Written by O. Chandumenon and published in the year 1889, Indulekha has been considered as a literary merit. The book, although situated at a time frame of the 19th century, has a significant amount of critical analysis through every page.
The 19th and 20th century was referred to as the transitional period for the economy of India as well as in literature. Due to the emergence of political, social, economic and literary fields in India, a middle class had been formed with its leading conscious identity towards nationalism as well as the English education. In the process of getting adjusted to its colonial culture, literature accepted the new language and culture whilst also maintaining their own stance in the global world.
Indulekha constantly highlights the eternal dichotomy between the young and the old as well as modernism and tradition. It deals with the decline of the medieval systems in the conservative town of Kerala as well as addresses the issues about casteism within the community between the Namboothiri and Nair, where the Namboothiri represents the decadence of oppression as well as polygamy.
The novel also looks through the constant war against customs and tradition and its hinderance towards humanization. Various social issues have been forcefully debated about and the experience of the contemporary society is portrayed under the micro lens.
Firstly, the novel revolves around a young and educated life of Nair woman named Indulekha, who resists her pressure of being married to a Namboothiri through the means of her edification in the English language and chooses to step away from traditions of her society and marry her Western educated cousin, Madavan. The male protagonist, Madhavan, although conforming to the Western way of living through the dress code and speech, maintains the tradition of keeping a long tuft of hair to represent his loyalty towards his Nair community. The distinct personalities of both the protagonists displays the needs of identity far from the conventional ideologies yet not separating them from their nationalist perspective. Education was a glorifying force that Indulekha used to evolve out from the traditional Marumakkathayan family. The reflection of colonial modernity that has been adapted by the characters in the novel makes it a modern sensibility.
Secondly, the novel explores through the concept of Sanbandams (marital relationship) and the exploitation of traditions. The concept of freedom to accept or reject a sambandam was uncalled for, by the women in the Taravad (Ancestral house) . Most of the decisions were made by the Head of the house. However, the author, through his character, Indulekha, questions the concept of her freedom and rejects the relationship. Indulekha represents the changing aspirations of the Nair women during the colonial rule.
The redefinition of family bonds and social relationships due to the emergence of the colonial culture is also highlighted upon through the novel. The traditional pattern of behavior of Panchu Menon, the central figure of the Taravad household, is constantly questioned by the individuality and assertiveness of the male protagonist.
Throughout the novel, the author explores and appreciates the colonial culture as well as the concept of employment that provides individuality and self-respect. Menon’s novel, Indulekha not only explores and appreciates the modernity and the expanse of growth by adopting the western culture but also explores the need for maintaining a bit of traditionalism.
Indulekha is a must read and can also be perceived as a cultural answer to the colonial interpretation of a stagnant Indian culture.