‘For me, reading is not recreation. I read to educate myself politically’

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VS Achuthanandan
VS Achuthanandan Photo: PK Anand

|Politicians & Literature|

VS Achuthanandan | 89 | Kerala
Former Chief Minister, CPM

I’M NOT a great reader who spends long hours with books. I could attend school only up to Class VII and started working at the age of 12. During our times, books and education were only for the privileged classes. Instead of books, the people around me and my personal experiences shaped my politics. I started reading books and communist literature seriously after joining the communist movement in 1938.

During my initial days of political activism, the party used to organise classes to educate the cadre about the movement and its political agenda. The party classes helped the semi-literate among us to understand Marxist theory and to practice it in our respective social environments with rare dedication and commitment. Those classes were a filtering process and a litmus test to weed out undesirable elements from the party.

I started attending party classes with zeal, and read most of the communist literature available at the time. The reading helped me to understand the movement better. One book fascinated me then and continues to do so today. The book is titled The Man and was written by K Damodaran, one of the founder-leaders of the Communist Party in Kerala.

For newer generations, Damodaran may be an unknown writer. He was a Marxist to the core and a communist in his soul. He started his political activities as a student and was arrested in 1931 for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement. He mastered Tamil and Hindi during his imprisonment in Coimbatore jail. Later, he went to Kashi Vishwa Vidyalaya to learn Sanskrit. He also mastered Urdu and Bengali. Lal Bahadur Shastri was his classmate in school. Damodaran was attracted to communist ideology and returned to Kerala to set up the party in 1937. He was a gifted and brilliant intellectual who deserves to be remembered and celebrated for his work.

In The Man, written in Malayalam, Damodaran gave new insights into class analysis and dialectical materialism. His writing style was simple and straightforward. The book influenced me to shape my views and understand Marxist ideology in the context of Kerala. He had the prized ability to explain the most complex theories in layman’s language. I started following Damodaran’s works more closely and encouraged my fellow comrades to read his works seriously. His play Pattabakki — meaning arrears of rent — laid bare the oppressive feudal system that existed in Kerala and motivated many of the poor to join the communist movement. He later wrote another book explaining the tenets of communism to the masses. I read that book several times and continue to refer to it when I have questions and doubts.

For me, reading is not recreation. I read books to educate myself politically.

In 2012, Kerala celebrated Damodaran’s birth centenary. In his life, he published 42 books, including four in English and one in Hindi. All his works revealed his great knowledge of Indian philosophy, culture and political life. I regard him as one of the great writers who shaped my political ideology and convinced me to fight for the oppressed. This is my salute to comrade Damodaran.