Edasseri Govindan Nair
Biography of Edasseri Govindan Nair
Edasseri Govindan Nair was a prominent Indian poet from Kerala who wrote in his native Malayalam tongue. His works include 19 books and over 300 poems in 10 anthologies, 6 books of plays and a collection of essays.
Born in a village, Kuttippuram, in Kerala (India) on December 23, 1906. Father was P. Krishna Kurup and mother Edasseri Kalathil Kunjukutty Amma. The child was named "Govindan", a very common name meaning "Lord Krishna".
"Edasseri Kalathil" is the name of Tharavad or ancestral home. Being "Nair" by caste Govindan was subjected to the matriarchal custom which was prevalent amongst Nairs. The custom placed mother’s eldest brother as head of family or "Karanavar" and in a position of economic power and decision making in the family. The Karanavar was expected to manage the property and meet the needs of the sister and her children. But the system had degenerated and neglect of the nephews by the Karanavars had become rampant. Edasseri Tharavad had fallen to hard days on account of poverty. Govindan received hardly any support from the Tharavad and the sad demise of his father in 1921 brought Govindan’s education to an abrupt end at primary level itself. His mother ardently wished to admit him to the High School, but she did not have the means.
Faced with the harshness of poverty the son thought only how to take up a paying job so that he could earn sufficient income to save his mother from the pangs of hunger. With this aim in mind he went to the town of Alappuza with his cousin called Sankarettan to get trained himself as a vakil’s clerk. There was to be no pay during apprenticeship, just a dole to keep body and soul together!
At Alappuza, he managed to give tuition and could save Rs.2/- when an acquaintance from the home village, Kuttippuram, happened to visit Alappuza. Edasseri entrusted the princely amount of Rs.2/- to him for buying a blanket for his mother. But, as fate would have it, the mother was not lucky to receive the amount , for she was by then stricken with small pox and breathed her last on the day previous to the day the man arrived at Kuttippuram. Edasseri never recovered from this sense of unredeemed debt. His inconsolable sadness later found expression in the poem "Bimbisarante Edayan (Shepherd of King Bimbisara)".
After working as a clerical apprentice under Sankarettan for ten months, Edasseri joined Vakil M. Krishna Menon as a resident assistant clerk. During this period he came in contact with Manjoor Parameswaran Pillai, another vakil clerk by profession in Alappuza and a highly erudite person. Thus far Edaseri’s literary world was confined to a few works of Ezhuthachan (considered as father of Malayalam poetry- Adhyatma Ramayanam being his masterpiece), Cherusseri, Kunjan Nambiyar, Venmani poets, Naduvam and Vallathol. Association with Manjoor greatly enlarged Edasseri’s capacity to appreciate good literature. The duo was in fact madly in love with literature paying more attention to literary discussions and reading to the neglect of their office work. This trait obviously did not make them any dearer to the vakils under whom they were working. Once the friends went up to the Pier of Alappuza to receive a copy of "Malayala Manorama" in which the celebrated poem "Kochu Seetha (The Little Seetha)" was being published in serial. So much was their eagerness to read the poem that they altogether forgot about the clients waiting for them in their offices! The employers did not take to their love of poetry kindly which according to them was nothing more than an "obsession with titillation"! Edasseri did not dispute his employer, but had to remain humble. As a result he had to be secretive about his literary activities and ensure that it did not in any way interfere with the long hours of office work. At the end of seven years when he decided to return to Kuttippuram, Edasseri was not very confident professionally. As for Manjoor, he never overcame poverty so much so that in the later years when on occasions he visited Edasseri, despite his own unenviable finances the latter would secretly place some cash in his friend’s pocket without the knowledge even of his wife.
During 1929-30 Edasseri worked as clerk under vakil Thalasseri Kunhirama Menon in Kozhikode, a town 65 k.m north of Kuttippuram. Those days it was very common amongst the youth to seek employment in Malaysia and Singapore. Edasseri also decided to go to Singapore and arranged with a person who was to shortly arrive from Singapore to take him. He left his job in Kozhikode and returned to Kuttippuram. But unfortunately for Edasseri, the person did not leave the shore of Singapore, but died in that alien land. Unemployed and no prospect of migrating overseas, Edasseri tried his hand as an informal advocate in Panchayat courts, but found that being a vakil’s clerk was far better and settled for that in a small town Ponani 15 k.m west of Kuttippuram. By 1934 he had accepted being a vakil’s clerk as his formal vocation and worked under vakil K.V. Rama Menon. It is important to note that those days literary activities did not pay in financial terms. We thus find Edasseri always torn between the vakil’s office which was his livelihood and literary activities which was indeed his life’s mission. His close association with the common folks in the course of his profession did help deep understanding of man and brought realism and variety to his writings. This association with people of Ponani made him dear to the people who loved and respected him as Govindan Nair, the person -not the poet- who was always there by their side to solve their problems.
Edasseri married Edakkandi Janaki Amma in mid-January, 1938. The grooms were already known to each other as Mr. Raghavan Nair, a lover of literature and maternal uncle of Janaki Amma used to lovingly invite Edasseri to his residence where the two had met. In Edasseri’s words: "This bride must have been created by Brahma -the creator- specially for me, a girl simple and madly in love with verses, so much so that she did not find it odd to copy in the same note book the Keertans of Sankaracharya (the metaphysical) and also the translation of verses that I had scribbled from "Pushpabana Vilasam" (a work of sensual romance); only because both were in verse!" This simple girl remained the eternal inspiration to Edasseri in poetry and a source of immense confidence.
Edasseri started writing poems at the early age of twelve although it is inconceivable that there existed a congenial environment in the Tharavad to nurture this talent. Nevertheless, his mother used to recite Ramayana daily and his sister used to tell mythological stories to him and these two indeed stroked the poetic talent in him. Yet another influence was Sankunni Menon the Malayalam teacher in the Primary school who used to recite poetry in great style and in melodious tune.
Edasseri had his formal education till eighth class and it was with his own efforts he learned both English and Sanscrit. In this endeavour both Nalappat Narayana Menon (a well known poet of the time, reverently referred to as Nalappadan) and Kuttikrishna Marar (a scholar and literary critic) helped Edasseri.
Although believer of God, Edasseri did not evince interest in visiting temples. He was not a Sakteya (follower of Sakti cult) as many believed him to be. Several of his poems like "Ambadiyilekku Veendum (Revisiting Ambadi)", "Varadanam (A Boon Bestowed)", "Kasavu Poothu (Kasavu has Blossemed)", "Gopika Govindam (Union of Krishna with Gopikas)", "Puthumula (New Sprout)", "Trivikramannu Munnil (In front of Lord Trivikrama (Vishnu)", "Palkadal Kadayumbol (As the milky ocean churned)" etc. shows imprint of Vaishnava thoughts. In fact Edasseri had intense desire to complete a long poem reposing his self to Sri Krishna, but he could not make it. Ironically, the poet who echoed celebrations of temple festivities and folklore in his famous poems "Poothapattu (A song on Pootham)" and "Kavilepattu (Song in the Divine Grove)" did not relish festivals and particularly in the later part of his life the poet did not evince interest in temple festivals. The poet articulates his position by showing his preference to limit personal faith to individual rituals.
Possibly the poet had a vision of a secular India where development of scientific temper and social justice were the issues that should be engaging the attention of youth with the role of temples and organised religion retracting to the backdrop and certainly not a priority in the agenda of nation building.
Edasseri was in the forefront of India’s freedom struggle along with other nationalists being an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi. He was involved in distribution of "Swatantra Bharatam (Free India)" an underground news paper of the freedom fighters. Edasseri was a source of inspiration in Ponani during Guruvayoor Satyagraha and Quit India Movement. He considered another ardent follower of Gandhiji, Kelappan, as his leader. But for Kelappan, Edasseri was dear friend. It was at the initiative of Edasseri, "Krishnapanikkar Smaraka Vayanasala (A reading room to commemorate Krishna Panikkar) was estabilshed at Ponani in the memory of Krishna Panikkar, a freedom fighter, who lost his life suffering torture in the British jail. The Reading Room soon turned into the intellectual and political nerve centre of Ponani. It was a regular meeting place of intellectuals like V.T. Bhattathiripad, Kuttikrishna Marar, Edasseri, P.C. Kuttikrishnan (Uroob), E. Narayanan, Kadavanad Kuttikrishnan and Akkitham.
Edasseri was disappointed by the post-independence political climate. His conscience did not allow him to be actively supporting any political party. The poet’s philosophy is aptly reflected in the following verse:
" Adorable is an idea -
As long as it spreads light, but-
If it darkens and pours misery
Throw it out to make space for the new!"
Let us listen to what Edasseri has said about himself, with his characteristic humour, about his attitude towards theism and politics.
"I believe in God. But, on moments when I have to touch upon hunger and lovelessness - the facts of life which had eternally nagged me - I find that godly humility and respect towards philosophical doctrines leave me in a jiffy. In the poems of the author who swears by Gandhiji, there lie scattered ideas which challenge Gandhism and belief in God. Although I have been a follower of Gandhiji and not studied Marxian doctrine, the poems which were only reflecting the objective social reality were adopted by the communists as a part of their propaganda. One more reason for failure in life: I am red in the eyes of the Congress and a Gandhian in the Communists’ reckoning! But I should be grateful that this position of benign neglect by the political parties really helped the life to be free from various botheration hindering creativity."
Recognition in search of poet.
Edasseri believes that it was his drama "Koottukrishi (Co-operative Farming)" which actually introduced him and his poetry to the sensitive readers. "Koottukrishi", the drama, and "Puthankalavum Arivalum (The New Earthen Cooking Pot and Sickle)", an anthology of poems were chosen for the award from Madras Government. Further, Edasseri was sanctioned an annual grant of Rs.600 by the Government of India which was a boon to the poverty stricken poet.
"Oru Pidi Nellikka (A handful of Gooseberries)" was selected for Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 1969 And "Kavile Pattu (Song in the Divine Grove)" the Sahitya Academy Award in 1970.
Edasseri earned considerable popularity, respect and love of people around him. In fact so informal were his ways that his fellow villagers had not realised that their lovable Govindan Nair, the vakil’s clerk, was a great poet before the entire literary world formally recognised the fact with various awards!
Edasseri never pardoned himself and never dotted on his own children excessively. But this apparent strictness verging on harshness did not stand in the way of forgiving others for their faults. In fact he was at times ready to own up other’s mistake to save situations. Thus there was the incident of his friend misappropriating public money because of severe family problems and about to be arrested and sent to jail. Edasseri owned up the moral responsibility, arranged money by mortgaging the house to save his friend from being sent to jail. There is also a story of Edasseri on his way to his office being followed without his knowledge by a lady teacher on her way to school being afraid of wayside Romeos passing lewd comments, as she felt confident that the youth never could misbehave when Edasseri was around. Edasseri was bold and never minced words when confronted with the wealthy people showing disinclination to public activities. There were also occasions when the poet on his way to buy medicine for his own ailing son, donating the money to a poor man who did not have money to buy rice for his family to cook for the day.
Edasseri remained active till end of his life. He was indisposed for a couple of days before his death but did not allow it to come in the way of his duties. The spell of indisposition put an abrupt end to his life when on October 16, 1974 he suffered a massive heart attack at his breakfast table. His wife and young daughter were with him when the end came.
Government of Madras Award for the play Koottukrishi
Government of Madras Award for the collection of poems called Puthan Kalavum Arivalum
Kerala Sahithya Academy Award for the collection of poems Oru Pidi Nellikka - 1969
Sahitya Academy Award (New Delhi) for the collection of poems Kavile Pattu - 1970
Kumaran Asan Prize (posthumously given) for the collection of poems Anthithiri - 1979.
Edasseri Govindan Nair's Works:
Puthan kalavum Arivalum
Oru pidi Nellikka
Nellukuthukari Paruvinte katha
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Edasseri Govindan Nair Poems
The Shepherd Of King Bimbisaran
I too had a mother When a King bought me, a slave, She was given a price, a few coins She tied them to my apron-strings
Wind And Light
O Weakness! When Thou attains motherhood Even the arch enemies are there Not to kill, but to swing the cradle
Obscure lies the green pond Slime coated dark. Like a place in ruin tragic Under the moss of sad neglect.
No debt bothers me now No balance left for Tomorrow's shopping either The thief will sneer at me
The Cooking Pot And The Sickle
Who in the last season had sown The Aryan seeds in this field with love? When the hot sun of March burned Rain - fire above, red embers below,
When Philosophies Sleep
'Everything is fate' That was father's faith; He had nothing to do but wait.
Flower In Worship
No place for weeping in the flow of Time, It is not for weeping over, you gave us riches. Light, Water, Air, Heaven and Hade, Countless solar systems-all thy playthings
Obscure lies the green pond
Slime coated dark.
Like a place in ruin tragic
Under the moss of sad neglect.
You, dear child, have begun to shiver
Even in its soft breeze.
I, your sister, shall seat you there
wrapped well in my upper robe