The eternal seeker

P. Kunhiraman Nair  

His search for himself and for the eternal goddess of poetry perhaps sums up the essence of P. Kunhiraman Nair, the great Malayalam poet of the last century. Although this quest wrecked his personal, familial and social life, none of it mattered to the poet who was high on the elixir of verse and poetry.

It is said that all great writers transcend labels and trends imposed upon them by literary establishments and conventions and their writings shine with the eternal truth of immortal words. P, as he was affectionately known, too testifies to this wisdom as he is now being discovered more deeply than he was studied during his lifetime.

By the time of his death in 1978, ‘modernism’ was ruling the roost in the Malayalam literary realm, including poetry, and the likes of P were being condescendingly looked upon as ‘romanticists’ or ‘nature poets’ or ‘spiritual poets’ who could not match up to the harsh realities of a complex, modern, post-colonial world. In fact, P himself has written about this side-lining in one of his memoirs in a humorous vein.

Finding his space

However, after modernism gave way to post-modernism and many other trends in literature, the poems of P continue to shine more and more brightly with the everlasting truth of mankind and universe. Barring a fraction of his oeuvre, which dealt with contemporary issues of that period, which may not find a resonance in the present day, P’s poems still exude the external immediacy of mankind’s dilemma in being humans and in relation to the vast, mysterious nature or universe. In this way, labels and nomenclatures lose their significance when confronted with P’s poetic forays.

Born in an agrarian family at Kanhangad in Kasaragod district in 1906, P exhibited a nomadic streak throughout his life. While still a student at Sanskrit college, Pattambi, he abandoned the course midway. Also leaving his family, P took to a wandering life. Even as he assumed the role of a school teacher, he never stuck to any particular place for long.

However, in one aspect, he was fiercely loyal: he never stopped writing poetry. While his initial poems mostly exhibited a devotional streak (such as ‘Sreeramacharitham’, ‘Bhadradeepam’, ‘Ananthankattil’ and ‘Thamaramala’), especially towards Lord Guruvayurappan, gradually his poems became noted for their mesmerising depiction of nature’s bounty. In fact, his nomadic life too greatly contributed towards the strengthening of this aspect with the poet’s close encounters with the rich and diverse natural beauty of Kerala.

Evolutionary phase

Perhaps more than anywhere else, P’s somewhat longer stints as a school teacher and otherwise at scenic Kollengode and on the banks of the Nila in Palakkad district greatly shaped his evolution as a poet devoted to nature. Nirapara, published in 1944, exhibited the maturing of the poet with his devotion to nature transcending into a higher domain of symbolism.

Also, his poems became a treasure trove of awe-inspiring imagery. While there was a decrease in the overtly religious and devotional component in his poems, his verses became profoundly spiritual and acquired a new depth.

P was not immune to socio-political realities around him. With the struggle for Independence raging all around him, he penned several poems evoking the spirit of those times showing that, if needed, his pen could be sharper than a sword too.

This was evident in poems such as ‘Padaval’, ‘Malayali Thookumarathil’, ‘Harijanaganam’ and so on. Poems like ‘Narabali’, ‘Thaaravinte jibba’, ‘Moothamoosariyode’ wielded satire as a sharp weapon to deal with contemporary socio-political realities. Thamarathoni ( Kerala Sahithya Academy Award winner), Vayalkarayil, Ratholsavam, Pookkalam and Kaliyachan are counted as major poetry collections of P.

Looking within

However, not many would differ on the observation that Kaliyachan, which won the Kendra Sahithya Academy award, is the master piece of P. A multi-layered long poem, Kaliyachan dwells upon the excruciating inner agony of a Kathakali maestro who is caught in a web of his own follies, chiefly concerning his selfish, and physical relationships with women.

Even as he is aware of the self- destruction, he finds it impossible to escape from his basic instincts. Undoubtedly an autobiographical work, P extrapolates his own life into that of a Kathakali artist and, in the process, achieves a sublime level of poetic imagery and thematic profundity. Interestingly, Kaliyachan along with his magnificent prose autobiography Kaviyude Kaalpadukal, lays before us the anarchical life that P led, resulting in painful relations with many women he loved, married and also with his uncared-for-children from those relations. Yet P, with his juba pockets always bulging with candies and nuts, sought out others’ children everywhere and they too were fond of him!

Perhaps, as the title of another one of his autobiographies Enne Thirayunna Njan (I search for me) indicates, the poet was always on a search for himself and the poet in him. That quest extended to nature and the universe itself. As time passes and with the environment we live in acquiring greater importance, P’s ode to nature is also finding a new resonance.

(The writer is an author and scenarist )

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 10:23:21 PM |

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