A poet, an explorer, a polymath or a sagacious academic… No one can define the true self of Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri in one word. His eminence reflected in his poetic expression which was an amazing blend of the new philosophies of modernity as well as the sublime Indian heritage. This year we bid farewell to this insightful poet who stood for progressive convictions by holding dear humanity, deeply rooted in the Indian ethos.
Malayalam literature has borne upon modernism in various layers and went through their complexities which contained multiple definitions. Many literary figures have travelled with different levels of modernism with their perspectives and anxieties concerning society and identity. But what made Namboothiri’s poetry unlike his contemporaries was that he adapted and assimilated every culture along with their intrinsic values. He possessed the perspective of a universal human being and moulded it with eternal humanistic visions. He never abode by a particular literary expression as everyone else but took in an all- embracing moral into his ink without getting outdated in his time and that made him a rare treasure in cultural and literary domains.
As an explorer of cultures all around the world, Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri called forth themes from various facets of the world ranging from Kalidasa’s poetic universe immersed in the luminance of Indian poetic heritage to Yeats’ allusive imageries tinged with Irish nationalism. A shift from romanticism to modernism can be seen in his literary journey which is similar to W B Yeats. Influences of prominent personas in Malayalam Literature such as N V Krishna Warrier, Vailoppilly and Edasseri are vivid in his literary cognizance. His nationalistic perceptions, sprung from Gandhian ideology as well as affected by Vallathol and Jayaprakash Narayan and his immense admiration towards Greek philosophy along with the broad understanding of Indian Vedic and Upanishadic merits attribute to his poetic legacy.
Freedom, equality and humaneness were the grassroots in Republic, NASA, Kayyoppumaram, Wordsworthinte Parnasalayil, Californiayile Maramuthachanmar, Tehari, Pitruyanam, Gandhidarshanam etc. and all of them originate from the unfathomed Upanishadic idea of the coexistence of materialism and spiritualism. Few critics who did not have the wide perception to contain the themes in his poetry termed him as a” traditionalistic” poet and only saw complexities in its format as they have many Vedic and Puranic references as well as imageries, while in fact he always defied the so- called customs and orthodox practices. Even when controversies sprouted from his poems and ‘breaking of customs”, he confronted them all by a nonchalant face.
He was untainted as a human being spreading the aroma of profound humbleness and simplicity without being corrupted by any competitiveness, egotism and jealousy. As a college professor for plenty of years, Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri influenced countless pupils with his simplistic conduct and unparalleled outlook towards life. Classicism and modernism coexist in many of his notable works including India Enna Vikaram, Mukhamevide and Aparajita , where he addresses dilemmas in the contemporary world and stands for those in agony. One can consider him a Marxist reading his Karl Marxinte Kuteeram in which he protests against the capitalist culture that exploits the endurance and hard work of the proles. His empathetic stance towards suffering resonates both in literature and activism as he supported along with the poets like Sugathakumari when there was an uproar for protecting the pristine habitat of Silent Valley from destruction and in times of the Plachimada Coca-Cola struggle. His Ujjayiniyile Rappakalukal , a wholehearted prayer of a poet and/as a farmer yearning for the glorious Himalaya valley to be quenched by rainfall as they were in Kalidasa’s depictions, is a fusion of romanticism and realism.
He travelled through illustrious cultures as he could recognize the oneness among them all and he embellished it by streaming them into poetry. Apart from poetry he wrote noteworthy literary criticisms and translated some great works such as Ritusamharam, Karnabharam, Gandhi etc. Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri’s legacy with its unique resplendence will remain relevant for eternity.