Obituary: TP Rajeevan, celebrated poet and novelist, leaves behind an illustrious literary corpus that enriched Malayalam

An accomplished bilingual writer, he breathed his last on 2 November 2022 at the age of 63. His novel 'Paleri Manikyam', based on a rape and murder in the 1950s, is a robust documentation of life in north Kerala in that period.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 03, 2022 | 2:58 PMUpdatedNov 03, 2022 | 4:00 PM

T P Rajeevan, author of 'Paleri Manikyam', died 9 November 2022

Manikyam, a woman in her early twenties from the backward Thiyya community, was found dead in her native Paleri village in Kozhikode district soon after her honeymoon.

Though it was adjudged later as the first recorded rape and murder case since the formation of Kerala state on linguistic grounds, the sessions judge had to acquit all the accused in the case five months after the incident for want of evidence. The tragedy happened around the time the then undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) came to power in Kerala under the leadership of legendary Marxist EMS Namboodiripad.

In another 50 years, Delhi-based crime reporter Thachom Poyil Rajeevan opened the trunk used by his late father during his vacation at his native place and found some bridal dresses of that period and cuttings of some Malayalam newspapers that carried details about the trial in the Manikyam rape and murder case in it. His thoughts then even went to the extreme of doubting his father’s involvement in the murder.

Solving the murder mystery 50 years later

A perplexed TP Rajeevan decided to unravel the mystery behind the sensational murder and proceeded to Paleri to gather evidence and piece together the Manikyam story validated by official records.

The result is the famous Malayalam novel ‘Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha’ (Manikyam of Paleri: A Midnight Murder Story). ‘Undying Echoes of Silence’ is the English version of the book written by the same author.

Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, who immortalised Manikyam through his exceptional work that stands as a milestone in Malayalam literature, breathed his last late on Wednesday night following kidney-related ailments in Kozhikode. He was 63.

Documentation of life in North Kerala

Besides alleviating his fear that his father was involved in the murder, TP Rajeevan’s explorations and the novel ‘Paleri Manikyam’ have turned into a robust documentation of life in north Kerala in the 1950s.

It explored the feudal instincts of that era apart from analysing complex communal relationships between Nairs, Thiyyas, and Muslims. It also probed how Communism took deep roots quickly in North Kerala.

The book led to opposition from Kerala’s communists as it quoted an alleged letter by EMS Namboodiripad in April 1957 to the party local leadership in Paleri detailing how the investigation officer, who hailed from a party-affiliated family, ‘solved’ the case without causing disturbance to the party and its government.

The novel and its cinematic adaptation by noted director Ranjith now stand as devastating indictments of the trauma and sufferings of lower-caste women in a conservative social atmosphere.

An accomplished bilingual writer, poet and publisher, TP Rajeevan, is leaving behind a legacy of blending creativity with contemporary political and social issues.

Besides the story of Manikyam, TP Rajeevan is well known as the author of ‘KTN Kottoor: Ezhuthum Jeevithavum’, a novel revolving around the life and times of a fictional character KTN Kottoor.

A then public relations officer at the University of Calicut, TP Rajeevan has brought out many best-selling Malayalam poetry collections, including ‘Vathil’, ‘Vayalkkarayil Ippolillatha’, ‘Pranayasathakam’, and ‘Deerkhakalam’. His travelogue ‘Purappettu Poya Vakku’ also won wide critical acclaim. He has also written two poetry collections in English, ‘Kannaki’ and ‘He Who Was Gone Thus’.

Related: Mary Roy, who saved Syrian Christian women from discriminatory law

TP Rajeevan and the CPI(M)

Politically, TP Rajeevan began his activism as a left extremist but later started supporting the Congress, the principal enemy of the mainstream left in Kerala.

In and outside the university service, he locked horns with Kerala’s left governments and several leaders of the CPI(M). On many occasions, he became a target of the communists, and their wrath even affected the growth of his career.

After retirement, TP Rajeevan worked as an advisor to the cultural affairs minister and Congress leader K C Joseph. He was disillusioned with that post very soon and, at the fag end of his life, even favoured specific policies of the BJP-led Union government.

But what makes him a cut above the rest of the writers in Malayalam is his preference to be a rebel always. He was never comfortable with power and dared to question whoever held power without caring about the colour of the flag they held.

Though he began his literary pursuits as a poet, he was more popular and recognised by critics as a novelist, a field in which he experimented in his middle age.

He was also active in environmental movements. He led many agitations against quarry mafias that were trying to destroy his native Paleri and adjacent Kottoor.

Despite his sharpness in expressing ideological differences, TP Rajeevan was known for building personal friendships beyond all barriers. Upon his demise, people from different walks of life paid him rich tributes.