Friday, January 06, 2017


I do not think many movies have been made on poets. 'Ivan Megharoopan', a 2012 Malayalam biopic with Prakash Bare in the lead role is based on the autobiography (Kaviyude Kaalpaadukal) of P Kunhiraman Nair (1905-78), the celebrated poet more popularly known as Mahakavi P.
I used to know him in the 1950's. In those days, his poems were carried regularly in Mathrubhoomi Weekly under the pen-name P. He taught Malayalam in Koodali High School where I had studied for some time and was known among the students and teachers as Kavi-mash. Those days he was not called Mahakavi; he was Bhaktakavi. He taught only seniors and I was in the first form.
Kavi-Maash was always seen in a loose free-flowing khadi kurta and white khadi dhoti. The stocky bespectacled frame would amble along the winding corridor of the school, munching something all the time. He would often put his hands into the pocket and fish out groundnuts, orange-and-lemon-flavoured boiled sweets or kalkandam (unrefined sugar-candy) and give it to the boys and girls passing by.
Though he did not teach my class, I had occasion, which I now realise is 'fortune', to be close to him because he was a good friend of my grandfather's. The two shared their passion for poetry.
Kavi-Maash used to live in a small room above the provision store next to the school bus-stop. It could just accommodate a single cot and a table and a chair. I recall my first visit to the place with my grandfather. It was on a Friday evening. The wooden staircase was steep and narrow. The steps were so far apart that I, hardly nine years old then, could not negotiate them. My grandfather carried me up, clutching at the thick rope hanging from the roof. It functioned as the banister, the knots it had at regular intervals providing grip to the users of the staircase.
The room was dingy and dusty. There was no cupboard or built-in storage space. An olive green steel trunk with rust-colored corners lay under the cot. A rope strung between a nail on one wall and another on the window-frame served as the wardrobe. Three soiled khadi kurtas - one grey, one brick-coloured and one white - and a couple of black-bordered white khadi dhotis had been tossed carelessly on them. There were a few books and some paper on the table.
The room had not been swept in ages. Beedi stubs, scraps of paper and groundnut shells were strewn all over the floor. There was no mattress on the cot but an old green-and-white sheet was spread on it. There was more paper, more books on the cot.
On entering the room, the poet welcomed my grandfather and offered him a seat - the only chair in the room. 'Find a place and sit, my son,' he told me.
The two discussed poetry and literary matters, neither of which interested me at that age and I soon went to sleep. It must have been past seven when I was woken up and carried down to the bus-stop. Kavi-Maash, standing in the verandah with no railings, bade goodbye and grandfather responded.
The last bus from Kannur towards our village via Koodali had left and the only option was to walk the distance. As it was a full moon day, the untarred road was well-lit.
Taking my school bag from me so that I could walk with him, my grandfather urged me to walk. We must have taken about ten steps when Kavi-Maash called out, 'Vaazhunnore!'
He came down hurriedly and walking to us double-quick, he said, 'Do not go alone. I will come with you - and stay in your house tonight.' Without waiting for an answer, he kept pace with us. More discussion on literature, recital of poems and critical appraisal followed.
Kavi-Maash stayed with us the whole weekend. He had his bath in the pond and his meals with us. He had come with no change of clothes and wore my grandfather's dhoti while his own, washed in the pond when having a bath, dried in the sun. (It was customary to leave the upper half of the body bare - perhaps dictated as much by the sultry weather as the frugal circumstances.) He went back on Monday morning.
That was so typical of Kavi-Maash. He belonged to the world and the world belonged to him. Home was where he was for the time being. He had at least two wives - one in Bellikoth near Kasaragod where he hailed from, one in Pattambi where he studied and worked for a while - and, I should think, more elsewhere.
Kavi-Maash was a drifter. He did not stay anywhere for long. Suddenly one day, he went missing. It is said that he quit in a huff after a tiff because of a difference of opinion with my grand-uncle who owned the school. He never came back. It was learnt later that he had surfaced in Kollengode (Palghat District).
All that I have is a book of his he gifted to me on my birthday. On the flyleaf, he had scribbled a quatrain.
For those who do not read Malayalam, it is a prayer or a blessing : May the Lord endow you, Rajan, with energy, long life, education, prosperity and enlightenment.

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