G. Ramavarma Thirumulpad, who came to be known as Vayalar Ramavarma or Vayalar, was deeply grounded in Sanskrit and was exposed to world literature early in his illustrious life. The revolutionary in Vayalar believed that “art is for life’s sake” and sought social transformation through poetry and songs. On his 39 death anniversary (Oct. 27), it would be worthwhile to explore and decode myths about arguably Malayalam’s greatest lyricist through five laconic works on and by him.
Vayalar – Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan
Indradhanussin Theerath – Bharathi Thampuratti
Antharjanathinu Snehapoorvam Vayalar – Thanuja S. Bhattathiri
Purushantharangalliloode – Vayalar
Oru Kaviyude Diary – Vayalar
Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan (1932 – 2010) was a film critic and a close associate of Vayalar for four decades. He explodes many popular myths about the great man in his memoirs. Vayalar was not a reckless alcoholic as most of us are made to believe.
It is true that he did love his booze. But we learn about the responsible professional in Vayalar refusing invites to evening drinks by film colleagues because he had to go back to his assignments. Vayalar, Kuttan to those close to him, was born in 1928, fifteen years into his parents’ marriage.
Before he was three, he lost his father Vellarapalli Keralavarma. The bond between his mother Ambalika Thampuratti and her only child was one of extreme possessiveness that persisted throughout his life. Vayalar married Chandramathi Amma and when they were issueless for six years, broke up and married her sister Bharathi. That union produced a son, today’s lyricist Sarath Chandra Varma and three daughters Indulekha, Yamuna and Sindhu.
Vayalar's village first shot to fame in 1946 after an uprising there and in nearby Punnapra against the Travancore Dewan culminated in the martyrdom of hundreds of people. The poet was 18 at that time. He trode the leftist path, influenced by C.K. Kumara Panicker who was widely known as Vayalar Stalin, whose son is the former CPI State Secretary, the late C.K. Chandrappan.
After the Communist Party split in 1964, Vayalar naturally aligned with the CPI. Despite his high caste origins, Vayalar questioned and rebelled against the injustices of society and championed the cause of the oppressed classes. ‘Snehickayilla njan novum atmavine/ Snehichidathoru thatvasastratheyum’ (‘ I will not love any philosophy/ that loves not the aching soul’) – these lines from his poem Maa Nishada sum up his life’s motto.
When he first went to Udaya Studio seeking work, he was shown the door by the legendary Kunchacko, producer and director of blockbuster movies. Years later, the same Kunchacko was to accord the poet a hero’s welcome, when he brought home the National Award for lyricist. This was in ’73 for the song ‘Manushyan mathangalle srishtichu’ in the movie Achanum Baappayum.
Gopalakrishnan planned a grand felicitation for his friend and invited a hundred people from the industry. A mere half a dozen attended. In spite of personal reminders, stars like Nazir and Ummer scooted it, an indicator of the jealousy that Vayalar’s genius sparked in his peers. The association of Vayalar and music composer Paravur Devarajan, which has given Malayalam some of its best loved songs till date, was divinely ordained.
Vayalar was haunted by a bad liver. When the end came in ’75 he was just 47. If he were alive today he would have been 86, still junior by five years to veteran CPM leader V.S. Achuthanandan. It is a cruel irony that for his funeral the who’s who of literature, cinema and politics of the land, except our topmost actors and singers, were present. Perhaps it was the short temper of a man in creative trance that rubbed these so-called stars’ egos the wrong way when he was alive.
Litterateur and administrator Malayatoor Ramakrishnan, who was a dear friend, wanted to set up a fund in his memory and approached Yesudas with the idea. To his shock the latter turned it down. The celestial singer draws special flak in Bharathi Thampuratti’s book for what she terms ingratitude to the man and his family.
But the biggest revelation there is her life’s travails. Her dominating mother-in-law had made a mental slave of the son so much so that Vayalar would write letters from his Madras stay to his mom and not wife. The poet had a narrow escape after Naxalites attempted to burn down his Raghavapparamp Kovilakam home.
Vayalar ‘adopted’ the writer Lalithambika Antharjanam as an elder sister and communicated steadily with her. A glimpse of that most beautiful friendship is the collection of letters brought out by the dame’s grand-daughter Thanuja S. Bhattathiri, a writer in her own right. We get to see only one side of the communication though.
Antharjanam, who was sticking to short stories till then, wrote a reformist novel called Agnisakshi at the coercion of Vayalar. After the latter’s death when the government instituted the state’s biggest literary honor in his name, it was in the fitness of things that this prima donna of Malayalam prose became its first recipient, in 1977, for Agnisakshi!
Purushantharangalliloode is Vayalar’s account of a Delhi trip in ’56 to attend an Asian Writers’ Conference. We can marvel Vayalar’s remarkable sense of history and mythology. The diary has jottings on topics like visiting Kumaran Asan’s widow Bhanumathi, a lament over people falling for tricksters in religious garb and sadness at seeing Narayana Guru’s message going unheard among people who purport to be his followers. He delves on the writing of Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabatta, who had just become the first Asian in 55 years since Tagore to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
There is also a tribute to Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck, two of the then recently deceased writers who had had an influence on him. Contrary to what many people believe Vayalar was not an atheist. The writer of ‘Nithya visudhayam kanya mariyame’ and ‘Chethi mandaram thulasi pichaka malakal chaarthi’ was a true man of religion who took after Adi Sankara’s non-dualism school. He loved life passionately, was ahead of his times and revelled in the highest planes of thought.
Interestingly Vayalar takes a veiled dig at S.K. Pottekkat who was “oblivious of the issues in his immediate surroundings, produced intellectual exercises of world travelogues and drew from original works penned by abler men in different climes”.
In the galaxy of Malayalam cinema, the luminous star that is Vayalar continues to inspire later generations of songwriters and enrapture listeners with the timeless quality of his songs.