Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The tireless writer


THE talk in the streets is that violence and non-violence are mutually exclusive. Following this, it is axiomatically held in the political field that the Marxian and Gandhian ideologies cancel each other at least in theory. But keen students have discovered that what stands out between these two philosophies is more their consanguinity than their contradiction. I have found that this view if extended to a relative study of the personalities of Marx and Gandhiji would unravel hitherto unknown affinities between these two world leaders.

Let us study one of these affinities. Both Marx and Gandhiji were tireless writers, their literary output being unusually massive. They did not take to the mission of writing casually, but in a severely professional manner, pressing into service all their innate skills and proficiencies. The stupendous corpus of writing they bequeathed to the world underscores the creative affinity of their selves. When every ten minutes from a quarter hour in one's wakeful life for about six decades is devoted to either speaking or writing, this incredibly corpulent mass of about tens of thousands of printed pages would be the inevitable result.

The hundred royal-size volumes of the collected works of Gandhiji is an instance illuminating the above principles.

The second would be the works of E. M. S. Namboodiripad, which has not yet been collected in their entirety. But if a rough and ready reckoning of the vast physical extent of the works left behind by him could be attempted, the final score would place him as a close runner-up after Gandhiji in this likely contest.

The sturdy foundation for EMS' literary inspirations was laid during his college days. It was none other than the doyen of social reform in Kerala, V. T. Bhattathiripad, who initiated him into the secrets of writing literary and journalistic pieces for his organ Unni Nampoothiri. The first book Nampoodiripad wrote was about Jawaharlal Nehru. All these tentative footsteps in the field of writing were taken in the early part of the 1930s. This ceased only with the final breath of the writer.

The very number count of this body of writing, under various genres and classification, would be a shattering experience. The books authored by EMS in Malayalam come to 75. In English, the number of books would be about 15, including such works as A Short History of the Peasant Movement in Kerala, The Mahatma and his Ism, Marxism and Literature and Selected Writings. A political leader of great intellectual capability that he was, he had always been a vigorous pamphleteer. He had a flair for writing polemics on all the live contemporary political, social and literary issues. The total number of all these could be as high as 200.

Another unchartered area in the writing field covers his articles on a variety of subjects published in various journals, which emerge in an interrupted stream of printed matter. Add to this the introductions he gave to authors, which enhanced the reputations of the works. Then come the columns he contributed for journals such as Chintha, Desabhimani and People's Democracy, besides Frontline.

The bewildering range and variety of these writings is itself a tribute to the ever-alert, computer-like intellect of the author. But the fastidious among the readers would not be carried away by mere proclivity. They would sniff around for quality. Profusion in creation generally tends to take away quality from artistic and intellectual productivity.

This happened neither in the case of Gandhiji, nor in the case of EMS. It was Edward Thompson, the British poet and critic, who escorted Gandhiji to the Round Table Conference as his private secretary; he confessed that he failed invariably to pick any error in the statements dictated by Gandhiji.

Namboodiripad would not pardon himself for any stylistic shortcomings in his works. For he was a writer with finicky tastes who would not allow himself to deviate from the King's Malayalam. His concern for purity and quality in Malayalam writing was as profoundly genuine as that of any good Malayalam writer. He, in fact, constituted himself as a one-man army to fight for the cause of good Malayalam. His mastery was heard at all the forums of Malayalam writers and journalists.

The countless writings notwithstanding, his style has unfailingly impressed the reader by its care in avoiding the pitfalls of verbosity, looseness in expression, needless exuberance and long-windedness. In his writings, the celebrated aphorism of Buffon - "Style is the man"- came to life.
Namboodiripad the person led a simple life, was austere in his habits and was lofty in his thinking. His style does not take another way. His style may look dry, but it only means that he has avoided unwanted fat and padding. The inartistic verbal tendencies rearing their heads in modern journalism and literary prose, such as inappropriate exaggeration and subjective excesses in imagination and chaotic rumbling, are hard to find in the written and spoken words of EMS. His speech when transcribed could go to print unedited.

To me it seems that EMS was at heart influenced by Gandhiji, though his intellect was dominated by Marx. His style had the qualities of Gandhian simplicity, clarity and lack of artificiality.

EMS wrote as he lived, his writing cannot be separated from his life - an integration few writers could achieve.

Sukumar Azhicode, orator and critic, was the Chairman of the National Book Trust, New Delhi.

A select bibliography of EMS' publications in English :

A Short History of the Peasant Movement in Kerala (1943)
The National Question in Kerala (1952)
The Mahatma and his Ism (1958)
Problems of National Integration (1966)
What really happened in Kerala (1966)
Economics and Politics of India's Socialist Pattern (1966)
Kerala Yesterday Today and Tomorrow (1967)
India under Congress rule (1967)
Conflicts and Crisis (1974)
Indian Planning in Crisis (1974)
Marxism and Literature (1975)
How I became a Communist? (1976)
Crisis into Chaos (1981)
Kerala Society and Politics: A Historical Survey (1984)
A History of the Indian Freedom Struggle (1986)
Reminiscence of an Indian Communist (1987)
Nehru: Ideology and Practice (1988)

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