Ayyappa Paniker as Translator

Abstract: The purpose of this article is to throw light upon the extensive work done by Ayyappa Paniker in the field of Translation Studies. His work in this area, admirable and insightful in the main, is documented to the extent possible. The article has three parts besides the introduction which lists some of Paniker’s important translations. The first part discusses his stand as a literary translator as it appears from a reading of his renderings into Malayalam. The second section introduces him as a self-translator. The third and the final section deals with his articles on translating.

Keywords: Malayalam poet, Malayalam literature in translation, Malayalam poetry, theory of interiorisation, authenticity, self-translation

To translate or not to translate has rarely been the crucial question for the Malayalis. Their concern in this matter has been where or how to stop translating’,

says Paniker in his article ‘On Translating Jibanananda Das into Malayalam’. Ayyappa Paniker himself was a prolific translator. He rendered from and into English and Malayalam hundreds of poems, a few short stories and one or two dramas, besides translating into English the vast majority of his own poems.

The major collections of Paniker’s translations into Malayalam include the following.

1. Poochayun Shakespearum, DC Books, Kottayam, 1980.

2. Guillen Nicolas -Cuban Kavithakal, Sikha Publications, Guruvayoor,


3. Mayakovsky-ude Kavithakal, National Book Stall, 1988.

4. Guru NanakGuru Grantha Sahib, DC Books, Kottayam, 1989.

5. Ayyappa Panikkerude Vivarthanangal, Poorna Publications,

Kozhikode, 1990.

6. Jibanananda Dasinte Kavithakal, DC Books, Kottayam, 2000.

He also edited the Malayalam translation of the complete works of Shakespeare. The significant work Shakespeare Sampoornakritikal was brought out by DC Books in the year 2002.

Besides these translations into Malayalam, he widely translated into English. The three volumes of books on Medieval Indian Literature edited by Ayyappa Paniker and published by Kendra Sahitya Academy contain translations into English of selected medieval Indian writings. Paniker’s own English translations include the works of a galaxy of great Malayalam writers like Akkitham, G.M. Anujan, Balachandran Chullikkad, Balamani Amma, P. Bhaskaran, Chemmanam Chacko, Cherian K. Cherian, Vennikkulam Gopala Kurup, M. Govindan, Edassery, N.V.Krishna Warrier, Kumaran Asan, P. Kunjiraman Nair, Narayana Kurup, Vallathol, M.P. Narayana Pillai, Paloor M.N, Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, Kadammanitta, G Sankara Kurup, Sara Joseph, K. Satchidanandan, Savitri Rajeevan, Sugatha Kumari, C,J. Thomas, Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri and others. However, he has not made book-length translations of any writer into English. Paniker’s Malayalam renditions occupy the pride of place among his translations. One translates best into the language of one’s dreams and to Paniker. Malayalam was the language of his earns as well as poetry. Hence, the comments made in this article focus on his book-length translations into Malayalam.

The third and a very important category of Ayyappa Paniker’s translations contains the poet’s translations into English of his own Malayalam poems. The vast majority of his poems were translated into English by Paniker himself.

I. Words, words, words –

Ayyappa Paniker a Literalist Translator?

The perpetual dilemma for literary translators in all languages has always been whether to be literal or to be free; whether to preserve the physical word or intangible spirit. Paniker was out and out a literalist. If he appears a free translator at times, that’s a mere mirage — the result of slips or oversights purposeful or not, which leaves his readers perplexed and undecided.

That translation for him was an out and out literalist endeavour and that he took the utmost effort to be extremely close to the original writer are clearly stated by Paniker in his article ‘On Translating Jibanananda Das into Malayalam’. Enumerating the various difficulties encountered while making the Bengali poet Malayalam, he says- `The English translations by Chidananda Das Gupta seemed to me to be more or less free renderings. I felt that if I were to take the same freedom as he had taken with the original, my readers will not be reading Jibanananda. So I had to collect the Hindi translations and check with the original Bengali too. Instead of being faithful or close to the English translator, I thought I could be faithful to my readers by trying to the extent possible to go to the original source language itself.’ The translation of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a significant work of Ayyappa Paniker as translator, is excellent proof of the closeness he aimed at. The translation in Malayalam titled Tarisu Bhuumi, has exactly the same number of lines as the original and most of the lines claim one to one correspondence. In his article ‘On Translating Raja Rao’s The Cat and Shakespeare into Malayalam’ Ayyappa Paniker explains in detail why he left out the definite article while translating the title of the original text into Malayalam retaining only a literal translation of ‘the two nouns and the connective’. He says, `Malayalam does not have any exact equivalent for the definite article. The title is thus rendered as Puccayum Shakespearum (13): A dropped article for him was worthy of explanation.

Ayyappa Panikerude Vivarthanangal published in 1990 by Poorna Publications, Kozhikode, however, leaves the reader in the dark about the details of his originals. The book which contains more than two hundred poems of sixty— eight poets in translation does not tell us anything about the original poems. The publication details of neither the English versions which might have served as his immediate original or the original of his originals are not disclosed. In most of the cases, the nationality of the author is mentioned. So, the reader knows that he is reading Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Cuban, German and Nicaraguan writers. But no other detail about the author or his work is made available. With some authors, Paniker doesn’t mention even nationality. So Jorge Andrade, Bella Ahmadulina, Nasik Al-Malai’ka, Nizar Qabbani, Samuel Marshak and many others smile at the readers with a mischievous, mocking gleam in their eyes which says, ‘Know us through our works. That is all ye know and all ye need to know.’ The book is likely to generate two kinds of responses. It leaves the academia trained to look for specific details of books as well as translations uncomfortable. But the common reader who would read a poem or its translation just to savour poetry may happily read on as the book presents a variety of writers in simple, straightforward Malayalam.

Ayyappa Paniker’s translation of Nicolas Guillen also presents a similar situation. Besides poems, the book carries the translation of a very short play Vennakkup Kumaran or Janangal Paavakal. The names of three of its five characters in Malayalam are Vennakkup Kumaran, Srimaan Vennakkup, and Srimati Vennakkup which literally stand for Butter-cup youngster, Mister Butter-cup and Madam Butter-cup. As the name of the original play is not mentioned, the readers are left intrigued by thoughts of what the original names of the characters might have been; whether such funny names were from the original; whether these were the expansions of commonly used proper names in the source language and what the names might have been in Paniker’s immediate original which was English. But no explanation is given.

The translations of Oriya writer Sitakanta Mahapatra included in the volume Yasodayude Pattu too deserve mention. In this volume, as in most of his other translations. Ayyappa Paniker aimed at the closest possible closeness. To achieve this, the transliteration of the original is given alongside the translation. The reader gets a feel of the original Oriya poem from the transliteration on the left side while the meaning of the poem is faithfully presented on the right. However, the title of the title song of the volume, Yasodayude Pattu poses a dilemma. Paniker mentions in the footnote to the translation that the original poem is titled Aara Drus which means ‘Another Vision’. The poem speaks about Yasoda recollecting the terrible moments when her darling child Krishna opened his baby mouth and gave her a vision of all the fourteen worlds; of the past, the present and the future; of the conceivable and inconceivable. How was she to believe that it was just her darling little son? To whom could she disclose the sight and who would believe her? Such worrying thoughts and the weird sight, kept Yasoda agitated and disconsolate every single moment of her life thereafter.. She felt miserable and melancholy even when she waited upon her husband at the table, when she waited for her son Krishna to return with the cattle, in the dusky evenings. That ‘other’ sight or vision is thus the central theme of the poem. Why then did Paniker choose to call it Yasodayude Pattu? It was not a song either but only musings (Prof. Satchidanandan’s rendering of the same poem is titled Yasodayude Aatmugatham, literally `Yasoda’s Soliloquy’). Here too, the practice is unexplained.

Ayyappa Paniker as a translator was a sworn literalist who aimed at strict faithfulness. But at times, deliberately or not, he shook off and freed himself?

II. Ayyappa Paniker as Self-translator

Ayyappa Paniker was a self-translator. His translations of his own poems are so many that they deserve special attention. He is literal and faithful when the originals permit him to be so; with other poems, he tries to stick to the words but is not very successful. So there are translations that are absolutely literal and that are not-so literal. His small poem `Indan’ is representative of many of Paniker’s poems which are so simple at the surface level that they easily lend themselves to translation.

One day Uncle Indan wiped the dirt

Off his right foot with the left foot

Then off the left foot with the right foot

Then off the right foot with the left foot

Then off the left foot with the right foot

Off the right with the left

Off the left with the right Off the…

In the translation of such poems, usually each and every word is successfully replaced by its denotative equivalent in the target language. The second category of his self-translations contains poems in which he slips away from the original at times, may be because conforming or non-conforming does not make any difference to the total impact of the poem. To illustrate this, a few lines from ‘Video-death’ is given. The poem presents a letter, sent by the American brother to his sister Sara who is looking after his mother.

My dear Saro:

I have heard that our mother is serious. We were

planning to come after the soccer. But now we have

drizzling rain here. Because of this drizzle we cannot travel.

What if we catch a cold? So you do one thing. Take a

video of mother’s dying moments. You know the last breath

and the final gasps as well as Kerala style of funeral in

detail. Genuinely traditional rituals. Our friends here will

like it very much. They have already seen on video Indian

wedding, reception, honeymoon, first night, divorce,

widow burning, delivery etc. but the turn and twist of the

very last breath, the obsequies, the body wash, the fresh

drapery or what you call it, the last feed of rice, the

ceremonial rites, the making of the pyre, the breaking of

the pot etc. they are itching to see all this.

In this prose-poem, there are several minor variations between the original and the translation. Proper nouns are altered and new sentences are added but that hardly makes any difference to the total impact of the poem.

The third category is the most significant of his self-translations. It contains renditions of some of his finest Malayalam poems. In their translation, changes are present because Paniker who had admirable command over both Malayalam and English fails to find equivalents for the expressions in Malayalam. The translations fall far too short of the originals also because the translator refuses to take enough freedom to facilitate blurring of borders between text and translation; because he carries extreme literalness as an unbearably incapacitating constraint. The translation of `Gopika Dandakam’, a poem which belongs to this category is given below.

The Song of the Cowherdess

I do understand you, O cowherdess,

As the nectar of moist remembrance on my parched


I understand you, cowherdess, as a frozen song

Of prolonged separation, I seek you in the moments

Of desire when the river Kalaindi combs her tresses

And wakes up to her fullness, as the breeze that

Searches for something lost under the shade of trees

In the forests of Brindaban where roam your cows,

As a wisp of fragrance floating in the smile of the


As a pain that adorns the ripples of my past


I do understand you, cowherdess, as a loveliness

merged in that


Here, the translator limps behind the poet who soars up the heavens. at is `cowherdess’ to `Gopika’? Gopika is a name which echoes supreme love forgetful of everything but itself; ultimate womanly grace and splendour; a dancer par excellence; a lover of music who trailed miles to listen to Krishna’s flute; the symbol of selfless, sublime love — is she a mere cowherdess? The poet of `Gopika Dandakam’ and such great poems excelled Ayyappa Paniker the translator who try to be sordidly literal and faithful and hence fails to carry over the music, the reverberating echoes, the evocative language, the greatness and the glory of such poems. However, this intense disappointment may be experienced only by those who can read and enjoy the original and it is possible that a target reader may rate the translation a good enough poem. Translation is not meant for those who can read the originals. As Sujit Mukherjee says in his article ‘Translation as Testimony’, ‘No reader of a translation who can read the original should expect to be wholly satisfied with the translation’ But this frustration is also because as self-translator, Ayyappa Paniker could have taken a little more freedom and offered in the target language a poem in its own right. But is the reluctance to take freedom with the original the only reason why his self-translations fall short in appeal? Vitas Sarang in his article ‘Self-Translators’ discusses a remark Paniker made at a reading of his poems. He said that some of his poems were written in Malayalam and then almost immediately in English. Sarang says, ‘He [Paniker] spoke of this as virtually simultaneous creation in two languages. In a case such as this, one can scarcely speak of translation, as the text and the translation are more or less products of the same creative moment (35).’ Then why do the Malayalam renderings excel the English? Even though the creative experience and the person who gave expression to the experience were the same, the quality of the expression changed considerably. Perhaps an answer to this could be found in Paniker’s reply to the question put to him by Rajagopal and Ashalata in an interview. When asked why he made his English poems merely translations of Malayalam ones, Paniker said, ‘That’s an important question. It’s closely related to why I don’t write in English. That English, that creative English, I don’t have. Never tried to acquire that either.’ (366)

Translations as Tributes – Paniker’s translations were his tributes to the authors whom he passionately admired. His book-length translations of Jibanananda Das, Mayakovsky, Nicolas Guillen and Shakespeare are testimonies. Paniker greatly appreciates Jihanananda Das as one who dared to be different at a time when it was hard for any writer in Bengal to escape the powerful influence of Tagore. In the preface to the rendering of Mayakovsky’s poems, Ayyappa Paniker describes the work as ‘the translation of a notable twentieth century poet’s more notable poems’ (n.p.). Placing Mayakovsky in the tradition of Soviet literature among poets like Yedenin, Akhamatova, Zwetayeva and Pasternak, he affirms that being at once a poet, a lover and a revolutionary, Mayakovsky has a magnificent aura which cannot be claimed by any of these other poets. But the most touching tribute is made to Nicolas Guillen. The back cover of the first edition of Guillen’s translation carries the handwriting and signature of Guillen. At the beginning of the book which carried many poems in Malayalam translation from Guillen’s collection titled The Great Zoo, Ayyappa. Paniker wrote a moving note:

To Nicolas Guillen

Dear Nicola friend of twentieth century

To you I dedicate this volume.

Great is your zoo and in it.

I see the sun, moonlight and shadows.

Splendid is this zoo in which

I see my friends, comrades and enemies.

Long distances we walked

Tarrying at taverns many.

When now we sit here

In the shade of poetry

Sipping Mohito, relishing it

Again and then again,

Fire blazes out in one eye and

Motherly tears fill the other.

Suppressing fate with our thumbs

We gift to Nature our finger rings.

Neighbors dwelling apart are we,

With both hands we roll apart

The split ends of the night

To create with verse a fresh morning-

The gentle smile of a brave new day;

Singing glory to a fresh tradition,

Making people rejoice at it

(My translation)

The lines are proof of Paniker’s great appreciation and strong emotional bonding to Guillen.

Shakespeare Sampoornakritikal edited by Ayyappa Paniker carries an unusually long introduction. Though it runs only to eleven pages, it is `long’ when compared to Paniker’s other introductions most of which are only two or three pages in length. Interestingly, this introduction speaks more about Shakespeare and his works than the translation of his works into Malayalam or the editing of those translations. ‘I would request those who know English to read Shakespeare in the original’, Paniker says in the introduction (n.p). He also said that he himself preferred to read the originals in English than the Malayalam translations. The lines are Paniker’s homage to Shakespeare.

III. Ayyappa Paniker on Translating

Paniker not only translated prolifically, but also wrote many articles which critically consider the process of translating. The articles that document his thoughts on translation include

1. The Psychology of the Translator’ in Ayyappa Panikerude Lekhanangal 1980 — 1990, Kottayam, DC Books, 1990.

2. The Anxiety of Authenticity: Reflections on Literary Translation’, Indian Literature, XXXVII, 4, July — August 1994.

3. ‘Towards an Indian Theory of Literary Translation’, Translation: From Periphery to Centrestage, Tutun Mukherjee (ed), Delhi, Prestige, 1998.

4. ‘On Translating Jibanananda Das into Malayalam’ appended to Jibanananda Dasinte Kavithakal, Kottayam, DC Books, 2000.

5. Introduction to the edited volume of Shakespeare Sampoornakritikal, Kottayam, DC Books. 2002.

6. Contemporary Textual Politics : Translating a Sacred Text’, Translation, Text and Theory: The Paradigm in India edited by Rukmini Bhayya Nair, New Delhi, Sage Publications, 2002.

7. Translation as Interiorisation’, Language in India, Volume 6: 2 February 2006.

In the article titled ‘The Psychology of the Translator’, Paniker says that the psyche of one who persistently translates a particular author needs to be studied. lie suggests the possible mental affinity between a writer and such a translator. Paniker’s proposition that the translations of a prolific translator can throw light on his personality when extended to himself appears revelatory toy some extent. in the first place, though he translated effectively into English, he translated more into Malayalam. He was certainly more gifted and more at ho in Malayalam. Secondly, among the hundreds of pieces he translated from and into Malayalam and English, very few are in prose. The rare specimens Ayyappa Paniker’s prose translations include Chandramati’s short stories Bonsai and Devigramam, Sara Joseph’s story Prakasini’s Children, M.P. Naraya Pillai’s He (short stories) and two dramas —Raphy Ponjikkara’s Gold watch a C.J.Thomas’s Crime 27 of 1128. He also rendered into Malayalam Jean Toomer’s African novel The Sugarcane. Ayyappa Paniker, no doubt, was first and foremost a poet. Thirdly, Paniker translated those for whom he had fellow-feeling, writers whom he admired not only as writers but also as heroes. The chosen authors are very often poets as well as revolutionaries who lived lives dangerously and the full. They discerned the grotesqueness and the irrationality of life and chose to fight it with verse which blazes like fire. But at times, they find time to stand, stare and laugh at the limitations of human aspirations. Like their poet-translator Ayyappa Paniker, they too wield humour as a potent weapon. Some of the translated poems of these writers are so much akin to Paniker’s own poems that the readers feel puzzled at their authorship.

Paniker’s article, ‘The Anxiety of Authenticity: Reflections on Literary Translation’ begins with his funny poem which ridicules translators, who for fear of being unfaithful to the original gives up the very attempt to translate (128). His poem, translated into English by himself, reads thus —

There was an old man in Malappuram

Who wanted his wife to remain chaste.

He kept her a virgin

Till she’s taken to the grave.

Then he too followed hen

The article then proceeds to elaborate the western impact on the medieval Indian way of translating with latitude and freedom. It also discusses the globalisation of culture made possible by translation and the churning out of instant translations by the press. The article reaches ‘a kind of conclusion’ by pointing to the impossibility of having definitive translations. Paniker humorously points out that Tagore may have had the problem of the multiplicity of translations in mind when he sang in Gitanjali,

Thou hast made me endless

Such is thy pleasure (137).

‘Towards an Indian Theory of Literary Translation’ is an excellent essay which speaks about the process of translation as it existed in pre-colonial India. Not only was the anxiety of authenticity absent in those days but deviations from the source text were welcomed and encouraged. The phenomenon accounts for the existence of innumerable versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the Indian languages. The prevalence in Sanskrit of many names such as Vivartana, Paribhasha, Bhashantaram and Anuvad for translation indicates that the Indian practice tolerated a good deal of creative deviance. Anukriti (imitation), Arthakriya (enacted meaning- relevant to translation across mediums as from literature into cinema), Vyaktivivekam (repetition with difference; the differentiation of dissimilar meanings by the repetition of similar meanings) and Ullurai (inner speech or sub-textual meaning) are all concepts which explain various practices of translation as it was practiced in medieval India.

The article ‘On Translating Jibanananda Das into Malayalam’ appended Jibanananda Dasinte Kavithakal is also significant. In it, Ayyappa Paniker makes a thought-provoking exposition of the complex problems that affect the reception of translations. The Malayalam reading public, highly conversant with the poems of Tagore, especially Gitanjali, had specific ideas about Bengali writing, particularly Bengali poetry. Hence, it was hard to introduce to them Bengali writer whose poetic sensibility was in total contrast to that of Tagore. The theme, poetic style and language of utterance of the two poets differ vastly. Tagore was in harmony with the glory of light but Jibanananda was votary of night. How he carried over this writer to the Malayali audience t whom Bengali writing meant Tagorean style is discussed in detail by Ayyappa. Paniker in this article. There existed in the greater tradition of Malayalam literature, he says, a mini-tradition of Tagorean translations done by various hands which defined Bengali writing for the average Malayalai reader. Hence, to give life to Jibanananda Das in Malayalam, the translator had to design and use a more colloquial and down-to-earth idiom and gain acceptance for that idiom. Dr. Paniker, thus made space for the individual talent of his chosen writer within an existing tradition. The article emphasizes the need to evolve a new idiom and an answerable’ style for every writer who does not conform.

Shakespeare Sampoornakritikal is a momentous work of Ayyappa Paniker. In it, he takes a ‘considered stand in the form of language used. His Shakespeare speaks in contemporary Malayalam idiom though a sort of archaic Malayalam is used in many of the earlier renderings of Shakespeare. Ayyappa Paniker justifies his stand in the preface to the book and says that his intention was not only to make Malayalis read the plays as Shakespeare’s contemporaries but also to make Shakespeare come alive as their contemporary. ‘The preface also lists various factors which made translating Shakespeare effortsome. The peculiarities of English, its distinctiveness from Malayalam, the change and development of English in the last four hundred years which separate Shakespeare’s period from the present, the impact of European history and culture, the differences in the dramatic tradition, the vast implications of certain proper nouns, the variations in the ways of reception in the two languages, the absence of equivalent usages in Malayalam for the English words in the original, the differences in cultural beliefs and many other such problems. Every possible attempt was made to remain faithful and never to excel the original. But Paniker admits that in spite of all such efforts, there might be inadequacies and even mistakes. This statement cannot but stem from the realisation that ideal translation is an impossibility.

`Contemporary Textual Politics: Translating a Sacred Text’, a thought-provoking article of Paniker is included in Translation, Text and Theory: The Paradigm in India edited by Rukmini Bhayya Nair. The article begins by analysing the translational problems posed by sacred texts. The nature of any source text imposes limitations on the translation process. The sacred text, by being both literary and sacred, precipitates problems which are secular as well as religious. On the one hand, it tempts the translators to read and render it as a literary text while on the other it poses itself as a sealed document ‘the word’ of God. As such, the translator experiences a double pull — one, to read, enjoy and translate freely as one would render a literary text; the second, to move away from it in holy awe and not to tamper with it. He then explains how the translator’s anxiety to be true to the original can result in a total disregard for the target reader. This has been the case with colonial translations, especially of the Bible, where the source idiom and language was laboriously maintained to the disadvantage of the target Indian languages. Pointing to the inevitability of post-colonial translations which corrected this imbalance by giving preference to the target language, he elaborates on the exceptional case of the translation of medieval Indian sacred texts. Those translators ventured to capture the spirit rather than the letter of the original texts and these works which did not worry about linguistic exactness were received wholeheartedly by readers. Paniker says enthusiastically, `The result was that these translations came to be seen as classics in the respective languages into which they were translated’ (103) But in the present unfortunate situation translations are evaluated by ‘cold-blooded scholars who have linguistic Is to scrutinise levels of accuracy and equivalence’ (104). He adds, ‘No wonder the reading public is often put off by such inane enterprises 104.’ The article brings to focus the dilemma experienced by Paniker throughout his career as a translator. He was quite vocal in his admiration for the Indian way of translating in which linguistic exactness was overlooked though emotive response in the right measure was ensured. The practice gave importance to the rights of the target readers than to the authority of the source text. In spite of his admiration, Paniker never practised free translation. He discusses how such freedom is possible and achievable especially when the source and the target languages operate within the same broad culture. However, when the essay proceeds to explain how he translated Guru Nanak from Punjabi into Malayalam, one is touched and even intrigued by his ardent efforts for ultimate closeness. He was careful even with linguistic similarities provided by common Sanskrit words for fear they may not have exactly the same connotations. Finally, when his translation was published, had several special features. The original in Punjabi was given in Malayalam transliteration on the left. Immediately following it was the paraphrase. Along with these, on the right side was given the translation of the verse. `Translation as Interiorisation’ is Paniker’s perceptive article on translation. In it, he establishes how translation could be viewed as the attempt made by one language to interiorise a text in another language. To explain the two different ways in which translation could be practised, he quotes Krishna Rayan. ‘Running one word into another, one image into another, or one text into another can be done in either of two ways. One can be fixed upon the other – this would be upari-sannivesha. Alternatively, one can be darkly concealed inside the other, consciously or unconsciously – this would be antassannivesha. Upariseennivesha (insertion upon) is related to the principle of rendering manifest; antassannivesha is related to the principle of rendering obscure:’ Exteriorisation results in literal translation whereas interiorisation is what happens in literary translation.

What makes this article especially interesting is Paniker’s open renunciation of literal translation to the advantage of freer literary renderings. Literal translation, he says, is a kind of ‘surface to surface transfer of factual details or plain opinions.’ What is obvious in one language is expressed in another language without any obscurity. But literary translation is more complex as the text will have elements interiorised. ‘A good translation’, Ayyappa Paniker says, `is an instance of successful interiorisation’. Pointing out the examples of classical medieval texts like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, he says the reading public has accepted these texts rendered in their own ways by authors like Tulsidas, Ezhuthacchan, Krittivas and such others in spite of variations, omissions, additions and interpolations. Justifying the practice, he says — ‘To achieve full interiorisation one may have to sacrifice exterior authenticity. The inter-textual relationship is kept intact when a source text is interiorised in the target language.’ Ayyappa Paniker thus makes an emphatic shift from his hitherto held notions of strict literal faithfulness and close renderings to freer, literary translations. Not only does Paniker accept the possibility of such texts being faithful in spite of their seeming variations but he also expresses his intolerance of critics and theories which demand literal loyalty. ‘Most theories of translation, especially those spawned by linguists, who are averse to the practice of translating any work of quality, concentrate on the shell, ignoring the kernel.’

This is a major shift from the position of a staunch literalist — a position which Paniker held fast to in his practice of translation for decades. He was moving onto the consciousness that translation is much more than mere word by word replacement; that it is a complex issue hard to be contained within simplistic notions of equivalence and faithfulness. He was making a strong case to broaden the scope of translation. But unfortunately, he did not translate after the dawn of this realisation and the publication of this article.

But isn’t understanding itself an act of translation? Even death, a moving over?


Mukherjee, Sujit. ‘Translation as Testimony,’ Journal of South Asian Literature XVI. 2 (Summer-Fall 1981)

Paniker, K.Ayyappa. Mayakovskyude Kavitakal, National Book Stall. Kottayam, 1988.

—. ‘The Anxiety of Authenticity: Reflections on Literary Translation.’ Indian Literature XXX VII, 4 (July-Aug. 1994)

—. ‘On Translating Raja Rao’s The Cat and Shakespeare into Malayalam.’ Changing Traditions in India;: English Literature. Ed. P. K. Rajan, Creative Books, Delhi, 1995.

­—.`Towards an Indian Theory of Literary Translation,’ Translation: From Periphery to Centrestage, Ed. Town Mukherjee, Prestige Books, Delhi, 1998.

—.`On Translating Jibanananda Das into Malayalam,’ Jibanananda Dasinte Kavithakal. DC Books, Kottayam, 2000. Days and Nights, NERC, Trivandrum, 2001. .

—. I Can’t Help Blossoming, Current Books, Kottayam, 2002.

—.’Contemporary Textual Politics: Translating a Sacred Text.’ Translation, Text and Theory: The Paradigm in India, Ed. Rukmini Bhayya Nair, Sage, New Delhi, 2002.

—.`Translation as Interiorisation.’, Language in India VI, 2 (Feb. 2006) www.languageinindia.com/february2006/symposiumtifthroundl.html

Rajgopal & Ashalatha. `Ayyappa Paniker and Translation,’ Kerala Kavita No. 39 (2007)

Sarang, Vilas. ‘Self-Translators,’ Journal of South Asian. Literature XVI, 2 (Summer-Fall 1981)


SREEDEVI K. NAIR. Teaches English at the N.S.S. College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. Currently she is UGC Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Kerala. Recipient of post-doctoral fellowships from MHRD, ICSSR and KCHR. Has authored many books and contributed to many research journals. Has also translated many books and articles. Received the award for the best translation for the year 2004 from the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi. 

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Teaches English at the N.S.S. College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. Currently she is UGC Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Kerala. Recipient of post-doctoral fellowships from MHRD, ICSSR and KCHR. Has authored many books and contributed to many research journals. Has also translated many books and articles. Received the award for the best translation for the year 2004 from the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi.

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