Edasserin in his younger days.
E. Harikumar
In conversation with
Ms. Padmavathy Amma
Niece of Edasseri
Padmavathy Amma
niece of Edasseri.
Edasseri's third and last
sister Ammu Amma.
Edasseri's Brother.
Edasseri Balakrishnan Nair



Translator’s Note: Glimpses into a poet’s life helps in appreciating his poems better. This conversation with
Ms. Padmavathy Amma, throws some light on Edasseri’s early childhood days and his personal life as a whole.

My cousin Ms. Padmavathy was talking. At seventy six, ignoring the tiredness due to old age and memory loss, she was talking about her beloved uncle with enthusiasm. She is the daughter of my father’s eldest sister and was staying in Bangalore with her cousin sister Mrs. Devaki Amma and latter’s daughter Susheela when I met her during 2004.  

(Padmavathy Amma left for her heavenly abode on 16.11.2008)  

Padmavathy Amma: 
‘I was born when uncle was sixteen years old. Since he was in Allapuzha at that time, I could see him only after his return, when I was five. He was very handsome with a lot of long hair.

 ‘Long hair?’ I asked.

 ‘Yes. He had a beautiful tuft.’ (Tuft means Hair lock – A traditional Hindu Nair custom of maintaining long hair tied and left hanging to one side of the head)

 (That was news to me! I tried to visualise father with a cute face, partly shaven head and a tuft. Why did he cut his hair! When I think of my father, what comes to my mind instantly is his face in the photo provided in the inner page of the first edition of his drama “Koottukrishi” (Collective Farming); he had luxuriant hair. That must have been taken during nineteen forty nine or so. The second photo of my father that comes to my mind is the one along with Uroob. The handsome duo; I used to look at this photo with envy. It might not have been just for his poetic qualities that my mother fell in love with my father!)

My cousin was smiling as if reading my mind. ‘Yes, he was very handsome!’

“I am one hundred percent a Hindu,
A Hindu with Aryan beliefs and a tuft”

(Poem: The Mountain within Islam)

What about his friends?

‘He had a lot of friends. I still remember a Muslim friend of his early childhood days. Name was Ali or something similar; I can’t recollect now. They were thick friends.’

Was that Kunhalavi? (Kunhalavi was the hero of The Mountain within Islam).

‘I am not sure. Even after so many years, whenever uncle visited Kuttippuram, Ali would come home to see him.’ Then she added ‘uncle liked him very much.’

“One hundred percent, my dear friend,
A great Muslim and trustworthy
While his body was writhing in pain
His mind stood tall like a mountain.”
           (Poem: The Mountain within Islam)

The Muslim boy, even while writhing in pain in front of his father who was holding the cane, did not divulge the name of his friend for whom he stole the banana from his father’s shop; only to safe guard his friend’s prestige!

My Cousin continued, ‘Sisters were very fond of their younger brother.’

How many siblings were there?

‘My grandmother’s name is Kunjukutty Amma. She got married at the age of fifteen as per custom prevailing at that time. Her husband’s name is Thrikkanapuram V.P. Govindan Nambiar. He was a farmer. In that marriage grand mother had five children; two elder boys followed by three daughters.  

‘Kunjukutty’s husband died at a young age. Later at the age of thirty five, she got married to Krishna Kurup from Thalasseri. She gave birth to Govindan Kutty in that marriage. Krishna Kurup died during the Khilafat agitation at the age of fifty four. Later Kunjukutty also succumbed to death after an attack of small pox.’

‘Uncle was not in Kuttippuram when mother died.’

I know that. Father mentioned about such an incident in one of his poems. 

Padmavathy Amma continued:
‘A close relative, Sankaran Nair, took uncle to Alapuzha and made him an apprentice. There was no pay during the apprenticeship. Uncle managed to provide tuition and over a couple of months’ time, saved Rs. 2 which he handed over to a trader, who was returning to Kuttippuram, with a request to buy a blanket for his mother. That trader was not going direct
ly to Kuttippuram. And just one day before this man reached Kuttippuram, uncle’s mother breathed her last. No one close to her was with her when she died; except the people who were employed to look after her.’

“I too had a mother
When the King bought me, a slave,
She was given a price, a few coins
She tied them to my apron-strings
And left bare-handed,
I bought a blanket, later
To protect her from cold
Alas! When I came with the gift at last
She had gone for eternal rest
Under the cover of a thick earthen blanket”
From the poem: "The Shepherd of King Bimbisaran"
          Translated by Dr. M. Leelavathi

Father and sister are appearing together in the poem, “Back to School”

“A little is the difference that I could see,
In this incident repeated after fifty years-

Sister’s nose, a sesame flower,
Had a dangling nose-ring of gold;

Sans any cosmetic sheen
Brother’s face was a little dull.
But the brimming state of foreboding,

In the little eyes of brother

And the overflowing of love in the sister’s eyes,

Were neither more nor less, between then and now!”

          (Poem: back to School – an independent translation)

In the above poem, the greetings and advice given by father to his son who is going to school for the first time is “practise good handwriting”

Did this really happen in his life?

‘Yes, uncle always used to say that his father gave him this advice. Sisters were really fond of their younger brother. Initially he was called Gopi. One day grandmother had a dream. This was after the death of grandfather. In her dream grandfather asked grandmother, “I gave him such a fine name and then why are you people calling him Gopi? Why can’t you all call him Govindan itself?” Ever since then, everyone called him Govindan.’

I asked her:
Some time back, my mother told me that father along with his sisters used to make crackers during their childhood days. Have you heard about it?

 ‘That should be my mother, Maallu. She was really good at things like that!’

In the foot note of the poem “Poothappattu” (An Ode to Poltergeist), father has mentioned his sister, who was adept in storytelling. Out of the three sisters, who was that?

 That should be my mother’s immediate sister, Meenakshi. She was very good in storytelling. In fact all three sisters were gifted story tellers.’

It was Ammu aunty who used to narrate to us, the kids, stories; including stories from Mahabharata and many other interesting stories.

The younger generation knows only Ammu aunt, the youngest of the three sisters, telling stories. They must not have listened to Meenakshi aunt’s story telling.’ 

Heard about father’s niece who died at a very young age....

‘Yes. Her name was Janaki. She was the daughter of Meenakshi aunt. She died at a very young age of thirteen. Uncle was extremely fond of her.’

“Everything is over,
As far my life is concerned

When the divine lamp of my

Was glowing the brightest

Time, like a pitch dark wind

to put it out,
Filling my house with

Darkness forever after!”

(Poem: Janaki – an independent translation)

Heard that father had difficulty in walking during his childhood...

‘Uncle had difficulty in walking, as he was born with one leg slightly deformed.  He used to be carried by others. He was a cute child and was fun-loving; so everyone liked him. Uncle used to call my mother as “Vallyedathy” (eldest sister), the sister younger to her as “Cheriyedathy” (elder sister) and the youngest of the sisters as “Ammu edathy”. My mother was very fat. So while being carried on her hip, uncle’s legs never touched each other.  Uncle used to playfully say that my mother was like a jackfruit tree. He had the sense of humour, even at that young age; and he was handsome too. Everyone liked him, may be because of these qualities.’

It looks like the ‘Unni’ in the poem “Poothappattu” is my father himself.

It must be! He was dearly loved by all and they literally showered their affections on him. The sisters used to carry him in their arms, always. In those days boys used to be admitted in school at the age of five and girls at seven. He had to be carried to and from school.A relative from Nambrath, a branch of Edasseri family, by name Govindan (uncle) used to carry him not only to school, but also to all places, wherever he wanted to go. And when uncle started earning, he made it a practice to send some amount to this person every month, without fail. This continued until the last remittance was returned by post office on his death. Somebody asked uncle as to why he had been sending money like this, for which his reply was “the scratchy mark caused by carrying me on his shoulder will still be on him”. Gradually and after undergoing an expert but painful massage uncle was in a position to walk. The masseur was arranged by a relative who at that time was working in Mananthawadi. The masseur used peacock oil for the massage.’

[This personal experience inspired him to write a poem titled "The other Dhoti" in which life is perceived as the art of celebrating positives which would make negatives fade into insignificance.]

“What I got as new was a fabric torn
But that taught me the trick of hiding
Hiding the short comings of my life
From the probing eyes of the spectator”
        (Poem: The other Dhoti – an independent translation)

‘Uncle’s birthday as per Malayalam calendar falls on the day of Uthrattathi in the month Dhanu (23rd of December 1906). On that day there will be special ritualistic performances for lord Subramanian. That used to be a big occasion. Sumptuous feast would be provided to the invitees. It is only after serving lord Subramanian that other people will take food.’

You told me that grandfather died during the time of Khilafat agitation. Was his death by anyway connected with the agitation?

No. It just happened during the time of agitation. During the agitation everyone from our ancestral house in Kuttippuram vacated and was shifted to the house of the husband of our mother’s younger sister in Palakkad. They took uncle also along with them. Uncle’s father was from Thalasseri, a northern district of Kerala and he used to visit his native place occasionally. Even otherwise his job demanded a lot of travel. And on his return from tours, he used to bring a lot of presents for everyone. He had enough income and had a mind to help the needy. So everyone liked him very much. Once while he was returning from Thalasseri he fell sick. Porters at the railway station brought him home. The fever lasted for just two days only but he succumbed to that.’  

‘Uncle’s father had a son in Thalasseri; Kunjhiraman Adiyodi. He used to visit Kuttippuram occasionally. Unfortunately, it was not possible to inform him when his father died. Communication facility was not developed to this extent during those days. Kunjhiraman was very sad on hearing the demise of his father, when he reached Kuttippuram, days after. He was a nice person and my mother and everyone else in our family loved him very much. Anyway, after that he stopped coming to Kuttippuram.’

Father had a lot of friends. Were they coming to Kuttippuram as well?

Why not! P.C. Kuttikrishnan (Uroob - he was a small boy at that time), Kumaran (Uroob’s brother-in-law and a good short story writer) and Padmanabhan Nair... these three were competing to come to Kuttippuram. It was the same with Padmanabha Kurup (father-in-law of Uroob) and Illathu Valappil Panicker. Panicker had resigned his job and joined the freedom movement. Raghavan uncle (Janaki aunt’s brother), E. Narayanan (poet), Akkitham and M. Govindan (humanist); they all used to come to Kuttippuram. Whenever uncle comes to Kuttippuram, two or three of his friends would be with him. And many of them would stay for a couple of days before they leave.’

‘Uncle’s wedding was celebrated with pomp and glory. All of us started from Kuttippuram in the morning and on the way stayed at Easwaramangalam, at my mother’s youngest sister’s house (Ammu Aunt) for lunch. We reached Ponani in the night for wedding. Those days, weddings were arranged at night.’

But then, father was already staying at Puthillath house, isn’t it?

‘Yes, he was staying there only, even before marriage. When uncle was not having a house to stay, it was Raghavan uncle, Janaki auntie’s (Edasseri’s wife) uncle, who found him a place at Puthillath house. And uncle fell in love with Janaki aunt and that’s how they got married. After this, Uroob married Janaki aunt’s cousin Devaki aunt. I have not come across anyone other than Janaki aunt, who could recite poems so beautifully. Uncle’s poems were all recited loudly by Janaki aunt in her sweet voice. She also used to help him to re-write his poems in her good hand writing. Uncle loved Raghavan uncle very much. He used to say, “It is because of him that I had a family of my own.”

(I remember to have seen father caressing Rghavan Uncle’s chest, when he was admitted to the hospital in Ponani with cancer. And Raghavan uncle used to say that his pain vanished when father caressed his chest.)

Is the deity in the poem “Kavile paattu” (The song of the Sacred Grove), the family- deity of Edasseri house?

‘Yes, it is the deity of Notanalukkal temple that is mentioned as the deity in that poem. That temple is very near to Edasseri house. Almost all the houses near that temple were inhabited by the members of Edasseri family.’

The house that is referred to in his short story “fried poison”; is it the same as Edasseri house?

‘Fried Poison.” Yes, the house looks the same. Our old Nair house (naalu kettu), the big court yard, wild jasmine vine which wound round the Koovalla tree (Bael tree), the cement platform for the koovalla tree, all are the same. My mother and her younger sister are also in the story and my brother’s name Balakrishnan is changed to Ramakrishnan. But I don’t think that such an incident ever happened in our house. Still I cry, every time I read that story.’  

Translated by Edasseri Trust Team - 2017