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Savant of Malayalam

SREEVARAHOM BALAKRISHNAN

S. Guptan Nair's work as a teacher and litterateur has endeared him to scores of students and readers.

Photo: S. Gopakumar

S. GUPTAN NAIR: In the world of prose and poetry.

`Manasaa Smarami,' the much-awaited autobiography of S. Guptan Nair, the grand sire of Malayalam, was released recently. Hosted jointly by Rainbow Book Publishers and `Vaayana,' a reading-cum-literary forum, the function was attended by his disciples and admirers. It emerged as a spontaneous `Gurudakshina' to the illustrious savant.

Evocative document

Replete with recollections of the past and reflections on the present, `Manasaa Samarami' is an evocative document of the author's eventful life and of the times that shaped and fine-tuned it. With his keen ear for music and keener sense of rhythm, he captures the high and low cadences of cultural transition of the vibrant period, as in a symphony of sorts.

Born as the son of Olassa P. Sankara Pillai, an Ayurveda practioner of repute, and C. Sankari Amma, at Oachira in Alappuzha district on August 22, 1919, Guptan Nair inherited a spirit of enquiry and affinity for Sanskrit from his scholar-father. Starting his career as a lecturer in Malayalam at University College, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1948, he retired as UGC Professor from Calicut University. In between, he had been the assistant director of the Kerala Language Institute, besides being the editor of `Grandhalokam,' `Vijnanakairali' and `Sannidhaanam.' He had also been the president of Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sanghom(SPCS) and the Kerala Sahitya Akademi.

His first book, `Aadhunika Sahityam,' introduced the intrinsic magnitude of modern literature in simple terms. It was followed by `Samalochana', `Krantadarshikal,' `Isangalkkappuram,' `Kavyaswaroopam,' and `Punaralochana,' to name a few. `Srushtiyum Srashtavum' (Creation and the Creator) fetched him the Valayar Award in 1998. He had also been the recipient of several other accolades, including the Vallathol Puraskaram and the fellowship of Kerala Sahitya Akademi.

As a critic, Guptan Nair seldom goes to extremes. He pursues a mid-path, the `golden mean' as it is termed in literary parlance. There were a few occasions when he was sabre-sharp and sarcastic as in the case with Basheer's `Sabdangal,' that triggered off a furore. He has, however, mellowed over the years.

Nevertheless, he does not mince words while reacting to the stance of certain proponents of new criticism, who revel in such terms as `structuralism,' `ambiguity' and `deconstruction.' "Why do they turn a blind eye to our time-old treatises, `Dhwanyalokam,' `Natyasastra' and the like?" he asks.

Clarity of thoughts

Unlike some critics who tend to confound the reader in a maze of misquotes, Guptan Nair probes each subject - be it Chaucer or Changampuzha, `Chandrotsavam' or `Chandalabhikshuki,' Voltaire or Vivekananda - with commendable candour. Coming as they do from profound study, his discourses unravel the ups and downs of every work with precision. And his voice has always been sane and sober, sans any built-in bias.

He is perhaps popular as an essayist rather than as a critic. He endears himself to the readers, transforming the pedestrian into the profound in a syntax that is all grace and poise. Light in tone and lighter in timbre, his essays encompass a hearty combination of Robert Lynd and A.G. Gardiner, both in design and diction. His pieces in `Thirayum Chuzhiyum' and `Amritha Smriti' are enchanting specimens of this genre.

In his mid-eighties, he is still in pursuit of excellence in the exciting company of books. He is at work in the tranquillity of `Viswabharati,' of his memory, perhaps to weave a sequel to `Manasaa Smarami.'

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