The unbroken song

Sankaran Embranthiri

Sankaran Embranthiri  

Life haS never been a bed of roses for Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri. Yet, he gives the impression of being the happiest man on earth.

Neither his battle with many illnesses, a kidney transplantation nor the amputation of his right leg has managed to break his spirit.

"Bhagavan gave me all the sorrows. But then, he has given me a lot of happiness too," feels Embrantiri, who stays on the banks of the Periyar at Desom, near Aluva. His main stay in life is `bhakthi', which for him is a deep and unwavering belief that everything will turn out for the good as `bhagawan' was with him.

It was this faith that saw him through a complicated surgery to amputate his right leg on account of diabetes-related complications. The surgery was performed on December 4, which happened to Guruvayoor Ekadasi day. "The doctor had told me that the surgery could be done the next day. I requested him to postpone it by a day, because we had to inform my youngest daughter. The doctor agreed. Only later, did I learn it was Ekadasi."

And the recovery was almost miraculous. He was allowed to be taken home on the tenth day after surgery, instead of waiting for a full 21 days to pass. He says that he had begun to miss home, and his grandchildren, little Ammu and Appu.

The wounds healed quickly. And within months, Kalamandalam Sankaran Embrantiri was back on stage. On April 9, he sang before Guruvayoorappan, a custom he had been following for the past 14 years, ever since the kidney transplant. The story was `Panchali Mahathmyam,' a new `attakkatha' composed by Mamppatta Muralidharan Namboothiri. It had been slated to be performed at Guruvayoor on October 13, but on that day he was in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. His wife Savithri then vowed that that he would sing at Guruvayoor, if he got well, the same story of Panchali Mahathmyam.

His days are hectic, full of programmes, appointments, interviews and journeys. "It all keeps me going. Meeting people, talking with friends... I would think, what would have been my fate if I had lost my voice? Without it, would anyone care for me? The `bhagavan' has taken care of everything. And I am so lucky that my family, my children never say no to me. They are ready to accompany me, wherever I want to go. And all the people are so supportive. I have no worries in life now. There are so many friends around."

His devotion to Guruvayoorappan is more like a close friendship. And `Kuchelavritham,' has always been his favourite attakkatha. "Wasn't it written with me in mind, I have always wondered?" And hums the familiar padams: `Pushkara vilochana...,' `Paaraathe mal kudumbini...,' `Daanavari Mukundane kandeedan...,' `Kalayami sumathe...'

"I feel that Krishna and Kuchela are still alive. Likewise, you can still find `Santhanagopalam,' `Nalacharitham,' `Keechakavdhom,' and `Rugmangadacharitham,' being acted out among us... " There is a story behind the saffron shawl with `Narayana,' printed all over that he has draped around him. He was draped in such a shawl for the first time by Anjam Madhavan Namboothiri, on his first performance after the kidney transplant 14 years ago.

The coveted Swati Puraskaram, given by the Government of Kerala in memory of the legendary Maharaja Swati Thirunal, came soon after his recovery. It was announced on the Vishu day. "What have I done to deserve all this?" he wonders aloud. "I am so happy to be a cause for Kathakali music to be honoured at the national level.'

"I have no wish to die yet," says he. "I have not yet finished with enjoying this life. Each day is bringing experiences full of happiness." He is looking forward to the Shashtipoorthi celebrations planned at Guruvayoor in connection with his 60th birthday on August 25 and 26.

By Renu Ramanath

Photo: H. Vibhu

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