Nearly six decades ago Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, the Malayalam poet who passed away aged 94 on Thursday, wrote the long poem The World in Ruins (“Idinju Polinja Lokam”). A decade earlier, in 1952, he had published his path-breaking work, The Epic of Twentieth Century (“Irupatham Noottandinte Ithihasam”), a poem that predicted an impending gloom and darkness. These two works sum up the dark political vision that prevailed as a subterranean strand in Akkitham’s poetry. For a poet who published his first collection in the 1940s, during the World War years, and associated with the major mobilisations of his youth — the Namboothiri reform movement, the Freedom Struggle and the Communist Party — only to feel disillusioned with the decline of their ideals, this darkness was inescapable.
Akkitham was one of the early voices of modernism in Malayalam poetry, who eschewed the language of the then dominant romantic tradition for a taut poetic idiom. He started writing during the high tide of Namboothiri social reform and its rebellious spirit exemplified by writer-activist V T Bhattathirippad, as well as the understated radicalism of Gandhian poet, Edasseri Govindan Nair, influenced his work. The other strand, often acting as a countervailing force to Akkitham’s engagement with modernity was the Sanskritic tradition of the Vedas and epics. He sought to reconcile these influences and arrived at a deep humanist vision. His estrangement with communism, in the wake of the Ranadive thesis (1948-51), had to do with the rejection of violence as an instrument for social transformation.
In his later years, Akkitham sought to overcome his dejection with the grand narratives of modernism by seeking refuge in Indic scriptural and literary traditions. His last major work was a Malayalam translation of the Bhagavata from its Sanskrit original.
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