[P.P. Ramachandran was selected by E.V. Ramakrishnan for the May 2009 special edition of PIW India devoted to “poets as translators”.]
P.P. Ramachandran (born 1962) is a significant voice among the Malayalam poets of the 1990s. His first poetry collection, Kannekane (1999), won him the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry. He has since published two more volumes of verse. A graduate in Malayalam language and literature, he currently teaches in a high school in Ponnani in the Malappuram district of Kerala. His other areas of interest include amateur theatre and web publishing. He edits and publishes a web magazine named Harithakam, exclusively devoted to new Malayalam poetry. His work has been translated into Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and English.
It was this subtlety and capacity for understatement that first struck EVR about Ramachandran’s work. The state of Kerala, says EVR (in an article written specially for this edition), “has always had a vibrant tradition of ‘public’ poetry that tends to be loud and overstated. The debates on poetry often miss the finer elements of poetry which cannot be put into polemic speech. Against such a backdrop, here was a poet who subtly defamiliarised our world.” Ramachandran reminds us, says EVR, “that radical poetry is not about slogans, but about recasting the familiar world in new formations”.
The seven poems in this edition reveal a startlingly assured and finely modulated poetics. In a few deft strokes, this poetry transfigures the mundane into the mysterious, the commonplace into the enchanted. And so in the poem, ‘After the Librarian Died’, the books in the library take on an unruly life of their own: Das Kapital disappears altogether, while a Malayalam dictionary turns into an encyclopaedia on sex. It is a dystopic view of contemporary intellectual life. But the disorder doesn’t seem entirely without promise. Despite the multilingual cacophony of books and authors in which nothing can be heard, there does seem to be an unmistakable energy, a ferment in the nocturnal tumult.
It is this ambivalence that I find intriguing about Ramachandran’s poetry. ‘The Horn’ is another case in point. As EVR points out, “the sound of the horn is transformed into the sound of a wounded beast, a victim which wails in the wilderness of the night. The poem is able to probe the disturbing interiors of an ethnic identity where what sustains also deprives.”
Ramachandran’s is a poetry of shifting meanings, of subtle menace and sudden illumination, where a cow may at any moment reveal itself to be “a prowling leopard”, where words may at any point collapse into echoing silences. This is a language of pauses, of gaps, haunting, succinct and elliptical as birdsong. Perhaps it is not surprising that Ramachandran asks at the close of one of his poems:
How do birds tell
Their lives with such brevity?
Kalamkaari, DC Books, Kottayam, 2008
Randay Murichathu, Current Books, Thrissur,2004
Kanekkane, DC Books, Kottayam, 1999
Muse India: Some more poems by P.P. Ramachandran
Also on this site
Where the Festival is also a Hunt . . .: E.V. Ramakrishnan on the poetics of disquiet in the work of P.P. Ramachandran.