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Updated: August 12, 2012 12:11 IST

A life dedicated to classical art

Anand Haridas
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Kochi:Poet and Kathakali scholar O.M. Anujan talking to The Hindu at his residence in the city on Saturday. Photo: Vipin Chandran
The Hindu Kochi:Poet and Kathakali scholar O.M. Anujan talking to The Hindu at his residence in the city on Saturday. Photo: Vipin Chandran

He was one of the founding members of the International Centre for Kathakali, the institution that redefined Kerala’s cultural perspective, especially in New Delhi.

When O.M. Anujan speaks about Kathakali, one can feel the ambience of a night blooming with rhythm and see mudras in his eyes. He often looks beyond the person sitting in front of him and visualises the masters of the art giving their best performance.

Kathakali is deeply ingrained in the being of Dr. Anujan, who was born into Olappamanna Mana — the cradle of Kathakali. His career record says he is a poet and a former head of the Department of Modern Indian Languages, Delhi University. But for those who were in the national capital in the 1960s, Dr. Anujan means a lot more.

He was one of the founding members of the International Centre for Kathakali, the institution that redefined Kerala’s cultural perspective, especially in New Delhi.

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Anujan was an integral part of the cultural scene there.

He witnessed the national capital evolving as an epicentre of major changes in Malayalam literature and art.

“When I was studying and later teaching at Presidency College, Madras, that city was the happening place for Malayalam literature with the leading writers having their base there.

“We used to have ‘Sahiti Sandhya’ every Friday, where new works were presented and discussed. In the Sixties, the base shifted to New Delhi,” he recollects from his apartment in the city, where he has retired to a happy and satisfied life.

Dr. Anujan still cherishes reading the manuscript of O.V. Vijayan’s Khasakhinte Ithihasam (Legends of Khasak), which went on to become one of the landmarks in Malayalam literature, among other golden nuggets of Delhi memories. Strangely, he does not miss New Delhi now. “Everything changed in the 1980s, after the assassination of (the then Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi. The city suddenly became insecure.”

Literature, as with Kathakali, comes naturally to him. He has 10 books to his credit, including the free translation of Meghasandesam. In fact, his first book, a collection of poems Mukulam (Bud), was published before his brother Mahakavi Olappamanna brought out his first book. Dr. Anujan’s oeuvre includes five ‘attakathas’ (texts for Kathakali performance).

Even though he was inspired by the rich lineage and tradition of the art form, Dr. Anujan always chose to tread his own path, as he did, when he decided to write his autobiography Jeevitham Kavyam (Life as Poem) in verse. “It is mostly done in second or third person narrative, as if I am witnessing my own life as an outsider.”

After retiring from his academic career and settling in the city, Dr. Anujan became part of the Ernakulam Kathakali Club for some time and involved himself in evaluating the research and doctoral theses of students in different universities.

Dr. Anujan now keenly follows contemporary literature.

“There is definitely an erosion as far as the quality of language is concerned. We have lost the original feel of Malayalam. This is mostly because writers are borrowing idioms and usages freely from English without really knowing their contextual relevance in both languages.”

As his family gets ready to celebrate his 84 birthday (in the fullness of a thousand moons, as they say) at his apartment on Sunday, Dr. Anujan moves along gracefully – realising the import of his presence in the land’s cultural history.

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