I took MA Sanskrit Sahitya exams in 1973. Most of the papers I could do well.
The viva voce was held in Trissur. The examiners were Professor S. Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer and Professor K Raghavan. Prof Iyer was then the Head of the Department of Sanskrit at the University of Kerala. Prof Raghavan was the Principal of Govt Sanskrit College, Trivandrum. Both of them openly praised my dissertation.
"You must have had a traditional training in Sanskrit?"
I told them about my studies in detail. Prof Iyer had a specific query.
"Would you like to do research? Will it be okay for you to come to Trivandrum?"
"I'll be very happy to do so, but there are financial constraints. I earn 450 rupees a month as a high school teacher. I'm married and forsaking that sum will be difficult."
"There'll be a scholarship of 250 rupees a month. One may have to wait for five to six months though."
Then they asked a few questions from the syllabus. My answers were satisfactory. The results were out soon and I had done well.
Prof. Iyer's words reverberated in my mind over and over. I couldn't resist the temptation to go to Trivandrum to pursue research.
N.V. Krishna Warrier, a charismatic figure in the Malayalam literary scenario, had by then moved to Trivandrum as the Director of the State Institute of Languages. I knew him well via the Sahitya Samiti meetings. He said: "There shouldn't be any problem. We'll manage a few kids to come to you for Sanskrit tuition. Come to Trivandrum at the earliest."
Mom didn't know what to say. Anandam did not say anything against the plan. Her father agreed with me too.
In 1974 I applied for two years' study leave and joined the Sanskrit department of the University of Kerala as a Ph.D. student. Professor Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer was my advisor. Fortunately there weren't many financial hurdles. Vishnumaster's -- Poet Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri -- brotherly presence was always there to sort out any issue that would have cropped up.
On Vishnumaster's initiative I started taking elementary Sanskrit classes at the Cotton Hill High School. Children of many well-known writers -- Ayyappa Paniker, O.N.V. Kurup, Sugathakumari, ... -- of Thiruvananthapuram attended my classes. It's the tution fee from those classes that took care of my first six months of stay. I could also save a bit every month and this was to be sent home.
Soon after writing the MA exams I had made it a habit to frequent certain Namboodiri houses of Kannur district in order to browse through the palm leaf manuscripts available in their collection. One of those visits I noticed a manuscript of Nalachandrodaya, a Sanskrit mahakavya, which was unknown to the world of Sanskrit scholarship. From the text it was clear who the author was. But I was eager to place the author geographically too. A shloka of the poem, describing Subrahmanya assuming two bodies to look after his devotees with increased vigil, naturally led me to look for temples with two Subrahmanya idols. This together with other hints from the work sufficed me to fix the author's place in the Malappuram district of Kerala (Karikkatu). My first research paper was based on this work. I sent this paper to Professor Kunjunni Raja and it got published in the Annals of Oriental Research. The New Catalogus Catalogorum, a monumental work under the aegis of the National Manuscripts Mission has its entry on the Nalachandrodaya based on the above paper.
The goal of my second paper was a better understanding of Dingmatradarshana, one of the foremost commentaries of Abhijnana Sakuntala. A thorough scrutiny of this commentary convinced me that it's worth studying all the Keralite commentaries of Sakuntala. These papers were published in the Journal of Kerala Studies.
I had a topic for my Ph.D. thesis by this time. Prof. Iyer suggested an in-depth investigation of the works of Purnasarasvati, a commentator of great originality and scholarship. I had heard about him and his works before. Once N.V. Krishna Warrier had sounded me off about the approach of Purnasarasvati that included a didactic interpretation of works otherwise understood to have only enjoyment as their aim.
A perusal of Vidyullata, Purnasarasvati's celebrated commentary on Meghasandesa, made it clear to me that Kuttikrishna Marar's translation and notes of Meghasandesa had closely followed Purnasarasvati in authenticating the shlokas as well as in its critical appreciation. Marar never gave any credit to Purnasarasvati. Not just that, his text contained occasional belittling remarks about Purnasarasvati.
Needless to say, this aspect of Marar diminished my high regards for him. I also felt that I should write an article in Malayalam highlighting the similarities between Marar's work and that of Purnasarasvati. But critiquing someone of Marar's stature along these lines was unthinkable especially as I was just beginning my literary career. In any case I wrote an essay and showed it to Prof. Iyer. He went through that carefully and said that I should publish it soon.
On Vishnumaster's suggestion, I sent the article to Mathrubhumi, published from Calicut. Weeks passed and there was no reply from them. One of those days I was in Calicut to meet Poet Kunjunni Master with whom I was serialising Valmiki Ramayana for children for a children's monthly run by Sugathakumari.
"Heard that you have written something recently criticising Marar!", said Master soon after my reaching the Ramakrishna Ashram where he used to live.
I did not hide my surprise: "How come you know about that?"
"Your essay has become a talking point at the Mathrubhumi office. They think that the essay is great but they don't think that Mathrubhumi can publish it."
M.T. Vasudevan Nair was the chief editor of the magazine then. I went and met him. He directed me to the concerned editor who repeated what I had already heard.
Back in Trivandrum, Vishnumaster said he could get it published in Granthalokam of which he was the deputy editor. In the very next issue this one came as the main article - An acknowledgement that Marar left unsaid. Many noted literary figures of Thiruvananthapuram noticed that essay. Some of them wrote in congratulating the effort.
Thesis work did make steady progress. In the next couple of years I had enough material for six research papers which came published in the various Sanskrit/Indological journals in the subsequent years. Translations of a couple of these papers together with a few articles that I had already published in Malayalam were also got published in book form.
My enthusiasm for research of course did not go unnoticed. By mid 75, there was a Lecturership vacant in the department, and I was asked to apply for it. Soon I joined the University of Kerala as a Lecturer in Sanskrit.
Previous posts in this series: Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - I, II, III, IV, V.