Celebrated Malayalam writer U A Khader, who published more than 70 novels, short stories and travelogues that are considered among the finest works in the language, died in Kozhikode on Saturday. He was 85.
The writer was undergoing treatment for cancer for some time, PTI reported, quoting family sources.
Khader was known for a progressive and secular outlook to his life and his literature.
His most acclaimed work of fiction, Thrikkottoor Peruma (Thrikkottoor Lore), won him the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984. A string of 11 stories situated in the fictional landscape of Thrikkottoor, the work stood out for its depiction of rural life in Kerala’s Malabar region, well-defined characters, and a folksy narrative style.
Khader also published a collection of stories, Thrikkottoor Kathakal (Thrikkottoor Stories), that explored the multi-religious rural community of Thrikkotoor and its mythologies. Khader’s Thrikkottoor is a region near Koilandi in Kozhikode, where he spent a part of his childhood.
Khader was born to Ussangaantakathu Moithootti Haji, a Malayali trader, and Mamaid, from Burma (now Myanmar), in Yangon in 1935. He lost his mother three days after his birth and was brought up under the care of her younger sister. His father was forced to flee Burma during World War II. Khader was seven when his father brought him to Kerala.
During his school days, Khader had a penchant for writing as well as painting. He was encouraged by the prominent Muslim League leader and former Kerala Chief Minister C H Muhammed Koya.
After schooling in Kerala, Khader joined the Fine Arts College in Madras for a degree in painting. It was during his years in Madras that Khader discovered the writer in him.
At Kerala Samajam in Madras, he befriended several intellectuals and writers from Kerala, including K A Kodungallor and T Padmanabhan.
His early stories drew from his experiences of growing up as an orphan.
His distinctive Burmese features and inability to speak Malayalam had turned him into an outsider while growing up in a Malabar village. He sought to overcome that alienation by digging deep into local history and discovering the magic of myth and fiction in local lore.
Thrikkottoor Peruma remains unsurpassed in Malayalam literature for its narration of subaltern life and continues to attract readers.
Seventy years after he came to Kerala, Khader visited the village he was born in Burma, in search of his relatives. But he could not trace anyone from his mother’s extended family as most of them had died during the war years and the rest had moved elsewhere following the political turmoil in that country. He wrote about the trip in Ormakalude Pagoda (A Pagoda of Memories).
Khader, who worked in the state health department, was close to the Communist movement in Kerala, and served as the president of Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangham (Progressive Writers Movement).
Several of his novels and stories have been translated to English, Hindi and other Indian languages. His last novel, Shathru (Enemy), was published in 2011.
In his condolence message, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Khader was an author who brought regional history into focus through his stories. Vijayan also recalled Khader’s association with the communist movement and the secular and progressive political values he espoused in his life.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines