Vayalar Rama Varma’s memories come alive in the museum that is being built to preserve his works and keep alive his legacy of music and literature.
A blanket of dust covers everything. On a couple of narrow desks inside the auditorium, which is nearing completion, lie scattered a few black and white photographs, film mementoes, a torn toilet case with a rusty tin of Yardley talcum powder, a pair of spectacles with a thick black frame, a pen, statuettes, plaques (reminders of State and National awards), and a couple of personal diaries.
These objects, invaluable memorabilia, is enough to act as a powerful trigger to unlock a whole lot of memories of Vayalar Rama Varma, one of the greatest poet-lyricists in Malayalam.
One of the diaries in that pile of dust tells so many stories. The pages lead you directly to the mind of the poet.
Here is a sample of some of the entries. The first one in the 1974 diary begins on January 1, Tuesday. The poet writes, in simple English with a steady, good hand, ‘A fine new year day. Went to Udaya [studio] in the morning, Chackochan [Kunchacko] gave me Rs. 101 as a New Year presentation. Left for Madras in Kerala Express. Heard the sad news of the death of Kochammaman [a relative]. He drank to death. Ban alcohol completely’.
The entries are irregular but interesting and informative. They open a window to Vayalar’s thoughts, his feelings. He writes on January 9, Wednesday: ‘Stopped drinking today at least for a couple of weeks.’ It was always thought that Vayalar could write songs even while sleepwalking. Stories abound about how he could write anytime, anywhere, without any effort. The January 18, Friday entry, proves that even Vayalar had his moments of struggle. ‘Tried to compose in Salil’s [Chowdhury] tune the whole day – failed’. The next few entries do not mention anything of these songs. Then on January 23, Wednesday, Vayalar writes, ‘Salil’s recording, Yesudas [K.J Yesudas] sang beautifully’.
These diaries, including those with Vayalar’s daughter Yamuna, need to be preserved in the museum that is being constructed in the poet’s memory.
It was in 2008 that the Vayalar Rama Varma Memorial Trust decided to build this museum. The museum complex, comprising a literary museum, library, office, auditorium, and a Vayalar Rama Varma memorial martyr square on the premises of Raghavaparambil Kovilakam, the poet’s ancestral home at Vayalar, Alappuzha district, form the blueprint of this ambitious project.
Five years down the line, when Vayalar’s 38th death anniversary approaches on October 27, even the first phase of the museum is not complete.
“Work is on and we are doing our best to complete the first phase this year itself. A part of the fund from the state government has not been sanctioned, which has slowed down work. The Hall of Fame, in which will be displayed the portraits of all the recipients of the prestigious Vayalar Award, will have the complete works of these writers, relevant information associated with them and candid photographs taken during award functions. Portraits of Vayalar and former Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon, former president of the Trust, will adorn the hall. The poet’s personal belongings will also be exhibited here,” says C.V. Trivikraman, secretary of the Trust.
The Hall of Fame is the only feature of the museum that will possibly be complete this year. “We have planned for a dedicated space, conceived as an audio-visual library, where visitors and researchers can listen to his poems and songs and also watch films that featured him and his songs. We intend to make the CDs ready once we complete the first phase,” adds Trivikraman.
The collection of the poet’s books, his favourite armchair with its wooden writing board will also grace this hall. Another prized exhibit will be a well-preserved collection of Vayalar’s film songs, written in his own hand. These were gifted to the family by the late G. Devarajan who had meticulously collected them during their years of close association.
These are perhaps some of the individual artefacts that have its own significance in immortalising the life, career and works of the poet. They will also turn into effective transformational tools in preserving the memory of Vayalar.
The ancestral home, with its naalukettu, woodwork and all, was brought down a few years back. Remnants of this building where the poet grew up and wrote most of his early works, the trees and the temple of the serpent god in the compound, the sights and sounds trigger nostalgia. The images in these surroundings can be found in many of his immortal songs and poems. That’s when Vayalar will live on.
Sarathchandra Varma, Vayalar’s son, succinctly sums up his family’s hopes. “There’s this song by my father in the play Bharatakshetram. It goes like this, ‘Sabarimalayilum kallundu, Shakteeswarathilum kallundu…kalline thozhunnavare ningal kalppanikkaare marakkaruthe…’ (There are stones in Sabarimala and Shakteeswaram. Those who go to worship here don’t forget the sculptor). Those who come to this place should feel the poet’s presence; they should go back with lasting memories of my father.”
Museums must be places where things keep happening, not just places where objects or exhibits go to hibernate. What the Vayalar Rama Varma museum needs to do is to keep adding to its collections by engaging a larger section of the public. The museum can perhaps get in touch with these individual collectors, requesting them to part with it or at least loan these objects to the museum.
Bimal Radh is one of those passionate fans. He has invaluable Vayalar memorablia treasured and preserved for nearly 25 years now. A former librarian of a cooperative library at Kadakarappally, near Cherthala, Bimal has letters written by Vayalar’s mother, his wife, Bharathi, son, Sarathchandra Varma, and poignant replies by the poet. He also has faded imprints of Vayalar’s popular songs, some like ‘Pennale, pennale…’ (Chemmeen) written in English for Salil Chowdhury. There are other songs such as ‘Akasapoykayil undoru ponninthoni…’ (Pattuthoovala) and ‘Kannadikoottil valarum…’ (Koottukaar), the words of which seem to have been changed in the final version of the song.
Significant among the letters is the one written by his mother. She tells her son how important it is that he attends a Sahitya Parishad Sammelan at Palakkad where he is slated to speak along with other literary luminaries. She tells him that he need not come home but must attend the meeting because he should be known as a poet and not just a lyricist. His wife signs her letters as ‘Yours B’, and Vayalar, always as ‘Kuttan’.
One of his diary entries for March 25, 1974, Vayalar writes in block letters highlighting it with a box. It says he ‘bought a new Premier Padmini car from TVS.’ The entry reveals the poet’s excitement and joy about his possession. The proud owner of this car is a doctor in Pathanamthitta. “Actor-director Lal has one of the State award mementoes with him and The Antharjanam Trust, in memory of Lalithambika Antharjanam, has a collection of letters written by my father. So, there are people around who are in possession of such things. I’m sure more people will come forward and help in enhancing the collection,” says Sarathchandra Varma.