Kerala will soon be enriched by a memorial to one among its legendary writers, P Kesavadev. The P Kesavadev Museum is coming up on the banks of the Karamana River near Lakshmi Nilayam, the house that Kesavadev built and spent a good part of his life in Thiruvananthapuram.
Lakshmi Nilayam is located at Mudavanmugal near Poojappura in Thiruvananthapuram city. Once it was a meeting place of the top writers in Malayalam. Living in this house and also before that, Kesavadev proved that his word and deed were one and the same. On July 1, the 36th death anniversary of the writer was observed.
A son and a father
Even though Kesavadev was born in North Paravoor, he spent most of his years in Thiruvananthapuram city. Leaving his native place at a young age owing to various reasons, Kesavadev wandered at several places before deciding to settle down in the Kerala capital. He found a nesting place in the pristine hills of Mudavanmugal along with his wife Seethalakshmi in 1965. The house was named after Kesavadev's companion. In 1967, the couple welcomed a new arrival to the family, a son who was named Jothydev.
Like his father, Jothydev too earned a name for himself later. But while Kesavadev excelled in the literary field, Jothydev found his calling in medicine and is now an internationally renowned expert in diabetes treatment. He is also active in the care of elderly people. Even while working as an assistant professor at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, the doctor had launched efforts in this regard.
He wrote while standing
Mudavanmugal was once one of the most beautiful spots in Thiruvananthapuram city. But developmental activities have now changed its face.
Kesavadev's creative space was on the third floor of Lakshmi Nilayam. Recalls Prof M G Sasibhooshan, an academic and writer: “When Kesavadev got ready to write on the third floor of the house, he could have a clear view of the Karamana River flowing smoothly right in front. A well-built man, he stood while writing. Instead of paperweights, he used rock pieces that were washed and cleaned. Curiously, Kesavadev spoke aloud while putting his imagination on paper. It was similar to delivering a speech.”
Over a dozen works took shape in this way. They included stories, novels, plays and social criticism.
Lakshmi Nilayam and Seethalakshmi Dev
Several interesting incidents that took place at Lakshmi Nilayam are still alive in the memories of Seethalakshmi Dev. “Writers, social workers and political-cultural leaders came to the house often. They had food from here. Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Ponkunnam Varkey were regular visitors. Kesavadev entered into arguments with them and Thakazhi used to leave the house in a huff. Kesavadev followed Thakazhi and brought him back. Kesavadev knew how to pacify Thakazhi,” she remembers.
Seethalakshmi Dev prefers to identify herself as the evergreen lover of Kesavadev. Even now she wears flowers on her hair and a ‘bindi’. Seethalakshmi also is a writer who preferred to stay in the shadows of her husband. She has written several books, including one that deals with her life with Kesavadev.
Seethalakshmi not only makes one feel the presence of Kesavadev but also helps recall the social history of Kerala over the past 50 years. Kesavadev was a revolutionary who organized the coir workers and rickshaw pullers in Alappuzha. A supporter of the Left ideology, he later opposed the changes witnessed in the movement. Kesavadev also rebelled against the transformation of the Left. Seethalakshmi, who was a witness to all these developments, is still active as a writer in Lakshmi Nilayam.
When relating the love and care showered on her by Thakazhi's wife Katha and Kerala's much loved writer Kamala Surayya, tears well up in Seethalakshmi's eyes.
“Kesavadev was selected for the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel ‘Ayalkkar’ after we had shifted to this house. Kesavadev used to read out each of the chapters to me. I told him that the book would win an award. My prediction later came true,” says Seethalakshmi.
‘Ayalkkar’ deals with the collapse of the joint family system and feudal set-up in Kerala. Many innocent people were affected and they could only watch the changes helplessly. The novel relates their stories.
Seethalakshmi now lives in Lakshmi Nilayam with her son Dr Jothydev, daughter-in-law Sunitha Jothydev and grandson Krishnadev.
Jothydev's memories of Mohanlal
According to Jothydev, Lakshmi Nilayam brings back several nostalgic memories. “The house was built on an uninhabited hill with thick greenery. There were a number of trees on which several species of birds lived. There were only 2-3 houses in the area at that time,” he says.
“One of the early residents were Viswanathan Uncle and Santha Aunty and their two sons, Lalu Chettan and Pyari Chettan. Lalu later became an internationally-known celebrity. He is none other the mega star of Malayalam Mohanlal,” reveals Jothydev.
During their teenage, Mohanlal and film director Priyadarshan were regular visitors to Kesavadev’s house. “They took books from my father's library to read and acted in his plays,” recalls Jothydev.
Lakshmi Nilayam still stands as during the days when the legendary writer spent his days here. Even after half a century, the structure has not been altered. The writer's room is preserved as a memorial. Similar to a museum, items used by Kesavadev are kept intact. There are old magazines, the letters exchanged by the writer, his cot, walking stick, handwritten manuscripts, awards, copies of his works and other objects that tell the tale of a crucial chapter in Kerala’s history.
The museum in Lakshmi Nilayam is a temporary arrangement and all items will be shifted to a new building nearby. The P Kesavadev Museum is getting ready on the banks of the Karamana River and it has been given the title ‘Devinte Lokam’ (Dev’s world). Apart from being a literary museum, the facility would be a symbol of an era when social debate and creativity joined hands.
Major characters in Kesavadev's novels and memorable episodes in his works would be recreated in the museum, which is coming up with the cooperation of the Kerala government.
Thiruvananthapuram-based Habitat Technology Group headed by noted architect G Shankar is tasked with the construction. The activities are being coordinated by P Kesavadev Trust, which was set up by the writer’s family and friends 20 years ago.
The Trust presents a literary award every year to encourage people who love Malayalam. In addition, another award has been instituted to promote awareness on health issues. P Kesavadev Trust is involved in several humanitarian activities too.