Offbeat Two retired professors in the city are simultaneously completing their masterpieces

Acity is only richer by the men of letters who inhabit it. Two distinguished retired professors in the city are completing their masterpieces—one, a compilation of literary terms by Professor N. Madhukar Rao and the other, an epic poem by Professor Thomas Duddy. The scholarly works will be published soon.

Madhukar Rao, retired professor of English, who has touched a generation of students across Kerala, many of whom have gone on to become distinguished teachers, authors and writers in their own right, is working on a book that will be helpful to students and teachers of English literature. The book with a working title, The Literary Salad , is a compilation of literary terms used and required in the English language, terms that enrich prose and poetry. 

Figures of speech

Professor Rao has taught English Literature in many colleges in Kerala, but his longest stint was at Maharaja’s College, from 1946-58. “Most of the Maharaja’s College principals are my students,” he says, adding that the students at the college were academically very bright. After he retired in 1980, Professor Rao began taking private classes single-handedly for undergraduate and post graduate students. For the next 30 years he did so, being assisted for some years by his daughter-in-law. “I had to read up everything to teach all the subjects in Literature. It was when my grandson began preparing for civil services exams that I started sending him notes on literary terms, which would help him. It was then that I thought of compiling all the matter into a book. I started dreaming at the age of 86.” 

It has taken him a whole year to compile the matter. The Internet, he says, has proved helpful and he has written out the text in long hand. There are about 330 literary terms with explanations about their origin, meaning and related stories. Written in alphabetical order and simple prose, he has consciously avoided purple patches. Terms like ‘Abbey Theatre’, ‘Ballad’, ‘Malapropism’, ‘Imagism’, ‘Movement poets’ and such are explained with examples. There are 17 figures of speech explained with reference to corresponding ones in Sanskrit. The genesis of figures of speech, too, is discussed. A chapter on dying sayings, on Greek and Latin terms and a rare list of names for corresponding years too are given. For a touch of humour, so characteristic of the man, he has included small jokes at the end of each page!

American Professor of poetry from Brooklyn College, City University, New York, CUNY, Thomas Duddy, has made Kochi his home. He fell in love with the place on arrival, nine years ago. Since then he is a distinguished figure seen around in Fort Kochi, walking on the beach, looking at the raintrees keenly and chatting up with local friends. He is completing his epic poem, Wedding Song , inspired by the only photograph of his parent’s wedding. The 81-year-old professor speaks of a unique draw for India, of being fascinated by classical music and Benaras. In Kochi he got involved with Kathakali, which is probably one of the reasons “that helped me fix here”.

Epic poem

The poem which started out as a fairly simple poem about a photograph of his parents’ short-lived marriage has weaved itself into a rich epic. His mother is his muse for this work. In the middle, the poem digresses into religious faith and art, ideas which inspire Duddy. He says, “The poem is very long. Photographs and visual arts have always acted very strongly upon men.. The main narrative is fairly clear, but there was space for digression, which is concerned with religious faith and art. The idea of aesthetic beauty for me is a spiritual experience.”

  Professor Duddy has worked with renowned poets like Allen Ginsberg and John Asbhery. After his retirement in 1992, he  began travelling and writing poems. India features in his poetry, as do Nepal and Tibet. His Munnar poems are inspired by the beauty of Kerala. “I have written tons of poems not yet abandoned to print,” he says, expressing a filial attachment to the art of writing poetry. .