Padma Sree Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri was an eminent and revered poet who received the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award, among many other laurels, for his literary works. The present book, “Nights and Days in Ujjaini '' is a selection of his poems in Malayalam that has now been translated into English - a stupendous task -yet commendably done, by his friend and relative, Dr. M. N Namboodiri. This selection bears the title of an iconic poem by the Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri, included here. It is the title of one of his original Malayalam collections, which earned him the Kendra Sahitya Akademi award. The poems included here are selected from almost all of the poet’s anthologies.
My association with Dr Namboodiri started more than a decade ago, that too, quite unexpectedly, when I happened to attend a Sarga Vedi meeting in San Jose, CA. Dr M.N read his poem there, to an appreciative audience. I listened to him with rapt attention. It was a poem written for his wife on her birthday. After the thunderous applause, being clownish by nature, my loud voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper and I told my friend who was seated next to me, “A very clever gentleman, he got away with reciting a poem, as a birthday present to his wife!” My friend replied,"You know, his talent doesn’t end there. He's actually a scientist, doing research in Nuclear chemistry!” During dinner break, I was introduced to Dr. Namboodiri. He was clad in a simple cotton attire, his sparkling eyes behind glasses that were perched on an aquiline nose and his most disarming and almost mischievous smile impressed me and immediately won me over. He was a picture of simplicity, humility, love and compassion but seemed to incredibly retain the spontaneity and buoyancy of youth. Dr. M.N Namboodiri is a man of few words and yet when he takes the stage, his audience is always spellbound by his natural eloquence and charismatic personality.
Despite being a busy scientist in the field of nuclear chemistry, Dr M.N Namboodiri had always felt a keen interest in writing poetry, right from a young age. On his wedding day, he got to know Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri, a few years younger than him, and a cousin of his bride. And though he became a friend and an admirer of the distinguished poet, in their correspondence, he did not bring up his own poetic inclinations, out of diffidence, for two decades until VNN’s poem on Einstein’s Guest (included in the present collection) greatly surprised him. While writing about that to VNN, he offered a poem of his own to the great poet to read. Pleasantly surprised, VNN helped to get his poem published, and remained a strong supporter of his poetic efforts afterwards.
Dr Namboodiri’s English rendition of the original Malyalam collection is captivating and transcends over time and space. The poems take us to the Himalayas and Athens, to Ujjaini and the Lake District, to San Francisco and Aranyaka. He breathes life into Sophocles and Kalidasa; Wordsworth and Shelley; Swami Vivekananda and the Dalai Lama; Einstein and Heisenberg; and even legendary characters like Arjuna and Adam. The kaleidoscope of ideas widely ranges from the religious manuscripts of the Chandogya Upanishad to the world of quantum mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle.
“Nights and Days in Ujjaini”, effectively and impressively deals with romance, love, Nature, spirituality and issues including environment , concern for our planet and preservation of our habitat. It comes to life with spontaneity, purity, and a subtle sense of humor. This much admired collection has two main categories: “Love Poems “and “Earth Poems”. In addition, it has a number of other individual poems including the poem that bears the title of his Collection.
Dr M.N in “Come Along,” the first poem in his collection of “Earth Poems”, enthralls us with this beautiful verse-
“ O sweet pain of thwarted love,
O mighty fervor that
makes the earth shudder,
My heart is marked by the dust
From a pair of kadali-petal soft feet -
Come along with me!”
In yet another piece, “Partition of Earth”, the poet brings forth his annoyance and ridicules the segregation of people -
“Finally, the earth was cut in two halves
by the black race and the white race,
they parted, each taking a half globe..
….searching in endless space,
they didn’t see anywhere
a white sun and a black sun
to go around”
Aptly titled “The Bond of Karma”, the poet reveals his philosophical bent of mind with these lines-
“Between me and this speck of sand,
what line of amity that goes beyond this birth?
No doubt, ‘Love's very pain is sweet' and it is illustrated in his collection of “Love Poems.” ‘Childhood love', ‘Bitter?’, ‘Heaven ' - are some of the memorable ones from this collection. His collection “Childhood Love”', is rooted in his adolescence and is an exquisite piece of work dedicated to love, devotion and romance. Dr MN's extraordinary ability to retain the beauty of the original is very evident in every verse.
In ‘Vladimir Komarov' the poet immortalizes the first person who ever died in space. He salutes him with these heart rending lines,'even death swelled with pride when holding your hand!' This may very well be the only Malayalam poem dedicated to the brave Russian cosmonaut.
Padma Sree Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri 's “Nights and days in Ujjaini” has autobiographical, biographical, spiritual and even political references. In short, it depicts the agony and ecstasy of a life fully lived. Dr M.N Namboodiri, in his English version, retains the beauty of the original collection, in its entirety. He writes from the heart and influences, inspires and endears his readers. He has, no doubt, imbibed the spirit of his mentor, Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri.
Come with me...the proof of the pudding is in the eating..let me hold your hand and take you to this literary smorgasbord! I assure you that, just as the sweetness of this grand poetry still lingers on my mind, your literary taste buds too, would transcend you to the zenith of an exquisite literary experience, with Dr M.N. Namboodiri’s rendition of “Nights and Days in Ujjain.”