By Malavika Vettath Varma
The 36th edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair saw Malayalam poetry fill the air as well-known poets took the stage, as a crowd over two thousand people eagerly listened.
Noted poets Alankode Leelakrishnan and Anil Panachooran captivated the audience with their poetry, while sharing anecdotes and stories behind some of their famous works at 'Kavya Sandhya' (Evening of Poetry).
The poems covered themes included nostalgia, memories, and even Communism.
"It is a delight to see so many lovers of Malayalam literature together. I don't think so many people will come together to hear poetry in Kerala now," said Leelakrishnan.
While he first enthralled the audience with a Mappila Paattu or a Muslim folk song by Moyinkutty Vaidyar, considered a doyen in the lyrical genre, Leelakrishnan also shared words of social reformer and philosopher-poet Narayana Guru.
"Poetry, anywhere in the world, represent words of freedom. It's a unifying force between human cultures cutting across all barriers. Many from oppressed sections of society have climbed their way into the mainstream by voicing their hopes and dreams through poetry," said Leelakrishnan, whose noted works include 'Ekantham' and 'Valluvanadan Poorakazchakal', among others.
He left many in the audience teary-eyed as he recited 'Achan', a poem about a son remembering his late father, which evoked memories of how he would run and embrace his father as a child, or walk holding his hand.
The crowd, however, wanted to hear his famed poem 'Gypsikal' (Gypsies). The poem reminisces the time when gypsies would come to villages when the mango trees bloomed. Lamenting the change in landscapes, lifestyles and the disappearance of the gypsies, the poet says: "But when the mango trees bloom now, the gypsies still pitch their tents in the yesteryears of my memories."
Anil Panachooran, who is known for penning lyrics of film songs like 'Chora Veena Mannil', 'Vyathyasthanamoru Barbaram Balane' and the latest viral hit 'Jimikki Kammal', expressed his joy at seeing such a large audience for poetry.
"I firmly believe that those who understand and enjoy poetry are actually poets themselves,” he said.
"I started writing at a time when everyone had begun saying that reading is dying. So, I thought, if people are not reading, why not write songs. I agree, even now one won't find such a huge crowd for poetry in Kerala but perhaps some poets could also be to blame for this as they might have bored people with their poetry at some point," he added.
Panachooran recited his love poem titled ‘Pranayakaalam’ (Season of Love). The first few lines can be loosely translated to "I will write yet another poem, my dear, to shower you with love when you come into my dreams..."
On public request, he recited his famous 'Chora Veena Mannil'. The audience clapped all along to the rhythmic ode to the Communist movement in Kerala.
Panachooran's lyrics have a special place in the hearts of Malayali expats as he's the one who penned the song 'Thirike njaan varumenna vartha..' from the film "Arabikkatha", which touches an emotional chord among NRIs in the Gulf.
"I actually wrote the poem 23 years ago and it was based on the expats during the Kuwait invasion. At that time, we got news about them only through newspapers. No one from my family was there but I knew families who had relatives there and were eagerly awaiting their safe return," he explained.
Owing to huge public demand, he recited the poem with the words "My whole village is awaiting news of my return...", evoking nostalgia and images of their hometowns among the audience.
The Sharjah International Book Fair saw the participation of around 400 authors from 64 countries this year.