It’s a new year, and one can’t help but look back and wonder. Endless lists are made of the best books, the worst books, those that celebrities enjoyed, and so on. Malayalam publishing was certainly alive and well in 2009. Plenty of books emerged from the publishing mill but very few stay in one’s mind.
Two of the novels that linger in the mind are M Mukundan’s Pravasam, and Dr Khadeeja Mumtaz’s Barsa, both of which deal with living away from one’s homeland. In Mukundan’s book, the expatriate experience wanders from Burma to the Middle East to the United States. In Mumtaz’s book, the exile is not just to an alien land but a new religion as well. Ambikasutan Mangad’s novel was a moving experience, too. K Aravindakshan’s Bhopal deals with another tragedy and another story. Thuravoor Viswambharan’s Mahabharataparyatanam is a new and erudite look at the great epic. The name is a tribute to Kuttikrishna Marar’s Bharataparyatanam of which Dr Azhikode had once said, “If any Indian language has paid its debt to Vyaasa for his writings we can proudly say that it is Malayalam, by Kunkikuttan Thampuran’s Bhashabharatam and Marar’s Bharataparyatanam.” Translations of Kamala Subramaniam’s retelling of the Mahabharata and Ramayana as well as Bhagavata too have reached the hands of the public.
Talking of translations, two excellent ones, that of the Idiot by Venu V Desam and that of Mukhtar Mai’s autobiography by C Sakuntala, have come out this year. This is besides the innumerable (they really defy numeration) translations from languages around the world as well as around the country. Dr Abdul Kalam, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paulo Coelho, Doris Lessing, Shashi Tharoor — you name them, they are available in Malayalam. (I sometimes wonder if they would recognise themselves in their Malayalam avatars!). A comprehensive selection of Akkitham’s poems have been published and reissues of classics like N N Pillai’s plays and Lalitambika Antarjanam’s collected works too serve to fill a need. A collection that has to be mentioned is that of the writings of Kunjunni Master during his time as Kuttettan in the Balapankti of Mathrubhumi weekly. The one-liners that he used to give advice to children as well as a few short articles have been collected as Kuttettan and published. I don’t know whether it is nostalgia but they still read as fresh as they did when they came out in the weekly. Brevity is really the soul of wit where Kunjunni Master’s writing is concerned.
Collections of poetry by a whole crop of writers have come out in the last few months. Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri’s Charulatha and Satchidanandan’s Marannu Vacha Vastukkal are two that came from senior poets. Poems by Vijayalakshmi, T P Rajeevan, Anwar Ali, Rafiq Ahmed, S Joseph and K M Prasad have come out recently and reward the reader.
I cannot end this column without offering sraddham to N N Kakkad who died this day in 1987. A more valuable offering, though, has been made by Dr N M Namboodiri in his erudite book Kakkad — Kaviyum Kavitayum, published by the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. Though the book has 2008 as its publishing date,
it reached the public only in mid-2009. Kakkad’s name is associated with the modern movement in Malayalam writing. But Namboodiri examines the influence of mantras and ancient lore on Kakkad’s poetry. Examining lines of poems, separating strand by strand the intricate connections that exist within the poem and outside, Namboodiri sets before us a new way
of examining the poems of this supposedly ‘modern’ poet. According to him Kakkad believed that mantras were the real poetry. Even in a poem addressed to T S Eliot, Kakkad tells him that he would not understand this poem fully because, ‘Urukunna ashthiyute kadachil thankalkku manassilavum/Kariyunna nadikalil amritamozhukunna/Santi thankalkkariyanidayilla/Nam thammil/Arayiyarm yojana antaramudallo/Arayiram janmangalude antaram/Oru himavante, oru pranavathinte antaram’. (you might understand the ache of the melting bones/ but you cannot understand the peace when nectar flows through the burning nerves/After all, we are separated by six thousand yojanas, six thousand births, by a Himavan, by a pranavam.)