Monday, September 22, 2008

Down Memory Lane:Dr A Achuthan on Early Days of Sastra Sahitya Parishad

YESTERDAY I had a meeting with Dr A Achuthan, an eminent conservationist, pioneer of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad and a well known environmental activist.

He lives in Kozhikode, where much of his working life was spent, first as a teacher in the Regional Engineering College (now National Institute of Technology), and later as dean of students welfare at Calicut University. When he was dean of students welfare, I happened to be the chairman of the Calicut University Union for a term (1979-80) and so I had occasion to work with him closely those days running the affairs of the union. Even before that I knew him because both his children were with me in Malabar Christian College in late seventies when I served the college union in various capacities.

Yesterday, we were talking about the early history of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad and how it evolved into a major popular science movement in India and indeed in the third world, winning international awards in its over 40 years of history.

But in 1962 when it was launched in Kozhikode it was not a popular social movement. It was indeed a movement for the spread of science and science consciousness with books on popular science rendered in Malayalam, with classes for younger generation held in various colleges and schools and for the common people, and other activities which were mainly of an academic nature. He remembered people like P T Bhaskara Panikker, Prof V M N Namboodiripad, Dr K G Adiyodi, Prof M K Prasad, Prof I G Bhaskara Panikkar, Konniyur R Narendranath and others were pioneers in the movement, most of them teaching in colleges in Kozhikode and surrounding areas those days.

One of the major activities was translation of science books and publication of a science magazine, Sastragathi, first edited by P T Bhaskara Panikkar and later by Dr Achuthan. Those days they conducted ten thousand classes in various parts of the state on the topic Nature, Society and Science which addressed the issue of the relation between these forces through scientific and often Marxist point of view.

Dr Achuthan remembers there were contacts with the official CPM leadership even those days, and later this bond became quite strong. "I told EMS that we were doing a service to society which would eventually help the left and progressive forces and hence better leave us with the way we are," he said recalling his conversation with EMS on this aspect. EMS too agreed to this view, he said.

There were problems in the organization in those days too. For example, Dr K G Adiyodi, an eminent scientist, left the Parishad within two years of its formation and Dr Achuthan feels that he left because he thought his contributions were not given sufficient recognition in the organization. It was a feeling of hurt ego that forced him to leave, he said and recalled all his efforts to bring him back to Parishad when they worked together in Calicut University failed to bring any results.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The following comments on the early history of Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad were garnered from various posts at fourthestatecritique, a Google group:

K Kunhikrishnan:

It was in 1962 October that the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad was inaugurated at St. Joseph's College, Devagiri, Calicut. Prof. Humayun Kabir, the then central Minister, was to come for the function, but due to some reason he could not come.

I was at that time a student there and staying with the late Dr. K. G. Adiyodi, my cousin brother, and he was the first General Secretary of the KSSP. The persons who were instrumental in setting up the Parishad were NV Krishna Warrier, Konniyur R Narendranath, Prof. C K D Panicker, K K P Menon, etc, besides Dr. Adiyodi. They all used to come to the house of Dr. Adiyodi in the college quarters very frequently. A little later P T Bhaskara Panicker made the Parishad into a popular movement. Konniyur was on the editorial board of the magazines, initially there was only Sasthragathi and later it was PTB who started the other magazines. Sasthragathi was published from Calicut and it was done by Prof. V K Damodaran, Vincent Paul and Prof. V M N Nambudiripad.

Konniyur had played a very big role in setting up the KSSP. He used to come to the Devagiri College quarters virtually every other day, as the inaugural function was a big affair and the whole college was used for one of the biggest science exhibitions then and almost all science students of the college were volunteers for that function and exhibition. The late actor K. Vijayan and myself were volunteers in the stall where Malayalam science books and magazines were exhibited and sold! Konniyur was then a well established name and his books were sold in the stall as he was well established science writer by then and he was Programma Executive in All India radio, Calicut.
Later on while I was working in Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai as both Assistant Station Director, and as Deputy Director, Konniyur was in All India Radio as Station Director. Both of us were staying in the Indira Nagar Central Government Quarters. He was also the Chairman of the Inter Media Publicity Co-ordination Committee in Chennai as the senior most central Government media Officer. He had written a large number of books. Later on his retirement he moved to Trivandrum and wanted to do Science fiction serials; his son was qualified in Cinematography as well and he devoted his time for serial productions; in the late 80s and early 90s serial business on DD was not very lucrative and he also was disillusioned with Trivandrum as he said people here did not care for him as expected; With a lot of pain and hurt, as he told me, he sold his house in Ambalamukku and moved over to Chennai with his son/daughter. People whom he helped to come up were ungrateful and vengeful to him at Trivandrum. He expected to do a lot of things post retirement, but from Chennai he could not do as he much as he wanted. He was unwell for quite sometime. His contribution to science writing in Malayalam is enormous especially at a time science writing did not have enough readership.

RVG Menon:

Konniur Narendranath was one of the founding members of KSSP.
On April 8, 1962, a meeting of science writers of Kerala was called at the Imperial Hotel, Kozhikode, by five well known science personalities, CKD Panicker, KG Adiyodi, Konniur Narendranath, KK Nair and KKP Menon. It was attended by about 15 persons. It turned out to be the founding meeting of the present KSSP. The name Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishath was suggested by Konniyur Narendranath. Dr K Bhaskaran Nair was elected Adhyakshan and Dr KK Nair was elected the Upa-adhyakshan. Dr KG Adiyodi was the Karyadarsi and NV Krishna Warrier, Khajanji. Dr S. Parameswaran, Dr S. Santhakumar and Dr K George were the Nirvahaka Samithy members.

The organization was to be officially inaugurated on September 10 the same year, at the Devagiri St Joseph's College Auditorium, by no less a person than J B S Haldane. Though Haldane had agreed to come, he could not, and the inauguration was done by the Principal of the College, Fr Theodosius.

I do not know whether it was Narendranath who suggested the name of Sasthragathi or the other Parishad magazines. The decision to start a science magazine in Malayalam was taken at the third annual convention of KSSP, at Olavakkot, in May 1966. The first editorial Committee consisted of NV Krishna Warrier, PT Bhaskara Panicker and MC Namboothirippad. The first issue came out in October 1966, and was officially released by KP Kesava Menon in the Kozhikode Town Hall on 28th November.

KSSP was started, quite interestingly, as a forum of science writers in Malayalam, with the primary purpose of promoting more science literature in Malayalam. I have been told that one of the conditions for membership in those days, was that one should have written at least two articles on science, in Malayalam.

It was only in the seventies that Parishath got more concerned about the application of S&T in society, and came to the formulation that S&T is used for the advancement of the interests of an elite, and that it contributes to the enrichment of this minority at the expense of the majority, and that role of KSSP should be to help reverse this trend, by arming the ordinary people, with the weapons of science.

Hence the new slogan: "Science for Social Revolution".

In order to achieve this objective, it opened its membership to all those who agreed with this objective and were willing to work for it. Even now, the vast majority of Parishath members belong to the Category I and II, mentioned in the Keralapadanam, namely the upper or lower middle class and not the poor or the very poor. But the positions that KSSP take on various issues, like Expressway or Health Care or Self Financing College or Land Reforms, will not be those that serve the interests of these members, but will be the ones which (in our view) serve the interests of Categories III and IV, namely the poor and the very poor.

That is why we consider ourselves to be a PSM (people’s science movement). We put the interests of the people, first and foremost, when we formulate our positions. Yes, we are an NGO, according to the formal definition of the term. But we claim that we are much more than that.

As for funding, let there be no doubt that KSSP does not accept any funding from outside. It is often forgotten that the controversial CDS (Centre for Development Studies) funding was for a research project undertaken and executed by IRTC. Yes, on behalf of KSSP. And, sure, IRTC is controlled by KSSP. But it is a separate organization, with its own MOU and administrative structure, with separate funding and accounting systems. It was founded solely with Government support, and is surviving solely with the help of research funds, mostly from DST (GOI), and Kerala Council for Science Technology and Environment (GOK), and also from consultancy services extended to various LSGIs. Its accounts are audited by the Office of the Accountant General of India. Every rupee it gets is public money and is properly accounted for.

KSSP, on the other hand, meets its expenses by the proceeds from the sale of books and other products like Parishath Aduppu, Choodaaraappetti, Hand-made soap, etc, which it propagates as part of its campaigns. No single paisa comes to KSSP from IRTC. On the other hand, KSSP supports IRTC, when ever it is required.

As mentioned earlier, Parishath began as an science writers' organization.
Perhaps the first instance of a "public action" was a Jaatha undertaken in connection with the VIII Annual Convention in Ernakulam, when the members took out a march from Maharaja's College to Rajendra Maidan and held a pubic meeting, presided over by Prof A. Achuthan. Prof P V Appu gave a public lecture on Chemistry in everyday life.
In 1972, when the IX Annual was held in Mar Thoma College, Thiruvalla, three "Pracharana Car Jaathas" were organized from Kozhikkode, Shoranur and Trivandrum. They held public meetings all along the way.

As part of the X Annual in Kozhikkode, a Sasthra Pracharana Vaaram was held all over the state, as part of which 1208 science meetings were held for the public.
Parishad was gradually evolving into a "popular organization".
It was at the XI Annal held in Trivandrum that the motto "Science for Social Revolution" was formally adopted by KSSP. In fact a National Seminar was held on this very topic, which was presided over by Sarada Subramoniam and attended by N V Krishna Warrier and many other dignitaries from outside Kerala.

But it was the First "Pravarthaka camp" held at Peechi, during May 9, 10 and 11, 1975 and attended by about 80 senior activists, that really went deep into the implications of this motto, and adopted the "political stand" associated with it. The formulation, "a minority that is enriched through the application of S&T and the majority which is being impoverished or is facing the threat of impoverishment" was arrived at this camp.
I think this was the crucial stage when KSSP decided to transform itself into a PSM.
It is true that some of the Old Guard couldn't appreciate this new face of KSSP and they gradually drifted away. The most notable among them was Dr K G Adiyodi, who was one of the founders of this organization.

When the issue of Silent Valley was first presented in the KSSP Nirvaahaka Samithy, I am told that there was a distinct disagreement about the stand to be taken. But Prof MK Prasad persisted with his arguments and bolstered it with many new findings, including those by Bombay Natural History Society and Salim Ali, that his tract of forest was truly unique and deserved to be preserved. Thus the Nirvaahaka Sasmithy meeting held on October 10, 1978 adopted the Silent Valley resolution, calling on the Government to suspend all activities at the site, pending a detailed evaluation of the environmental impacts of this project. The Resolution also called upon the Government to take immediate steps for establishing a Thermal Power plant in Kerala.

I don't know whether it was a coincidence, or there is indeed a connection, but the annual report of 1979-80 says that it was during this year that serious ideological discussions were held in Parishad, at the Pravarthaka Camp held in Thavanur and also at the subsequent Nirvaahaka Samithy meetings.

I must confess that even though I started associating with KSSP in 1977, I was not a member of the Nirvaahaka Samithy or part of the state level activities until 1995. So what I have stated is from either hearsay or based on Annual Reports.
If you are seriously pursuing this subject, you must talk to MP.(Parameswaran.)