The Woman Behind Aattakkathas
At times life takes its own course and all that you have to do is to stand by it. While leading a quiet life as a homemaker, Radha Madhavan ventured into the intricacies of Kathakali and she is now giving finishing touches to her ninth Aattakkatha, ‘Da Vincipporul’ to be staged at Chavara Cultural Centre on April 16.
With a legacy of the noted Venmani family that has contributed to the cultural and literary arena of Malayalam, her entry into literature was not accidental. With the curiosity of a young girl, she was introduced to the basics of Kathakali by her father Parameshwaran Namboothirippadu. Sitting on his lap, she learnt that unlike other dance forms, there should be separate mudras for expressing each word in Kathakali and the script needs to be precise.
“Though I was introduced to the art form at a very young age, with performances on every other occasion in the family, it was not easy for girls to learn the art. Ours was a very remote village near Kaladi and my sister was the first girl to attend school, from our generation. But, my cousins, who resided in town had the opportunity to learn Kathakali,” says Radha, who currently resides in Pottammal.
The desire to learn the art grew with the passage of time and when her daughter Lavanya grew up, she was blessed by Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, who directed them to his disciple FACT Padmanabhan. The first Aattakkatha, ‘Rukmini Mohanam’ was written in 1982. It was later composed by her first cousin Venmani Haridas for Ernakulam Kathakali Club.
Radha could not build up a steady career after completing MSc in Mathematics in 1967. The very next year she got married and moved to places with husband A D Madhavan, former general manager of Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) and author of many books on music, including ‘Karnataka Sangeethamritam.’ She worked as a teacher in different schools and while in Kolkata with family, learnt Bengali.
“I didn’t write the exam, after learning the language,” smiles the woman, implying not to quote her as an authority of the language. But she translated Tagore’s ‘Shyama’ during his 150th birthday celebrations and made it into an Aattakatha. Another translation was Aashapoorna Devi’s ‘Abhinetri’ into Malayalam. Radha had the support of her elder brother and news reader in All India Radio, Venmani Vishnu, for performing the plays of K T Mohammed, while in school and colleges.
In the meantime, while staying in Thiruvananthapuram, she learnt the basics of computer education and within a year set up a data processing centre, one of the first initiatives of the kind by women entrepreneurs in the state.
After a gap of 20 years, she wrote her second Aattakatha ‘Kapidhwajacharitham’ in 2002. Radha says she overcame the sorrow of the untimely demise of her son Vikas by concentrating on writing and helping her husband through editing his books. Radha’s first wwork, apart from the Hindu religious texts and Tagore’s work, was ‘Divyakarunya Charitham’, based on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. She came to her second venture in the same line through her family friend and artist Kodankandath Antony Francis, who did a series of 12 paintings on Last Supper.
Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan is the director of ‘Da Vincipporul’ and music is by Nedumbilly Ram Mohan. Radha’s adaptation of the Aattakkatha is purely based on the painting and not the Bible.
Novelist C Radhakrishnan will be the chief guest at the event on April 16.