Musician Kavalam Sreekumar has rendered more than 60 Malayalam poems during the lockdown

Kavalam Sreekumar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Rhythm and rhyme are innate in Kavalam Sreekumar’s music. The classical musician and playback singer has been busy during the lockdown, keeping his creativity fine-tuned and staying in touch with his listeners. In addition to a complete recitation of the Ramayana, he has rendered more than 60 Malayalam poems, by legends and newcomers alike, uploading many on his YouTube channel.

Certain poems have relevance to current events or people. As a homage to veteran politician K.R. Gouri Amma, who passed away last month, Sreekumar gave an evocative rendering of ‘Gouri’, written by poet Balachandran Chullikkad many years ago to celebrate her life. Each word in the poem conveys the person she was, the vicissitudes in her political life, and her courage in the face of all odds.

Another was ‘Ninakku Nalkaan Oru Bhoopatam Maathram’, written by Chirayinkeezhu Radhakrishnan on CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan. It was uploaded as Pinarayi Vijayan took charge as Chief Minister of Kerala for a second consecutive term, a historic feat in the State.

Six or seven of the works are about the pandemic, the lockdown and even the virus, including ‘Thiricharivu’ (V.P. Sreekanth Nair), ‘Grihasthasramam’ and ‘Karuthal’ (Sunil Cherukadavu) and ‘Virus’ (V.P. Joy).

The greatest reward

“I have enjoyed working with poets since my time at All India Radio (AIR). Doordarshan had a programme when select poems of eminent poets such as the late O.N.V. Kurup sir, Sugathakumari teacher and Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri sir….were recited in their presence. I still cherish the joy on their faces as their lines were recited. That is my greatest reward. I remember the indescribable expression on Sugathakumari teacher’s face when I recited her famous work ‘Rathrimazha’,” recalls Sreekumar.

He has also rendered her ‘Krishna Neeyenne Ariyilla’ and ‘Radhayevide’ in this collection. Once he retired from AIR, Sreekumar became busy with concerts in India and abroad. Poetry has always struck a chord in him, but his hectic schedule prevented him from connecting with it as much as he would have liked, until the lockdown.

“Poetry touches the soul and, as we all know, poems have a powerful influence on the reader. The power of the pen is evident in the way poets have given voice to our deepest sentiments: romance, sorrow, euphoria, patriotism, liberty, idealism, existentialism, etc,” he says.

Famous works such as ‘Mokshamu’ (Attoor Ravi Varma), ‘Ente Bhasha’ (Vallathol), ‘Kaadinu Kaadinte Bhangi’ (Ayyappa Paniker), and so on are some of the gems of this section on his channel.

Finding new poets

Son of the renowned playwright, poet and lyricist Kavalam Narayana Panicker, Sreekumar was deeply involved in his father’s theatre troupe, Sopanam. He has also sung many of his father’s poems and folk songs including. For the lockdown collection, he has included his father’s ‘African Paayal’, ‘Pottan’ and ‘Podikkalakkandangaali.’ He recalls seeing his father lost in his work while writing a poem. “That is the kind of concentration poets have while capturing on paper transient emotions, imagery and sentiments. Every poem has a bit of the poet’s soul. Perhaps that is why poetry evokes strong sentiments in the reader and the listener, especially when the poet recites it. For instance, when an eminent poet like V. Madhusoodanan Nair recites his verses, no other person can capture that feeling,” he says.

Kavalam Sreekumar

Kavalam Sreekumar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

However, he rues that the habit of reading or listening to poetry has been waning in most households. Many seldom read poetry once they leave school. Pointing out the lyrical imagery in Vijayalakshmi’s poem ‘Pokkuveyil’, he wonders if any other medium could have so comprehensively captured the lyricism of a sentiment like love.

Sreekumar turned to Facebook poetry groups to discover new poets in Malayalam. “I have to feel an empathy for the verse and theme of the poem. If there are too many prose-like lines, I may not be able to render it in tune with the music. Many poets have been sending me their works but I can’t take up just any poem. It has to resonate with me,” he says.

He is happy to have discovered poets such as Sangeetha Jaya, Geethusree, Kuwait-based Meenakshi and Sreekanth Nair. “When I sat before the microphone and sang the lines, there was a kind of music in the lines themselves. I surrendered to that music, rendering the lines in a rhythm that I felt best suited the lines. The background music, sruti and everything else was added later,” he says.

He attributes his love for verse and metre to his Ramayana recitation in the Malayalam month of Karkkadakam (July-August), when the epic is read in many Hindu households in Kerala.

Over the years, Sreekumar’s annual reading of the epic on television channels and his YouTube channel has had a dedicated following. “Working with my father and the reading of the Ramayana have helped me with the correct enunciation of words, which is important while reading poetry aloud,” says Sreekumar.

The singer believes that film music may have played a role in people’s diminishing interest in poetry. He argues that instead of blindly imitating a song that has already been popularised by an experienced playback singer, newcomers must try to bring their own musical identity to songs. “Otherwise, it becomes a perfect imitation, that is all. The attraction of poetry is that the rendering changes each time you recite it, depending on the ambience and the mood of the reader. It may also keep changing for the listener. The depth of the words, the imagery, and the poet’s perspective make it fresh each time I read it.”

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 1:48:25 AM |

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