The poet who heartbrokenly wished Rest-in-Peace to the ‘soon-to-die Earth’ in his celebrated Bhoomikku Oru Charama Geetham (A Dirge for the Earth) is no more.

Poet, songwriter, Malayalam professor and Communist co-traveller ON Velu Kurup, who counted the Jnanpith, Padma Vibhushan and Russia’s Pushkin Award among his honours, died on Saturday, bringing to end a life that combined politics, cultural activism and teaching with humanism. He was 84.

A neo-romantic in his poetry, ONV embodied the essence of the Malayalam language and the Malayali identity of the pre-neoliberal generation. He reflected the charm and grace of Kerala’s Nature in his works and sometimes longed deeply for the lost paradise. Like other poets of his generation, such as Sugathakumari, ONV was pained by the massive environmental destruction in the name of development that started in the last quarter of the 20{+t}{+h}century. His environmental angst found expression in A Dirge for the Earth. The gloomy poem opens with these lines:

O yet-to-die Earth, I wish you eternal peace/Upon your upcoming death;

Here is the verse I have penned in advance in my heart/For your (mine, too) funeral homily.

The poem, sung from thousands of stages and set to music, has become the unofficial theme song of the environmental protection movement in Kerala.

Love songs on theatre

ON Velu Kurup was born in the coastal Chavara town in Kollam district in 1931. He was drawn to the Communist movement pretty early on and he focused on the cultural side of the Left movement. After his early poetic contributions, ONV turned to writing songs for Leftist dramas, particularly the popular plays staged by the Kerala People’s Arts Club. After an MA in Malayalam from Kerala University, ONV became a college teacher and later the head of Malayalam departments in several government colleges. Along with poetry, ONV was quite at ease with film-song writing. He won over a dozen annual best lyricist awards instituted by the State Government.

ONV was awarded the Jananpith Samman in 2007. The Centre honoured him with Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan, and the erstwhile Soviet Union with the Soviet Land Nehru Award. He recently won Russia’s Pushkin Award which was to have been presented to him by President Putin in Moscow, but for ONV’s ill health.

“I will not be alive to sprinkle your dead face with my tears,” ONV winds up his Dirge for the Earth, thus. “Hence, let me write this down: Oh, soon-to-die Earth, I wish you eternal peace upon your upcoming death.”

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