A teacher’s lessons on comradeship: KK Shailaja's book 'My Life as a Comrade'

The book, co-authored by journalist Manju Sara Rajan and published by Juggernaut, is a memoir that delves deep into the history of Kerala’s politics. 
Former Kerala Health minister KK Shailaja (Photo | EPS)
Former Kerala Health minister KK Shailaja (Photo | EPS)

CHENNAI:  I am not a scholar, and I don’t have high educational qualifications. I have a basic degree, and I am a schoolteacher, that is all,” writes former minister for health, social justice and women and child development of Kerala, KK Shailaja in her book My Life as a Comrade. A politician who made an impact with her Marxist ideologies, a leader who tackled the Nipah virus and pandemic in Kerala and was honoured by the United Nations for the state’s effective management of the pandemic condenses her life and label into what people call her affectionately, ‘Shailaja Teacher’.

“Giving people what’s due to them and recognising other people’s work is what has made her what she is,” said MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi at the book launch organised by Prakriti Foundation at Anna Centenary Library on Sunday. The book, co-authored by journalist Manju Sara Rajan and published by Juggernaut, is a memoir that delves deep into the history of Kerala’s politics. 

Shailaja’s book was launched in the presence of MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi
Shailaja’s book was launched in the presence of MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi

“It is a book by a woman politician. It is a book by a feminist. It is a book for people to know about the social history of Kerala. It is also so much more,” shared retired justice Prabha Sridevan in the panel discussion. When asked why Shailaja chose to start the book with the history of Kerala politics and then about her family and then only about her, she said, “Without explaining the history, we cannot move forward.

We are now making a future society that is egalitarian. As in the constitution, it should be democratic, secular, and socialist. My life story is built on the history of many people including my grandmother and my uncles. I stand on their legacy. It is they who taught me about politics — what it means, why it’s important.” 

Shailaja writes about the tales her grandmother told her and how it shaped her view of the world around her. She said, “I wanted to talk about my grandmother who is a local communist party worker, fighter and a brave lady who fought against social evils. She was a storyteller who not only told stories from Ramayana or Mahabharata but also about the miseries of the people around her. Every day there was a storytelling session at our house where kids from all communities gathered around her to listen to the struggles of peasants, the cruelty of landlordism, untouchability and caste discrimination.” 

Prabha shared that even though the book is written in English, she felt like she was reading a regional language book, that is rooted. About writing the book, Manju said, “The best effort was to subtract myself from the book. It was really important to include Shailaja Teacher’s cadence of speaking. As two Malayali women, it was also a fantastic opportunity to tell the story of Malabar. Through history how it will impact the decisions made by one particular human being was the idea.”  

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