From Veneration to Virulence: A Case for a Women's Literary History in Malayalam
The gloomiest example of the marginalization of the female voice has been in the area of literary history. Like all dominant institutions, literary history is also a patriarchal monopoly. Identification and documentation of female discourses have been suppressed by gender politics in all culture, especially so in the early phase of postcolonialism of South Asian countries, significantly due to the hangover of colonial values. This paper is an attempt at detailing the need, scope, and relevance of creating a female literary history in Malayalam.
More than a dozen histories of Malayalam literature have so far been published. Of these five are in English. These literary historians include writers, critics and academicians.1 The space allotted to information on women's writings in these histories is minimal. References to women writers' contributions are often confined to certain general statements that evince a conscious neglect of their importance. This marginalization verging on suppression of women's writings is a common phenomenon in the literary histories of the regional languages in India. The publication of the two volume anthology of English translations of Indian women's writing, WomenWriting inlndia, 600 B.C. to the Present, edited by Susie Tham and K. Lalitha, was apioneering attempt at retrieving female discourses from the earliest times and consolidating them, backed by a critical introduction. My association with this mammoth project as the regional editor of women's writings in Malayalam has led me to see the need for a counter-construct to conventional literary histories.
Thte women of Kerala have had a long tradition of enlightenment. Even when women were not sent to schools for formal education, they were tutored privately at home in the Sanskrit classics and classical music. Art and literature were significant components in the formation of the female mind in Kerala. This does not mean that the Kerala woman had the opportunity for liberal education very early in history. Patriarchy exerted its power over woman by equipping her privately in accomplishments relating to the arts and letters, and then demanding non-expression of them in public. Her talent in music and literature also remained as a male possession.
Institute of English, University of Kerala.
Social Scientist, Vol. 23 Nos. 10-12, October-December 1995