Also known as “Kerala Pushkin”, Ottaplakkal Neelakandan Velu Kurup/ONV Kurup (1931-2016) was a poet, lyricist, and literary critic. He was awarded the Jnanpit in 2007, Padmashri in 1998, Padma Bhushan in 2011 and various other accolades.
He had made no distinction such as poetry or lyrics. He had excelled in all and had written many memorable lines for Malayalam movies. Writer Prabha Varma summarises ONV’s nature of poetry in the following words:
modern outlook, fluent diction, unparalleled imagination and progressive thought left an indelible imprint on many branches of Malayalam literature, ranging from pure poetry to melodius lyrics.Prabha Varma
His literary career spanning seven decades is a confluence of the traditional, the modern, the regional and the international. (Prabha Varma) His poems such as “Arivalum Rakkuyilum”, “Poruthunna Soundaryam” etc can be seen as a confluence of social realism, sensuous lyricism, and leftist aesthetics. Some of his poems are a rereading of the myths and puranas. For example, in “Ujjayini”, we can find Kalidasa in a new light. His “Swayamvaram” is the story of Madhavi, the daughter of Yayati, in a feminist perspective. In poems such as “Choroonu”, and “Mayilpeeli” we can find subtle nuances of nostalgia. “Bhoomikkoru charamageetham”(A Requiem to Mother Earth) foregrounds environmental issues.
His major works include,
- Agni Shalabhangal
- Bhoomikkoru Charamageetham
Prose works include,
- Kavitayile Samantara Rekhakal
- Kavitayile Prathisandhi
- Ezhuthachan- Oru Padanam
- Pushkin- Swatantrya Bodhathinte Durantagatha
Nalapat Balamani Amma (1909-2004) was the daughter of Kunjunni Raja and Kochukuttiyamma. Her uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was a prominent Malayalam poet, and under his care Balamani Amma got educated and the training given by him must have played a crucial role in the making of the poet. Balamani Amma’s daughter Kamala Das/Kamala Surayya became one of the prominent voices of Indian English poetry.
Known as the “poetess of motherhood”, role of woman predominates as the central concern in her works: woman as bride, woman as wife, woman as mother, woman as grandmother. In other words, the role of woman at home, woman in society, working woman, woman as lover, and woman as Kali(see Ayyappa Paniker). Along with this central concerns, we can find aspects of Indian culture, a deep-rooted exploration and rereading of the Indian puranas that suits with the contemporary human society. The Satvika Bhava predominates in her works.
K Satchidanandan, in his tribute to Balamani Amma, argues that her poems can be viewed as an exploration of the “Jungian idea of collective identity”. He also identifies three phases in her poetic career. In the first phase, which included her earlier writings, she presents the emotional world of mother and child. In the second phase, the poet explores the relationship between man and society, and the third phase is a synthesis where the individual merges with the community.
Her poems are,
- Shibil Ashtaka
Other poems include,
- Kooppukai (Folded Hands)
- Amma (Mother)
- Kudumbini (The Home-Maker)
- Dharma margathil (In the Path of Dharma)
- Prabhankuram (The Bud of Light)
- Bhavanayil (In Imagination)
- Sthreehrdayam (A Woman’s Heart)
- Oonjalil (On the Swing)
- Kalikkotta (The Toy Basket)
- Velichathil (In the Light)
- Avar Padunnu (They Sing)
- Pranaman (Homage)
- Lokantarangalil (In Many Worlds)
- Muttassi (Grandmother)
- Ambalathil (In the Temple)
- Nagarathil (In the City)
Daughter of eminent Malayalam poet Bodheswaran and Sanskrit scholar Karthiyayini Amma, Sugathakumari is a prominent voice in the contemporary Malayalam literature. The people of Kerala know her both as a poet and a fighter who involves in the struggles to save the environment and nature of Kerala. Her poems such as “Rathrimazha” (Rain-at-night) and “Krisha neeyenne ariyilla”(Krishna, you know me not) are very popular.
Sugathakumari belongs to the Romantic tradition of poetry which began with Kumaran Asan and flourished with Changambuzha Krisha Pillai. In the 1960s, the writers including ONV Kurup, Sugathakumari, MV Vishu Narayanan Namboothiri etc wrote poems which have romantic tendencies. Though Sugathakumari’s poems can be seen as a continuation of the Romantic Poetry, she has equally raised social issues, and mythical themes in her poetry. Major poems include Rathrimazha, Ambalamani, and Manalezhuth.
The poem Rathrimazha (from the collection Rathrimazha) has been translated to English by her own sister and literary critic H. Hridayakumari as “Rain at Night”. The poem is written in six sections, but does not have a regular stanzaic form.
The speaker in the poem identifies herself with the rain at night. The shifting moods of the persona parallel with that of the rain at night. We can see different emotional states of the woman in the poem, youth, love, melancholy, mental agony, disease, loneliness and so on. The rain has been the companion of the woman in all these different emotional stages.
The poem can be read in a feminist perspective as well. The speaker, obviously a woman, talks about her companion, the rain in the poem. (Sugathakumari, in a number of interviews, had talked about the situation of writing the poem. While sitting in a room, suddenly it rained and the author got sudden surge of emotion and started writing it.) Throughout the poem, the feelings of melancholy and loneliness predominate. Rain has been portrayed as the “…pensive daughter of the dusky night.”
The poet asks,
A diseased part can be cut and removed
But what can be done to the poor heart
Deeply diseased?Rathrimazha, Rain at Night
The “deeply diseased” poor heart maybe the individual who had to suffer because of the corrupted societal interventions.
Loneliness is a predominent theme in the poem.
When I toss and turn
On my sweltering bed of sickness
In the sleepless hours of the night
And forgetting even to weep
Alone, slowly freeze into a stone.Rathrimazha, Rain at Night
The image of the woman who is frozen into a stone, even forgetting to weep, and experiencing loneliness is a clear statement on the pathetic state of woman in a patriarchal society. She is devoid of her identity and made to suffer by a social system which cannot understand her.
And when it is dawn
Your wiping your face and facing a smile
Your hurry and your putting on an actRathrimazha, Rain at Night
The above lines may remind us of the routine life of a woman who has to put an act on the face while suppressing her tears as she does not have any other choice.
The poet discusses the plight of the woman by comparing it with the rain which comes at night. By attributing her loneliness and alienation to a natural phenomenon, she is trying to find solace, at last here she has a companion to share her feelings.
A hundred years have passed since Kumaranasan wrote his poetic treatise Chinthavishtayay Seetha. Seetha, the epic heroine of Ramayan, who was deserted by her husband Rama, broods over the severe injustice meted out against her.
A hundred years have passed since Kumaran Asan made Sita ask discomforting questions to the face of the patriarchy. At least Asan’s Sita had the courage to think againt patriarchy. But in the 21st Century, several women came out to the public to blurt out that they are “impure”.
Asan could write such lines as he was the disciple of the Reformist leader Sri Narayana Guru. As Kerala lost its own progressive psyche, reactionary thoughts have engulfed the state. It is high time we reinvent Kerala.
PS: Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s movie Swayamvaram presents us the struggles and hardships of Sita, but not the legendary Sita.
Prominent Malayalam novelist P Sachidanandan(Anand) bags the prestigious Ezhuthachan Award for the year 2019. He had already got all the major awards including Odakkuzhal Award, Vallathol Award, Kerala Sahitya Academy Award, Vayalar Award etc.
He is famous for the novels such as Marubhoomikal Undavunnath, Abhayarthikal, Vyasanum Vigneswaranum, Govardhante Yathrakal etc.
“My Mother Tongue” (original title “Ente Bhasha) is a poem written by Vallathol Narayana Menon, who was one among the ‘modern triumvirate poets’ of Malayalam(other two are Kumaran Asan, and Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer). A nationalist in the true spirit, Vallathol wrote various poems and a “mahakavya” titled Chitrayogam. Vallathol also contributed to the development of the Kerala art by founding the famous Kerala Kalamandalam.
The poem “Ente Bhasha” has to be read in the context of the growth subnationalism in India. After centuries of freedom struggle, India got independence in 1947. The newly elected govt, based on the “Vallabhai Patel Plan”, states were formed not on linguistic lines. There were agitations and movements all over India to form states on linguistic lines. In Kerala as well, the Aikya Kerala Movement was formed to create a state for Malayali speaking communities. At that time, there was Thiru-Kochi state, and Malabar was part of Madras Presidency.
Poets and political parties alike supported the Aikya Kerala Movement, and “Ente Bhasha” by Vallathol can be viewed as a strong statement on the need to be proud of one’s mother tongue. To arouse the patriotic spirit of Malayalis, he asks,
If we do not weave into our own tongue
Threads of varied thoughts,
What other cord is there to lift
Our land from this pitch-dark pit?My Mother Tongue, Vallathol, trans. Vyloppilli
The people who read these lines would, undoubtedly, think of the need to enrich the mother tongue. If we contextualise the poem in the wake of the Aikya Kerala Movement, we can understand that the poem is the result of a subnational sensibility evolved in the Malayalam language.