For K Satchidanandan, poetry was not a choice. After working on his first two poems—the first a meditation on mutability, and the second, a narrative on a bullock cart driver he knew—he tried writing stories. “I found I could not do detailed descriptions. They were all short, never more than a page,” Satchidanandan said. When the stories were published, his readers thought they read like poems. “Then,” he continued, “I knew I was born to write only poetry and never again attempted fiction.”
Born in 1946, Satchidanandan has been writing poetry in Malayalam for 50 years now. Critics have hailed him as one of the pioneers of modern poetry in Malayalam, particularly because he continues to experiment with form and language and renews himself constantly. “Poetry alone gives me that rare joy of imagination and language that I do not find while writing anything else,” he said. The translations of Satchidanandan’s poetry in most Indian languages and several world-languages have earned him admirers from across the globe.
He has also been vocal on social issues both within and outside the literary community. In October 2015, Satchidanandan, a former secretary of the Sahitya Akademi and a winner of several Sahitya Akademi awards, renounced his membership of all its committees. The poet said that the Akademi had “failed in its duty to stand with writers and uphold freedom of expression.” Satchidanandan was one of two people to withdraw from the recent Jaipur Literary Festival at South Bank in London. Though he withdrew due to an illness, he supported a coinciding call issued to boycott the event since Vedanta—a controversial British mining company whose operations in Zambia, South Africa and India have been widely criticised as being highly unsafe for the residents and the environment—was one of the fest’s main sponsors.