Chandu Menon Oyyarathu, Rao Bahadur (1847 - 1899)

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Death: Died
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About Chandu Menon Oyyarathu, Rao Bahadur

Oyyarathu Chandumenon (also known as O. Chandumenon) was a Malayalam language novelist from Kerala state, South India. His 1889 work, Indulekha, was the first Malayalam fictional work which met with all the requisite characteristics of a novel according to widely-accepted Malayalam literary convention. It is not the first novel per se, as Kundalatha (a much inferior work) by Appu Nedungadi pre-dates it by a year. Indulekha throws light on the Nair community during the second half of the nineteenth century when it was undergoing a transformation following western influences and English education. It exalts education and satirizes the orthodox practices of temporary marital alliances between Nair women and Namboodiri men. Indulekha was translated into English 1891 by the-then Collector of Malabar districtMalabar.

Chandumenon got his English education at the school level. He began his career as a clerk in the government service. He continued to teach himself English and won approval of English officials. William Logan, author of the Malabar Manual appointed him as a clerk at Sub-Collector's office. Through a series of promotions, he became a munsiff. In 1892, he became the sub-judge of Calicut. He began a second novel named Sarada, the first part of which appeared in 1892.

Chandumenon made important contributions as a social reformer. He was a member of the committee constituted to inquire and report on the Malabar Marriages Bill. His observations on matrilineal system among Nairs and polyandrous matrimony of Nair women that prevailed during the time are of historical importance. He was given the title of Rao Bahadur in 1898 for excellent service. He was inspired by his wife to write his first novel Indulekha.

From a neighbour named Koran Gurukkal, little Chandu had his first lessons. His next teacher was Pandit Kunjarnbu Nambiar who taught him Sanskrit poetry, drama and grammar. About the same time, he received English lessons from a local school and later from K. Kunjan Menon who was then English Translator in the Tellicherry Civil Court, but gradually rose to be a Sub-Judge, Chandu had higher school education in the Basel Mission Parsi Memorial School in Tellicherry. While studying there he qualified for the uncovenanted Civil Service by securing a high rank in the test for that Service. All the same, he continued his studies. In 1864 his mother passed away, when he was in the matriculation class and then he left the school.

Chandu Menon was then seventeen years old and he felt that he must look for some work. He applied for a clerk's post iri the Small Causes Court in Tellicherry. The Judge, Mr. T. R.-Sharps who interviewed him tp assess his abilities was highly impressed. Chandu Menon was straightaway appointed as the sixth clerk in the Tellicherry Civil Court.

When he had been there some three years, his unusual abilities came to the knowledge of the then Sub-Collector Logan who asked for his services. The transfer was allowed and Logan posted Chandu Menon as the third clerk in his office. Soon he became the first clerk there and in 1871 was the Head Munshi in the Calicut Secretariat. It is said that he was very helpful to Logan in the preparation of the Malabar District Manual, which is considered a classic.

Justice Sharpe had evidently been watching his recruit's work and progress. So much so, when he came to Calicut as District Judge in 1872, he called Chandu Menon and appointed him as the Head Clerk in the Civil Court.

The year 1875 proved of great significance to Chandu Menon. because then his clerical life came to an end. Satisfied,with his performance so far, he was in that year appointed by the government as Acting Munsiffat Pattambi, and without delay was made permanent as such. As Munsiff he worked in various places !ik6 Mancheri, Palghat, Ottappalam, and Calicut. From 1886 to 1892 he was District Munsiff at Parappanangadi and while there, in 1890, he published his great novel Indukkha. Wherever he worked, he won the appreciation of the senior officers. We may even infer that, in a way, Logan and Sharpe competed for Chandu Menon's services, while some others, like Dumergue and Davids appreciated his intelligent work. Remember that they were officers very .senior to Menon, they were Englishmen and those were days of British imperialism of an exclusive type. If these officers liked Menon it could not have been because he just proved a better clerk and 'dictation-taker* than others. They must have seen in him an enthusaistic scholar, with keen observation, a penetrating in-teliigence, shrewd judgment, originality of approach and facility of expression. He must have done very well and won recognition as an efficient District Munsiff and as a good scholar and interpreter of law and custom in Malabar, Because, when in 1890 the Malabar Marriage Commission was appointed, Chandu Menon fras nominated as a member, along with others of such status as Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer and Sir C. Sankaran Nair. The Commission was to report on the marriage system in Marumakka-thayam families and any modifications needed in the system. When the report came in 1891, while the majority favoured reforms, Chandu Menon had a dissenting note in it. In the dissenting minute he objected to changes in the time-honoured practices and conventions. He gave a detailed analysis of the marriage procedure in Marumakkathayam families* and contended that they had the sanctity and authority of long-standing local custom, that it was neither necessary nor desirable to introduce changes, the reform required was to give this procedure the proper legal recognition and status. Though there was disagreement on various points between Sir Sankaran Nair's opinions and those of Chandu Menon, there was general agreement between the opinions of Sir Muthuswamy Iyer and Chandu Menon. This dissenting Minute which became famous, is one example of Chandu Menon's independent Approach to problems and his strength of conviction. In passing, it may be stated here that the then Madras Government also recommended legal recognition instead of alteration, of the existing procedure.

Recognizing his abilities the government made him Sub-Judge late in 1892 and posted him in Tinnevelly. There it was that he began his second novel Sarada which he could not finish. A% few months later, in 1893, he was confirmed as Sub-Judge and also transferred to Mangalore. He had not been there long, when he had a paralytic stroke and had to go on leave. During this period the writing of Sarada also was interrupted. After his return to duty he got a posting in Calicut in 1896.

Chandu Menon's reputation and rank in the history of Mala-yalam literature rest almost wholly on Indulekha and Sarada. These, however, are not his sole literary productions. He was so full of admiration for Kerala Varma Valia Koil Thampuran's poems that at his own expense he got printed Thampuran's (Kerala Kalidasa) * Mayoora Sandesam* with a preface, and had it distributed among his friends* Another poem also named * Nari Charitam* (Tiger History) by Kunji Sankaran NambMr, was printed at Menon's expense and he wrote a preface to it. By his own confession he was not a contributor to newspapers. Regarding his other literary activities, we learn from * Modern Mala-yalam Literature', by Sri P. K. Parameswaran Nair, that Chandu Menon's two English speeches, one on * Administration of Justice in Ancient Times', and another under the auspices of the Sir T.Muthuswamy Iyer Memorial Committee have been published in book form.

Tfie highest authorities knew that Chandu Menon was an extraordinarily efficient and talented officer. He was an exception to the Peter Principle and at every level of promotion proved his competence. In 1892 he received, it is reported, a letter from the Prime Minister of England, W. E. Gladstone, which said that Queen Victoria expressed her appreciation of the services which Chandu Menon rendered to the cause of Malayalam literature and thereby to India by the publication of his novels Indulekha and Sarada. The Government of India conferred on him the title of Rao Bahadur in 1897. In 1898 the Madras University recognised his merits, appointed him as Examiner for the Law Degrees and further honoured him by nominating him a Fellow of the University.

Menon*s end came suddenly, in 1899. It was a Thursday afternoon, 7th September. He returned home from the court, a little earlier than usuaL He had some refreshment and was relaxing on an easy chair, An old friend who was a lawyer had come on a visit and they were discussing some legal matters. Menon felt unwell and he started towards his bedroom, but midway his steps faltered and he suddenly lay down on a couch at hand, That was all, and a great life passed away.

He left, a family consisting of his wife and six children. His marriage took place in 1872, in his twenty-fifth year. The bride was Lakshmikutty Amma, a girl of thirteen, from Kanjoli house. She was the daughter of Krishna Menon of Varachal house, an officer attached to the Koodalmanickam temple at Irinjalakuda in Central Kerala, and his wife Lakshmi Amma of Kanjoli house; Chandu Menon and Lakshmikutty Amma had five boys and a girl. Lakshmikutty Amma passed away when she was about sixty-seven years old. She was a cultured lady with literary tastes and was good in music. With her adoring affection for Chandu Menon and felicitous understanding of his tastes and talents, she was a fit and inspiring spouse for him. Lovers of Malayalam literature will remember her as the * personage *, or * friend \ or * persecutor *, whose pleasing but irresistible persuasions made her husband write his delectable novel Indulekha. In a letter to Dumergue who translated that novel into English, Chandu Menon, explaining the reasons for his writing the book, said* First my wife's oft-expressed desire to read in her own language a novel written after the English fashion V.

Both with his family and friends, his associations were happy. His character was interesting and captivating, as.his personality" Was attractive. He was big morally and physically. Fair in complexion, Menon stood over six feet in height, with a proportion--ately.big body. In the photograph before me, he wears a white turban which adds nearly six inches to his height. He wears an open coat, but no tie. Besides the absence of the tie, there is something else that is incongruous in his dress. He has not only buttoned the coat, but has also fastened it with a tasselled cord tiecl round his middle ! Some wit has remarked that one who wears both belt and braces for trousers is a pessimist. Here is Chandji Menon using both buttons and a girdle to fasten his coat, whichis a more dispensable garment than trousers ! He was, however, no dour pessimist. Those eyes and lips in the photo may suggest sternness and determination. But somewhere underneath them there was a rich reservoir of humour which gushed out generously at good jokes, whether they were by him or against him. Without a' good sense of humour it would not have been possible for him to write such an enjoyable story as Indulekha. Some of his merry sallies can be appreciated only by people who are familiar with Malayalam language. Thus, when once a friend asked Chandu Menon about his daughter, he replied that he had given her for *paattam*. It was to Justice Narayana Menon of Paattathil house that she had been given in marriage. Paattam in Malayalam means rent or hire. So Chandu Menon could meanthat he had given her to someone in Paattathil house, or for hire ! As you like

To read his novel click the link http://ehess.tessitures.org/malayalam/uploads/media/0-Indulekha_i-xxv.pdf