P. Kesava Pillai, better known by his pen-name P. Kesavadev, (1904 - 1983) was a novelist and social reformer of Kerala. He is remembered for his speeches, autobiographies, novels, dramas, short stories, and films.
Odayil Ninnu, Nadi, Bhrandalayam, Ayalkar (Central Academi Award winning novel), Ethirppu (autobiography) and Oru Sundariyude Athmakadha are some among his 128 literary works. Kesavadev along with Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer are considered the exponents of progressive Malayalam Literature.
Born Kesava Pillai, he adopted the name Kesava Dev to get rid of the suffix “Pillai” which signified his caste. It was a time when caste system was practiced rigorously. A number of retrograde customs and taboos were prevalent. The condition of the toiling section of the community was precarious. Even as a child Kesava Dev was exposed to all the maladies prevailing in the society in general and in the institution of the joint family in particular. A middle school drop out, Kesava Dev, at the age of 13 began his long fight against social evils and every form of injustice. From then on, his life was one of continuous rebellion, and constant revolt against every evil. His son Jothydev Kesavadev
is a diabetologist and a pioneer in telemedicine in diabetes care.
Kesava Dev emerged as one of the makers of modern Malayalam fiction. He can be referred to as the first writer to usher in the Renaissance in Malayalam literature, by writing the novel “Odayil Ninnu” (From the gutter) (1942) with a rickshaw puller as its hero. Dev was in the forefront among the writers who employed new norms in the content and characterization in Malayalam fiction.
“Odayil Ninnu” came as a shocking revelation that a finest piece of literature can be produced with commonplace themes and unconventional style of prose with ordinary mortals as heroes and heroines. Apart from the fact that the appearance of rickshaw puller was a thrilling experience at that time, the author blazed a new trial in Malayalam literature and many writers followed suit.
“Bhranthalayam” (The Mad House) (1949) is a novel based on the tragedy of partition of the nation. This novel brings out the humanist in Kesava Dev in all its dimensions.
“Rowdy”, (1958) the novel is based on the story of an orphan abused in every possible manner, resorting to arms in defense against the community. Dev’s narrative tinged with humour and sarcasm rips open the shroud of the contemporary society.
“Ayalkar” (The Neighbours) (1963) is Kesava Dev’s best known work – his masterpiece. This novel is acclaimed as the chronicle of the evolution of the three leading communities of the State of Kerala - the Nairs, Christians and Ezhavas from the days of feudalism to the post independent era. Writing about the tragedy of the disintegration of the two major
tharwads – Mangalassery and Pachazhi - Kesavadev recreates their glorious past and also narrates the trials and tribulations paving the way for their total destruction. The novel on the other hand narrates the history of the state for a period of about fifty years from the times of feudalism to the rise of the new era. This novel won the National Award for literature.
The other major novels are:
- Nadi (1951)
- Ulakka (1951)
- Kannadi (1961)
- Sakhavu Karottu Karanavar (1961)
- Pankajakshiyude Diary (1963)
- Prema Viddi (1963)
- Swapnam (1967)
- SnehikkanVendi (1967)
- Adhikaram (1968)
- Oru Sundariyude Atmakatha (1970)
His unfinished novel "Padicha Kallanmar" was recently rewritten and published by his wife Seethalekshmy Dev.
Kesava Dev was a prolific writer. He has written about 300 short stories. Many of them are superb literary gems. His stories offer a very wide range and variety in theme and technique. One can find finest feelings of tender love, anguish, jealousy, and heroism as well as the trivialities of the ordinary people as the theme is his short stories. In many stories one may find subtle thoughts skillfully brought out by simple words whereas in some others Dev’s own anguish fire and zeal find free expression. A few major collections are:
- Annathe Nadakam (1956) (11 stories)
- Thiranjedutha Kathakal 1 (1965) (38 stories)
- Thiranjedutha Kathakal 2 (1989) (43 stories)
- Katha - Dev (2000) (31 stories)
Though Kesava Dev is well known for his contributions as a Novelist and Short Story writer, the full length plays and one act plays he has written were very popular in those days and attracted huge audience when enacted on stages. The plays he has written bring out the powerful social critic in Dev. His works in this field are not many. Plays like Pradhanamanthri (Prime Minister) bring out the pernicious tendencies in politics. Though written way back in 1948, what we see today in our politics is not much different from what Dev has depicted, thereby making the substance of plays relevant even to the present times. Tough many plays were not up the mark in their dramatic content; spicy satire, sharp dialogues and subtle humour made his plays very popular.
The notable plays are:
- Pradhanamanthri (1940)
- Munnottu (1947)
- Manthriyaakkalle (1949)
- Thondukari (1954)
- Mazhayangum Kudayingum (1956)
- Orumuri thenga (1959)