Kochi The debate whether Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri was a bundle of contradictions will go on.
In his exuberant youth, he flicked away the poonool (the thread worn by Brahmins), feasted on fish, and took to Communist ideology against the orthodox practices of his community. Years later, he reached for the old poonool, returned to vegetarianism and though he had parted ways with Communism soon after the ‘Calcutta thesis’, in his twilight years, he was seen endorsing the Hindu right-wing culturally.
But his poetry, from beginning till end was imbued with a rare humanism and what poet K.G. Sankara Pillai would call a “sense of ecological justice”.
He never surrendered humanism and it remained as an enduring ideology.
This was evident even when he construed a modern city as a temple, a feudal image that went against the very grain of the modernism that had characterised his ‘epic’ poem.
No other poet in Malayalam, says Pillai, was able to give brilliantly abstract poetic expression to the deep, subtle state of being one with nature. He cites Ninne Konnavar Konnu Poove/ Thannude Thanne Mokshathe (Those who killed you, flower/ Killed their own salvation) as a shining example.
Back in 2012, at the screening of a biopic on the poet, artist M.V. Devan, who had done illustrations for Akkitham’s Irupatham Noottandinte Ithihasam (The Epic of the 20th Century), which was published in Mathrubhumi Weekly on August 31, 1952, recalled how Akkitham’s poetry outlined the contours of his own spiritual journey and therefore touched his readers’ soul.
G. Prabha, academic who canned the biopic, says there was no duality in the poet’s standpoints, as he was forever a worshipper of nature. “This was different from the caste-driven ethos spoken of as Indian these days. It was almost animist and he felt for everything in nature.”
His humanism took him to Gandhi and over time, mistakenly to the groups he would be seen with in the later years of his life, says Mr. Prabha.
Critic M. Thomas Mathew is categorical when he says there was no dichotomy in Akkitham’s stances. “His spiritual quest was unwavering and genuine. He was never communal. Our renaissance leaders are also those touted by revivalists as their icons. That’s the dichotomy of Indian society. That apart, as far as I knew, Akkitham never really joined any camp. He ploughed a lone furrow, says Mr. Mathew.