Sri RM Manakalath, the stormy petrel of Kerala politics for a long time and the former General Secretary of All India Socialist Party turns seventy five today. Though long retired from active politics, Manakalath is still in the forefront of many meaningful movements against corruption and other social evils along with Mr. Justice VR Krishna Iyer and a host of like minded persons.


Manakalath like several others in the pre-Independence days entered politics through journalism. He began his journalistic career first as the Trichur town reporter and later as sub-editor of the then only Malayalam daily of the erstwhile Cochin State, Gomathi. Gomathi was a pro-establishment paper. However, the young Manakalath created journalistic history by standing up to the feudalistic arrogance of the son of the Maharaja who abused the sub-editor Manakalath and threatened him with dire consequences for an error in the news item regarding the Maharaja which crept into the newspaper due to the ignorance or perhaps carelessness of its Tripunithura correspondent. "Rascals, I will lock you all in jails" were the angry words of Elamana Krishna Menon who was also the Dewaswam Commissioner of the State when young Manakalath politely and patiently explained to him how the error inadvertently crept in. But Menon's rude reaction was more than this cub journalist could stomach. With a rare sense of courage, Manakalath hit back: "Mr. Menon, jails are meant to keep cows. If it comes to that we will meet there". This bold reply was something that he did not expect from this chip of a frail bodied boy and he didn't know what to say or do. As he sat dazed Manakalath quietly slipped out of the scene. Reaching Trichur the first thing that he did was to resign his job in the paper.


This was only a prelude to his entry into adult politics. As a student, he was in all agitational programs of the student movement of those days. For a long time Prajamandalam of the State was the arena of his activities where he led a band of left-oriented young men and gave a radical flavor to the movement for responsible government in the princely state much to the chagrin of its official leadership. This group was the nucleus of the socialist movement in the state, and Manakalath rose to its national leadership and was the General Secretary of the All India Socialist Party of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. As a socialist, he was known to all the All India stalwarts like Jayaprakash Narain, Ashok Mehta, Achyut Patwardhan, Aruna Asif Ali et al.


A powerful public speaker as he was, Manakalath could attract large number of students and non-student youth who were mesmerized by his captivating eloquence. On platform, Manakalath was unbeatable with his sarcasm, irony and fluent delivery of new ideas. Even veterans like Panampilly Govinda Menon whose oratorical talent was of no mean order was no match to Manakalath's  forceful speeches full of telling anecdotes and alliterative phrases. He could easily cast a spell on his audience with electrifying words and ennobling ideas. In those days when means of transport were meagre, his admirers used to walk long distances to listen to his speeches. His inimitable style of political speeches is still unsurpassed and I have come across people who speak of those speeches with a sense of nostalgia.


Apart from his own speeches, Manakalath was an adept in translation. When his North Indian colleagues of Socialist Party toured the State, it was Manakalath himself who translated their English speeches into Malayalam with a remarkable sense of idioms, phrases and meanings. Often his translations excelled the original and even members of the audience who knew English relished Manakalath's Malayalam version better for its choice of diction, happy phrasing and energetic delivery.


Sentence by sentence translation was not his method in translation. He will listen to the speaker for 20-25 minutes at a stretch and give the translation of it in his own unique style, of course, without omitting a single idea. One one occasion, a renowned Socialist leader gave an impressive speech at Rajendra Maidan at Ernakulam. Ashok Mehta was at his eloquent best with his chaste English and profound ideas. At the beginning of the meeting, it had been announced that Manakalath would give a Malayalam translation of the speech in the end. Ashok Mehta spoke at length and it was a little too late in the evening when he finished his speech. As soon as it was over, most of the people who knew English well not only to understand the socialist leader's fine speech but also to appreciate even the subtle nuances of his ideas were eager to leave without waiting for Manakalath's translation. However, Manakalath began his Malayalam version as promised. As sentence after sentence cascaded out in its rich literary style matching and even excelling Mehta's language, all those who got up to leave stood in their positions spell-bound by the silver-tongued translation of this political revolutionary. The scene to which I was a witness from the dias was like Vrindavan where Sri Krishna with his divine flute mesmerized both the animate and inanimate things all around. If that was a legend, this was something real and inexplicable. Everyone felt that they would have missed something sublime had they left immediately after Mehta's speech.


Manakalath was no ordinary politician made of common clay. He was a poet who, if he had paid greater attention to his creative talents, would have blossomed into a fine poet of Malayalam. Many are such talented young men who sacrificed their inborn talents in the fight for political emancipation of their country. A keen sense of loss is felt when lives of similar freedom fighters are examined today who were possessed of their political passion and neglected their inherent talents. A few of them after independence reinstated themselves in various fields and made their mark.


Manakalath after retirement from politics came back to his first love, journalism, this time in Mathrubhumi first as their special political correspondent at Thiruvananthapuram and later as Public Relations Manager at Calicut and then as their business representative at Madras. During this long association with Mathrubhumi wherever he was stationed, Manakalath found time and energy to organize welfare work among the poor and the deprived. At Madras in Teynampet he successfully organized literacy and other awareness building programs for the slum dwellers near his residence which was greatly appreciated by people like Sri. R. Venkatraman, Sri. P. Ramachandran (Former Kerala Governer) who were there to bid Manakalath farewell when he relinquished his Madras assignment of Mathrubhumi.


The District Co-operative Hospital at Ernakulam, which has now grown into Indira Memorial Hospital was started at the initiative of Manakalath and his close friends when he was at Ernakulam. Even now this septuagenerian in indifferent health after an open-heart surgery in the US is vigorously engaged in several socially significant movements like Janakeeya Pratirodha Samithi and reacts in his characteristic fearless way against all the misdeeds of political establishment and all evils in society. An intellectual whose interests are wide and eclectic, Manakalath has widely traveled in Russia, the US, the UK and the Gulf countries. Though always in the thick of popular struggles he found time to write a few books. The regular feature under the pseudonym 'Yedunath' and another in satiric verse under the pen name 'Sisupal' that Manakalath wrote for a long time in Mathrubhumi were very popular. His political analysis, observations and comments were highly valued by all and read and discussed even at the highest political circles.

RM Manakalath: The Stormy Petrel of Freedom Movement is Seventy Five

Dr. NA Karim, Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Kerala, January 10, 1995