The Jnanpith Award will be presented to great Malayalam poet Shri Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri on September 24
“Jnanpith gets Akkitham,” that was how M Satheesan, Malayalam literary and political critic described it when the mass media beamed the announcement by the Jnanpith Award Committee that Akkitham Achuthan Namboodiri is being honoured with the country’s biggest literary prize for the year 2019.
Akkitham, as he is popularly known, is Kerala’s one and only Maha Kavi (Great Poet) who is a household name for his works which has played a major role in demolishing and destroying orthodoxy and conservatism associated with the Brahmin community to which he belongs. Aged 94, he is the last surviving social reformer who revolutionised the lives of not only the Namboodiri households but even that of people in lower strata of the Kerala society.
“I would like to be known more as an astrologer because my forte has been astrology, a science. I learnt scientific astrology. Poetry is something like a hobby for me and I scribble the occasional thoughts which come to my mind,” said the nonagenarian who has not lost any of his mental prowess. Parappanangaadi Unnikrishna Panickar , tantrik scholar and ace astrologer, had a hearty laugh when he was told the comment made by Akkitham.
Jnanpith award is a recognition which reached Devayanam, the poet’s Mana traditional Namboodiri house) at Kumaranalloor in Kerala’s Palakkadu district. Akkitham, who set the State’s cultural and political platforms ablaze with his revolutionary poems in 1950s and 1960s had forecast the collapse of Communism and disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics way back in 1970s itself. He has not written much of poetry during the last two decades because of his engagement with translation of Sree Maha Bhagavatham, the great purana of Bharata, into Malayalam.
The Bhagavatam, all slokas of which were as immortal as that of the great Purana, found new beauty in Malayalam language as Akkitham sculpted the work with alphabets and grammar in a style hitherto unheard and unseen in Malayalam. The sloka “Narayanaaksharam Punya
Jihwagre Yasya Varthathe
Valsam Gowreeva Valsalaa… became “Naavinthumbil Punya
Narayanan Thedi Varum
The beauty of the translation was stated by Prof P G Haridas, president, Tapasya, Kerala’s largest and oldest literary and cultural forum of which Akkitham himself was the founder president : “ We could not have asked for more. I rate this as literature at its peak,” said Haridas, who describes Akkitham as the all-time great of 21st century’s Malayalam literature.
Though his friends and followers, including Jeevan Kumar, editor, Yajnopaveetham and Prof K P Sasidharan of Kozhikode are unanimous that the top award should have reached his hands at least two decades ago. “It is true that Akkitham is last of the titans of Malayalam literature. He is a born poet while the new age writers are light years behind him. They are yet to pen down lines which would get engraved in our minds,” said Prof Sasidharan, former head of the department, Malayalam, Guruvayurappan College, Kozhikode and Kerala’s leading literary critic.
The author of “The Epic of the 20th Century”, the best poetical work to emerge in Malayalam literary landscape sans any media blitzkrieg was not amused or enthused by the country’s biggest award a writer could aspire for. “I feel nothing. How can you be happy when you see the country moving backwards,?” asked Akkitham on a Sunday morning when this writer met him at Devayaanam.
He said he is yet to find out the reason for the backward journey of the nation. “Everything is decided by God Almighty. Daivadheenam Jagatsarvam! Nothing belongs to us. All pre-destined by Him,” Akkitham pointed upwards to the sky.
Akkitham’s sorrow began the day when the Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the request by the freedom fighters of the country to make Sanskrit the national language. “All aberrations in our educational system started the day it was decided by Nehru to make Hindi the national language. Had Sanskrit been the national language, the country would have been the knowledge house of the world,” said Akkitham.
He attributed his knowledge of Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature as the reasons behind his poetry. “The great poets of yesteryears, Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer, P Kunhiraman Nair, Kumaran Aasan, Vallathol Narayana Menon, Edassery Govindan Nair, Olappamanna Subramanian Namboodirippadu, Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon were all Sanskrit scholars. Same was the case with novelists like Uroob (P C Kuttikrishnan), Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Keshava Dev, Sanjayan who were all well-read in Sanskrit. Their works had originality in them and were the literature of global standards. Do we have writers of such genre now? M T Vasudevan Nair fits the bill. But others do not come anywhere near the above-mentioned writers,” said Akkitham.
He said the world of Malayalam poetry is weak and in the death bed. “A person who thinks of himself/herself as a poet, novelist, short story writer or a literary critic does not become anyone of these. One who considers himself as a born artist is doomed to fail. All living entities are manifestations of God. One’s confidence should not be in the pride but in one’s infinity, depth and completeness,” explained the grand old man of Malayalam literature. This was his response when asked why modern-day writers fail to come out works matching that of the old-timers.
Akkitham pointed out that literature, be it poem, novel, short story or drama, is an ongoing process. “What Valmiki and Kalidasa wrote were based on their own world of experiences. Each person born in this earth has his/her own universe of experiences and they should be able to realize the same. Don’t you remember the old Persian saying, ‘ You fool, look into the heart and write’,” Akkitham reminds the new generation.
Coming back to the topical issues haunting India, the anti-CAA rallies and Shaheenbag kind of demonstrations happening across the country, Akkitham said he does not rule out the possibility of India getting disintegrated further. “The epicenter of all our problems was the division of the country into India and Pakistan. The communal discord which we see now had its origin from the birth of Pakistan. Jawaharlal Nehru himself is responsible for it,” said Akkitham who had closely watched the shadow boxings that took place in the political arena during the days leading to the emergence of India from the shackles of slavery.
Though India gained political freedom, the cultural and literary spheres were seized by the Communists. ‘Mulk Raj Anand and Ali Sardar Jafri were their foot soldiers. Both of them were experts in distorting and interpreting facts to suit the convenience of the Communists. They created a bloc of writers who were oriented to the imported concept of literature. It is sad that we do not have writers to counter this western onslaught on out culture and tradition,” said Akkitham.
Mulk Raj Anand had figured in the life history of Malayatoor Ramakrishnan a former IAS officer who was a widely read Malayalam writer. Ramakrishnan in his reminiscences has mentioned how Anand while on a visit to the former’s college had impressed upon him not to waste life in this small Kerala and persuaded him to come to Bombay which was waiting for intellectuals like him. “When I went to the palatial residence of Anand in Bombay’s Malabar Hill, he refused to meet me. And finally when I managed to meet him, he asked me to get the hell out the city and go back to Kerala. This was the true Mulk raj Anand,” Ramakrishnan wrote in his memoirs! That much for India’s Left ideology.
The poet also made it clear that he had nothing to do with RSS or the Hindutwa. “I was more into learning Marx and his ideology. But having read Sanskrit works, Vedas and Upanishats, I understood that the Marxian ideology was doomed to fail because it would not and could not match the greatness of Indian culture, tradition or heritage,” he said.
Akkitham had played a major role in getting rid of some of the outdated and irrelevant traditions prevailing in the Namboodiri community. The re-marriage of Namboodiri widows, the thought of Namboodiri women going for work were unthinkable and unimaginable even during the early phase of the 20th century. He together with V T Bhattathirippadu and E M S Namboodirippadu (yes, the same EMS who was the first chief minister of Kerala) worked overtime and made use of all kinds of platforms and avenues to end this social evil and dogma.
The poet blames the complacency which had set in the Namboodiri community as the reason behind these social evils. “We have to blame ourselves for the same as the Namboodiris were financially sound , up in the social hierarchy and had nothing to worry about. But when they came across reality in life and faced difficulties, they had to change, change permanently,” said Akkitham.
The same was the case with the oppressed and the depressed classes who were denied opportunities to learn Sanskrit, Vedas and Upanishats for centuries. Akkitham was the leader of the social revolution which turned the prevailing customs upside down and threw the doors opened for people in the lower strata to learn the great Indian system of knowledge and tradition. “I was totally against the practice of Brahminism by an exclusive class. Nothing should be denied to the people of this great land in the name of religion, caste and class which are all man made fencings and rules,” said Akkitham.
The Sri Ramaswamy Temple at Kadavallur near his hometown is a standing monument of Akkitham’s tenacity. The annual anyonyam (an intellectual wrestling event) on Rig Veda held in the months of November-December see vedic scholars from all over the globe assembling at Kadavallur. Only the best scholars could graduate as champions. The age-old Vedic debate contest is held under the supervision of Kadavallur Anyonya Parishat and is described as the one and only event of this kind taking place anywhere in the world.
“My interest in Communism had its origins in our vedas and Upanishads. But the moment I learnt that the ideology of Marx has no humane face, I gave it up. There are people who describe me as Sanghi, RSS and even BJP. I do not have anything to do with these organisations. I had not read what Dr K B Hedgewar or M S Golwalkar had written about Hindutwa. But what I had professed as Sanatana Dharma could be seen in their writings and speeches. Similar was the case with Deendayal Upadhyaya who was the proponent of Integral Humanism. Upadhyaya stood for a political and economic ideology which had strong mooring in the teachings of India’s sages and rishis. This was what made us to think alike,” explained Akkitham.
The poet explained with elan that the theory of ideology is engraved in the age-old Indian ethos. “The socialism being spread by westerners would succeed only if it is implemented through Indian culture. The Indian philosophy existed much before the advent of religions. We following the so-called Gregorian calendar itself is a blunder. The modern day calendar says this is the 2020th year. So, where were we before 2020? The CE 2020 is the same as that of 5121 Kali Yuga. There are 4,26, 882 years remaining in Kali Yuga before we advent to the next Yuga. Krita Yuga was 1,72, 8000 years long while Treta Yuga was 12, 96,000 years long. Who and how these years could be accounted? It could be done only with the Indian system of knowledge,” said Akkitham. He is blunt in his opinion that the Gregorian calendar is absolutely wrong.
Akkitham who has authored thousands of poems in his 94 years (and counting!) and who was described as a Left of the Centre writer suddenly became a persona non grata for the comrades when he questioned and challenged the social evils being practised by the Marxists. The CPI(M) is known for its ideology of physically annihilating the enemies. This was unacceptable to the poet in Akkitham who questioned the practice in his works like The Legend of the 20th Century and other poems. No wonder, the Marxists fielded a political Bhikshamdehi to attack him with terms like Fascist and communalist!
The poet blames the inertia that has set in the governments which ruled India since 1947. “The first thing they should have done was to ban religious conversion. Besides the creation of Pakistan by tearing apart India, the unbridled freedom given to foreigners to convert Hindus to other religions played havoc with the soul of the country. Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, was against the practice of religious conversion. I mentioned about this and advocated strongly for the same way back in 1975. We simply adore the picture of Gandhi but we fail to see his heart,” said Akkitham. While addressing the Gandhi Peace Foundation delegates at Kozhikode in Kerala, the Maha Kavi pointed this out and quoted a sloka “Even a Gold Vessel cannot cover the power of truth”.
The 94-year-young Akkitham Achuthan Nampoodiri is not enthusiastic about discussing poetry. “My mission as a poet is over. It is my passion in astrology which sustains my energy and spirit. Now it is for the younger generation to take off from where me and my colleagues left. The world of literature is vast and is in an ever-expanding mode. So, there is lot to write, lot to speak.. it is an Akshaya Paatra.. which is eternally overflowing. Those who are keen in writing poems and stories can get unlimited quantity of spirit and energy from it. But please remember, don’t try to write just for the sake of writing. If you do that, it will never be literature,” the poet in Akkitham wound up the session and went back to a brief siesta.
While coming back from Devayanam, one cannot hold back the prayer to God almighty. “This person should remain among us for another hundred years. He is the divine musician deputed by the supreme power to sing His songs and hymns”.