Kozhikode: P Valsala’s renowned novel, ‘Nellu,’ played a pioneering role in advancing feminist literature in the Malayalam language half a century ago. It delved deep into the lives of tribal communities and, for the first time in the history of Malayalam novel, championed the dignity and rights of tribal women. ‘Nellu’ narrates the story of the Adiyars, a tribal community from Wayanad, with the central theme revolving around the resolute struggle of the main character for herself and her beloved. This groundbreaking work was penned in 1972, after four years of exhaustive research and effort. To gain an intimate understanding of the community, Valsala tirelessly journeyed to Thirunelli for four consecutive years.
About her motivation for this endeavour, she said in an interview while receiving the Ezhuthachan Puraskaram for her outstanding contribution to Malayalam literature, “I wanted to explore the other side of life, beyond our everyday existence.” During this time, she also acquired a residence in Thirunelli, which she named after another novel of her’s, ‘Kooman Kolli,’ in recognition of the place.
K Panoor, another storyteller with a penchant for tribal narratives who worked in the Tribal Welfare Department, played a crucial role in facilitating Valsala’s close connection with the Adiyar people.
The narrative of ‘Nellu’ is not just about Mara and Mallan but also of Thambran, a man from the elite class. This captivating story was adapted into a Malayalam movie by the same name that remains a classic to this day. The film was directed by Ramu Karyatt and scripted by Karyatt and KG George.
Valsala’s two other novels, ‘Aagneyam’ and ‘Kooman Kolli,’ also feature Wayanad as the backdrop. ‘Aagneyam’ tells the compelling story of Nangema, a Brahmin woman who relocates to Wayanad, shatters traditional constraints, and crafts her own destiny through determination and hard work. This novel deals with the themes of Naxalism and the murder of a Naxalite leader, Paulose, a character bearing a resemblance to the slain Naxalite leader, Varghese. Subsequently, the police conducted an inquiry into P Valsala and her husband, M. Appunni. Her debut novel, ‘Thakarcha,’ marked the beginning of a prolific career that spanned 20 novels and nearly 300 short stories.
Although widely known as a writer, Valsala’s professional life was that of a teacher, a role she donned for 32 years, mentoring numerous students from diverse backgrounds. Her teaching career began at Government High School, Koduvally, and later, moved to the Nadakkavu Girls Higher Secondary School, where she had received her own early education. She concluded her tenure as the Principal of Nadakkavu Teachers Training Institute (TTI) during her last five years of service, before retiring in 1993.
It is worth noting that P Valsala was recognized as a staunch advocate of Leftist ideology and was actively involved in the Left-wing Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangam. She was a regular participant in literary programmes in Kozhikode, including those organized by Left organisations. However, in later years, some of her statements were misconstrued as pro-Hindutva. In response, she stated in an interview, “Some people tend to label others based on their affiliations. I always wrote what I firmly believed to be the truth and never penned anything I did not stand by.”