VANIYAMKULAM: There was a time when the Ramayana verses recited in the soft rhythms of ‘karkidaka’ rains was perhaps the only aural experience of poetry that a Malayali had. It was an elemental force called Kadammannitta Ramakrishnan who blew away the tyrannical confines of rhyme and meter and made the words lying somnolent on the pages break free and burst out in a furious soul-quaking war dance.
The youth of Kerala went berserk singing ‘Kurathi’, ‘Shantha’ and ‘Kattalan’. To the accompaniment of demonic percussive beats, they screamed his shockingly slanderous lines.
And after the arrival of Ayyappa Panicker, Sachithanandan and Balachandran Chullikkad with their inventive bold and reckless poems, the lips that sang film songs started humming poems.
As if our poets were not enough, the Malayali youth went after Latin American poets like Pablo Neruda and Octavia Paz, too. It was during this period of great creative abandon, the late eighties when young men grew beard and hair like crazy souls and were fully drunk on poetry, that V Madhusoodanan Nair glided into the poetry scene like an angel with ‘Naranathu Bhranthan’. If the modern poets gave two hoots to prosodic limitations, Nair adhered to rhythm, rhyme and metre with a flamboyant rigour.
And when he intoned “In the cry of a child I hear the wail of infinite gods/And on wick-blackened stones I glimpse the disappointment of infinite gods”, the reckless rebellion that was coursing through the veins of the youth was suddenly shaken by a saintly baritone. Suddenly, here was an angel even the netherworld adored.
Making him even more fascinating, Madhusoodanan Nair was only too happy to sing his lines aloud. The first edition of ‘Naranathu Bhranthan’ went off the shelves in no time. Those who had failed to get hold of a copy poured into the house of the poet.
He had to take at least 500 photostat copies of the poem written in his own hand. Then, it was no wonder that ‘Naranathu Bhranthan’ had 40 editions. The only other poem that has come anywhere close is Changampuzha’s ‘Ramananan’, which had 18 editions.
The photocopy craze ended only after it was realised that the poem could be recorded whenever it was sang at poetry gatherings and private get-togethers. It is thanks to O N V Kurup that ‘Naranathu Bhranthan’ triggered a cassette revolution. It was the poet whom Nair revered as a guru who prodded him to produce a record with all technical qualities, with background score to boot.
From then on, the poem was omnipresent; from public events and desolate huts to marriage halls and buses, Nair’s deep nonchalant voice was everywhere.
The poem began to touch lives in ways that humbled the poet. Writer K Panoor had written about how during a bus journey he had found a mother who calmed her mentally-disturbed son by making him listen to ‘Naranathu Bhranthan’ in a small tape-recorder.
The poet himself had gone to the house of a blind youth who made a living reciting the poem in the streets. “I sat looking with tear-blurred eyes at eyes that could not see. But deep within I was grateful that my poem could shine some light on his life,” the poet said.
Poet V Madhusoodanan Nair seems to have had a cosmic bond with Narayanan, better known as Naranathu Bhranthan. His mother Gowrikutty Amma, like the pariah woman in the 'parayi petta panthirukulam' legend, had given birth twelve times. And the name the poet’s grandmother conferred on him right after his birth, in a profound coincidence, was Narayanan, the name of the mad man of the Vararuchi’s dozen.
The poet’s parents too had called him nothing but Narayanan. But after their death, the name given in the records (Madhusoodanan) stuck. Of his mother’s 12 births, two were stillborn. And of the ten that lived, only five now remain. It is this recurring pain of fraternal losses that made the poet empathise with the trauma of the pariah woman in the legend. Therefore, to begin the poem with a call to the mother was a subconscious urge. “Oh Mother, who has given birth to twelve children...” the poem begins.
The poet also found it fascinating that that the Narayanan of the lore had achieved salvation but not as an ‘advaithi’. After the first line came to him, it took another two weeks for the work to evolve into its present form. If at all the poet harbours a regret, it is that he was not able to read out the poem to his mother. When the mad man of Naranath animated his thoughts, the poet’s mother was seriously ill....