|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Encounter/T P Sreenivasan
November 07, 2005
Ialways thought Madhavan Kutty was ageless and deathless: after all, he was called 'kutty' or child all his life and he looked more or less the same ever since I saw him first in 1968.
Moreover, he had survived two air crashes. The last manuscript of his I saw was called Curtains Not Yet, but the curtains came all too soon, within hours after he entered a hospital following a sudden illness. Kerala lost its best spokesman in Delhi and India lost one of its best journalists.
Writers in Malayalam used to assemble in the Kerala Club in Connaught Place every Friday in the sixties to share their writings with fellow Malayalees. The proceedings of the group were often drowned out by the inebriated card players around, but many of them became luminaries in Malayalam literature later.
Apart from Madhavan Kutty, I met O V Vijayan, V K N, I K K M, Sethu and others there. A virtual Delhi school of writing developed, but even though it had characters and images from Delhi, it was very much a part of the mainstream Malayalam literature.
The writers did not claim recognition for a different genre of writing. No wonder, Madhavan Kutty was very critical of the recent award for the best 'pravasi (overseas) novelist.' He was, in fact, opposed even to the word 'pravasi' as it smacked of an unpleasant distinction between resident and non-resident Indians.
Madhavan Kutty followed Mahakavi Vallathol's exhortation that Keralites should be proud of their Indian heritage and their blood should boil at the very mention of Kerala. He lived in Delhi as an Envoy Extraordinary of Kerala, interpreting Kerala for the rest of India and Delhi for Keralites. He defended the cause of Kerala without fear and faced the challenges associated with that crusade.
He was the first to voice concern over any neglect of or discrimination against Kerala at the hands of the Union Government. I remember his caustic remark that he was known as a 'Madrasi' for 45 years and a 'Mallu' of late, but never a Malayalee.
My fondest memories of Madhavan Kutty are from our travels together abroad and his visits to our overseas homes. He travelled with the wherewithal to make his bed tea wherever he went and promptly invited me every morning to share his brew, whether it was in Moscow, New York or Paris.
It was a joy for me to serve him bed tea for a couple of days when he stayed with us recently in our home in Thiruvananthapuram, and to share the memories of tea-drinking in distant lands.
Madhavan Kutty was a journalist among writers and a writer among journalists. He had a simple style of writing in Malayalam and English. His comments revealed a sharp mind and a sincerity of purpose. He was no orator, but he had solid things to say on every occasion.
At a recent conference of non-resident Keralites, he pointed out that the Government of Kerala should not worry only about air fares to the Gulf, but also about domestic air fares, which were also prohibitive, making it difficult for Keralites to return home from distant cities in India itself.
Stories are legion about the helping hand Madhavan Kutty extended to Keralites, who landed up in Delhi with various missions. He was a refuge for people who were lost in the unfamiliar surroundings and language of the metropolis. His access to high places and his impeccable reputation for integrity were a great asset to those in need.
The last time I saw Madhavan Kutty in Thiruvananthapuram, he was agitated by reports that Delhi was being overwhelmed by the arrival of several 'Mallus' in key places. His vivid memory of the last 50 years and his intimate knowledge of the contribution made by the Malayalees to the bureaucracy and to the political life of the capital, he had facts and figures to show that this was not a new phenomenon and that people from Kerala were handpicked to do sensitive jobs even in the past. They were selected for reasons of integrity and efficiency and it would be unfair to disqualify anyone on the ground that there were too many 'Mallus' in high places.
He was a virtual encyclopaedia on Kerala's contribution to the national scene. One V P Menon or one V K Krishna Menon could stir the imagination of the nation, he used to say.
He was the authentic voice of Kerala in Delhi and his reporting from Delhi had the authenticity of an insider and the credibility of a trusted friend. His writings and his voice on the Asianet television channel first and the Kairali television channel afterwards commanded attention.
A famous Malayalee writer once said the Qutab Minar and Madhavan Kutty were the two attractions for every Keralite who went to New Delhi. Now, the Qutab Minar should, sadly, stand alone.
T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador to the United Nations, Vienna, and former governor for India, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.
Encounters: More in Ambassador Sreenivasan's series on interesting people.Photograph: UNI
The Rediff Specials: Encounter