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Quintessential critic to the last

G. Mahadevan

Krishnan Nair



VORACIOUS READER: Krishnan Nair's pen was for more than three decades the Malayali readers' preferred pointer to quality literature published the world over.

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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is said that there are two kinds of writers. Those who have been subject to the `M. Krishnan Nair treatment' and those who were not so lucky.

Krishnan Nair's pen was for more than three decades the Malayali readers' preferred pointer to quality literature published the world over.

Firm in his belief that bad literature was a crime against society, M. Krishnan Nair remained, to the very last, the quintessential critic, zealously demolishing inflated reputations and generously applauding true talent.

M. Krishnan Nair was born to V. K. Madhavan Pillai, a schoolteacher, and L Sarada Amma on March 3, 1923, in Thiruvananthapuram.

The critic has always credited his father for kindling in him the love for literature. In many a media interview, Krishnan Nair recounted how his father would, every now and then, bring an English novel and demand a written summary.

Each day, Madhavan Pillai would listen keenly as his son recited from the works of Kunchan Nambiar.

Krishnan Nair tasted success as a writer at the age of 10 when his translation of Shelley's poems was published in the journal `Prasanna Keralam'.

His foray into the world of criticism started with the publication of an essay titled `Criticism' in the weekly run by renowned social reformer C.V. Kunjiraman.

After finishing the Honours programme in Malayalam at the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1945, Krishnan Nair had a five-year stint at the Secretariat as a clerk.

Later he joined the collegiate education service as lecturer. His classes at the Government Arts College, University College, Maharaja's College, Ernakulam, and Victoria College, Palakkad, used to attract even those studying in nearby colleges.

He retired as a teacher in 1978. He was the recipient of the first Goenka award for Excellence in Literary Journalism; perhaps the only major award he won.

Krishnan Nair would perhaps be best remembered as the critic who — after Kesari Balakrishna Pillai — opened up the vistas of Western and Latin American literature to the ordinary Malayali reader through his weekly `Sahithyavaaraphalam.'

The migration of his Vaaraphalam from Malayala Naadu magazine to Kala Kaumudi and then to Samakalika Malayalam did not diminish the unwavering loyalty of Krishnan Nair's readers. The `cheeroot'-wielding Krishnan Nair made the rounds of Thiruvananthapuram's bookshops every evening to finalise the list of books to be reviewed that week.

One question that Krishnan Nair has been repeatedly asked is why was his criticism so sharp and harsh to the extent of being vitriolic?

In an interview to The Hindu in 1996, he said: "Because, I believe bad literature is a crime against society. True talent, a true genius does not depend on encouragement. It transcends all barriers. A truly talented writer cannot be made or marred by criticism."

Though the passing years mellowed Krishnan Nair's pen, age was unable to wither his appetite for books. During his last days, he was preparing to review the third volume of Henry Lefbvre's book The Critique of Everyday Life.

Krishnan Nair often used to say that he would like to be remembered as a critic who was always true to his calling; as one who never compromised on his integrity, come what may. The critic leaves behind his wife and five daughters.

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