After the Librarian Died

Pathumma’s Goat has taken
The place of Ramanan.
The Birds of Kerala has nested
Where Chemmeen used to be.
Masters and Servants has replaced
The Poor Folk. If you look for
Marthandavarma, you will be
Ambushed by Dracula.

After the librarian’s death,
The library is in a state of anarchy.
Numbers no more stick to their series.
Contents break through torn covers.


Characters wander about
Through the pages that come off
From unhinged volumes.

Bhim of The Second Turn
Has befriended the Karamazov brothers.
Satya, a Bengali from Pratham Pratisruti
Has entered Kovilan’s village.
The Appukkili of Khasak is
Amazed to meet the hunchback
Of Notre Dame. Appukkuttan
Stubbornly cries to gain access
To EMS’ Autobiography.
Das Kapital is no more to be seen.
Kamasutra is back on the rack.
Doubling with laughter,
VKN’s Payyan comes off the pages.


Since the librarian died,
The readers’ reactions have changed.
On the last page of The Caste System
In Kerala someone has scribbled:
“What a fine novel!”
Azhikode’s book on Indian
Philosophy is now with
Children’s books. A dictionary
Of Malayalam has become
An encyclopaedia on sex.
Catalogues on curious things
Like the short story, poetry,
Essays and drama have gone missing.


After the librarian’s death,
The library no more keeps its timings.
No one knows when it opens
Or closes. Once returning from
A late night film, around midnight,
I peeped into the library, seeing
Its windows dimly lit.
God! There was a great feast
In process, in candle light.
Chairs were filled with authors
And their characters.
There was Dostoevsky clad in
Yellow, smoking a cigar.
Thakazhi Siva Sankara Pillai
Leaned on a curved walking stick.
Pablo Neruda was looking
Through the window, hat in hand.
Below the staircase, M. Govindan
Engaged a group of youngsters
In a spirited talk. 
English, Malayalam
French, Russian.
They spoke in many tongues
Loudly, but nothing could be heard.
A young man with round glasses
Shouted something, glass in hand.
At once, someone from behind the cupboards,
Went towards him, with a filled wine glass.
I recognised that face in a second.
Yes, it was him. Our dead librarian.

Translator's Note: Pathumma’s Goat: A famous novella (1959) by Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer, considered a classic in Malayalam fiction. Ramanan: A pastoral elegy by Changampuzha Krishna Pillai (1912–48). It has sold over a lakh (100,000) copies in Malayalam and its popularity is largely due to its lyrical and romantic elements. “A young man with round glasses” at the end of the present poem appears to be a reference to Krishna Pillai whose fondness for liquor was well known. Chemmeen: A novel (1956) by Thakazhi Siva Sankara Pillai that narrates the lives of fisher-folk of southern Kerala. It was made into an award-winning film. The Poor Folk: The famous novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. Its Malayalam translation appeared in 1926. Marthandavarma: A 19th-century historical novel by C.V. Raman Pillai (1858–1922). Dracula: The fictional character created by Bram Stoker in the novel of the same name. The Second Turn: A novel based on the Mahabharat written by M.T. Vasudevan Nair. The novel centres around the character of Bhim, one of the Pandavas. Pratham Pratisruti: A Bengali novel (1964) by Ashapurna Debi (b. 1909). Kovilan: A celebrated novelist of Kerala who wrote many novels based on life in the army. Thattakam, a novel based on his village is mentioned here. Appukkili: A character from O.V.Vijayan’s Khasakkinte Ithihasam (1968). Appukkili is has mental disabilities and a deformed body. Kesavan’s Lamentations: A novel (1999) by M. Mukundan (b. 1942). Its central character is an author, Kesavan, who is writing a novel about Appukkuttan who is obsessed with E.M.S. Nambuthiripad, the veteran Communist leader from Kerala. V.K.N.: A well-known Malayalam novelist whose character, Payyan, meaning “the lad”, became popular for his irony, satire and sarcasm. Payyan appears in many of his novels and stories chronicling life among the celebrities and the powers that be in the capital city of Delhi. Azhikode: Sukumar Azhikode is a well-known literary critic and commentator whose Tatvamasi has won several awards. It explains the main ideas of Hindu philosophy. M.Govindan: Poet and critic who was notable for his iconoclastic views. He inspired many young writers in the early phase of modernism in the 1960s and 70s.