found it difficult to believe that there was a
daily news paper published from Singapore. For fifty years,
the Malaysia Malayali - originally known as Kerala Bandhu-
kept the spirit of Malayalam
alive. It started publication in 1939
from Batu Pahat in Malaysia as a weekly.
Later it moved to Singapore
and became a daily with the help and co-operation of
publisher, K S Pillai. Malaysia Malayali was the one and only
daily outside of Kerala at that time. The credit should go to its
Chief Editor, V P Abdullah, a veteran journalist whose association
the paper goes back to the very beginning of its publication.
dwindling of the Malayalam speaking readership forced
the paper to cease
publication in 1988.
The very first staging of a Malayalam drama was organized in
as early as 1926 – more than 80 years ago. Singapore Malayali
originally registered as Malayali Samajam in 1917 and considered to
the first registerd Indian organization in Singapore presented some of the
best and most well known plays. Kala Nilayam, too, has had an impressive
record in this field. It has presented some of our best cultural items
produced more than 70 plays on 220 stages. Sree Narayana Mission
and Naval Base Kerala Library have also been active in the field of theatre
with a number of
highly acclaimed plays to their credit. Most of the well-known
plays in Kerala
have been staged successfully in Singapore. They include
Karavatta Pasu, Ithu
Bhoomiyaanu, Chavittikkuzhacha Mannu,
Vila Kuranja Manushyar, Kantom Becha
Coat, Puthiya Aakaasam Puthiya Bhoomi,
Sarveykkallu,Thoovalum Thoopayum, Vazhi Thurannu,
Bhagna Bhavanam, Aaraadhana,
Kaattu Kuthira, Kallukontoru Pennu
The cultural pool
In the early period, Malayalam drama and other cultural
because of the large pool of talent that was readily
available in the Naval Base area.
After the British announced their withdrawal from east of
Suez in the late 1960s,
there was an exodus of the Naval Base Malayalees to the
United Kingdom and India.
This left a wide gap in the Malayalam cultural scene.
But about this time, a large number of work permit
/employment pass holders
began arriving from Kerala. Among them were people with
wide exposure to the
new and changing trends of the Malayalam cultural scene
back in Kerala.
Together with the new generation of the Singapore Malayalees,
began to contribute substantially to narrow the gap in our cultural
The young and daring generation
The keen interest shown by the young generation towards
and music is highly commendable. Many are handicapped by a lack
to the natural tonal qualities and nuances of the language, yet they
shown enthusiasm and daring. Some even learn their script in romanised
Malayalam. This enthusiasm will keep our stage alive and agile. Some of our a
rtistes possess beautiful singing voices and will go far with formal training.
During the last few years an average of four dramas were
staged by Malayalee
cultural groups. The response from the Malayalee audience
hardly was there any stage performance that was not sold out.
In this connection, the role of the former Ministry of
and its successor, The Ministry of Information and the Arts is highly
It has given not only encouragement but also funds to support the activities
of our cultural groups.
We have come a long way since 1926 when the first Malayalam
staged in Singapore. We should now aim higher and, in tune with the nation,
go for excellence.
The works of Singapore Malayalee writers have won recognition
in India. Njekkad and Vilasini (M K Menon ) are two such novelists
have enriched Malayalam literature by drawing extensively from their
Singapore and Malaysian experience. Vilasini , an accredited journalist returned
to India to become a full time writer. His monumental work, Avakaasikal,
longest novel in Indian literature, won the Sahitya akademy award.
Poems by N C Kattel and M K Bhasi (that’s me!)have appeared
reputed literary periodicals like Mathrubhumi, Mangalodayam, Kaumudi
and Kumkumam in Kerala and their collected works have been published
and distributed by the National Book Stall (NBS), the largest publishing
in India. Kattel has written two plays which have been successfully
Singapore. Shakuntala, a poem by Bhasi won the Kaumudi
Award (1952). He
has also won the Kerala Kavi Samajam Award 1995
for his poem, Ahalya.
Another poem, Ithile Nadannavar, receivedboth
Award 1997(New Delhi) and the Deccan Cultural Society
George Netto and Kazhimbram have a number of titles to their
Other authors who have published their works in book form include
J M Moni, M P Premraj, V M Sainuddin , J Alexander ,
Sarojini Chasndran and N
Valalan. Premraj’s association with the
Malayalam theatre extends to more than
K P Bhaskar and Santha Bhaskar need no introduction to lovers
classical dance. Bhaskar, the President and Artistic Director of
society established Bhaskar’s Academy of Dance in Singapore in 1952.
He has written three books on Indian Dance. He has been bestowed
awards in India, Malaysia and Singapore including the
Pingat Jasa Gemilang (PJG)
by the President of Singapore. Santha Bhaskar
joined her husband in Singapore in
1956. She taught and choreographed at
Bhaskar’s Academy. She was awarded the
Cultural Medallion in 1990.
She has also received the Kala Rani award by
the Indian Film Arts Society
and the Kala Ratnam award by the Singapore
Fine Arts Society. Presently
she teaches at the Centre for the Arts, National
University of Singapore.
Malayalam at crossroads
Eventhough Malayalees form a significant group within the
the use of their language is slowly and steadily decreasing
among the young
and surprisingly even among the older generation. Yet, there is
factor: a revival of interest within the community, especially among
the young to learn Malayalam.They have shown a keen desire to be exposed
cultural programmes in Malayalm. Asianet is playing a significant part in
This has prompted the community to make a concerted effort to promote
language. The government’s new policy to encourage the various ethnic
promote their languages, arts and culture has contributed to this new
Plans are in full swing to have a Malayalee Cultural heritage centre
in Little India.
The lessons from yesterday