The sparsely populated hall of Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram pointed to the grim reality that the art form of Kathaprasangam is facing today after the demise of its supreme artiste and ambassador Sambasivan.
The ambience was slightly unreceptive as the performance began in the evening. Babu Kodanchery, the Kathaprasangam artiste, was in no hurry.
As the evening wore on, he patiently began to take the audience into the world of a great poet and songwriter of yesteryear – Vayalar Rama Varma.
For the audience, the rendering of ‘Vayalar – Oru Sooryathejassu’ – in the Kathaprasangam format was itself a unique experience. As the story proceeded, Babu delved into the life and times of the late poet to string together memorable episodes from the poet’s life. The telling was not linear but punctuated by beautiful lines penned by the great poet.
No poem is crafted from a void, it should have a story behind it. And Babu was keen on taking the audience to the hidden world behind Vayalar’s great poems such as ‘Ayisha’. Dizzying moments were not rare when the listeners were transported between the past and the present. The issues raised by the poet in his works found resonance with contemporary life and society. As the song ‘Manushyan mathangale srishtichu…mathangal daivangale srishtichu….’ penned by Vayalar reverberated in the hall, the listeners were transported to a different world.
Humanism, religious tolerance, love… whatever the poet had stood for in the past spoke directly to the present, as Babu seamlessly moved from poem to poem. The poet’s warm relationship with his mother, which was etched in detail, occasionally threatened to slip into melodrama. Babu had many things to tell about the great poet. But his attempt to cram in too much of information about the multifaceted genius proved to be counterproductive at a few places during his performance.
Babu, working with the military engineering staff service, has been in the field for 30 years. “It is tough to follow this passion without a job,” he says about the art form of Kathaprasangam. “And I know it is a Herculean task to fill the void left by someone as legendary as Sambasivan.”