K. G. Sankara Pillai
(India, 1948)   
K. G. Sankara Pillai

Born in 1948, K.G. Sankara Pillai is one of Kerala’s finest poets. A recipient of the state and central Sahitya Akademi Awards in 1998 and 2002 respectively, he has authored three volumes of poetry in Malayalam. His fourth collection is due for release later this year. His poetry has been translated into Chinese, French, German and Sinhala. He lives in Thrissur, Kerala.

Educated in Kerala, K. G. Sankara Pillai joined the collegiate educational service of his home state as a lecturer in Malayalam in 1971. He worked in various colleges until his retirement in 2002 as Principal of Government Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. He has been editor of important literary journals: Prasakthi (a journal of radical political views, the third issue of which was confiscated by the police in 1974) and Samakaleena Kavita (1991-1996) devoted to poetry. He has also edited Penvazhikal, an important anthology of women’s poetry and feminist criticism in Malayalam. An accomplished translator, he has published Malayalam translations of poetry from Africa, Bengal and the south Indian state of Karnataka.

Closely associated with the human rights and civil rights movements in Kerala, Sankara Pillai has been the Chairperson of ‘Jananeethi’, a peoples’ initiative for human rights. Since 1991 he has been editor of its monthly journal, and has edited several books on legal aid and social service. A leading commentator on culture, particularly art and cinema, he writes a daily column for the leading Malayalam newspaper, Malayala Manorama.

The poems selected for this edition are from the poet’s award-winning collection, K. G. Sankara Pillayude Kavithakal 1969-1996. At the very first reading, one is struck by the breadth of this poet’s preoccupations. His work is stylistically nimble and sophisticated but never precious; it evokes a historical and contemporary landscape of culture and politics, with a virtuoso air, never making it seem like that all-too-familiar self-conscious exercise of pulling currants out of a cake.

In a keenly analytical essay that accompanies this edition, translator E. V. Ramakrishnan contextualises Sankara Pillai’s poetry as having emerged from the post-1960s context of Malayalam poetry. Alert to the imperatives of craft and conscience, the poet’s work steers carefully between the extremes of a form-reifying modernism and political bellicosity. As E. V. Ramakrishnan writes, “For him radicalism is not a matter of sloganeering but a self-critical attitude that requires a continuous re-evaluation of one’s relation with oneself as the self’s relation with the world. His ability to assimilate an interior realm of self-doubts within a larger discourse of social criticism makes him an exceptional poet.”

In a poem entitled ‘Goorkha’, the poet writes stirringly, ironically, of the contemporary poet’s role – not as visionary, bard, shaman, healer, but as the gravedigger of dreams:

Oh dream,
where shall I bury your remains?
your sweetness: on which
sad note of the stick striking the lamp post?
your beauty: in which fable?
your freedom: in which post-modern poem?
In whose forgetfulness?

Endangered dreams and ideals notwithstanding, K. G. Sankara Pillai’s contribution to Malayalam poetry is unlikely to be consigned to ‘forgetfulness’ in a hurry.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam

Kavitha, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala Kavita, 1981
Kochiyile Vrikshangal, Mulberry Publications, Kozhikode, 1994
K.G. Shankara Pillayude Kavithakal 1969-1996, Kottayam, D C Books, 1997
KGS Kavithakal 1997-2006, D C Books, forthcoming, 2007

As editor
Penvazhikal, Kasargode, Kalakshetra, Kerala, 1994
Thrikkakkarakku pom pathayeto, Current Books, Thrissur, 1999
Ella Avakasangalum Ellavarkkum, Jananeethi, Thrissur, 1998
Athmahatya, Prasnavum Prathirodhavum, Thrissur, 2001
Niyamaprakaram, Jananeethi, Thrissur, 2003
Prasakthi, quarterly journal, 1973-74
Samakaleena Kavitha, quarterly journal of poetry and poetics 1991-96.

Also on this Site
‘Poetry as a Radical Discourse of Demystification’
Essay on K. G. Sankara Pillai by E. V. Ramakrishnan

The Hindu
Report on Dr. E. C. Antony Memorial Lecture on ‘Feminism and poetry’ delivered by K. G. Sankara Pillai in Thrissur

Interview with K. Satchidanandan in which he mentions K. G. Sankara Pillai and other Malayalam poets he enjoys

Project on dowry in Kerala undertaken by Jananeethi, a human rights initiative of which K. G. Sankara Pillai is Director


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