Matha to ma

Keywords: communist party, Soviet Union, Kunnikkal, political activities, Naxalbari

The following is the script of the documentary film on Mandakini Narayanan, written and directed by C.S. Venkiteswaran.

Kunnikkal Narayanan (1915-1979), a Communist revolutionary, led an aimed uprising against feudal and state oppression in Kerala during the late 60s and early 70s. Beginning his life as a political activist in the late 40s, he was a founder member of the Friends of the Soviet Union at Bombay.

Narayanan moved out of the CPI after the 1964 split to join the CPI(M) and later left it to become part of the revolutionary upsurge of the late 1960s that culminated in the peasant uprising in Naxalbari in 1967. Narayanan was a member of the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR), formed after the Naxalbari uprising. He died in 1979.

Mandakini Narayanan, born in 1925 in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, became an active political worker during her Student days and was a member of the Friends of the Soviet Union where she met her comrade and future husband Kunnikkal Narayanan.

Mandakini married Narayanan and moved to Kozhikode in Kerala with him. She was a teacher at the Gujarati School till the end of the 60s. She left the job in 1968 to join Kunnikkal and his revolutionary band during the armed uprising at Wyanad in Northern Kerala, and was active in the revolutionary movement in the turbulent 1970s.

Part I


“I had a very mischievous childhood. I was the pet of my father and he used to call me ‘matha’. We three of us friends were called `triputi the trio.., “

– From Ma’s Diary

We are Gujaratis and my father belongs to Saurashtra.

He was educated and came over to Bombay to take up a job at the Secretariat. As he was the eldest he had to look after the family. He had three brothers and sisters. His sisters got married and brothers got educated and they all settled in Bhavnagar. We settled down in Bombay.

I was the pet of the family and was nicknamed ‘matha’. Now, I have become ‘ma’. He (my father) was very fond of me, the youngest in the family. But my mother was very haughty and quick-tempered. She used to reward all my pranks with a good thrashing. I was very mischievous. I was put in a very good school.

It was a sort of elite school called New Era School. Most of the children of elite members used to come there. When I was in the Montessori, I never used to attend the class. But I used to play in the playground. Once my principal called my father and complained about it. But what could he do when I was only 5 or 6?

We had a good time in our school. When we were in the 9th or 10th standard, our history teacher Mr Merton drew us to progressive literature. Gradually he talked about the Soviet Union, the world affairs and all that.

Once he called one of the members of the Communist party, Suhasini Jambekar to our school. She was the youngest sister of Sarojini Naidu. Then she made us more aware of the achievements of the Soviet Union. She suggested we bring out a wall newspaper in our school. We along with Mr Menon used to bring out a wall newspaper. In 1942, I matriculated and joined Elphinstone College at Churchgate.

That was the most exciting time of the nationalist movement. The Quit India Resolution was passed and we also went to attend the conference.

There we met many national leaders, Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhullbhai Desai and Sarojini Naidu.

We were attracted towards them. Because we were minor, we were not considered harmful to the government. I still remember one incident. In North Central Bombay there was a lathi charge. A worker named Babu Ghanu was shot down by the police. On that incident, Saratchandra Meghane a Gujarati poet wrote a poem. It was quiet thrilling. He says in the conclusion that one patriot died and nobody could recognize his body. So his body should be put in a tomb with the epitaph – ‘Tomb of an unknown soldier’.

In 1942, I was admitted in the college. In the first year, at the college gates we had political discussions, etc. At that time Students Federation was formed by the undivided Communist party. We formed that union in the college. At the college gates we were driven away by the police. For months together, the college was closed.

Gradually I was drawn to the Communist movement and became an active worker.

Our parents were never worried about my marriage like a usual middle class family. I had broken all fancies, traditional and conventional.

I completed my BA at Elphinstone College. I failed the first year because of the ‘42 movement, I could not prepare for the exams. In 1947, I passed. Before ‘47, in ‘46 there was the Naval mutiny. That time the entire Fort area, Museum and dockyard area was cordoned by police. AISF, Bombay students federation, gave support to this naval mutiny, So we would go to the dock yard area and propagate for the dock workers.

That time the influence in Telengana was strong. But in our college we were not so strong. Only three were girls, one senior girl and another friend of mine.

In 1947, the Independence day came and then I had to change my field of work because I had completed my graduation. So, I could no longer work in the students federation. I joined the Friends of the Soviet Union.



“I met Kunnikkal at the Friends of the Soviet Union. At night, we used to walk through the avenues of the suburbs of Bombay dreaming about the Soviet Union and communist society. ..”

– From Ma’s Diary

I met Kunnikkal at FSU. I was working at the Bombay FSU and its head office was at Fort. He was working there. But he used to come daily and our main activity was propagating Soviet achievements, literature, arts etc. We used to have film exhibitions also. On Sundays, we used to go from door to door selling Soviet literature.

So in course of time, we met many people. Suhasini, Bharathan, a good artist, his wife, who was also an artist. All of them lived together at Khar, a suburb. Sometimes I also used to stay there. That was troubling my mother.

Suhasini had returned from Germany. She was a member of the German Communist party and had to come back when the war broke out. She had ideas about Soviet life and started the Friends of the Soviet Union. Along with Narayanan many friends stayed with them, Bakaya, Raghavan.

Kunnikkal’s taste for western classical music was due to Suhasini Jambekar, because of her stay in Germany. And Harindranath brought taste for theatre.

During that time there was the Communist party organ – ‘Peoples War’

On Saturdays we went for sale of publications and sometimes used to e fights with rival parties like the Congress, socialist party workers, Aruna Ali’s party etc.

At that time we didn’t think of marriage, but we were getting closer and . Ultimately we decided to get married.

At night after supper, we used to walk through the avenues of the suburbs dreaming about the Soviet Union. That all roads will lead to Moscow and Communist society will be formed.

“My father died tragically on 17 June 1947, just two months before independence. (That day) unwarrantedly, I returned home immediately. When I drew near our building “Parvati Mansion’, I saw a crowd watching the flames and smoke rising above, through the windows of our apartment. As I reached our apartment, I was aghast to see the scene. Mother was standing dumbfounded; our neighbour Prof Jhala was reporting to the other neighbours of the calamity that had taken place in the kitchen. Everything had scattered.. As soon as he saw me, he drew me close to him and very gravely told me in the incident.”

– From Ma’s Diary

In ‘49 February there was a call for a general railway strike. At that time I was terminated from government service.

Before that Morarji Desai, who was minister then, called me to his office and told me that if I wanted to continue in this job I should stop my political activities. He said they had given the job as compensation for my father’s service after his accidental death, so I should consider that.

In February ‘49, when I was ill, they informed me that I was terminated from my job.

Meanwhile in Kerala, in Kunnikkal family, they lost their elder brother, who committed suicide. He was a timber merchant and there was a crash in the business. He couldn’t withstand that crash, so he ended his life.

In the Communist party there was the ‘48 crisis. Kunnikkal was expelled from the party because he supported the Chinese line on the ‘national bourgeosie’ issue. At that time, even the party pressurized me to get separated from Kunnikkal because of his different view point. I said wouldn’t give up this relationship, and we continued.

When he was underground, he was expelled from the party. Then we decided to get married. In Matunga, in the house of the brother of G. Adhikari who was Communist leader, the marriage was arranged. On Sunday 24 July 1949. It was not a formal or official marriage. But all our comrades gathered and we declared ourselves husband and wife. That was all. Then I took him to my house at Grand Road.

At home, I informed my brothers and mother that we had married. My mother went to her friends in the shawl and informed them. Thus it was announced. Then he had to come away from that den to stay with my mother and brother.

Narayan had no livelihood. And at that time I was pregnant with Aji. He was a little worried about that. Then we came to Kozhikode with little baby Ajita. She was 2A months old, I didn’t know the language. I was feeling a little frustrated.

“At the Kozhikode station, our close relatives came to receive us. The house was nearby. During that short walk, the local people stood at the roadside to see me, the Gujarati wife of Narayan. As I drew near to the big `tharavad ‘ house, I felt strange because everything was different. I entered the ‘padipura’ and several womenfolk had gathered on the big veranda. They saw me; they expected me to be decked with a lot of ornaments, jewellery, etc. But I had dressed up very simply, without ornaments and jewellery. They were very curious about me. So, it was a reception of a new member with strangeness and curiosity.”

– From Ma’s Diary

My Gujarati School job at Kozhikode was arranged at Bombay through our Gujarati friends. When I came here, I had language difficulty and it was a totally different atmosphere. I was a city girl and here it was a feudal atmosphere. And I was very unhappy. The mindset of the family members and others was conservative. Both at home and at school it was difficult. Somehow I carried on…

At that time, the women in the family pressed Narayan that I should a ‘thali’ . But Narayan took a firm stand on that and said I won’t wear it.

But at school, I could get the support of the students. It was not a high hoof or anything like that; at that time, it was just like a village school. I started going to school, leaving Ajita at home. As it was a joint family, she was looked after by Narayan and other family members. Gradually, I started to learn some words in Malayalam. But I did not feel at home at all. Politically Kunnikkal was expelled from the party and I had my job. Then we started the Kunnikkal Madhavan Memorial Library and I started going there and doing some activities in the evening. During daytime I taught at the school. At that time Kozhikode was not of today, it was a small town.

As I had to go to the library daily, I had to take young Aji with me. In the evening I was supposed to take care of her. I took her to the library, and during night sometimes I used to put her to sleep on a stack of papers.

They (family members) were not so happy about my going out. Naturally their way of living was different. They expected me to confine myself to home and be a good housewife, but I couldn’t be a good housewife.

I was so inactive that I didn’t take up any political work. During the general election, I was taken to many places for speeches. I used to speak in English and V.T. Induchudan translated it into Malayalam. It was a passing phase.. I was not so much interested in political activity, but Kunnikkal was quite interested.

In 1964, when the Communist party split, we came over to the Marxist party. Then we formed the 27th division. The activities of the 27th division were carried on around Francis Road. Discussions were carried on about the party line. It seems A.K. Gopalan listened to Kunnikkal and said he would put his views to the Central Committee. He went to Delhi and did so but it was rejected.

During ‘64-65, the NGO strike was about to take place. Kunnikkal was put in jail. His business friend brought him out of jail. Before that he was doing some timber business. But he didn’t thrive in business, as he was basically not a business person.

As I was considered an outsider, I didn’t get to know much about Kunnikkal’s childhood. From what I could gather, I came to know that he was very mischievous, and at the age of 13 left home. He went to Papiniseri, and there he joined a textile factory. Then he went to Bombay. There he got a central government job as textile inspector. Later he resigned and became a full timer of the Friends of the Soviet Union. It was there that I met him.

Narayan was reserved by nature. He did not have friends. The only friend he had was Ravi Bakaya, who died at a young age. Even I could not be considered as his friend. Besides he was intellectually very sharp and had a good insight and foresight. Owing to this quality, he determinedly fought against the official party policy of the Marxist party as well as the CPI (ML). His command over English was excellent. He had superb honesty and richness of character. With the persons he felt at home he used to talk for hours together.

In looks he was very tall and handsome, an impressive personality. He had a good organizing capacity. He loved Western classical music. When he was disturbed by a problem, he used to listen to music, and he had a very good collection. When he did business, he used to be always well-dressed, and had a good wardrobe. He used to spend lavishly, and was a chain smoker. He travelled to Europe, England and Russia.

His lavishness did not come in the way of facing tightened financial conditions. He took both situations , bad or good, in sportsman spirit, like a gallant soldier of an army, a lofty revolutionary.”

– From Ma ‘s Diary

While he was doing business, our standard of living became a little better. Then, he became a member of the Cosmopolitan Club. Like all business men he also got the habit of drinking. He used to come late at night.. I used to feel very bad at heart. Because I had seen another Kunnikkal, and this Kuunikkal was different. As I had this school work, I could somehow carry on.

Once he came home very late. He had a car, a Volkswagen, a popular car at that time. Naturally, as the gates were closed, he couldn’t come in. The door of the shed too was closed. Because I had made some comment, he didn’t come up but slept in the car itself. And when the day broke, he came up.

I used to ask him, ‘What about your political past?’. But at that time use of his drinking, he didn’t pay attention to what I said. But I didn’t care for it, I kept quiet.

Then, his timber business failed and for some days he lived alone in room. He used to spend time on the bed playing solitaire. During that time, used to listen to Peking radio, and to Chinese Communist party ‘Spring thunder over India’. Gradually he became involved in politics. Then he started contacting all India people like Charu Majumdar. Then the All India Coordination Committee was formed, and Naxalbari came.

Soon after that he became active. You may say he was the founder member of Naxalite movement in Kerala.

On my side when he started political work and Naxalbari movement began, my school management used to get police complaints about me about things happening at home etc. I got a hint that the committee wanted to dismiss me. Then I gave in my resignation.



“One letter came from Wyanad challenging us… In October, that is during Divali, we announced that we were going to Bombay for celebrating Divali… But we didn’t go to Bombay.”

– From Ma’ Diary

Then onwards I again became interested in politics. And the situation gradually started hotting up. In ‘64 Kunnikkal wanted to go to Bombay, but Bombay was not congenial for political activity, so he came back. He started a book shop ‘China publications’ in Kozhikode, which later became Rebel publications. We organised the book shop and sold Chinese literature. There was a lot of sales, discussions, I would go there daily during evening hours.. During that time we got Mao’s red book from the embassy, and Kunnikkal translated it into Malayalam. Meanwhile he was contacting Kannur and Wyanad comrades. . . . .

Then Kunnikal went to Wyanad. There was some land trouble there, and at Kannur there was the Cranesh Sidi workers’ strike. All these things coincided. And at that time a letter from Wyanad came challenging us — that if we were real Marxists, we should take up their issue. He took up the challenge with the help of the 27th division.

Meanwhile, Sundaraiah came to Kozhikode for a Marxist party meeting at the Town hall. We gheraoed him. Ajita was the only girl among them. She took a leading part and gradually started getting involved in politics. During that time she was in Providence College. In the second year, she went to college for 15 days, then said she would not go. We had a discussion about it. My view was that she should continue her formal studies and do political work. But she disagreed with me; she wanted to drop out. Kunnikkal supported her and so, she also joined his activities.

Our activities were getting intensified. In October, that is during Divali, we announced that we were going to Bombay for celebrating Divali, but we didn’t..

As he had left business, we sold whatever valuable things we had, especially the western classical music records, for Kunnikkal was very much interested in classical music. And then this was sold and then many other things like furniture, and whatever object that could fetch money. That money we spent to publish more pamphlets, propagating Chinese revolution, Chinese publications.

We went to Manantavady for the preparation of this incident’ . At Manantavady, we went first to Gopalan vaidyan who gave us shelter and began our activities there.

When the Naxalbari uprising took place, Peking Radio and Peking Review published an article entitled ‘Spring thunder over India’. We translated it into Malayalam and that was distributed to our comrades not only in Calicut, but also in Kannur and Wyanad. There was a letter challenging our work. All these things happened together. And the plan was formed for Thalasery Pulpally incident.

Before this incident took place, we were going to an adivasi colony as well as Thettamala estate workers’ colony. Many women used to come and attend our informal classes.

At that time, we got separated, myself and Ajita. Kunnikkal was moving around Kannur and Wyanad to organise the ‘incidents’. Then it was decided that the time was ripe for taking action. Sp, there were two suggestions. Either Should go to Bombay or go to Wyanad and remain in the shelter. Meanwhile Ajita decided she would participate in the action itself. I decided to stay back I was put in a shelter at Vallamunda near Manantavady.

At that time, this leaflet came, “Njangal kalapam cheyyunu” (We are rebelling) and it was distributed everywhere.

On 22 November, the Tellicherry incident (Attack of Police Station) took place, but it didn’t work out. The papers flashed that. On 24 Nov. the Pulpally incident took place and it was successful. It was published that a group of youngsters led by Varghese and Thettamala Ksishnankutty and a young girl named Ajita was responsible. It was propagated by the media that she killed someone and her blood stained palm was put on the wall.

I was shifted from one centre to another… When the Pulpally incident took place, the but I was staying in was cordoned by the police and the owners were arrested. Before that I was taken to another place and I spent the whole day there. In the evening a young boy came and made me hide in the hollow of a tree. Nobody could find me out. I was wearing a white saree and it was a moonlit night. So, the police couldn’t catch me at that time, but I could hear the march of police boots outside.

“Slowly, I became desperate, as I was helpless. The twilight glow spread all over the sky it was full moon night. Tiny oil lamps in the cottages nearby started flickering. Silence, unfathomable silence, reigned. I was still expecting someone to come and fetch me. But to no avail. After some hours, as night drew in, I heard the clamping of heavy boots. At that time I seriously realised that police was patrolling and searching for me.”

– From Ma’s Diary

Somehow I spent the night and then from there I was taken to a place near Thettamala estate, where we hid behind a bush. The next day morning we went to the estate and there I was caught. They thought that we had a lot of guns and all that so they shouted ‘put Your arms down’. We surrendered, and a police constable caught me and gave me a good slap. The marks of his five fingers stayed for three or four days. I was taken to the police station at Vallamunda. Later I came to know that Ajita was also arrested. We met that Sub Inspector of Vallamunda on our way, when we were coming from Kozhikode to %anal, At Kalpetta we had taken lunch together. He was aghast that he had now arrested that very same person. All sorts of rumours were there…

And the policemen were all taunting me, for they didn’t know our identity.. Then I was taken for investigation to the guest house at Manantavady.

I was questioned there. I said don’t know’ to everything. And one police officer got wild and shouted, “Why are you always saying ‘I don’t know’? I said “I don’t know Malayalam, that is what I am saying.” I was not beaten much but my escort was beaten very badly. Even today I think he is suffering from those beatings.. Then I was taken to Tellicherry court.

At the police station. Ajita was brought to my cell. We were not allowed to talk but we saw each other. I felt very bad about her, her face was haggard, her feet were swollen with leeches. I felt very dejected. We were not allowed to talk personally.

The previous night, a comrade was physically tortured, kicked like a football… I was a witness to that and all these things were in my mind. Later I got the information that she was paraded in front of the police compound. Many people, the whole of Manantavady town, were there to see. I felt very bad and she must also have felt the same. Again we were separated. I came to know she was taken for investigation.

I was taken from Tellicherry to Kannur central jail. I was also exhibited in the bus. When we reached the Tellicherry police station, I was put on the landing and people were crowding to see us. But their expression was not antagonistic. Anyway I could not do anything. During the bus journey an adivasi named Chianti was there along with me. The police constables made fun of him. They told him, “You will get five cents of land” I had to bear all these taunts. From Tellicherry station I was taken to Kannur central jail. From Manantavady I was taken to Tellicherry court, then to Kannur jail. I came to know later that Ajita was taken from Vythiri to Kozhikode, so we were separated.

I could not digest jail food and fell severely ill. I had bronchitis as well.

Then it got worse and I was removed to Kannur hospital during the night. The next day in the morning, I got the news that Kunnikkal had the refused to meet me as a wife, but as a comrade along with other comrades. The comrades also wanted to see me. That permission was rejected by the superintendent and he didn’t see me. After that I was taken to the Medical college at Calicut.

Then I got bail, self bail. I spent nearly one month in the hospital. When I was being discharged, I was told that Ajita was coming to meet me. Actually I was in the Medical college veranda, and three stories were full of people wanting to see Nita. We exchanged some pleasantries. After 10-15 minutes, she was removed and I came to Kunnikkal. Neighbours, that is comrades, gave me food and everything…

Then I got introduced to Dr C.B.C Warrier and he looked after me well. Since then have been friends. Similarly, Advocate Bhaskaran Nair was very helpful to me. From Kannur, comrades were brought to Calicut, then on, all accused comrades were in the same jail. So I used to go daily and supply them with papers, books, literature and whatever they demanded.

There Kunnikkal gave me matter for publishing. And I used to go to a press in the beach and its owner was kind enough to publish articles and pamphlets and whatever was given by me. The case started and the decree was declared in Nov. or Dec.’ 71. I was let free and Kunnikkal was sentenced to imprisonment for a year and more. But he had already spent more than one year in remand and that was counted. He was released on or 3rd July 1972.

I settled down in Kunnikkal and Aji and other comrades were taken to Calicut jail. At that time, the Karunakaran government went to high court on appeal, there they were given life imprisonment. After Kunnikkal came, he must have spent one or two nights of freedom; then he went underground. At that time, he was touring all around Kerala, Coimbatore and Gudalore.

“Whenever N used to come home, he would spend two or three days at home. Those days, as usual I would go out in the evening locking the door. He would remain inside going through the papers and correspondence, etc. On the day of his departure, he would get up at early hours and before daybreak he would cross the railway lines and disappear again.”

– From Ma’s Diary

Narayan was caught from his home itself He had returned from his trip, and at dusk time they cordoned the house. Circle Inspector told Purushu (Narayan’s brother) ‘Don’t go out anywhere, Shoot at sight is the order so, you will also get into trouble’. And during the case, Purushu was a witness formerly, but at a later stage he became hostile.

After Narayan’s release, when he came out we spent two nights together and then emergency was declared in 1976. Then we were taken to Kaimur jail; I was taken to women’s jail and was therefore more than one year.. in between there was a clash in Kannur jail. The comrades also went against Kunnikkal; `K. go back’ etc. So he was in a quandary. In 77 March we were released.

Once we were taken to the high court at Ernakulam. He didn’t know the name then. But Chali somehow had gone to hospital and Kunnikkal came to know that one student comrade was killed by the police. He declared that in the high court. The prosecutor was surprised as to how Kunnikkal knew about this. Then that news was scuttled. And nobody revealed it. Later on we came to know that Rajan was murdered.

When we were in jail, we came to know about the death of Varghese also, that he was shot dead.



“I have a deep urge and desire to open a school of music of a totally different type, not a conventional, commercial one. It should assimilate and integrate various schools of music – classical, folk and pop, blending melody of sweet tunes. When one listens to such sweet music one should get trans, into a human being with human quality. Not only that, such a music should instil healthy and inspiring trend to go ahead and do the work which would benefit humanity and thus civilization…”

– From Ma’s Diary

Kunnikkal came back from jail with broken health. During his jail term, he was given a lot of beating and his left lung had become damaged. Actually we both were inactive. Of course, we were keeping track of the situation but we could not do any active work.

I remember, the first meeting of Samskara Vedi at Vadakara. Only I could attend that. We both were more or less just gaining time.

Of course during those days, some of the comrades used to visit us. But they had to leave; they understood Kunnikkal’s condition.. Most of the comrades were either in jail or scattered, but Kunnikkal could not gather enough strength do anything because of bad health. As his condition grow worse and worse, he had to sit at home. And I had no quality of leadership or anything, so I decided that I should give up activity.

Meanwhile Ajita’s release came through and many people used to come to talk about her experience. Narayan had some hope that the movement would be revived. That was why many youngsters were asked to go to Wyanad, Kannur, Aralam Farm… Meanwhile, when he became very ill, my mother also had some very serious illness. She was on her death bed then I was told to go there. At first I was reluctant, but Narayan said I should go and so I went there. Then my mother started recovering, and I got the message that Kunnikkal was taken to hospital, so I had to rush back.

Those were the last hours of Kunnikkal. After sometime he was taken to the X-ray centre in the hospital itself. It was hopeless, the doctors gave up. They informed us that it was a lost case. After sometime he passed away.

Afterwards I became more inactive I was actually doing nothing.

In the early hours of morn,

Under the bright sky

Enveloped by serene silence

Hiding on a tree branch

A wee little black birdie Chirps, chirps, chirps

Hearing its sweet melody

Lying in my bed

A quiver of thrill passes me by

-From Ma’s Diary, 18 August 1998

“Am recovering after two and half months of ailment. I knocked the door of Death, but he rejected my entry. Anyway, I am getting immobile and disabled I move about in the house, but can ? go walking on the street.”

– From Ma ‘s Diary, 12 October 2000

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born in 1925 in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, became an active political worker during her Student days and was a member of the Friends of the Soviet Union where she met her comrade and future husband Kunnikkal Narayanan.Mandakini married Narayanan and moved to Kozhikode in Kerala with him. She was a teacher at the Gujarati School till the end of the 60s. She left the job in 1968 to join Kunnikkal and his revolutionary band during the armed uprising at Wyanad in Northern Kerala, and was active in the revolutionary movement in the turbulent 1970s.

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