Rama Raja Bahadur: A Novel About Kerala

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Item Code: NAE976
Author: C. V. Raman Pillai and Prema Jayakumar
Language: English
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 9788126017867
Pages: 507
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 720 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

Rama Raja Bahadur is one of a trilogy of historical novels by C.V. historical novel revolves round state of Travancore, well-governed by its great ruler Rama Varma Raja, ably assisted by his Diwan. It is under of an invasion by Tippu Sultan and by the treacherous activities of its own subjects. The story could be that of any historical novel, but it is in the creation of life-like and sometimes, larger than life characters that the book stands above the ordinary historical novels: Diwan kesava Pillai, Kesavan Unnithan, his wife Meenakshi Amma, their daughter Savitri who combines womanly grace with the valour of her illustrious ancestors, Kunchaikutti Pillai Karyakkar and on the other side, the dominating figure of Kali Udayan Chandrakkaran who comes variously clad as Kaliprabhava Bhattan and Manicka Goundan. There is also the large figure of Perinchakodan with his shadowy alter ego Parapanda. Along with the toils of war and state craft, there is also the adventurous story of Trivikraman and Savitri. Yet another love story, that of Devaki, tragic this time, occurs in the latter part of the novel.

About the Author

C.V. Raman Pillai (1852-1922) one of the great Malayalam novelists, was born in the erstwhile Travancore State and graduated in 1881 from Madras University. Even while a student, he had taken interest in the political and social issues of the time. Some of the article he published anonymously at that time attracted attention and discussion. He was associated with Malayalam as its founder editor. The first book publisher by C.V. was a satire called Chandramukhivilasam (1884).

He has to his credit a number of novels and satirical plays, but he is at his best in the trilogy of historical novels, Marthanda Varma, Dharma Raja and Rama Raja Bahadur.


The Present work, Rama Raja Bahadur, is undoubtedly the magnum opus of C.V. Raman Pillai (1858-1922), who is commonly regarded as the greatest novelist in Malayalam. It was originally published in two parts: Part One came out in 1918, Part Two in 1919, His first novel was Marthanda Varma (published by Addison and Company, Madras, 1891; its English translation by B.K. Menon was first published in 1936 and republished by Sahitya Akademi in 1998). Between Marthanda Varma and Rama Raja Bahadur appeared two novels, Dharma raja (1913), yet another attempt at fictionalizing history, and Premamritam (1914), a rare king of satirical fiction. All these years he was also engaged in laying the foundation of Malayalam drama, carefully developing a theatre-consciousness among the citizens of Thiruvananthapuram. The dramatic quality, which enlivens C. V.’s fictional narration, is closely connected with his work as a playwright and actor. In addition to four complete novels and 9 comedies or farces, his oeuvre includes several booklets and translations as well as a few fragments of fiction. He also played a prominent role in public life and was superintendent of the Government Press for a time.

Marthanda Varma, Dharma Raja and Rama Raja Bahadur are often considered historical novels, partly because they deal with major events in the history of the then State of Travancore (Thiruvithankoor), ¥those kings are remembered in their tides, and partly because they help us understand the political, social and cultural forces at work at a critical period in the evolution of a modern State. They form a trilogy, with the skeletal structure of the plot supplied by the efforts of Marthanda Varma and his nephew Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma to establish and maintain their kingdom against internal intrigues and external aggression. Using the tapestry of political and military engagements in 18th century Kerala, the novelist unfolds episode after episode in which the Maharaja and his trusted lieutenant Raja Kesavadas succeed in outwitting the enemies comprised the survivors or descendants of the eightfold feudal chieftains of Marthanda a Varma's time and the forces of Tippu Sultan of Mysore aided and abetted by them. Broadly viewed, Rama Raja Bahadur is concerned with the political history of Travancore during 1788-89, but it is interspersed with the individual destinies of ever so many people on the different rungs of society. The dense socio-cultural background itself is here for egrounded, so that the novel could be thought of at one level as an assemblage of the private lives of a number of characters, who have all roles to play in the events that rocked the State at that time. These novels can thus be seen to have an epic dimension, reminiscent of the works of Walter Scott and Bankimchandra Chatterji, but C.V Raman Pillai manages to draw in echoes from Indian puranas, mahakauyas and attakatbas, thereby weaving a highly intricate design of narration, involving the fortunes and rnisfortunes. of individuals and families, along with the tragedy and triumph affecting a whole people. C. V's narrative prose is a conglomeration of multiple styles. There are passages of description, creating obstruction to the straightforward flow of story telling, full of suggested meanings flashing forth in all the eight directions, interspersed with allusions and Gongorisms. These ornate passages remind the reader of medieval mansions and castles and fortifications, holding the narrative in their baroque magic spel1. In sharp contrast to this there are dialogues in a down-to-earth rustic style, striking the open-air gusto of folk idioms and author can electrify a momentous situation, as when the Maharaja concentrates all his personal anxiety and social concern in a single vocative addressed to "Kesavan" and the latter's emotion-charged cryptic response "Your Highness!" (p. 240) or when Tippu blesses Savitri and snubs his son Fateh Hyder for his bad manners with telling effect (p.444). They are reminiscent of the dramatic highpoints in the chronicle plays of Shakespeare.

What distinguishes c.v.'s novels from the run-of-the- mill pop fiction is the high seriousness he invests them with and the way he enriches his narratives with an over-archil 5 metaphysical vision. Despite all the tragedies that beset man, he shall achieve triumph over the unfriendly forces of destiny: but his glory depends on how much he can put up with, how much he can resist. Kunchaikutry Pillai's self-sacrifice to save the nation from the enemy is an eloquent example of the power of the spirit not only to survive, but to prevail. This is where one feels that C.V. Raman Pillai belongs to the same tribe as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The miserable exit of Chandrakkaran, after all these years dedicated to torturing others and torturing himself, saves him from ultimate damnation because of his last-minute acceptance of surrender and heroic effort to save another's life (p. 466). The stylistic variations and evocations of varied landscapes bring him closer to James Joyce of Ulysses. c.v. controls his narrative flow in a number of ways: sometimes shuffling the episodes, sometimes dislocating the time sequence, by moving on the slow or fast track, leaving gaps in the narrative for the readers to fill in if necessary, etc. His mastery of narrative technique is self-evident in all his writings: e.g. the Kandirava Rayar- Azhakan Pillai duel is shown in slow motion, while Kesava Das's trip to the warfront is briskly summarized.

Characterization is c.v.'s forte, next to the art of narration itself. Rama Raja Bahadur can be called a political novel in respect of the relentless game of power it illustrates and analyses with so much subtlety and sagacity. But its success in projecting the humanist vision comes mainly due tothe psychological insight the author displays in locating each major character in an appropriate milieu and suggesting significant contrasts between them all. Kesava Pillai and Kesavan Unnithan form one of several pairs whom c.v. could draw convincingly because of his native gift of negative capability. The relationship between Unnithan and his wife Meenakshi is strained because of the former's jealous nature and his lack of worldly wisdom. Vikraman and Savitri, the young pair of lovers, seem to enjoy the special favour of the author, though that does not automatically bail them out of difficult situations. Everyone has to confront his destiny, whether kind or cruel, but c.v. often celebrates man's effort to triumph over difficulties by sheer strength of will: Raja Keshava Das himself is the best illustration of this story of success. Chandrakkaran is the restless soul for he is hankering after what is beyond him. Kunchaikutty Pillai is a role model for a yogi in full self-possession. Azhakan Pillai, the unlettered, but loyal rustic, is held up against Kandirava Rayar as a model for local culture and patriotism And these are not all stereotypes; they are characters in the round, growing and being shaped by their everyday experiences. The Maharaja is all by himself, in the role of an ideal king, and so more of an institution than an individual, a veritable picture of wisdom and true maturity. Yet he is not an abstraction, he is swayed by feelings-feelings of affection and kindness, worry and anguish, both on his own behalf and on behalf of his people. For the entire narrative is the story of a people, and what ensures the epic character of the work is this attempt to write the nation, with characters drawn From all walks of life, young and old, men and women, upper class and lower class, Hindus and Muslims, Brahmins and Nadars, bringing the elite and the plebeian in close proximity to each other, covering the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of the social fabric. The use of varied dialects helps to bring to life the divergent communities and their actual settings, thereby establishing the broadest perspective of the history of the people, not reducing it to mere political history. The socio-economic and cultural undercurrents are caught and presented in their respective wavelengths.

C.V. Raman Pillai's portrayal of evil in Rama Raja Bahadur, as in the other novels, can be seen in a psychological and philosophical light. This is where he brings to mind what Shakespeare has done in Othello, Dostoevsky in The Devil Melville in Moby Dick. Kodantha Asan is not a figment of the author's imagination. When one deals with the massive history of the human race in psychological and metaphysical terms, the visible and invisible presence of human evil takes on a supernatural aura. But the novelist as well as the other characters confronts it directly with courage, and the scourge is exterminated, although the damage it has brought about in the meanwhile is tremendous. Chandrakkaran alias Kaliprabhava Bhattan alias Manikyagoundan is marked not only by greed for the hidden treasure in the literal sense, but also by other secret aspirations of an ignoble kind. Perinchakodan alias Parapanda is also motivated by personal interests. The former is granted a saving grace by the author in that he is genuinely fond' of Savitri; in the same way Perinchakodan, with potentiality for villainy, is saved by his affection for his daughter Devaki. In Raman Pillai's novels, though not in his plays, women are agents of good most of the time- Meenakshi and Savitri, both of the same stock, display in diverse ways a remarkable degree of resourcefulness in the face of adverse circumstances. Persecuted by her jealous husband, Meenakshi maintains a quiet dignity despite the haunting grief, while Savitri is equal in spirit and stature to her counterpart Thrivikraman.

Finally, although this novel was written during the heyday of British supremacy, there is interiorized in this work a glimpse of not only protest and resistance to foreign political domination, but also to the linear Western narrative mode. The work celebrates a victory over an alien invader and the final triumph comes through the evocation of spiritual powers embedded in the sacrifice of Kunchaikutty Pillai. There is thus a faint echo of the freedom struggle going on all over India at the time of the composition of this work, which was as much against native conspirators and collaborators as against foreign overlords. But, more important than that perhaps, by hindsight, is the retrieval of narrative strategies reminiscent of the Indian puranic mode of narrating story or history. All the convolutions in the structure of the plot as well as the multiplicity of styles that resist a purely realistic and linear account of events, with all the magic and fantasy contributing so much to the richness of the narrative, appear to support the view that whatever c.v. may have learned from English novelists like Scott, his imagination is firmly rooted in the native tradition of storytelling, which is not meticulously streamlined, but can take a lot of illogicalities and deviations in its stride, with a number of subplots and counterplots, running criss-cross over the crowded narrative space. Contrary to current speculations in several circles, our 19th century storytellers were not so much inclined to imitate the Western mode as to break away from it through subterfuges and subaltern disguises. c.v. may not have been fully conscious of the implications of such a stance, but as the author of a series of articles against foreign dominance under the title "Videsiya medhavitvam," he should have in his subconscious visualized a way of narrating this nation, which in essence constitutes a way of creating that nation or at least the consciousness of that nation. To think about one's past intensely is to be free; to narrate it is to bring a nation into being.' It is an opening into the future.

Literary translation is a difficult art, and a qualified success at the best. Prema Jayakumar (whose father B.K. Menon had translated Marthanda Varma nearly seventy years back) has largely succeeded in her attempt to communicate speakers of other languages not only the bare outline of a story concerned with the people of one State, but also sensitize them to the highly cultivated narrative art employed by c.v. Raman Pillai-an art not easily lending itself to the lazy reading of even the native speakers of Malayalam. The dialectal range of the author is not at the disposal of the translator, and yet considering the difficulty, or even the impossible of achieving the polyphony of the original Is any other language what she has done deserves praise. A Russian academic hearing that we have Brother Karmazov in Malayalam translation once told me closing hi eyes in disbelief you mean Dostevsky? Impossible translating C.V. Raman pillai is an equally arduous task but it had to be done at least once and that task has been creditably accomplished by prema Jayakumar. She deserves the admiration and thanks of not only her English reader of also the Malaylis for providing a glimpse of this Everest of Malayalam fiction to a wider reading public

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