the patients to write letters to their homes. Often his companion in this activity was the writer and Public Relations Department employee Sukumaran Muthukulam.

A rusted cycle was his vehicle in the initial days. Then it became a scooter called ‘Fantabulous’. Friends dubbed it ambulance. It was in this same vehicle that we went to see Lalitha teacher, then a student at Neduganda Training College, secretly without her knowing. Of course this was the informal pennu kaanal which led to his marriage with her. Dr. K.N. Pai was a renowned doctor in the capital city. Since chettan had close relations with him and his family, the grapevine had it that ‘it is enough to see Vivekanandan to get to Pai sir quickly and get treated by him’.

G. Vivekanandan came to be known as the author of ‘Kallichellamma’. However the novel dearer to him and the one which is in fact much better is ‘Kallu’. Nobody else has handled the vernacular Malayalam of southern Travancore so well after C.V. Raman Pillai. That language is present in all his works.

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