Chemmeen (novel)

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Chemmeen (novel) cover.jpg
First English edition cover
Original title ചെമ്മീൻ
Country India
Language Malayalam
Genre Romance, Drama
Publisher National Book Stall, D. C. Books
Publication date
Published in English
Pages 207
ISBN 9788171305506
Preceded by Randidangazhi
Followed by Enippadikal

Chemmeen (Malayalam: ചെമ്മീൻ, cemmīn [t͡ʃemmiːn], lit. prawn) is a Malayalam novel written by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai in 1956. Chemmeen tells the story of the relationship between Karuthamma, the daughter of a Hindu fisherman, and Pareekutti, the son of a Muslim fish wholesaler. The theme of the novel is a myth among the fishermen communities along the coastal Kerala State in the Southern India. The myth is about chastity. If the married fisher woman was infidel when her husband was in the sea, the Sea Goddess (Kadalamma literally means Mother Sea) would consume him. It is to perpetuate this myth that Thakazhi wrote this beautiful novel. It was adapted into a film of same name, which won critical acclaim and commercial success.

Thakazhi made a departure from his a vowed commitment to realism as it appeared in his works till then he brought in a fresh breeze of lyricism and romanticism. The novel acquires the quality of a fable in which life in the fishermen’s community is depicted with great emotional detail. The customs, taboos, beliefs, rituals and the day-to-day business of living through the pain of stark existence come alive magically through Thakazhi’s pen.

Chemmeen won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award, India's second highest literary prize, in 1957.


Chembankunju's only aim in life is to own a boat and a net. He finally succeeds in buying both with the help of Pareekutty, a young Muslim trader, on condition that the fish hauled by the boat will be sold to him. Chembankunju's pretty daughter Karuthamma and Pareekutty love each other. Karuthamma s mother, Chakki, knows about it and reminds her daughter about the life they lead within the boundaries of strict social tradition. Karuthamma sacrifices her love for Pareekutty and marries Palani, an orphan discovered by Chembankunju in the course of one of his fishing expeditions. Following the marriage, Karuthamma accompanies her husband to his village, despite her mother's sudden illness and her father's repeated requests to stay. In his fury, Chembankunju disowns her. On acquiring a boat and a net and subsequently adding one more, Chembankunju becomes more greedy and heartless. With his dishonesty, he drives Pareekutty to bankruptcy. After the death of his wife, Chembankunju marries Pappikunju, the widow of the man from whom he had bought his first boat. Panchami, Chembankunju's younger daughter, leaves home to join Karuthama, on arrival of her step mother. Meanwhile, Karuthamma has endeavoured to be a good wife and mother. But scandal about her old love for Pareekutty spreads in the village. Palani s friends ostracize him and refuse to take him fishing with them. By a stroke of fate, Karuthamma and Pareekutty meet one night and their old love is awakened... Palani, at sea alone and baiting a large shark, is caught in a huge whirlpool and is swallowed by the sea. Next morning, Karuthamma and Parekutty, are also found dead hand in hand, washed ashore. At a distance lie the washed-up corpses of Palani the baited shark.


  • Chembankunju - A Dishonest Fisherman
  • Chakki - Spouse of Chembankunju
  • Pareekutty - Muslim Trader who falls in love with Karuthamma
  • Karuthamma - Daughter of Chembankunju
  • Palani - Fisherman who marries Karuthamma
  • Panchami - Chembankunju's younger daughter ....

Inspiration and influences[edit]

Chemmeen is Pillai’s best novel which expresses the aspirations, struggle and grief in the lives of the fisherman of Kerala. Chemmeen has so much to offer to the readers. This critical study will help students of advanced degree courses of various universities as well as general readers to understand various aspects related to this novel. The tragedy of the poor fisherman has been depicted on the epical scale. Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s (Malayalam) novel Chemmeen, accepted as part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works - Indian Series, was translated by V.K.Narayana Menon, and published by Victor Gollancz, London in 1962. It was the first significant Malayalam novel to be translated into English after Independence or, rather, during the early post-colonial era.[1]


Widely successful, Chemmeen was translated into English, Russian, German, Italian, Arabic and French along with several Indian languages.[2]

Chemmeen has been translated into English many times. Narayana Menon's translation titled Anger of the Sea-Goddess remains very popular even to this day. Other English translations are by T. S. Pillai and Anita Nair, both titled Chemmeen.[3] It has gone into several editions and is readily available at bookshops all over India.

Film adaptation[edit]

It was adapted into a film in 1965, which won critical acclaim and commercial success. The film, titled Chemmeen itself, was directed by Ramu Kariat. Sheela, Madhu, Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair and Sathyan played the lead characters in the film. It won the Indian President's Gold Medal for the Best Film of 1965.

The screenplay was written by S. L. Puram Sadanandan, with cinematography by Marcus Bartley, and editing by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and K.D. George. Songs were set to music by Salil Chowdhury, with lyrics by Vayalar, and featuring voices of Manna Dey, K. J. Yesudas and P. Leela.


External links[edit]