Friday, September 7, 2012

P. KUNHIRAMAN NAIR ( പി . കുഞ്ഞിരാമന്‍ നായര്‍ )

( പി . കുഞ്ഞിരാമന്‍ നായര്‍ )
P. Kunhiraman Nair, also known as Mahakavi P, was a renowned Malayalam poet whose works romanticized the natural beauty of his home state of Kerala in southern India and juxtaposed it with the hard realities of his life and times. 

Born in Bellikoth near Kanhangad of North Malabar, P., as he is known (simply by his initial), led a Bohemian lifestyle, wandering across Kerala, living in several places, meeting their people and making them part of his life and literature. He worked as a school teacher, having taught at Koodali near Kannur and Kollengode in Palakkad district. Mahakavi P.Kunhiraman Nair began to write poems from his very early age of twelve years and continued till his last breath. His autobiography, Kaviyude Kalpadulal (foot prints of a poet) is quite different from other autobiographies and sweet as his poetries. He worshipped nature and traveled extensively. He is a poet who forgot to live amidst his unending journey in quest of nature and poems. He is loved by many and known as a devotional poet. Devotion, natural beauty of Kerala, temples, deities, stories of epics, rituals and customs are resembled in his poetry.Also proficient in  Sanskrit, Kunhiraman Nair initially worked at a printing press in Thrissur   for a few years. Later, he published a newspaper from Kannur, before taking to teaching job and gaining name as 'Kavimaash' (poet teacher) among children. He retired from service in 1961. A sudden bout of illness claimed his life on May 27, 1978, when the poet was staying in a rest house in Thiruvananthapuram. He was aged 72 at the time of his death.

It seems, poetry is of two types; or I felt it so. One which can be argued and substantiated as a poem but may not seem a poem in reading.  Second  which seems to be a poem in reading but you can argue and find many defects in it.  It is clear from the above description that, the first one is the poem of intellect and the other, the poem of heart.  The first type becomes noteworthy because of its depth of ideas and technical grandeur. While the other one entices us with its charm and simplicity of feelings. A fun in literary history is that, though many criticise at times that the former type are not poets, none dare to deplore them.  Sri Harshan and Alexander Pope are such slandered poets. Ulloor and Sankarakuruppu were two poets from Malayalam Literature subject to this external antithesis.  
.Kunhiraman and Edasseri
Examples for the latter kind include Jayadevan, Shelley, Keats, Heine etc.  If you are asked to name counterparts from Malayalam, any one will pronounce P. Kunhiraman Nair and Changampuzha. Though they are at both ends in their life style and ideas, an internal unity is clearly visible. In their heart's feelings and poetic talent, there are no other poets in Malayalam, who keep such a similarity.  More over none doubts their poetic artistry. What is that unique quality which makes the poet the ruler of the minds of all people (jana gana mana adhinayaka) and gives him universal acceptance?  It is related to heart.  But is that alone steel their hearts in the very first reading of a poem?  No. Though the infinite world of emotions is the expanse for poetry, only  a few of such special moods are capable of moving the heart in a moment. The ancients called this power of words to move heart, sweetness.   It is told that, Vipralambha Sringaram and Karunam are the two Rasas which sweeten the heart and make it more gentle. Vipralambha Sringaram is the temporary misfortune of love and Karunam is the permanent loss of love.  Temporary separation is sadness but with a tinge of sweet-anxiety because there lies the hope and promise of reunion.  Permanent loss foster deep sorrow. It is not only for persons that we feel anxiety, hope and and pain of separation, but also for abstract ideals and situations.  There are some poets for whom the distress from the feelings of pain for the lost, passion for the unattainable, satisfaction for the gained etc. become the inescapable part of their personality. We can call them romantics. They are not mere romantics but extreme romantics. There are no other poems which dissolve human heart in such sweetness than their sad songs. There may be factual defects and technical demerits in their poems, but, they will make your heart flutter in the sea of feelings in a moment.  Changampuzha and Kunhiraman Nair hail from this class. Changampuzha's poems are familiar in nature. Kunhiraman Nair conquers you in his first foray. “Anayukillini divya pranayapoo nilavoli Anayukillabhirama vasntha rathri! Kulirunnu manamente kudililum priyasakhi, Kuzhaloothumazhakinte nizhal kanumo? Nilavilakkile thiri vilarippoi orukkia Malarmala sakhee vadi karinhupoi. Kalabhavum verutheyay manassiruthi nhan kachi- kkurukki vachoru palin madhuram poyee, panimathikoppam ha ha hrudaya choranu varan karuthia puthu vennaniram pakarnnu akamazhinhethu thadillathikayodida koodi Mukiloli niran mama shyama sundaran!”          (Pranaya Pratheeksha)   But in Changampuzha melancholy, anxiety, hope etc. spurt around persons alone. He loved human beings only. As far as Changampuzha is concerned human beings mean women. It never meant men.  But Kunhiraman Nair never placed human beings as the core of his poems. His topic of love is the beauteous culture of a lost society. Blending all that is eternal and beautiful in Kerala's rustic life and India's ancient thought, he envisages an auspicious and idealistic living culture which is found nowhere in the three worlds. That is Kalidasa's Alaka for Kunhiraman Nair. As that world is pious he is a devotee;  as that is blessed with nature's gift he praises the beauty of nature.  That is something lost. The solitary grief of his life. Since the modern machine culture kills the re-emergence of that lost culture, he is against it.  He hurls vehement curses on the contemporary life. The propitious light which alleviates his melancholic angst is the hope that the bygone rich culture will rise again some day. How can the works of a poet having intense love for such a transcendental state which is abstract, indirect and imaginary, be like Changampuzha's songs of human love. Yet, for his poems with abstract and impersonal love, he finds ample images and symbols concrete, direct and sensory. So there is always vitality in his poems. See how his love for ancient songs of Kerala turns to the depiction of Pulluva girl. How much abstract that love for ancient art is, the Pulluva girl takes it to a material level. To understand how the abstractness of subject intertwines with the concreteness of poetic talent, we can read the quoted lines below from P.'s poem  Pulluvapenkodi “Anthithan puzhakare ninningu Vannirangum sasikala pole nee, Anandacharithavolamekuken- Ganakavya madhugruha nayike! Jeevarakta sirayil mulappalin- Thoovamruthathinoppam kalaruvan Petta nadu patippicha pattuka- lettu patuken gramina kanyake”    First four lines is the simple depiction of the beautiful ancient rustic song which quivers poet's soul with delight. While the next four lines present an apparent and expanded picture. Thus he never forget to anchor his abstract imaginations in corporeal observations. So I am happy to say that his poems are generally appreciable.  Here are some examples: In the poem 'Soundarya devata'(goddess of beauty), he speaks about the loss of a  fine sensation so divine and pure which was there in his heart once.  As usual the beginning of the poem is abstract and indistinct-  “Athramel prananum prananai ninnu nee Yatra parayathe poyathuchithamo? Vinnil velichamezhuthi ninneedumo Kanniloru kurikoodi Kshanaprabhe?   But by depicting this abstract image as a village girl the poet makes it distinct and perceptible. “Sreemal kanaka kathirmala chooduma- Sreedevithan sparsametta pulthumbukal grama soundaryam velippettu ninnitha- Shyamala gathrayam Karshaka balayil   however there are readers who dislike his poems. Their dislike is not about its power to move hearts.  No one can make such a complaint.  Heart was not at all a criterion for their evaluation. The poet's point of view was their target of reproach.  Is it right in the part of the poet to deride the glories of the present by becoming the ambassador for a bygone culture?  What many decays are not there in that ancient culture which the poet praises?  Then isn't the poet presenting an imperfect perspective of present as well as of past?  Thus go the concerns. Though such anxieties arise from a mind which doesn't know what poetry is, we should face them with due respect and give reply.   Whatever one render through words with a touching style, giving life to his finer sensations, is poetry.  Such poetry may have many defects, factual or scientific.  But that doesn't mean it is not poem.  The honesty of the fine sensation of the poem is pivotal to its  veracity.  It is because of this truth Kunhiraman Nair's praise for the past and censure for the present becomes poetic.  There may be none who never felt that contemporary world is filled with many wretchedness and that many of the virtues of the past are lost. Then we have to concede the hidden tendency of our mind to accept the old and reject the new. It is true  that the commoner who are subject to the pressures of life cannot grasp its value.  Poet expresses, in his soul's voice, those moods which are forgotten, defied, ignored and silenced.  Kunhiraman Nair has done that much only.  His perspective is firm in the veracity of the mood.  That is enough.  Never yearn for objective truths in poem. When we search for objective truth in poems our view become pointless. Looking with a blunt view Kunhiraman Nair is old fashioned and against the whole modern culture.  At this angle he is against modern facilities, English, western culture and technological progress.  But this is not the meaning of Kunhiraman Nair's poem.  To find the real expressive meaning of the poem we have to be of a sharp view. Then we must have to admit that Kunhiraman Nair is a philanthropist. He is untiringly imparting the message that, human life should be simple, relations inartificial, human love inspired of aesthetics in order to dispel falsehood and intricacies of life.  His love for the past and satisfaction for the present bestowed him with the fine sensual delights to establish this message in his heart.   How much soever you disagree with his perspective and message, your heart is in his possession after reading his poem.  That itself is his poetic success.  He proved  that imagination and truth of the sense are the qualities which preserve poetry.  While other poets parade social issues and mental contradictions in poem, Kunhiraman Nair took no heed of it.   He is like an ascetic who has done his pilgrimage of the heart earlier and found out the real place where his poetic deity is installed.  So he is in meditation watching the bloomed face of his deity alone.  While Mango tree, jack-tree and banyan tree deride the shadeless coconut tree, this perky coconut tree lifts its head up with proud thought of its elixir bowls in the head.  Whatever be the temptations, his prayer is this: Mattivaykolle Manohara Narthaki Madhuryamoorumee mayava guntanam Nerthoree manjani moodupadathe nee Mattayka mattayka chempaneer pushpame.   Since it is so mellifluous it is better to quote than describe. “Orayiram vasanthagaloppame greeshma rathriyil Vannurangi karupputta kadakkan koniludave Marthyatmavin mauna mudrarasa leenangulikku mel Devasundarimar vannu pirannengo maranju poi Unarnnu Martha chithathilurangum divya sourabham Therichu kalveppil ninnumetho gandharva geethikal Thurannu katti Pintantamoronnum balaleelaya Olichirikkunna poornabrahmanda nidhikukbhavum Prachanna roopamametho Viswaroopa mahatbhutham poornathvathil Chalanamayi nada thala layangalai....”   I quoted it so elaborate not to show the description which has the poetic beauty of a kathakali scene.  This is not so a simple deal.  I feel in it a soul reaching its realisation after groping through the temptations. Sometimes I feel the poem is brimmed with sorrow of losing realisation.  He is searching it again and again at the backstage.  Greenish painted faces and reddish drawn eyes have gone from there.  Only wrinkled betel leaves are scattered. In that void  the poet ruminates- “Irunizhal neelunnu venpular charthilokkeyum Ethu vanilolichu nee vidarum thoovelichame!”   The poem continues, cursing the eyes which cannot see the light that played with him and then  praying for light.   Like many other poems of Kunhiraman Nair, this poem too hasn't got the luck to end where it should end.   We can get an idea of the poet's gradual growth, as these three poems were written in three different times- the beginning of his poetic career, most praised period and during the time of his 60th birthday.  Yet there may arise a misapprehension that the topic of Kunhiraman Nair is always never ending pain of his own heart.  In a sense it is true.  But in that pain lies the Indian culture and the ruins it suffered from time to time.  His pen has a magic expertise in making the social misery his personal pain.  While thirsting for freedom, worrying over the poor men's life standard, seeing the hard earned freedom wasted, youth trying to place the foreign heads on their shoulders, Kunhiraman Nair's heart aches.  It is too little to say Kunhiraman Nair is a nationalist.   He is boundlessly fond of anything and everything pertaining to Kerala and India.  It is deeply stamped in his heart that, everything, from Kanyakumari to Himalaya, Guruvayur to Vrindavan, Pulluva song to Upanishad hymns is one and the same. Just like the lava from a volcanic eruption contains many valuable minerals of the earth, Kunhiraman Nair's poem is rich with nationalistic elements. He considers any attack against the national culture as an attack against his own heart.  The poem 'Narabali'(human sacrifice), written in the backdrop of Chinese and Pak attack, reveals everything stated above.   As far as a poet is concerned how does he say is as important as what does he say. If imagery is the language of poet, Kunhiraman Nair is so affluent to squander.  I think this extravagance has stolen some strength out of his poetry, which deserved to be much stronger.  His power of imagination  is like a never emptied quiver. But, even after the prey has fallen he covers it with his shower of arrows making it difficult to find the prey.  If his rich poetic skill were a little thrifty, how strong might have been those poems. The label 'devotional poet' befell on Kunhiraman Nair is so popular that it cannot be ignored.  I am not at all happy with this label.  His poetic talent is a decorous mix of devotion and desire.  Moreover, is it right to categorise as devotional poet, adventurous poet etc? How will it feel if we call Kalidasa an erotic poet, Bhavabhoothi a compassionate poet?  Let us withdraw from our effort to drag him up to the post of Mahakavi. Not because that what is dragged will slip and come down. We were satisfied to call even Valmiki, a Poet. Kunhiraman Nair's face will stand out in any crowd.  Whatever turmoil is there, his voice will reach you singled out and clear to move your heart.  Even his critics cannot negate it. What else an artist, a poet can desire for?Poetry formed his main genre of work (it isn't exactly known how many poems he penned during his half-a-decade career as many are irretrievably lost), though he has also penned stories, articles and a few plays. His autobiography, 'Kaviyude Kaalpaadukal' (The Footmarks of a Poet), is one of the celebrated works in prose in Malayalam.

The central Kerala belt of Valluvanad, known for its scenic charm and cultural vibrancy, worked as a major source of inspiration for the poet, who lived there for long -- partly as a family man. His works are also dotted with metaphors from Kathakali, the classical dance-drama of his region.Kunhiraman Nair was an award winner of both the Kerala Sahithya Akademi and the Central Sahitya Akademi.
His selected works: Kaliyachhan (Oriental Dance teacher, 1954) Onassadya (Onam Feast, 1960)Pookkalam (spring, 1964) Thaamarathoni (Lotus Boat, 1966) Vasantholsavam (Spring Festival, 1972)Chilamboli (Tinkling of the Anklet Bells, 1974) Ratholsavam (Chariot Festival - 2 volumes, 1978)Thamarathen ( Honey of theLotus,1983)Indira,Chaaithraraksha,Nirmala,Ramabai,VeerapratinhRangamandapam (StageCanopy,1956)Upaasana (Worship,1958),Swapnasanchari,Poonilaavu,Chandramandalam,VichaaravibhaatamSatyaraksha ,Kaviyude kalpadukal(Footprints of poet),Ennethirayunna njan(I searching myself),Nithyakanyakaye thedi (Searching for nityakanyaka).

Prof. John Kurakar