N. S. Madhavan
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N. S. Madhavan (1948– ) is a leading writer of contemporary Malayalam literature, whose short stories, novels, football columns and travel articles enjoy a wide readership in Malayalam speaking areas of India.
Madhavan was born in the port city of Cochin where he attended the Sree Rama Varma High School. After graduating in economics from Maharajas College, Ernakulam he moved to Thiruvananthapuram to study for his masters at the Department of Economics, University of Kerala. During this period he began writing, and in 1970 won the top prize for his first published short story 'Sisu', in a contest organized by the Malayalam literary magazine Mathrubhumi. In 1975, Madhavan joined the Indian Administrative Service where he was seconded to the Bihar cadre. His civil service career followed the usual path of initially administering sub-districts and districts, then jobs in the state and union secretariats followed by the running departments and corporations.
In the 1980s, Madhavan went through a decade-long period of writer's block, until the release of his story 'Higuita' in 1990. In this work, Madhavan models his protagonist, priest Father Geevarghese, on René Higuita, the 1990 FIFA World Cup goalkeeper for Colombia. Higuita's unconventional playing style whereby he would often abandon his goal and try to score goals, occupies the priest's imagination. Likewise, he temporarily abandons his cassock and saves a tribal girl Lucie from the clutches of the trafficker Jabbar. The short story was adjudged the best in hundred years of Malayalam literature. Since then he has published four collections of stories, a novel and one collection of plays. Madhavan's works of short fiction are:
- Chulaimedile Savangal (Corpses of Chulaimed)
- Thiruth (Blue Pencil)
- Paryaya Kathakal (Stories about Names)
- Nilavili (The Cry)
Madhavan's contribution to the short story genre, which is dying in most parts of the world, is reckoned by critics to be unique and noteworthy. As a short-fiction writer, his art gives importance to minute details and exemplifies the manifest skill and compact craft that writing short fiction demands. In Madhavan's works the subtle connections of criss-crossing dialogs and interlacing plots ultimately reveal an integrated narrative continuum.
After thirty-three years as a writer, Madhavan published his debut novel in 2003 as Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal, translated as Litanies of the Dutch Battery in 2010. It was well received by Malayalam readers and has been reprinted many times. The novel is about life on an imaginary island in the Kochi backwater, named after a 17th-century battery (bathery in Malayalam) of five cannons installed on its promontory by the Dutch (Lanthans in Malayalam). Jessica, the young narrator of the story, is the scion of a family of carpenters with a long tradition of boat building. Her remniscences start from the days when she was inside her pregnant mother's womb. The novel presents an intimate picture of life of the Latin Christians of the Kerala coast, descendants of poor, low-caste Hindus who were converted to Christianity by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century.
The novel it is set between 1951 and 1967, the first sixteen years of Jessica life, but draws upon history going back to the time of Vasco Da Gama. She was born at a time when people used to run away from cow-pox vaccinators as well as the period when Kerala embraced communism, which the novelist calls the 'watermelon years' – an allusion to the verdant green-canopied Kerala with its hidden red watermelons. There are captivating descriptions of Latin Christian residents of the Dutch Battery preparing themselves for months prior to the staging of Karalman Chavittu Nadakam, an operatic play about Charlemagne, originally written in Tamil and pidgin Latin by Chinnathambi Annavi in the 16th century. Set against the background of the city of Madhavan's birth, Kochi, the Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal is a roller coaster ride through micro histories, the nascent days of a newly independent country, the growth and decline of ideas, and the randomness of events affecting human lives. Well-known Malayalam novelist M. Mukundan made the following assessment after reviewing the novel, "N.S. Madhavan has rejuvenated Malayalam fiction." He summarises the novel thus: "[The book] is all about history and imagination—the protogonists of new fiction that is in vogue." Mukundan added, "The novel is heavily populated with communists, priests, carpenters, cooks, boatmen, librarians, school teachers, even tailors. At times you will come across history makers from faraway Russia -- Joseph Stalin, Imre Nagy, Nikita Khrushchev..."
The English translation was shortlisted for the 2011 The Hindu Literary Prize, translated by Rajesh Raja Mohan.
In 2006, Madhavan published his first book of plays:
- Randu Natangangal
Madhavan's novel Lanthanbatheriyile Luthiniyakal was translated into English by Rajesh Rajamohan under the title Litanies of Dutch Battery and published in October 2010 by Penguin Books. It was selected for the Man Asian Literary Prize long list, and was the winner of the 2010 Vodafone Crossword Book Award (Fiction Translation).
When Big Trees Fall, a short story by Madhavan, is about the homicidal attacks on the Sikhs that occurred following the 1984 assassination of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and has been filmed as the Hindi movie, Kaya Taran by Sashi Kumar in 2004.
Madhavan is married to Sheela Reddy, book editor of Outlook, an English magazine published in New Delhi. Their daughter, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is a well-known blogger and the author of 2 English novels, You Are Here, Confessions of a Listmaniac and the bestseller Cold Feet.
- M. Mukundan Epic Imagination: Review of Lanthanbatheriyile Luthinayakal, The Little Magazine, New Delhi: Volume IV, Issue 4 2003
English translations of his Malayalam stories