One of Kerala’s leading writers, K. Satchidanandan (b.1946) is regarded as one of the pioneers of the New Poetry in Malayalam. A writer and critic of national repute, he is currently the Secretary of the Sahitya Akademi, India’s national academy of letters.
Satchidanandan’s poetry is often seen as a microcosm of the larger trends in modern Malayalam literature. In its early stages, it was shaped by the modernism of the sixties characterised by a quest for individual identity while negotiating the totalising pressures of an urban mass culture, revealed in the work of Ayyappa Paniker, Akkitham, N.N. Kakkad and Madhavan Ayyappath. In the seventies, a more radical political spirit pervaded his work and that of his contemporaries, with the growth of the new left in India and exposure to voices like Mayakovsky, Neruda, Brecht, Eluard, Cesar Vallejo, Senghor, Nazim Hikmet, David Diop and Aime Cesaire. Since the eighties, there has been a growing exploration of regional cultural identity, as well as a concern with the spiritual quest.
Satchidanandan did his Masters in English from the Unviersity of Kerala and his doctorate in post-structuralist literary theory from the University of Calicut. In 1992, after twenty-five years of teaching English (first as lecturer, then as professor) at Christ College, Kerala, he was invited to join the Sahitya Akademi as the editor of the literary journal, Indian Literature. In 1996, he became Secretary of the Akademi. A prolific poet, he has published nineteen collections of poetry since his first book, Anchu Sooryan in 1970. He has four collections of poetry in English translation and has translated over sixty Indian poets, as well as several European, Latin American, African and Asian poets into Malayalam. A sensitive and astute critic and editor, he has received the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award four times (for poetry, drama, travel writing and criticism), among numerous honours and fellowships.
In a foreword to Satchidanandan’s book, Imperfect and Other New Poems, Dr P.P Raveendran (Professor, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala) writes: “It is easy enough to see in Satchidanandan’s changes a replication in miniature form of the general movement of Malayalam poetry since the sixties . . . However, one should refrain from pressing the comparison too hard. For, as Walter Benjamin has suggested in the case of Kafka, there are two ways of missing the essential point about Satchidanandan’s poetry. One is what can be called a ‘materialisaion’ of the verse by which is meant the critical tendency to attribute a wholly materialistic interpretation to it . . . The other obviously is to ‘spiritualise’ the work, whereby the poems are treated as articulations of the perpetual quest of a spiritually restless mind in a culturally inept world. Both approaches are misleading in as much as they ignore the vitally creative, utopian element that has existed in Satchidanandan’s poetry right from its early days . . . Materiality in Satchidanandan is not the obverse of spirituality . . . On the contrary, it allows the poet the perception of transcendental truths latent in the material world. It emboldens him to extol the quotidian, the everyday . . ., even as it places him in the tradition of an international fraternity of poets, ranging from his native Ezhuthachan and Asan to Lorca and Neruda from outside his culture.”
The poems included in this edition (translated by the poet) will offer readers a glimpse into a poetic sensibility that combines craft with compassion, a rigorous aesthetics with a searching self-reflexive politics. There is a capacity to infuse the uninflected line with a sudden lyrical cadence, to attempt diverse modes “from the pithily ironic to the imagistic”. This is poetry that is unafraid to ponder the vast existential questions of the death of love and the end of the world, and that is equally unapologetic about dwelling on a nostalgic impressionistic landscape of ripe cornfields and childhood rain. And when it affirms sanity in lunacy, poetry in a stammer, it is not as a tired platitude about the meek inheriting the earth. It is, instead, a genuine artistic insight, a discovery arrived at through the intuitive process of poetry rather than the cerebral logic of ideology.
by Arundhathi Subramaniam
Anchu Sooryan (Five Suns) 1971.
Atmagita (The Song of the Self) 1974.
Kavita (Poetry) 1977, 1982, 1984.
Indian Sketchukal (Indian Sketches) 1978.
Ezhuthachan Ezhutumbol (When the Poet Writes) 1979, 1985, 1987, 1989.
Peedana Kalam (Times of Torment) 1981, 1989.
Venal Mazha (The Summer Rain) 1982.
Randu Deergha Kavyangal (Two Long Poems) 1983.
Satchidandandante Kavithakal 1962-82 (Poems) 1962-82, 1983, 1987.
Socrateesum Kozhiyum (Socrates and the Cock) 1984.
Ivanekkoodi (Him, too) 1987, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1997.
Veedumattam (Changing House) 1988.
Kayattam (The Ascent) 1990.
Kavibuddhan (The Poet as Buddha) 1992.
Ente Satchidanandan Kavitakal (Selected Poems). Ed. Balachandran Chullikad, 1993.
Desatanam (Going Places) 1994, 1995.
Malayalam 1996, 1998, 2003.
Apoornam (Imperfect) 1998.
Theranjedutha Kavithakal (Selected Poems) 1999.
Sambhashanathinu Oru Sramam (An Attempt to Converse) 2000.
Vikku (Stammer) 2002.
Sakshyangal (Witness) 2004.
Summer Rain: Three Decades of Poetry, ed. RD Yuyutsu. Nirala Publishers, New Delhi, 1995.
How to go to the Tao Temple. Har-Anand Publications, 1998.Imperfect and Other New Poems. Olive Publications, Calicut, Kerala, 2000.So Many Births: Three Decades of Poetry. Konarak Publishers Pvt Ltd, Delhi, 2001.
Websites featuring Satchidanandan
The Little Magazine
Essay entitled ‘Between Saints and Secularists’ by K. Satchidanandan in ‘The Little Magazine’; Vol II, Issue 3 – ‘Belonging’
The South Asian Literary Recordings Project
K. Satchidanandan, Malayalam Writer: The South Asian Literary Recordings Project (Library of Congress) (Bio-note and readings)
RAHA: World Independent Writers Home
‘Poetry is a dream for emancipation’: An Interview with K. Satchidanandan by Sunil K. Poolani
“Controversy: The BJP tries to tame a stubborn Sahitya Akademi”; Article by Nistula Hebbar on Satchidanandan’s poetry on Gujarat having irked the BJP in The Week (February 16, 2003)
STANDARDS – ‘How Spring Arrived This Year’
K. Satchidanandan’s ‘How Spring Arrived This Year’ (Poem) in STANDARDS (non-profit cyber-journal of the University of Boulder, Colorado)
STANDARDS – ‘My Body, My City’
K. Satchidanandan’s ‘My Body, My City’ (Poem) in STANDARDS (non-profit cyber-journal of the University of Boulder, Colorado)
Modernism and Beyond
An interview with K. Satchidanandan by Makarand Paranjape.
Imagined Communities: Collective Aspirations in Contemporary Indian Poetry
Essay by K. Satchidanandan.