The Soviet Union was withering away. What was considered to be a socialist ideal was revealing its skeletons. Amid the barrage of reports was an Ukrainian arms factory's efforts to reinvent itself as a farm tools manufacturer. A journalist who read the report could not but recall the prophetic lines written by Malayalam poet Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri four decades earlier. He called up the 'Mahakavi' in reverence.
The legendary Malayalam poet who won the Jnanpith Award, the highest literary price in India for outstanding contribution towards literature on Friday, had written about the need for shifting resources away from guns and swords and into sturdy ploughs in his favourite poem, 'Irupatham Nootandinte Ithihasam'. (Thokkinum vaalinum vendi vhelavittorambukal Urukki varthedukkavoo balamulla kalappakal...)
The poem could only come from a poet who was ahead of his times. He proclaimed that a loveless revolution would not last. He wrote that a revolution that chose turpitude and violence would be short-lived, earning him more brickbats that bouquets. 'Irupatham Nootandinte Ithihasam' exposed the lacunae of communism just as 'Doctor Zhivago' and 'Darkness At Noon'. It was written in 1951 and published in a journal the next year.
An ideology incapable of accommodating love was like a body without its soul, Akkitham's gentle words reminded the world.
The poem earned Akkitham a lofty place in Malayalam literature. His works were not epic in the real sense but the poem of love earned him the title of 'Mahakavi'. In fact he is the last of the 'Mahakavis' in Malayalam. After him no more.
'Irupatham Nootandinte Ithihasam' was an elegy that came out of a remorseful mind faced with the violence that was unleashed in the name of revolution. It was one of the rare works that nudged one into reflection. Some of the couplets came to be part of everyday Malayalam. (Velicham dukhamanunnee, Thamasallo sukhapradam...)
Akkitham's lines were sometimes dismissed as too dark but he explained the seemingly pessimistic expression as a reflection of the fact that life was just a flicker of light in the eternal darkness that was death. Perhaps, he was letting out his despair when ideologies that promised light led humanity into utter darkness.
In the same work, Akkitham proclaims tears as an invaluable panacea because of its ability to wash out sins, grief and anxieties. The poet then proceeds to wash away the cruelties of the ruling class in tears. The poet also hope that the tears of mercy will wash away the blood stains left by violence and injustice. He mourns the loss of his light the day he learned about the injustice accumulated over centuries of feudalism and capitalism. Communism started out as a ray of hope but soon showed its true colours. His direct participation in an armed struggle revealed to him the handicaps of the communist ideology, which was no better than the systems it sought to replace.
The poem ends with a eulogy to the human spirit that refused to be confined to ideologies. He puts forward a value system based on love. The pivot of the world he dreams of is unconditional love.
The teardrops in 'Irupatham Nootandinte Ithihasam' were nothing but blood drops, observed literary critic M Leelavathi. The poem is full of imagery that wept blood.
Akkitham hears the murmur of harvest-ready grains in the desolate sighs of the farmer. He sees ears of grains in the bloodshot eyes of the farmer. He is pained by the thought that the farmer does not get to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Workers do not get to seek the warmth of the clothes they make. They belong to their employers. Rich and educated youngsters had no qualms cheating and molesting naive girls. The crow that pecks at the eyes of a dead woman in the street – one of the most striking images of the poem – represents the exploiting rich.
More than half a century later, nothing has changed. 'Irupatham Nootandinte Ithihasam' is as relevant today.