A poet feeds on hunger, literally

Poet Pavithran Theekkuni took up various jobs to earn a living. He was a fish hawker at the Theekkuni market for some time.

Poet Pavithran Theekkuni took up various jobs to earn a living. He was a fish hawker at the Theekkuni market for some time.  

Hunger is a leitmotif of Pavithran Theekkuni’s poetry — some of his terms such as vishappinethanne vaarithinnuka (feeding on hunger) are among the strongest expressions of hunger and starvation in Malayalam literature. For, Theekkuni, who was born into a poverty-stricken family, faced hunger all through his life.

Now, the poet who has published 10 books of poetry and won many literary awards is in the grip of poverty again. He has lost his job at the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy. Until a couple of months ago, he had a steady, though low-paying, temporary job as projector operator at the academy’s Kannur regional centre. That job, on a daily-wage basis, used to pay him Rs.200 a day initially and Rs.350 a day later on, and had kept his family of four going. But, in early May, he and four other temporary staffers were asked by the academy to go on leave. They haven’t heard from the academy since.

“Now, I am a construction labourer,” the poet told The Hindu while mixing cement and sand at his worksite near Vadakara in Kozhikode district. “I get Rs.450 a day as wage, but, I get hired only two or three days a week.” He pointed out that people were reluctant to hire a poet as manual worker because they feared the poet wouldn’t work hard enough. Moreover, there was stiff competition from Bengali migrant labourers who were cheap and who worked long hours.

Fish hawker

Until three years ago, Pavithran used to be a wayside fish hawker in Ayancherry, his hometown. But the fishmonger had to leave the job because of the demands on the poet. “I had to attend meetings and poetry-reciting sessions and hence had to skip fish-selling frequently.” Before taking to fish-mongering, he had done scores of manual odd jobs, including working in paddy fields. He had married at the age of 20 while he was still in college. As a student, he had supported himself by working on weekends and during holidays. Poverty and emotional problems had forced him to drop out of school and college many times.

Nearly a year and a half ago, the chalachithra academy offered him the temporary job of projector operator. “I loved the job as it helped me exhibit award-winning Indian and foreign films to rural audiences.”

The academy had as part of its ‘touring talkies’ project, hired Pavithran and four others to take film classics to the rural masses. The project was funded by a one-time grant from the Central government. Three regional offices were opened in Thrissur, Kannur, and Thiruvananthapuram. When the funds dried up, the academy wound up the project, asking the five to go, and leaving the four projectors and two vehicles to rot at the academy office in Thiruvananthapuram.

In his poem ‘The Poet,' Pavithran writes:

‘‘One day, all of a sudden, right from your midst,

With the fire in his chest and the wing-broken dream in his heart,

He will walk away and vanish

Into his own loneliness,

Into his own home in the invisible valley.’’

Poet Pavithran Theekkuni is now a construction labourer mixing cement and sand.

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