Kesari and the Pusa literary movement
Purogamana Sahityam, "Progressive Literature"
S. Devadas Pillai, Post-war Malayalam Literature: A Sociological Note, in Mariola Offredi (Ed.), Literature, Language and the Media in India, Amsterdam, VU University Press & New Delhi, Manohar, 1993, pp.139–151.
Around 1935 Malayalam literature entered a new phase with clear indications of a break-away from the old trends. By 1945 the polarization between the old and the new writing was almost complete, and a big literary war was on. The new writing was called 'pusa' literature (short for Purogamana Sahityam or progressive literature). Pusa writers aimed at: 1. realistic depiction of the woes of the poor and the weak; 2. creating an easy style using common Malayalam, in place of the old heavily Sanskritized one, for democratizing literature; and 3. using literature as a weapon for stirring the masses for liberation from oppression. (…)
The second pioneer was Kesari Balakrishna Pillai (1889-1960). He edited three weeklies successively, the third one being 'Kesari'. He was reverentially identified by this prefix later, after the harrowing experience of getting throttled by the king's 'men' who, while banning his journals, amended press regulations to paralyse him. When 'Kesari' was banned, his printing press was confiscated, and he ran into a breakdown, mentally and financially, from which he never rose again.
Through his journals Kesari campaigned for a revolution in literature as well. He guided young writers in the European literary school of realism and naturalism as found especially in France. He had special literary pages in every issue, carrying Malayalam translations of Balzac, Maupassant, Ibsen and others from c. 1921 to show what he meant by social content in literature. He wrote on Freud, Havelock Ellis and such others to enlighten pusa writers on the need for imbibing modern concepts of behavioural psychology. In the evenings he conducted a discussion group regularly in his editorial office in Trivandrum which is well known as the 'Kesari literary coterie' (Kesari sadass). After retirement from journalism, he never wrote a line on politics but devoted all his time for promoting pusa literature in the midst of vehement opposition from orthodox groups. It was a lone /142/ battle with only a small group of up-coming writers accepting him as their guru. Today he is held as the father of pusa writing. Sometime later, Kesari's efforts were complemented by MP Paul (1904-1952) and Joseph Mundassery (1903-1977). Both of them were heavily castigated by the Catholic church for supporting 'pusa' writing, particularly its open treatment of sex. (…)
The pusa leaders were Kesava Dev, Takazhi, Varkey, Pottekat, Basheer and Ka!oor. All of them were around forty when the literary war was at its peak. (…)
Poverty and exploitation were the main threads in pusa writing. This of course brought in the theme of class relations and conflicts, working class solidarity and so on. Workers in factories, farms and plantations, rickshaw pullers, scavengers, beggars, way-side prostitutes and the so-called fallen women, and a host of other ordinary men and women crowded the pages of pusa works. We shall now discuss the 'major six' in brief notes.
Takazhi (1912-1999) began with Maupassant-style short stories on man-woman relations. He was a member of the Kesari group and the guru trained him specially in the French mould. His first story collection, New Flowers (1935) was a trend-setter. After a few more pieces that confirmed his mould, he rose to new heights with the novel Scavenger's Son (1947) which said that the son's generation too had no hopes for a change of work and life. Other milestones in his career were Two Measures of Rice (1949) and The Skull (1950). The latter is on the historic peasant revolt (1946) in the Punnapra-Vayalar region of Travancore. Two Measures deals with peasant protest in feudal Kuttanad, the author's native region. Born in a middle-class Nayar family of farm owners, Takazhi never gave up farming-interests even when he became a busy lawyer and a literary celebrity with Prawns (1956), Rungs of the Ladder (1964) and The Rope (1981) [sic](*), to name only a few. The Rope brought him India's highest literary honour, the Jnanpith award in 1984. (…)
[The Rope actually is Kayar (1978).]
(147) In the Kerala setting, besides newspapers and journals, a massive role was played by dramas and katha-kaalakshepam. Also called harikatha, this is a one-man stage show of story-telling, with music. Drama and katha troupes toured the remotest parts of Kerala. The core pusa novels, short stories and poems inspired writers of dramas, kathas and other forms. It is to be noted that, with a few exceptions, dramas with stirring social themes were born only after other branches of pusa came to stay. The exceptions include plays by Dev and Varkey. (…)
Thus, roughly, the 1950s took the core ideas of pusa writing to the audio-visual media, This was also the period when Malayalam films entered a new phase, with themes on caste-and-class handicaps, feudalistic exploitation, and so on. Authentic pusa scripts came in when some novels of Takazhi and Dev were filmed. (…)