“No writer can claim that his works will change the world as he desires. The crown of a saviour is too heavy for him. But he cannot escape from his own concerns for mankind and Mother Earth. For me a poem can be an ardent wish or prayer for peace for all or a motif of love that binds hearts together, or a signal for an imminent storm or a soothing balm over a bleeding wound or even a clarion call for social change… Poetry, irrespective of its language, in its spirit, transcends all geographical barriers to express its concern for the entire world of phenomena.” That was O. N. V. Kurup presenting his ‘A Poet's Testament' while participating in the ‘Meet the Author' series organised by the Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi some years ago.
When he spoke thus, Malayalam's most respected contemporary poet who was declared winner of the Jnanpith for 2007 on Friday, was articulating the perennial concerns of his poetry, from the day his first poem ‘Munnottu' (Forward!) appeared in a local weekly way back in 1946 to those that he pens to this day. Known popularly as just ‘ONV', he is one of the few to emerge from the turbulent times of the freedom struggle and revolutionary fervour of the 1940s and keep pace with the changing times, constantly rediscovering his poetic voice with the changing sensibilities. This he did without compromising his fundamental allegiance to the progressive romantic world view and always attempting a fruitful fusion of tradition and modernity in his choice of subjects and his poetic utterance.
Born in 1931 at Chavara, a coastal village in south Kerala, ONV burst into the Malayalam literary scene during what is often called the ‘pink decade' (1946-'56). His poems of this period are marked by revolutionary fervour. But with the onset of the sixties, his poetry began to echo resonances of tragedy and disillusionment, but he still remained the spokesperson for the toiling millions. Soon, he moved on to much larger concerns about the very survival of the human species in the face of marauding human greed and the clamour for freedom everywhere. His later poetry have retained all these elements, but with the sweep of vision and stoic rhythm that comes with long experiences with different facets of life. Regardless of the phases through which it has travelled, ONV's has been poetry of hope and humanity, even if it is about the shade that a green shoot would offer in some far corner of the earth some day in the distant future.
A prolific writer and one of the finest lyricists in Malayalam, ONV's major works include ‘Daahikkunna Paanapaathram' (The Thirsty Chalice – 1956), ‘Mayilpeeli (Peacock Feather – 1964), ‘Agnishalabhangal' (Fire Moths – 1971), ‘Aksharam' (Alphabet – 1974), ‘Karutha Pakshiyude Paattu' (Song of a Black Bird – 1977), ‘Uppu' (Salt - 1980), ‘Bhoomikk Oru Charama Geetham' (A Dirge for the Earth – 1984) and ‘Ujjayini' (Ujjain – 1994). He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1998, Kerala Sahithya Akademi Award for ‘Agnishalabhangal' in 1971, Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for ‘Aksharam' in 1975 and the Vayalar Rama Varma Award for ‘Uppu' in 1982. As lyricist, he had won the National Award for Best Lyricist in 1989 and the State Award for the Best Lyricist over a dozen times.
Kerala Culture Minister M. A. Baby has described the Jnanpith Award for ONV as a recognition for Malayalam and Kerala and his fellow Jnanpith winner and celebrated Malayalam novelist M. T. Vasudevan Nair has described it a long-awaited recognition for the poetic genius of ONV.
Keywords: Malayalam literature