Ayyappa Paniker’s Poetry:

An Afterword*

Ayyappa Paniker is one of the pioneers of that transition of poetic sensibility which began in the early fifties in almost all the Indian languages: a transition that consisted primarily in a realistic revolt against senile romanticism on one side and mechanical progressivism on the other. He has remained to this day productively alive to the variety of forms and patterns of poetry that range from short confessional fragments, hymns, lullabies and epitaphs to lông revealing sequences, dramatic monologues and classical ballets. Paniker has also been a bold innovator of metrical designs. Besides bringing back to Malayalam poetry the glamour and the music of the Sanskritic, Dravidian and folk metres, he has experimented with metrical collages, rhymeless verse with irregular rhythms and stylised as well as sinuous, forthright prose. But. he has not been swept off his feet by considerations of novelty as many other modem writers have been.

Look at his first important poem, ‘Kurukshetram’. ‘Kurukshetram’ was written during 1951-’57 and published in 1960. This is the first poem of
Ayyappa Paniker with a definitive thematic and idiomatic significance. Most of its themes had already found fragmentary expression in his earlier poems like ‘The Daughter of Snow’, ‘Beside the Fire’, ‘Before the Dream’, ‘Go, Morning, go!’ and ‘The Pilgrimage’. Its idiom too had long been in the making, as revealed by ‘A Surrealist Lovesong’, ‘On my Wall’, ‘Uncles’ or ‘The Night’. But it is in ‘Kurukshetram’ that both these are blended in harmony to produce a monologue of momentous hesitations. Here, the actual and the timeless, the phenomenon and the idea, meet eye to eye in the equivocations of a disinherited mind. The poem poses its problem in the verse of the Gita with which it begins: “Tell me, Sanjaya, what my sons and the sons of Pandu did when they gathered on the sacred field of Kurukshetra eager for battle?” This ancient question of the disenchanted blind man is to the poet the ritualistic prologue of the black mass of human agony. The first section of the poem introduces theontological anguish shared by Arjuna and Abraham alike and inherited by the alienated modern man in his Hamlet-like trepidations, The second points to the futility of philosophical systems invalidated by the burning reality of existence. The third contrasts the phenomena of experience with the archetypes of imagination and rejects conventional moral standards as stale and unrealistic. The fourth expresses a kind of metaphysical surrender to the illusion of existence of which we are mere observers; the concluding fifth section rejects even the solace of mystery; the tension-fraught lyrical ego finds its final comfort only in the assertion of the authenticity of the self-contained individual after the Yeatsian fashion—’There is no truth except in thine own heart...Dream, dream, for this is also söóth’. The poet’s fancy rolls through the cyclic time that repeats the tales of existential dread.

The poet addresses the star that seems to represent man’s cosmic longings that survive the sharpest of agonies—a symbol typical of Paniker’s’
roots in the romantic heritage:
See us,
Caught in the labyrinth of our daily grind;
It is a crowded market—this
where we plunge and push and outsmart
To gain each our end...
Here they come to buy and to sell
And what do they barter and sell
But themselves they buy and themselves they sell....
It is the bones that eat the marrow here
And the skin preys on the bones.
(Tr. T.K. Doraiswamy)

The image of the market in the last couplet expresses not merely the romantic antagonism to the Luciferean city with its frenzied crowds. It is the
realist’s revolt againt the whole brutal mirage of the capitalistic world that decomposes human consciousness in a flux of perplexed agony and degrades man to the status of an object. The pangs of dismemberment natural to the alienated mind of the poet grow acute when faced with the crisis of faith, the drowning of the ‘ceremony of innocence’. The ‘Church of faith’ becomes ‘the rock of ages’ and the priestly order wears ‘robes of utter darkness’. The melody of the star echoes in the blood of Being and Becoming. Life knocks at the door: ‘Isnesses’ and ‘Whatnesses’ are unavailing juggleries. ‘Even the cunning dialectics of a world-renowned Chanakya wilts before the bright mockery of a blade of grass.’

The poet summons the ancient images of his subconscious to the witness-box of reality. The moral earnestness of Rama renouncing his wife is called in question. No Gita can satisfy man in his living hour. Philosophy does not come to the rescue of Oedipus. The Gods are gone to sleep. Even ‘time that annihilates time’ is not worthy of our trust. We are only witnesses to the statuary erected by time in this space-time junction. Ideologies have only added discord to the vile cacophony of tears. The poet places his trust in the dreaming soul of man:

When the soul is illuminated
Who will speak of the Mount of Calvary?
If indeed for a moment rare
We would all just human be...
If indeed we could redeem the visions
That hurtle through our dreaming soul....

The poems of this period abound in natural images and symbols invoked already in ‘Kurukshetram’—Star, flower, fire. Ocean, morning, sun, wind, moon. The poet pays homage to the elements; it is as if he wishes to discover himself among them like Superveille: ‘Let me turn into an olive tree of Provence’. His phenotypal imagination sickened by the pestilence of civilization in ‘Kurukshetram’ demands expiation from these unspeaking witnesses. In ‘Agnipooja’ (Homage to Fire) he explores the mythical origins of fire which to him is the element of aspiration, the sustaining and stimulating force of existence. ‘Fire’ is associated in Paniker’s mind with that ancient fire-bringer Pururavas and his love for the heavenly dancer, Urvashi. His poem ‘Pururavas’ (i959) is a dream-work that reinterprets the mythical search of the woeful hero for Urvashi turned into a wild creeper in the valleys of Gandhamadana, under her master’s spell. Pururavas, according to Rigveda, (Mandala-I, vii-4) is the offspring of Budha and Ila. Thus his very origin symbolises the marriage of earth and heaven, prophesied already in ‘Kurukshetram’. Pururavas, in his own life, repeats the story, as his Promethean spirit seeks to re-establish the severed relationship with Heaven to regain the lost Eden through his nuptial kinship with Urvashi. Urvashi too represents divine Truth, incarnate Beauty; Pururavas is the abandoned seeker of that Truth in its veiled aspect. The poem reveals the poet’s faith in the illogical and revelatory nature of Truth. ‘Truth that came flowing to a cuckoo’s throat in an ancient twilight.’ The force that draws the lover and that which draws the planet are one—what Goethe calls die Wahlver wandschaften—
elective affinities. The unrecognised immediacy of Urvashi’s presence bring to the lover’s heart memories of childhood—his own, and of the human race. He feels like the solitary Prussian at the discovery of Zarathustra: ‘I could sing a song and will sing it although I am alone in an empty house and must sing it to mine own ears:
 Sing my mind, sing in a trance, in the bare moonlight
Sing of the brief loves of yore,
Of the longings that melted and rained away before our gaze,
Of the silvery cloud that smiled through the evening breeze
Of the larks lulled by the song of their own pulse.

The poem tapers to the bitterness of a prayer. Dawns and dusks tempt us towards the grave. So the poet wants to unwear his soiled memories:

Only to forget that which pains the sense
Only to father no more memories.
Poetry here becomes the apotheosis of solitude. The poet’s reflective self invokes uncor~ ious energies to create a living myth. The archetype of
romance—the dawn, the spring and the birth phase—is resuscitated. The poetic structure shows examples of condensation, displacement and
overdetermination, the characteristics common to dream-work and poetic work.

Another poem of this period, ‘Hei, Gagarin,’ is an exhortation to poetry to conquer the heights already measured by science:
The pioneers have hoisted their flags on the heights
Break the idols, poets, to grow god enough to bless.

The poet finds the whole cosmic pattern brimming with rich experience. The clairvoyant realisation of the possibilities of poetry throws the poet into a wild ecstasy. This turns into iconoclastic fury in the concluding lines that command the poets to transcend the limitations of space and time and liberate the universe from its dark design. The tone of the poem is deliberately lofty and the idiom Sanskritic. I~ is as if the poet rides the clouds; the throbbing rhythm of ‘Mallika’ (a Dravidian dance metre) reproduces the appui. The clarion’s echo passes from the dreaming earth to the sky redolent of the mythical dance.

In ‘Mrtyupooja’ (Hymn to Death, 1967) the poet turned singer invites death to take away his breath as the terrible anticipations of the sunless day ~pressed in ‘Kurukshetram’, ‘Death,’ ‘The Night’ and ‘I know your Face’ find their sombre fulfilment,

Hail, gentlegoer, winter’s night,
Darkness incarnate, hail!
The flush of the dusk departs,
Departs, dissolves in the flirting gossip.
Dark grow the vales of Sahya...
Come, coldness dense,
Come, darkness
Come, 0 fond love of death...
Darling of autumnal dreams, come!
 Even the sustaining star melts in the enveloping gloom of the ‘endgame', the poet returns his life ticket to God. Poetry aspiring to music is embarrassed to arrive at silence, the other limit of language. The poem ‘points to the suffering to deny the sun.’ Things break loose from words as man is overpowered by his own works and falls away from himself,

Future stares at us like a ghost
Who, pray, who will sing
The well-rhymed parables of the dawn?
Dead are the saints and the sages
Earth’s holiness is but a hollow legend.

It is criminal to ignore the social implications of the poem. It is the intense concern with life and values that drives the poet to a desire for death.

“Have I not sung tomorrow’s tunes?
Give me my due,” this is our bard of liberty.
The poet pledged to the people’s cause
Makes a dash for the spot of war and famine,
“Here is cash,” he thinks, and pens his pains,
The teacher of virtUe ëarefully laces a silken smile
Onto the hems of his well-bleached garb.
“Frail is this corporeal mould, so seek I
The joy of my spirit in thee.”
In fetters is my fear-tom heart
In fetters are my feet.

The eternal gyrations of history and evolution only sicken the poet’s heart. Myths may sprout again; the Fish may recover the Vedas, the legend
may repeat of “Man undone by a woman undone by a serpent undone by God.” The spent forces of the world may re-appear only to repeat the whole bloody history of rapine and plunder, ‘the game of cats and mice caught in the frenzy of lust.’ So th~ poet wants his life ‘to melt in the frozen veins of the world’ and his toil-worn flesh to seek its final repose, The image of the Gopi who leaves her child on the way and sells her breast-cloth with its ‘ancient milk-moist oblivion’ aptly sums up the numbness that has descended over human feelings, the estrangement within the family and the lingering memories of a forgotten world of splendour. The human beast treads the earth in the name of the Almighty. Sage Kanva has a new riddle to pose: “Why preserve the eyes since it is time for the post-historic slumber?” Someone has placed the roots of the earth in a flying saucer and hopes to sow the seeds in undiscovered planets, but he is not likely to reap the harvest. Only one Pranava wells up from the depths of the earth that took in Sita: ‘Death, Death, glory to Death, Death’. Sita represents virtue disowned and also the word, the child of the furrowed earth. Man returns to silence, his mother-tongue. However, ‘Mrtyupooja’ ends in the hopeful prayer of Rama perplexed to discover the defeated demon reborn in his heart as dancing death: ‘0, nursing Earth, retrieve my darling, your womb re-animate!” The poem receives its texture from the interweaving of Hindu and Hebrew myths effected through the music of ‘Dandaka’ (a metre of Kathakali verse.)

The alienated self turns once again to the past to seek identity in the narrowed and thus intensified tradition of the family. ‘Kudunaba Puranam’ (The Family Legend) traces the poet’s own lineage (and through it the history of the human race), pays tribute to the mighty ancestors and comes back to the present to end p in moral fury expressed in bitterly ironic tones. Like Hart Crane the poet cries out—’ Where are my kinsmen and the patriarch race?’ Paniker uses, as in ‘Mrtyupooja’, a variation of the slow-moving Dandaka and mixes the affective language of the sudden-blooded cyclothymic with the sarcasm of the disenchanted cynic, and the rustic colloquial style with the grand style reminiscent of the ancients. The design of the poem brings to mind the architecture of the old aristocratic houses of Kerala (Nalukettu and Ettukettu).

Time does not end here, darling,
Let us moan no more.
From what depths, wells up even this smile of ours!

And yet he is thrown back to his native awareness of universal grief to find the earth and the sky rolling and melting in the heat of an ancient separation:

Roll and melt and flow these garland-weaving stars
Streams, dusks, all lovers in separation.
Solid granite rocks melt in the heart of the woods,
Nights that swell up the seas well up in their spring.
They too suffer the torment.

The poet reads in the growing moon the tale of Shakuntala-the innocent infant, the passionate lover, the betrayed woman, the gratified mother, full-circled peace. The image sums up the story of man moving painfully towards peace and unity. Chitragupta, the. heavenly statistician who takes stock of birth and death, himself is dying. ‘Birth is the birth of death, and death, the death of birth.’ If this grief is universal, it is pointless to waste our life in idle tears. Our complaining habit is a mere survival from the obstinacy of childhood. The fifth canto of the poem is a mildly cynical narration of the gossips and the scandals of the poet’s native village. The poet feels sorry that all the sacrifice of the ancestors has come to this—this gossip between the moth and the caterpillar!

Who is it that sings, who is it that wails:
‘Wither, 0, wither away, you gentle Rose
Meant you were not to be bprn to this noon,
The honey of your heart is not for this sand?’
.Darkness is all; and yet
There is light in this night,
Why, this night is the light—
Brag on man, for you are on duty!

The sarcasm grows plain in the dark valediction with its echoes of the Brecht ‘Hauspostille:’

Praise ye man, praise on,
Praise the man that fails not to fill
The belly of the starving girl next door!
Liberty, equality, fraternity, co-operation—
Truth here is a miscellany,
Praise ye the man who fries the good soul in them
To serve to the gloating world,
Praise ye man, praise on!


The two American sequences-’Days, nights’(1970) and ‘Passage to America’ (1972) reveal fully the possibilities and the limitations of Paniker’s
poetry—his preoccupation with love, death and the futility of life, his aversion to politics, war and urbanity, his~ black humour, his frail passions of lust.
‘Days, nights’, the tragi-comic diary of the poet’s days in America that tries to ‘hear life happening in time’ begins with the vain dialectic of days and nights:

This mind is a vain task,
and thought, a tactic
Man’s thought seeks on tirelessly along
the highways where days float
and the gutters where nights rot.
By the time this vain task ends,
life ends too.
Maybe, that too is a tactic. (September—4)

The poet rides the legendary Chinese Dragon, that leads him on to the magic sights of earth and imagination. Poetry becomes organic as the
experience discovers its own form bringing at its service old metrical patterns .ts well as the novel rhythms of prose. The divisions of the poem are units of consciousness. Here the mind frees itself from the Kierke gaardian This/ That and establishes a synthesis of This and That in their essential validity.
The title of the poem suggests the dualism that balances on Sandhya (meaning, twilight half symbol, half-human). . The poet’s mind is like Janus its pairs of visions: life—death, flash—spirit, ,man—woman, emotion- intellect, industry—agriculture, moment—eternity, illusion—reality, happiness—selfishness, past—present, self—antiself. These dialectical pairs are expressed sometimes directly and at other times through symbols like the fly and the elephant, the Mount Meru and the river Ganga, Adam and Eve, Indian and Red Indian, war and the human race, square and circle. In the meeting of the Indian and the American Indian, the poet sees the historic union of two worlds of suffering—Two worlds, two epochs, two islands of agony, two lights, two wingless birds, two colours: they bleed in this twilight.’ (September—-5). The farmer is an alien in industrial culture: ‘I have no faith in this triumphal ecstasy. Success I loathe. I press defeat to my heart. The culture defeats the virtues I cherish. Do you know my name-‘Farmer!’ (September—7). Like Gary Snyder in his “Passage to more than India,” Paniker rediscovers Mother-Nature; he dreams of the new ‘greening.’ His conversation with the holy virgin marvels at the mystery of the human frame, not quite in the Greek spirit. In another section we hear the murmur of death:

What do greyness and old age
Whisper to each other?
‘Let’s crush this man,
Crush him to death.’ (October—4)

There are also occasions of mischievous mockery and radical irony reminiscent of his works like ‘The Ant,’ ‘Mo,’ ‘Epitaph, ‘Kishkindha’, ‘The
Tales of the Maharaja’ and ‘The Cartoon Poems.’ Look at this piece titled ‘The Fly’ that makes fun of shallow optimism: “The fly lost its power to smell and settled in the trunk of an elephant. Now I too can smell, when the elephant smells,’ the fly felt comforted. When things went on like this, an ulcer burst in the elephant’s trirnk ~nd there was foul smell everywhere. The elephant sneezed, the fly was shot out. ‘How good it was that I had lost my power to smell!’ even then the fly felt comforted.” (September—5). Another poem attacks the academic ‘Seekers of truth:’

Where is truth?
Sought the wise man
On her forehead, lips,
Breasts, navel and thighs.
Truth cannot be in one
It breaks if in twos,
Dwells, dwells truth
At the juncture of twos.

The ambiguous love of’Pururavas’ finds its tragic resolution when the poet requests his darling Sandhya to leave him for ever and to take away
with her the light she had brought into his life. In the following part, love metamorphoses into a symphony of Beethoven that freezes in the coldness of estrangement. The secret of success in life is encapsulated in an epigram: ‘Take care of the second; then you need not fear night, day, life and death.’ (October—14). The warning is then carried to the holocaust of war, the most abominable of the modern political tragedies: ‘War, if we fail to kill you, you will kill us,’ Characteristically, even when he deals with such a purely mundane issue, his verse echoes the eternal—he commands us to carry the torch of the human eyes to the Moon and Mars. (October—l6)~ In a dialogue with his own heart, the poet thanks the heart for having beat in his loyal service so long and warned him, in time, of its retirement (October—20). The poet accepts man for his master for man even in this storm keeps his head steady by the sheer force of gravity (October—-22). He admires with equal enthusiasm the illusions of the moment that keep us alive even in this our exile (October—25). The moment splits apart to reveal its content of eternity in the subsequent section. Mountains and rivers tell the poet that selfishness is the greatest sorrow. The mighty ocean endorses the message, but what can be learnt cannot be taught. In the concluding sequence the poet comes back from his stray wanderings to the real world to reassert his hopes about postenty:

Entering the present moment we caught hold of eternity
inside future and past where time stands still—and we danced.
Then I said: ‘Dear Sandhya,
In India time was a continual flow
and Meru and Ganga, both part of it.
Now the principle ofjoy has been forgotten:
evening has been split into day and night,
and the whole of happiness has been turned into lies.
The four stages of life are four thousand.
One is reduced to many.
But perhaps the Blessed ones may recover lost times.’
(November-9) (Tr. Esther Young Smith) - .

‘Passage to America’ begins with the celebration of death realised in its several nightmarish aspects—’ death in the morning death in the evening
death in the cellar death in the alley death on the highway the boy returning from the rally death in the cornfield the girl going to the grocer’s death in the death from belief and its comic relief,’ death roaring in the generation gap’ and ‘lying in history’s lap, sucking its sap.’ Then death in the poem is much more than a tele-viewing of the Vietnam deaths; it is symptomatic of the decadence that fills the fragmentary life of affluent America. The idiom here becomes genuinely modem as the poet refuses ‘to put his footsteps in the dual safety of harmony.’ He abandons the rhymes of verse for the rhythms of strident prose but refuses to abandon the struggle of life for the cold comfort of death. “It’s easy enough to’die in these circumstances, but think of the horror and the glory of having to live.
The antithetical balance of the first sequence is soon replaced by theerotic ecstasy of ‘My guitar, my sitar’, that moves with the swaying rhythm of the bodies lost in lovemaking. After the crescendo and the~hutual dissolution, the rhythm softens, falls and breaks up into syllables. The third sequence, dedicated to Snyder, presents the famous American poet reciting his poetry, ‘chewing the afternoon like his moustache’ and ‘droning on about a new civilization,’ his ‘mystic beard pointing to the seed of time’. The gravity of the recital is broken by the mischievous interference of a dog that listens to the poet, gets up and walks away ‘wagging his tail in total agreement.’ “A dog is dignified by his tail, I wish I had one.” The sequence reveals the gulf that yawns between the fanciful world of poetry and the world of irksome reality. The mysterious chanting heaves with the heaving breasts of the poet’s darling as ‘her dark green skirt exudes the smell of sweat.’ Much in the spirit of Ceasar Vallejo who wonders what is the use of reading Andre Breton while a man with a wooden leg is passing by, or Sartre who asks what is a book to a hungry child, the poet here realises the estrangement between poetry and the people and the physical and the metaphysical.

The following sequence takes up the theme of the second, the experience of which now reappears as memory that again wants to become experience as ‘twice-punctured silver belle, her sea of tranquility disturbed by high men penetrating fears yet longs for the next assault in sweet dread of periodic stress.’ This is followed by what appears like a Chinese paradox: ‘Having learnt in a short life- uriie that chalk doesn’t write on chalk, he turned to look for sunf1owers in beds of roses’. Man wanders from error to error, by the Lime he learns to correct himself, life ends too. In the next, the poet bids farewell to his love after a night-long wake. The concluding sequence has a formal perfection seldom equalled in recent Malayalam poetry. The poet derides the heartlessness of America with her capitalist culture:
I see your map
like the palm of a hand stretched out on my lap
mississippi traces your lifeline to the south 
while the great lakes draw circles
along the St. lawrence headline
but where’s your heartline?
on the mount ofjupiter
new england cocks its eyes on europe
your venus is still in heat
in the far south in florida
and the mount of moon
ie shimmers on the californication beach
but america
where has vanished your heartline?
has some test explosion
sucked it underground?
i remember river phalgun
that goes dry in summer defying our prayers
where once the buddha got enlightenment
and learnt to take the earth for a begging bowl
but here the fission and the fusion
your scientists envision
offer your palmist nothing but confusion...
... ‘its christmas again
the shape of heart neatly. pinned to a cross
that stands on hill we have set up with skill.
(Tr. by the poet)

Pankier’ s American sequences have a double significance: it is here that the protean diversity of the poet’s imagination discovers a self-sufficient
form to suit its kaleidoscopic perception. Again, it is here that the poet’s romanticism becomes strangely reconciled to the reality of the outer world thus making itself free b~ an awareness of its own limitations.
“Here life,” records the poet’s responses tc life Soviet Russia and East Europe. The sequence is made up of thirteen poems, each named after
a place he visited and dedicated to a person he met there. The poem is a celebration of the writer’s faith in the possibility of man’s progress and
perfection. There is here a new tenderness alien to the bitter American sequences. Its commitment to a humanist ideal is total and unreserved. The trenchant mockery of the ‘Passage’ gives way to a gentle humour, as when he offers ‘the double-breasted Balkans’ to hold one if she finds it hard to carry both or when he speaks of the ‘water-bottle-sky’ and ‘red-grape-sky’ and the fish of the lake “anxious to be promoted to the dinner table.” The washed clothes hung in the sun behind the open windows are enough to reassure the poet of man and his bright visions. In another piece that exults in a Whitman-like parade of proper nouns, the poet turns to history. He listens to the screams of Macedonia and brings together the anguished Abraham offering Isaac to his god and Bhagatsingh, “crowned with vines and veins.” The poet once buys a flower from a lame flower girl with “wintered legs” and “autumnal eyes” and offers it back to her. It is symbolic of “the life we consecrate with love-chants” upon our earth “crumbling down all around us in spite of the transparent net of supporting dreams.” The song of the Volga reminds him of the ‘trembling blade of lonely grass” that he once adored on the bank of an Indian lake. “Once I wrote of Gagarin the space-trotter and asked the poets to rise to his height, at least. The response has not been disappointing.” Evgeni Evtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky and Bella Akhmadulina—”So much for achievements. We should move on, move farther on. We should see all things move and tell others they do, until every man is raised to fullness like the ripe reward to the tears of mothers, like the first leaf, moist and thrilled.”

Ayyappa Paniker has been writing for five decades now. There is hardly any other poet in Malayalam who has innovated his art so consistently and introduced so large a range of forms. Looking back at his oeuvre as a whole one gets the feeling that the humourist in Paniker has overtaken the serious, often tragic, poet in him. While one can hardly discount his more serious work, it is not unlikely that he will be regarded by the posterity as a true humourist in the vein of the legendary Malayalam humourists, Tholan, Kunchan Nambiar or Sanjayan, one who occasionally lapses into serious musings on the human condition. In other words, Pankier is a poet who is not merely playful, but one who has taken his playfulness seriously and is never tired of it. It his playfulness seems excessive at times, it only means that it is his most natural element, something that comes to him spontaneously and effortlessly as anyone who has engaged him in conversation would testify. It is the humour of a man who has a love-hate relationship with the world around and has observed the world’s ways closely at times with concern and at times with detachment. When he observes the world with concern his humour turns into sarcasm, leading to bitter satire and invective. When he observes it with philosophic detachment, it turns into Falstaffian irony that reflects his distance from everything that surrounds him. Satire intends to change the world; it always involves commitment while irony comes from someone who has seen the world and has little hope of changing it. But there are times too when his human voice transcends both and rises above the ashes and ruins to celebrate life and the fire that sustains it. It is perhaps all these put together that makes him one of the most significant poets of our times and certainly the most significant innovator of Malayalam poetry in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
* This article was originally published in Chandrabhaga edited by Jayanta
Malapatra in 1981. The concluding paragraph has been newly added: K.S.



Review by Prof. G.C. Tripathi

The IGNCA feels happy to introduce a scholarly and fascinating work by Prof. K. Ayyappa Paniker titled "Indian Narratology". This book is the first attempt of this magnitude to study, the various forms of the art of narration, which emerged in the literary circles of India as well as in the sphere of oral literature. The book makes an interesting reading and highlights the awareness of the Indian story tellers in demarcating the various forms and styles of the art of narration.
India is considered by many as the cradle of the art of narration which developed into an important and independent genre of literature in ancient times. It is a well known fact that the fables of Panchtantra which have now become more or less a world heritage, were translated as far back as 5th or 6th century A.D. in Pehlavi language and from that into Syrian, Arabic, Latin, and later in the medieval Europeans languages. They have influenced the culture and moral values of many countries and have enriched their literature. Similarly, some stories from the Brhatkatha of Gunaadhya (now unfortunately lost but whose two shorter Sanskrit versions are available) have whose two shorter Sanskrit versions are available) have traveled to such distant countries as Arabia and have found an honourable place among the stories of "Thousand and One Night" (Alif Laila). The fascinating account of the travels of Sindbad is a nice example of the westwards migration of these stories and the traveller Sindbad is none else but Sindhupati of our ancient tales.

Taking the narrative literature of India as a whole into consideration and studying their exclusive features vis-a-vis the narratives produced in other cultures, the author comes to the conclusion that the main distinctive features of Indian narratology may be listed under ten heads for which he coins the following technical terms:

1. Interiorization

2. Serialization

3. Fantasization

4. Cyclicalisation

5. Allegorisation

6. Anonymisation

7. Elasticisation of time

8. Spatialisation

9. Stylisation

10. Improvisation

According to the author Interiorisation is the process by which a contrast or even a contradiction is effected between the surface features of a text and its internal essence. The deeper intent of an Indian narrative is often not visible to a shallow reader of the text. Only a few take pains to reach the core because the text has often a multiplicity of layer upon layer of signification. The cleverer the narrator, the more complex the inner fabric and the more simple the outer frame. Valmiki's Ramayana, if read and interpreted properly, reveals a different story as its core with Rama of the solar dynasty representing the light of Sun and Ravana the night-walker or the Nisachara representing the dark forces of night abducting Sita, the daugbhter of Mother Earth who is later rescued by the forces of light having received the help and assistance of semi-human beings who are connected with animal kingdom.

Serialisation implies the structure of the typical Indian narrative which has an apparently never ending series of episodes to a unified, streamlined course of events, centering around a single hero or heroine. For instance, there are hundreds of independent episodes in the Mahabharata, which provide a sort of expansiveness to the central story but are not integral to it. This episodic looseness of the Indian narrative allows for variations in tone and style in the middle of the work; even gaps are provided for, as part of the system and a long description of some beautiful object, nature or even a song could be interested to fill the gaps, when it is felt necessary. This feature also makes the Indian narrative highly adaptable. When these old Sanskrit texts were translated, rather reworked into modern Indian languages, a number of events and episodes of local or regional importance were added to them to suit the tastes of the new reading public, making them living entities whereas their literal and strict translations done in the recent past have remained cut off from the common people.

The author further stresses the importance of the element of fantasy in the narrative writings of India which has all along its history questioned the nature of reality. Since according tot he Indian view of creation, the universe proceeds from the subtle to the concrete and gets merged into the subtle again, the Indian writers have often found delight in transforming apparent reality into invisible or intangible legend or myth. Fantasisation is thus a privileged enterprise in the Indian narrative. The Vedas, the Puranas, the fairy tales and folk tales: all these are primarily perceptions of the imagination and only secondarily those of the rational mind. The highly subjective nature of the human imagination has been recognized fairly early by Indian critics and aestheticians.
Another important element of Indian narrative is Cyclicalisation, the Buddhist Jataka stories are, perhaps the best examples of this phenomenon. Belief in rebirth and also the notion that every event may repeat itself some time in future gives the Indian narrator a handy device for stringing together any number of tales in a particular narrative formula. The placement of a single story in a chain of stories is a very natural form of narrative art in India. To delineate human nature, its weaknesses, aspiration and intrigues through representatives of such types in animal world is a device which is so old in India that it can justly be surmised as the origin of such genre of tales all over the world. This is a device with which the author speaks in allegories and transposes human characteristics on animals' thought to be possessing similar traits of nature. However it is difficult to agree with the supposition of the author that this device owes its origin to the animistic or atavistic beliefs of early times and I would rather think that it is perhaps a beautiful and clever way of exposing the weaknesses of certain types of human beings without naming them. The height of such an Allegorisation is found in the text of Panchtantra, a piece of world literature now, due to its translation into all civilized languages, in which the lion, the jackal, the crow, the crab, the monkey, the hare etc. all represent a particular type of human beings. We do not perceive these animals as animals but, as soon as the imagination penetrates through the thin veil of allegorisation, we start perceiving them as human beings around us and discern them as characters with whom we come into contact daily in our lives.

A strong characteristic of Indian narratives is the anonymity of its narrator. The author of many narrative work prefers to remain anonymous and witches in some mythical figure or semi-historical personality as the original narrator or the inventor of that particular legend or tale. The vast literature of Puranas with all its disharmony and variedness of content, is ascribed to one single author named, Vyasa the expander. Gunadhya, the famous author of now lost Brhatkatha ascribes the original authorship of his work to Lord Siva, who narrated the stories first to his wife overheard by one of his Ganas, who narrated it further.

There is perhaps considerable justification for such a selfless and self-efficating attitude because the origin of a tale is often shrouded in mystery and cannot be historically determined.

This is perhaps also one of the reasons why the Indian narratives are placed in the fluidity of time and not in any given moment of history. The narrative time in Indian texts, according to the author, is more psychological in character than logical. The happenings relate to an undefined area of time whereby the emphasis from a definite dateline is shifted to an indefinite infinity opening the possibility of such an happening any time and any-where in the world. However, the authors of Indian narratives are a little more specific about the placement of their stories within certain framework of space which is obvious by the fact that the author mentions the region where certain happenings took place. K. Ayyappa Paniker points to the fact that the Jatakas usually start with the mention of Varanasi in Kashi region or the fables of Panchtantra with a mention of the city of Mahilaropya in the southern region of India. He, therefore, expresses the opinion that the Indian narrative "can be said to be a spatial one and this makes for a more free handling of the time factor". The temporal dimension, according to him, is often underplayed while the space factor gets added importance. However, this is not very convincing and I would think that in an Indian narrative the space is an unimportant as the time and the specific mention of a particular place is in no way significant to the basic intent of the story. That what happens in a fable of Panchtantra in Mahilaropya could happen in the same way and in the same manner anywhere else in the world.

Lastly, the Indian narrative shows a wonderful balance between stylization and improvisation. The narrator follows certain pre-established codes in the overall structure of his literary production yet he also puts a stamp of his personality by improvising substantially in the motives and the contents of the story. The basic frame-work and the structure is adhered to, still a lot of margin is there for personal freedom with regard to the content and individually invented style. This phenomenon is very similar to the Raga system of Indian music where the basic structure is fixed and given but still a lot of scope is where for improvised variations based on the training and the talent of the musician.

The author of this work classfies the ancient narrative literature into ten models and deals with them in one chapter each, bringing to light their salient features on the basis of the most characteristic literary representative of that model. These models are :

1 The Vedic model

2. The Purana model

3. The Itihasa model

4. The Srnkhala model

5. The Anyapadesa model

6. The Mahakavya model

7. The Buddhist model

8. The Dravidian model

9. Multiple model (The Folk/Tribal Narrative)

10. The mixed (miscellaneous) narrative model

The Vedic model is best represented by the oldest of the Samhitas, namely Rgveda. The author describes this model as 'Encrypted Narrative', where the narrative leaves much to be imagined and interpreted by the listener to the even because the whole narrative is not only symbolical but yields multiple meanings interpreted at different plains. For Purana model he takes up Srimadbhagavata as a representative text.

This model is termed as 'Saga Narrative'. These are the tales and stories regarding Gods who are divine beings no doubt, but behave often as elevated human beings. The Itihasa model, represented by Mahabharata belongs to the category of the 'Epic Narrative' which deals with the stories of ancient heroes, the glorified human beings who are sometimes the earthly incarnations of various Gods. These heroes, though endowed with divine prowess and valour, are basically human beings with a number of human weaknesses. The Srnkhala model deals with such texts as the Kathasaritsagar, which have an unending chain of stories. One character of the story narrating another story and a character in that story narrating one more stories encapsuled in it. Unless you listen to the last story attentively, you would not comprehend the significance of the previous stories and have to work your way up from the bottom to the top, till you finally understand the content and the intent of the first story. The Anyapadesa model is the commonly known fables of Panchtantra and Hitopadesa etc. where animals represent certain kinds and types of human beings whom we see all around in every society. The sixth or the Mahakavya model is best represented by the Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa which deals with almost all aspects and situations of human life and its unending vicissitudes centering round the personality of some grand and noble historical or divine figure. At the same time, it is not oblivious to the beauties of nature and tries to rope in nature to express or strengthen the emotions and internal mental set-up of the character, in question.

The Buddhist and the Jain narratives represented by Jatakas and also tales in Maharashtri Prakrta have an ultimate goal or propagating the religious ideals although the stuff of the tales has usually been drawn from the folk tales transmitted orally from pre-historic times. The author then devotes a separate chapter on the nature of 'Dravidian Narrative' and takes Cilappatikaram as well as Manimekalei (both in Tamizh) as models. These the Dravidian narratives have significantly different nature than those of Sanskrit Mahakavyas in as much as they are much more lyrical in character and have great exuberance of highly passionate and emotional feelings. They are full of songs and dances all through the text and have mostly a female character as their central figure. the multiple or the 'Tribal model' can have very 'non-classical' and even 'non-literary' nature but has a pristine beauty and is perhaps the richest and still untapped resource of the Indian narrative imagination. It is basically oral in composition as well as communication. It is creation of a community and as such highlights its collective consciousness with its special individuality. It is not institutionalized and has a free style with enormous scope for improvisation. The last or the mixed (misra) model comprises a number of miscellaneous types and varieties of narrative like e.g. the well known Sanskrit prose work Kadambari which contains elements of chain narration, cyclicalistion, elasticisation of time and space and much more, making it the most suspense-packed and interesting novel of Sanskrit; the Campus with their vigorous and terse prose interspersed with beautiful verses, the Dutakavyas the emphasis is shifted from the story to the description of nature and inner feelings of the human beings and further to the innumerable form of oral narratives with a strong regional character and their well-known improvisations.
It is basically these oral narratives which form the bedrock of regional theatre developing sometimes into such classical forms of dance drama as Koodiattam in Kerala. Oral narratives also form the basis of such literary genres as Mangalakavyas in Bengali, the Lilacharitas in Marathi, the Quissas of Punjabi and Sindhi and the Viragathakavyas of Hindi. "Indian Narratology" by K. Ayyappa Paniker is the first commendable attempt by a versatile scholar to categorize the various forms of the rich Indian narrative literature and to analyse its content and nature. The book makes fascinating reading and the interest of the reader is always kept up by the captivating subject matter presented in a very simple and readable language and in a simple and direct style. It is an indispensable book for the scholars working on any aspect of Indian narrative literature, and also for a common reader who wants to educate himself on the subject.

Coordinator, Kalakosa

Indian Narratology by K. Ayyappa Paniker, published by IGNCA in its Kalasamalochana series, Delhi 2003, pp.200 Price Rs.400/-. The work is an outcome of the project carried out by the author under the Indira Gandhi Memorial Fellowship award.

Vishu in Paris

‘Enikkavathille Pookkathirikkan, Kanikkonnayalle, Vishukkalamalle, Enikkavathille Pookkathirikkan’
(I can’t help blossoming. Am I not the golden cassia, Isn’t it the Vishu season, I can’t help blossoming).

Those lines are from the famous poem Kanikonna, or the Golden Cassia by Ayyappa Paniker. And this Vishu, he is happy and proud, because this poem has found a special place in the world of art and letters. Written in his own handwriting, the poem is on permanent display, along with other Poetry Paintings' at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Val Du Marne near Paris.

A section of the Museum, named Paul Eluard suite, has a distinctive array of exhibits, collectively called ‘Fertile Eyes’. Poems in different languages from different parts of the world, all written in the own handwriting of the poets, with splashes of color by French artists to make them works of art. Alongside each poem there is a French translation, also set against colorful art work.

The only entry from India in this exceptional display of Poetry-paintings from around the world is 'I Can’t Help Blossoming' by Ayyappa Paniker. ''It was the visit of Rene Laubies, an Artist – translator from the Museum, to my home with a large drawing sheet that paved the way for it. I was asked to write down a poem of my choice on one end of the sheet, leaving the rest for the art work,” the poet recalled. Laubies himself did the art work and translated the poem into French. But what surprised the poet was the remuneration that he received from the Museum for his poem. The Museum paid Ayyappa Paniker Rs 60,000, which he says, was the highest he had ever received for a poem.

Last week, the Museum sent him a volume containing reproductions of all the Poetry-Paintings in the Paul Eluard Suite.

(with thanks from Kerala com news)

Again On poetry-- K Satchidanandan

 This is not the time to attempt an evaluation of Ayyappa Paniker’s contribution to
literature. As a poet Paniker was the very embodiment of the spirit of Modernism in Malayalam.His‘Kurukshetram(1960) was the scream of a mind torn by the contradictions of our time.Arjuna here is not the character in Mahabharata who is assuaged and gauded into battle by the eloquence of Krishna, but the lonely, inconsolable human being who inherits the central dilemmas of his age- of hubris and of the hatred, violence, poverty, estrangement from nature and the war that it breeds. He does not trust the truths of religion or ideology any more as both have led to senseless bloodshed. He finds that the bodhi and the cross are redundant if only we will just become human and rise on our own navels. ‘Kurukshetram’ was a break-through in terms of form and structure too. The poet mixed meters, took freedoms with them , coined new expressions and created fresh, often sur-real, images like the ripe corpses waiting to wake up in cradles. The poem had also a sprinkling of black humour and irony like when the poet asks, do the world banks hold the key to truth ,or,who will cook and serve the new Veda, does it need to be fried with mustard? Kurukshetram’ fascinated
the readres of my generation who were waiting for something new, free from the cliches of romantic poetry while it angered the champions of the status quo who rejected it as unpoetic gibberish.The poet-editor of the famous Mathrubhumi Weekly returned the manuscript to the naughty youngster and it was then picked up by C. N. Sreekantan Nair, a modern playwright who at that time used to edit the weekly Desabandhu. ‘Kurukshetram’ was followed by many others , each different from the other. ‘Mrityupooja’(The Hymn to Death) ‘Kudumbapuranam’(The Family Saga), ‘Pakalukal,Rathrikal’(‘Days,Nights)‘Passage to America’, ‘Gopikadandakam’ , Ivide Jeevitam(Here , life) and ‘Gotrayanam’ are perhaps his most outstanding works. In the long poem ‘Gotrayanam’ Paniker returns to his racial roots and recreates history in the form of a journey while ‘Days, Nights’ and ‘The Passage to America’ are sequence poems that deal with the many contradictions of life in the U. S. where , at Indiana, Paniker had spent some years pursuing his postdoctoral research. ‘Kudumbapuranam’ deals, with his characteristic irony ,with the history of his own family in Kuttanad in Kerala. ‘Ivide Jeevitam’(Here, Life) is a gathering of his experiences during his tour to Russia and East Europe in a sequence of poems, one of his favourite forms, used in all his travel poems.His dark satires during the years of the Emergency in India revealed the conscientious objector in Paniker while his sarcastic poems on power and corrruption as well as his series of ‘Cartoon Poems’ and ‘The Tales of the Maharajah’ used irony as a weapon to fight evil and as a new tool to comprehend the tragi-comic human condition.He went on renewing himself all through his poetic career that resulted in the astounding formal variety of his poetry. He tried Sanskrit metres, the metre of the kathakali verse and of the tullal verse, various Dravidian metres, free verse patterns and prose of different kinds and tones. The range of his verbal resources and cultural registers was equally astounding. He liberated the art of poetry from its orthodox confines giving the posterity a range of formal possibilities and plenty of experimental space.
While editing Kerala Kavita Paniker also kept writing and translating and editing many serieof books.The four volumes of Medieval Indian Literature he edited for the Sahitya Akademi is an exemplary collection while he also edited the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a series of 1 20 world classics in Malayalam translation. He was nominating editor for Katha, Delhi and consulting editor for The Journal of South Asian Literature,Michigan ( of which two issues were entirely devoted to Malayalm writing )besides many other literary publications. Paniker also edited a series of monographs in English on the English Writers of Kerala.His books on Thakazhi Sivasankarapillai , V. K. Krishna Menon, Vallathol and Sardar K. M. Paniker, his short works like A Short History of Malayalam Literature,Indian Renaissance and Indian English Literature ,his literary articlescollected in three volumes, his books on Indian poetics, especially the one on the principle of antassannivesam that Paniker distinguishes from intertextuality- all these are monuments to his stupendous scholarship and profound grasp of the different traditions of literature and poetics. His collections of poetry in English translation, The Poems of Ayyappa paniker, Days, Nights and I can’t help Blossoming that bring together poems selected from his four volumes in Malayalam besides the last published collection, Pathumanippookkal, are a good introduction to his poetry for the non- Malayali readers.His students remember him as a committed teacher and a wonderful communicator, always abreast of the developments in world literature and literary theory. His translations of the poems of Mayakovsky , poems from Cuba, Raja Rao’s Cat and Shakespeare and Jean Toomer’s Sugar cane are great examples of translation of poetry and prose. Ayyappa Paniker was also an excellent speaker, clear-headed, cogent in his arguments, lyrical in his expressiveness and always witty and original in his insights into authors, texts and issues.He was also interested in theatre, both classical and modern and was an inspiration behind Margi, an organisation to promote kathakali and classical arts. He also encouraged New Drama in Malayalam , especially its pioneers like G. Sankara Pillai and Kavalam Narayana Paniker and was a chief force behind the Nataka Kalari- a modern theatre workshop- established by C. N. Sreekantan Nair, another major playwright.He wrote articles not only about poetry, but on fiction, theatre, cinema , acting and aesthetics too, many of which are yet to be collected.This is also true about his essays in English still lying scattered in various journals across the world. Paniker never went after awards and recognitions, yet he won most of the major Indian awards for literature, including the Sahitya Akademi Award, Bhilwara Award from the Bharatiya Bhasha parishad, Gangadhar Meher Award , Kabir Samman and Saraswati Samman, not to speak of the many poetry awards he won in Kerala.He accepted them with humility, the sole exception being the Vayalar Award, the most popular award for literature in Kerala which he refused, probably as it came to him too late.He was never tempted by power of any kind and politely refused an invitation to be the Vice Chancellor of a University in Kerala.His works have been translated into all the major languges of India besides several forein languages like French and Spanish.
Ayyappa Paniker was one of India’s best cultural ambassadors to the world outside as he knew not only the new, but the classical as well. He was all for the modern, but had deep appreciation for the tradition, especially its elements that would inspire new invention in art and literature.With his loss, India has lost a unique genius, an integrated human being equally at home and equally creative in diverse fields of art and knowledge.


 Rati Saxena

“Kurukshetram”: Through a Third Eye

Time and man are interrelated. When time subdues man, there is a chance of delusion and when man tries to hold time, time gets set to teach him a lesson. A very interesting thing in this relation- ship is that time remembers only those who can stand straight in front of it. Ayyappa Paniker’s “Kurukshetram” illustrates one of the literary approaches in this direction. When I was trying to learn about Malayalam literature. I heard about Ayyappa Paniker’s long poem “Kurukshetram,” which was considered a very complicated one especially for translation. I was told that it was impossible to translate this poem. This made me interested in the poem to read and understand it and bring it into Hindi through translation. Naturally this was a big challenge for a person like me, who had only a limited knowledge of Malayalam language. But good poems cannot be kept within the boundaries of individual languages. Language is only a medium of expression; the core of a poem cannot be kept within brackets. I tried to read this poem with the help of other people. I was careful that the people who read it for me should not know Hindi very much, as their interpretation then could misguide me. I wanted to understand this poem independently: that was why I read it line byline. Surprisingly every line of this poem had a strong identity. They are interrelated, but at> the same time they could be read separately. That is why translation and correlation between meanings have to go together. That makes the translator’s job difficult. But at the same time it gives space for understanding and reaching the heart. For a translator who is not interested in mere linguistic translation, who wants to reach the core of meaning, this poem is very significant and challenging.  

The period of composition of this poem was from 1951 to 1957. This was the time when people started realizing the taste of discontentment after freedom. The common man was not only unhappy but astounded also. Naturally seeing all these changes in society disturbed a young mind. Yes, a young village boy wrote this poem on the canvas of the whole world. It is strange, but not too strange, as poetry does not honour the boundaries of age and worldly knowledge. Another specialty of this poem is that it took almost six years to complete. At first glance it is a long period to complete a poem of about 200 lines, but when you read it seriously, every line is able to give a new direction. It is condensed in such a manner that a number of ideas are expressed in a few lines. Above all, the poem is never loose in its rhythm. Time is concentrated in the form of meaning. Kumkshetra is the batflefield of the fight between the selfishnesses of people of the same generation belonging to the same family. When a quarrel takes place between ours (Mamakah) and yours (Pandavas), then humanity retraces its course by a few steps. Poetry is an attempt to call it to move forward. “Kurukshetram” is not opening the path of sorrows but trying to search for new ways. This world is a marketplace, where everyone is selling himself and buying himself. This is the place where roots are eating branches and branches, flowers. The life-giver is becoming its eater. In this strange time a star of hope goes up in the sky. It is its dim light that helps man to see and reveal the sorrows and immoralities of society1

class="tip" align="justify">
O love star of my life!
look down, this is my world
the drama stage of men
can you hear the sorrows of men
who are dancing and singing
this world is a big market
traders come and go here
they bargain for themselves
roots are sucking flowers
the earth is swallowing corpses.

The earth is the reality and the sky is the expanse of its imagination. But both of them are interrelated. When man is unhappy, his imagination tries to find a way out. Religion is man-made thought, which could help him to remain in his humanity. But when religion takes advantage of innocent people, when temples, churches and mosques start hurting humankind in place of helping, where does the common man go? Who can help him?

Under this sky
temples, churches and mosques
knocking at the chest of man
seem to be happy while
playing with their hearts

The common man is still hoping for some miracle. Innocent girls like morning sunlight, young girls like the humming evening, moon- light women with shining cheeks, mothers like clear days—all still have faith in God. Sweet innocent girls like dawn light, girls wearing skirts like the evening still opt for religion. Now, the question arises: are religions really helping mankind, are religions still sources of peace and harmony? This poem becomes particularly relevant and significant in modem times, when the world is divided in the name of religion. All religious places seem to turn into war-houses. It is a fact that man is becoming more powerful day by day. He IN controlling nature too. When man is so powerful that even death IN scared of him, why is he himself so sad? This question rises in everyone’s mind, whether power and happiness are interrelated. If they are not, then why is man blindly trying to gain more and more power’? The poem is raising such questions before the reader: most  


Professor Krishna* Rayan

“The spell of the poetry the
remarkable competence of the
translation It actually reads
like original writing in
EnglishMuchof the
translation, by a miracle,
reproduces, as one can see easily,
the very feel of the Ma[ayalam
text-and the wit, the word play,
the load of feeling in the
original Reading the
translation has been a memorable

by Dr. Paul Love

“Reading Days anti N~q fits is
great fun- in addition to all the
other emotions aroused by this
collection I Inescapably I found
myself reading, these poems
aloud, and involuntarily rocking
to the rhythms they suggested.
Here is a different and exciting
kind of poetry reading
experience. The poems are
addictive. Let yourself go and
you’ II find the more you read
them, the harder it will be to put
them down.

John O. Perry

Kaleidoscopic Perceptions:
An Outsider's Reading of Ayyappa Paniker's
Translated Poetry

Ayyappa Panikerude Kritikal, poems written between 1969 and 1981, was the recipient of the national Sahitya Akademi award for poetry in 1984. As Days and Nights (Trivandrum: NERC, 2001), that Malayalam collection is now translated into English largely by Ayyappa Paniker himself. K. Satchidanandan's 1981 review with a newly added concluding paragraph constitutes an "Afterword" that is extensively and deeply informative about both Paniker's earlier works and some occasionally obscure themes, meanings or allusions in this 'kaleidoscopic' collection. Turned over slowly, kaleidoscopes produce successive, but largely unrelated brilliant patterns. Here a continuing skepticism marks these enormously varied poems of regret and longing, foreign adventures (European and American), political and social satire, homely and humorous satisfactions, lovely and loving dreams, hellish nightmares, metaphysical witticisms, sweet musicalities. Following the chronology here, I notice also that year by year, section by section, the poet becomes more resigned to the social and metaphysical absurdities he complains about. Over the decade of composition he becomes more and more able to accept compromise and a generalized lovingness as not merely a possible attitudinal choice but a justifiable understanding of how the world works.

Satchidanandan thinks now that 'the humourist in Paniker has overtaken the serious, often tragic, poet in him' and that posterity may well regard him 'as a true humourist in the vein of

the legendary Malayalam humourists, Tholan, Kunchan Nambiar or Sanjayan, one who occasionally lapses into serious musings on the human condition.' When he adds, 'If his playfulness seems excessive at times, it only means that it is his most natural element,' I must disagree. I see the playfulness-the puns, parodies, pastiches, witty ripostes-becoming occasionally rather manic, but usually increasing rather than weakening the ironic bite. However, Satchidanandan not only knows and has been influenced by the entire corpus ofPaniker's work, but he also translated the initial section, called "Days, Nights." This is a sequence of twenty-one poems composed in 1969-70 when Paniker was in America getting his Ph.D. from Indiana University at the height of the studentpacifist-liberal anti-Vietnam war movement, a climactic moment for me and for America. Aside from the poem for October 16 about a major anti-war demonstration, however, Paniker's comments and criticisms centre entirely on what he, alone in a strange land, felt as more basic cultural questions and personal conflicts. Possibly only symbolically or hypothetically, the protagonist-persona in this section pursues and painfully relinquishes an intimate relationship with a virginal, probably Christian, American Indian woman also studying there.

Vanish, 0 night-scented Sandhya,
disappear, just as you did
close the door, shaking off
the dust of your feet,
even your forgetfulness, hide.
The life you gave,
and the death you gave,
both you carry away, 0 Sandhya!
This is the end, this is the end,
this the final journey,
this is the end, the end.

So concludes the longest poem in this initial section, named and dated "October 10-15," which began: 'You are life, O Sanshya,/ Death you too are/ It's you who grow dark/ It's You who disappear/ It's you, it's you, 0 Sandhya!' Even with Sachi's information about Sandhya (meaning twilight, half-symbol, half-human) and his Iist of the many dualisms briefly united there, these incantatory, seemingly urgent lines and their like throughout this American section (which also kaleidoscopically includes a few poems of witty social barbs aimed East and West) do not have for me the emotional weight that the poet apparently felt and the poem intends. Nor do they gain interest by exploiting local detail of self, other and society as a Confessional poem might do. Similar repetitions of sounds, words, phrases, lines or multi-line refrains constitute throughout this varied collection one of Paniker's primary techniques for expressing philosophic conundrums and satiric ironies as well as romantic longing, elegiac despair, even domesticated or rationalized stoic acceptances. Poetry, especially modern poetry, as I have known and admired it requircs that repetitions of words, phrases or lines artfully achieve some change in meaning on each occurrence; for Paniker, embedded in an entirely different poetic tradition, repetition denotes and achieves emphasis, extends rather than diminishes the emotion.

Satchidanandan emphasizes the major fact for Malayalam readers and poets, that for fifty years Paniker has been a consistent innovator of his own art and has introduced a large range of poetic forms to Malayalam literary tradition. Though I do see its kaleidoscopic result~, this crucial modern and innovative dimension of Paniker's poetic achievement in its Malayalam and broader Indian context escapes my notice. Often fruitlessly I have to depend on just the immediate verbal context to grasp poetic meanings, and my transliterated Hindi-English dictionary is mostly useless for the occasional words left in Malayalam. Perhaps because the poettranslator himself recognized their importance, I, like Paul Love, indeed sense the rocking rhythms that underline the emotions in many of the poems. But I miss the echoes and/or transmutations of traditional verse rhythms (noted by Satchidanandan), catch only hints of dance rhythms. For me they are merely exuberantly 'rocking,' harsh and ironic, appropriately negative. In its repetitive rhythms "Poetry Theatre" mimics positively with a hint of self-reflexive irony a child-like excitement felt on the coming (to a 'typical' isolated village, no doubt) of 'a cartload of poets.' The often politically protesting, clearly socially symbolic "Cartoon Poems" (1976-7) and numerous others (e.g., some post-Emergency protests of 1980) mock by staccato sound effects-often with functionally imitative repetition-pervasive bureaucratic stupidity and totalitarian oppressions. Local rhythmic subtleties, however, occur rarely, as must be expected in translations, particularly when made by a speaker of highly stress-sensitive English who is used to speedy, non-accented rhythms in ordinary Malayalam speech. On occasion the rhythms in conjunction with a simple tale or situation can suggest to my ear a kind of ballad-like folk rhythm; some of these are indeed clearly melodious, though most often the melody is harshly biting, an angry, sobbing, or sharply sarcastic air. Quite a few are intended to be virtually 'pure' poetry, that is, in the Nineteenth century French Symbolist way of being verbal sounds almost drained of meaning. At their best, nearly empty repetitions of sounds can and do avoid tedium or tendentiousness when the thematic aims are the slightest. Would a less strict verbal translation work better than the following conclusion to a long and long-lined ambitious poem about ecology, where Nature is made the potential saviour of mankind?

Mouth gaping, nape twisted, eyes bulging,
Tongue stretched out, with unsteady steps, 
Faced with the fear that goes bellowing aloud
Around and around the end of the days,
As when the whole universe is shaken up and broken down,
Subjected to the unseen blows of torture, sobbing, Scattered in spirit, will our earth some day helplessly Roam about like a mother cow, the only treasure house we have?
Our first gift and eternal wealth, this dear treasure house we have?
The all-enduring, eternal treasure house, the very mistress of our soul?

Despite being troubled by low-functioning repetitions and rhythms, I am mostly satisfied with the idiomatic as well as the estranging effects achieved in Paniker's English translations. Yet I cannot judge them as I would other English poems. Still, Paniker's 'Counter-Romantic' skeptical tendencies set him securely apart from the kinds of emotional incomprehension from which, for me, Tagore's self-translated poetry suffers, even though, toward the end of the volume, Paniker does occasionally indulge in (or is he experimenting with?) a near-saccharine sweetness that reminds me of the Tagorean tradition. However, by not being so ambitious as Tagore to be 'thoughtful,' Paniker's 'pure' poems work well for simple effects, as when they are merely about birds and butterflies or the culturally resonant monsoon rains: 'It rained just one / The earth felt cool/An ear of corn sprouted / The earth grew rich...' ("It rained once," 1980)

Having once helped translate some quite obscure contemporary Malayalam poetry that might be termed 'surrealistic' in their stretching of sense and sensibility, of imaged and imaginary poetic meanings, I wonder about the originals for some of the obscurities here, like 'The warmth of an ideal / Overheard in childhood, as a couplet, / turned into a night / in the fort; its groans / will not be repeated; the groans gave meaning to the couplet' ("Nights"). Does the relative opacity result from this poet's knowing what he originally conceived and assuming that a straightforward English translation of the words would render it adequately? In poems like "Mookambika" or "The tirai dance on Chamundi hill" (1979), I am resigned to missing many specific cultural allusions unless guided from outside or, better, by accompanying notes such as Ramaunjan used in his translations. But it is another level of obscurity that troubles me in lines like this conclusion (perhaps alluding to the ending of Emergency and political victory as inadequately experienced on a New Delhi January day?) from "Indraprastham" (1977):

In midday cold, inside the woollen coat,
My soul writhing and wriggling, I stood burning-
The citizen, grandfather to the century.
Like a curved spear of faith on the slope
Where the cascading locks of hair chum deep pain
Or compassion, victory came at long last.
Men stand in a lengthening line, behind the washroom.
Holding Ganga water in a drinking vessel, nostalgic longing
For home in the pitiless empty eyes.
This discipline is our heritage at all times;
This eternal waiting is our duty,
By selling this immortal thirst we got a life,
This interval is for us the chant for the favourite deity
By this do we, you and I, win or lose in the end.

Doubtless this is one of the most intensely thought and felt passages in the whole volume. The poet is reaching out to his compatriots with great moral fervor. The image of the waiting men is vivid, but I can scarcely grasp the general mood, much less the other motifs and motives that produce it. Is the estrangement of verbal as well as cultural translation here too great for a reader such as I, even one wishing to be stretched culturally as well as intellectually and emotionally by this poem but frustrated by a persistently truncated experience? Paniker's poetry, as evidenced in this large volume, telescopes materials and methods of several continents to his multiple aims, so it might be thought in a globalizing world that, to supplement knowledgeable local appreciations. the work needs to be questioned from a global perspective, testing how well it crosses the boundaries it has attempted to negotiate. If that be so, Paniker's largely skeptical mood and mode of address (especially early on) is well designed to convince unacculturated readers that his humorous, ironic, sarcastic, or manic responses arise from his formally free and imaginatively open questioning of "earthly life's dilemmas of distress." ("Butterlamp") Abjuring radical cynicism from the start, Paniker's probing way forward with poetry has allowed the full range of his feelings and his doubts to find sympathetic affinities wherever they may lurk. Since he has overcome his initial dismay with this process and the world it reveals, we-wherever and whoever we are--can be grateful for these poetic labours and take heart for ourselves.




K. Govindan Kutty

If you call to congratulate him on his being chosen for this year’s Saraswati Samman, Mr. Ayyappa Paniker will ask you with an undertone of mischief: “Can I accept it?” If you tell him you had expected something of that kind for a reply from him, he would give vent to a sense of mock relief: “I’m glad I rose to your expectations.” If you ask him why he refused to be a university vice- chancellor two decades ago when the powers-that-be nearly thrust the job on him, he will lapse in to a self-winning word play: “I don’t want to be vice.” Such instant levity is not easily associated with a man his mid 70s, an English teacher for the best part of his life, striking a posture of high serious- ness, a poet who has been at work for half-a-century and more, nursing a passionate disenchantment. Someone who wins Saraswati Samman cannot be a funny man. And, Mr. Paniker inspires no fun when he seems to make fun of you or himself. He is rather serious. Such literature is rarely produced with such an outrageous backdrop of irony.
That is a new kind of aesthetic cuaclture he introduced when Malayalam poetry was playing around with love, disillusionment, mysticism and, of course, Communism. Mr. Paniker came with a new idiom for a new content with a phantasmagoric range of emotions and thoughts. The love songs he wrote in his early 20s were no songs for ritualistic recitation, their content being a lot more than, or different from love. A Surrealist Love Song reads as fresh today as it was when it was written in 1951, as fresh as a recent and widely cited poem, I Can’t But Blossom. In its totality, Mr. Paniker’s poetry captures the spirit of what Octavio Paz, in a reference to modernity called a ‘‘perpetual re—beginning and a continual return’’.
I can’t But Blossom is Mr. Panikers own way of dealing with reality, dream and its non-ful-fillment. It is a tragedy of poets that they are required to react to every annual event, every act of commemoration, dedicating a non- poem to it, Painter and art thinker M.V. Devan, who introduced and inter- preted Mr. Paniker’s first collection—who remains his best interpreterto this day—had once felt necessary to defend him for not caring to write about contemporary incidents like a battle or a birthday or.a big man’s burial. Oth- ers have berated Mr. Paniker for not being, contemporaneous in his content. for not writing to increase production or inspire people’s progressive move- ments. The fact is he has written on annual events, only that it is in his own rather mischievous way. The celebration of the new year is an old affair. When the new year breaks in Malayalam with a festival called Vishu, there is luxuriance of laburnum flowers, casting a spell of golden yellow all around.
People open the year by taking at daybreak a look at a bunch of laburnum flowers. Laburnum trees are in full bloom in the season for this ritual, they are required to be in bloom when Vishu comes. It is such a predestined chore. Something from which poor laburnum trees have no escape, provoking them to wail: “It’s Vishu time, and I’m laburnum, I can’t but blossom.’ Mr. Paniker inaugurate a new sensibility in Malayalam by presenting himself as none too pleasant a poet. In his trail-blazing long poem, ‘Kurukshetram’, in the 1960s, Paniker confessed that he was not a lucky “Arjun who had a Gita recited for his benefit.” Cunning, cant, bumptious emptiness, ritualistic rhetoric, existential agony. That was, and is, his poetry’s content. In normal people, it is apt to produce a lament, with all its lachry- mose details. In Mr. Paniker, it produces a wry sarcasm. So much so that he lapses into levity even while reinterpreting the legend of Kannaki, a popular deity of Tamil Nadu who migrated to several goddess shrines in Kerala. In The Song of The Anklet, he asks if “luck deserted her, or she luck?” and asserts every love is self-love, how do we love another, in vain?” Mr. Paniker merges his metaphor and meaning giving neither any being of its own, breaking the rule of the equi~valence between the word and the sense, reinforcing Archibald Macleish’s theory that “a poem is not to mean but to be.” This made his poetry inaccessible to readers and critics who looked for a paraphrase, possibly in half a dozen bullet points. That affected his sales. His books are out of print. Mr.Paniker would enlighten us, not because they are bought away so fast but because they are not printed. Conversely, his poetry has flowed onto the tongues of others, ordinary, unpretentious people, who would not discuss great questions of grammar or esoteric issues of aesthetics, who would simply imbibe the essence of his lines. For instance, a primary school teacher, Mr. Lonappan Nambadan, now an MP, was wont to recite Mr. Paniker’s poems often to prove a point in the course of his speech on the inexorable erosion of values in the State Assem- bly. Before the K.K. Birla Foundation chose him for Saraswati Samman, he had been chosen for another local award instituted in memory of a lyricist whose hugely popular film songs had a poetic flavour. It came to Mr. Paniker very late, perhaps as a concession. Mr. Paniker merely begged for the award committee’s permission nto to accept the honour. He knew that a writer could win double honour by rejecting an award, honour of being at once the winner and the renouncer, as Jean Paul Sartre did when he was named for the Nobel Prize. Others have rejected honours for other or similar reasons from time to time. Ms. Arundhati Roy rejected a Sahitya Akademi award because she disapproved of the Government’s ways. An award is worth more when it comes from someone with whom one doesn't agree, but ‘The God of Small Things” does not obviously think so. As for Mr. Paniker, he wanted to send round a silent message that he had no use for an award someone somewhere wanted withheld from him for long.
In the 60s, when G. Sankara Kurup was chosen for the first Jnanapith Award, a committee of Malayalam pandits had reported that there was no Malayalarn writer worthy of that hounour. The final arbiters from other lan guages were not carried away by that litany. There were some literary titans who relished running him down. One of them has long survived Sankara Kurup to flourish as a socio-political gadfly. There are also critics who do not regard Mr. Ayyappa Paniker as pretty much of a poet. One of them died last Thursday.


A.J. Thomas

K. Ayyappa Paniker, pioneering modernist poet and critic in Malayalam, who won this year’s Saraswathi Samman, Single-handedly revolutionised the Malayalam poetry scene way back in the late 1 950s. Known as the ‘Parallel Jnanapith Award’ (anyone who wins it will not be considered for the Jnanapith), it carries the biggest purse- Rs. 5 lakhs. Beginning with his first important long poem ‘Kuruskhetram’ written over a seven-year period from 1951 to 1957, and published in 1960, Paniker introduced into Malayalam poetry the kind of reality broken into smithereens at the impact of the inevitable in history. As he went along, he became aware of the necessity to evolve suitable forms to contain such radically char~ged content, and began his relentless experimentation with form. By the early 1 970s, he pioneered what is known as the ‘post-modern’ in Malayalam poetry, setting free the minds of successive generations of poets from the slavish compulsion to indulge in metrical versification, confined to a few Sanskrit metres.

His own Style

He kept on changing the mode of his poetic utterance, without even once falling into the stereotype of any of the literary movements. Without using strong verbal expressions and sensuous images, the poet employed a naturally flowing syntax and words loaded with suggestiveness. Remembers leading Malayalam poet K. Satchidanandan: “His role in involv ing all of us in new experiments without our ever being aware of it-by getting us to do translations of western models, like he did with a poet like
 Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, who rendered Octavio Paz’s ‘Sunstone’ into
Malayalam, and leading from the front with new models of poetry—has be- come history, with even the latest Malayalam poet owing to him a debt in some measure. The sense of freedom he imbued in us was unprecedented. Paniker has a poetic career spanning over a half-century from the early 50 of the last century to the present. His pioneering innovations in form consisted also in bringing back to Malayalam poetry the vibrant Dravidian and folk metres, as well as the an- cient, grand Sanskritic metres which were hitherto rarely used. He also experimented with different existing forms like the confessional mode, hymns, lullabies, dramatic monologues and classical ballets.’ Mean ing took precedence over mellifluous voice; metonymy and paradox over- took alliteration and assonance. With an amazing range from outright romantic lyricism, gentle irony and satire, to biting sarcasm, dark humour and shocking cynicism, Paniker’s oeuvre is rich in variety of form and content, marking the poet’s journey through one of the most eventful epochs of the history of Kerala’s society.
Pan iker, who is also noted as a critic, and as an internationally known academic in English Literature, was born on September 12, 1930, in Kaavaalam, a small town situated amongst the idyllic backwaters of Kuttanaad (now become world-famous by entering prominently on the tourist map), Alappuzha district in Kerala. He took MA degree from the Kerala University and MA and PhD from Indiana University, US and also did research work in Yale and Harvard. Having taught English Literature for 40 years in Kerala University, he retired as head, Institute of English, and Dean, Faculty of Arts. He has pub lished four volumes of collected poetry (Ayyappa Panikerude Kritikal, Vols. I IV) in Malayalam. His collections of poems in English translation are: I Can’t Help Blossoming (2003), Days and Nights (2000), Gotrayanam (1990) Selected Poems (1985) and Kurukshetram (1960).

Many hats

He has several collections of critical essays in Malayalam and English. And has been chief editor of Medieval Indian Literature: An Anthology (in English translation) and Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Revised edition) of the Sahitya Akademi and of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (in Malayalam translation). Recipient also of Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and Sahitya Akademi Award for his criticism and poetry, Paniker has been honoured with several other awards, and honours like the Padmasree.


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