“I can’t help Blossoming”:Ayyappa Paniker, the poet

Abstract: Ayyappa Paniker bilingual poet, professor and critic continues to baffle the readers by resisting a neat and easy categorisation. He was the harbinger of a new voice in Malayalam poetry and his influence in literary criticism ushered in a paradigm shift towards a radically new awareness. K. Satchidanandan in An Afterword’ to the anthology Days and Night hails Paniker as one of the pioneers of the transition of poetic sensibility — a transition that involved a realistic revolt against senile romanticism on the one side and mechanical progressivism on the other (239). To consider him merely an icon of modernist in Malayalam poetry however would be to limit the range and richness of his oeuvre. His creative and critical selves, though primarily modernist in temperament, reveal streaks of romanticism and explore post-modernist conventions. Though numerous studies on his individual works have appeared, no full-length study on Paniker has been attempted – a pointer to the writer’s varied interests, his search for perfection and his zest for experiments. The remarkably wide perception, diversity of his thematic pre-occupations and the enigmatic personae emerging from his poems make the study challenging and difficult. Paniker, the writer effaces Paniker, the man.

Keywords: Paniker poet, Malayalam poetry, modernism, romantic imagery, human consciousness, contemporary writing, social/political criticism, lyrical tone, Malayalam poetry, modernist Malayalam poet, interiorisation, power politics, humour, satire

Throughout his poetic life, Paniker has provoked, disturbed and challenged the status quo, whether in literature or criticism. This can be justified in many ways, as he satirises, if not overturns, the existing poetic practice, social behaviour and literary tendency, while marshalling the arrival of modernism in Malayalam literature. As a trend-setter in modernist Malayalam literature, he embarked on an astonishing variety of themes from an itch on man’s ankle to the tender fingers of a maid on the veena, from the king’s diarrhoea to the fascinating beauty of the twilight; and his writings encompass a variegated mindscape of experiences. Paniker’s poetry is an attempt to articulate the anxieties of people virtually dying, in an idiom far removed from the so far popular viable poetic trend. Through his instruction and promotion of writers across the continents and his constant interaction with world literature, Paniker made a profound effect on the establishment of contemporary writing, although not without controversy.

Poetry is a disturbing passion with Paniker. Literature for him is always moralistic despite its most radical forms and aesthetic concerns, and language its catalyst. To recapture the specific effect of Paniker’s passion and impact on generation of poets, we have to search for the several Panikers — the very different minimal figures who fused symbolist abstractions with the desiccated impressions of poems like ‘Beyond Death’, the Paniker who explored the mythic landscape of anarchy and deterioration in Kurukshetram, and the Paniker who struggled in ‘Hesitation’ to bring a new personal directness and intensity to the modernist lyric. It is impossible to separate the mask from reality, and the poseur from the sincere critic. To assess and understand the poet, one has to cover a great deal of material in a small amount of space as he has a large corpus to his credit a total of above 400 poems — and hence there is the need to be elliptical, turning to the reader’s familiarity with Paniker for evidence that the generalisations made here are well founded.

The first volume of his works entitled Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal (1951-69) was published only after a period of twenty-three years of his writing. Though the first volume shows the influence of Changanpuzha Krishna Pillai in themes like alienation, angst, evil, frailty and the ominous premonition of ontological issues, he reveals his own characteristic mode of writing. He attempts an interiorisation of experience, a way of seeing the being/experience not from outside but by entering into the consciousness of the being/experience. M.V. Devan in his Preface to Ayyappa Parakerude Kruthikal – Vol. 1 (1951-69) traces the several modes and techniques which Paniker resorts to in his writings viz., the frequent use of verbs, inverted syntax, topsy-turvy narrative strategies, horizontal and vertical paradigms, vakrokti, symbolic renderings of proverbs and riddles, imagery, collages, prismatic perceptions, and several others (14). The poet creates a kaleidoscope from the criss-cross of the visionary/memory pictures of his conscious and subconscious selves in many of the poems in the collection as in `Oru Surrealistinte Premaganam’ (`Love Song of a Surrealist’), `Swapnathinu Munpu’ (Before Dream’), ‘Rathri’ (`Night’), `Panineeer Poovum Chenayayum’ (‘The Rose and the Wolf’), `Mruthyupooja’ (`Hymn to Death’), `Kudumba Puranam’ (‘The Family Saga’), Kurukshetram’ and others. Perhaps a brief analysis of a few of his poems will suffice to bring out the semantic configurations and stylistic innovations.

To sample, `Kurukshetram’ (1961) with its resonances of The Waste Land and The Bhagavat Gita, gathers together varied strands of Indian modernity — the merging of the east and the west in an era of capitalism, the failure of revolutionary forces, the erosion of values, the gnawing pains of hunger, the lack of certainties in life and the disappearance of the old tribal rhythms overwhelmed by the forces of modernity. The poet poses the problem at the outset with a verse borrowed from The Bhagavat Gita: ‘Tell me, Sanjay, what my sons and the sons of Pandu did, when they gathered on the sacred field of `Kurukshetram’ eager for battle’. The poem explores several themes simultaneously viz., the anguish of the modern Arjunas in their Hamlet-like trepidations, the futility of philosophical doctrines in the context of contemporary life, the failure and rejection of moral systems, and the absurdity of existence. It appears that the poet has succeeded in capturing an immense panorama of anarchy and futility of contemporary civilisation and also in voicing the sense of guilt and terror an individual has to bear with while living in a historical moment.

`Hymn to Death’ is a powerful but heart-rending lyric on death death, the comforter. It is one of the most anthologised and unique poems in Malayalam, in that it universalises the particular and particularises the universal, and comprehends death in all its dramatic, emotional and lyrical intensity. The lines reveal him caught in the vortex of contradictions which are both real and ideal, and divided between commitment and disenchantment. The poet invites death to take away his life, anticipating the worst in life and universe:

Come, solid cold,

come down, darkness,

dull-witted infatuation for death,


Enfold me in your serpentine arms,

Breathe into my ears

your babble of love. (21-27)

The optimistic conclusion with a prayer of Rama and the poet’s hope that Sita, a metaphoric extension of his alienated self, would reincarnate at the end of Ravana’s dance of death, serve as pointers to his belief that life is not bereft of love and light, a preoccupation characteristic of him even to the last anthology Poetry at Midnight:

In all life

There is light, isn’t it?

Sometimes it comes early

Sometimes late. (‘The Sea’, 1-4)

The Family Saga’ as an epic rejects the traditional concepts of the genre in celebrating the ecologically embedded and embodied universe of the marginalised. The poet’s tracing of the history of his society with a view to discovering the universal history of the human race results in his rejection of both the past and the present. The six sections, put together, reveal a culture —the product of the union of man and milieu — encumbered by myths, legends and sagas of human sacrifice. The first two sections recreate the good old days of prosperity and fraternity:

The measuring baskets overflowed; half-filled bellies

got overfilled; the festival of harvest sang

of fullness at the new year! (50-53)

The radiance of love of the marginalised in communion with nature in the initial part gives way to the angst of separation in the third, probably an outcome of urbanisation and exploitation. The farmers struggle hard to make the soil fertile and productive. But the rural landscape becomes a remote reality more to be re-lived in memories than in actual life. However, the poet has his own consolation:

Time is spacious indeed, my love,

let us give up the weeping habit.

From what great depths emerge

even our gentlest smiles! (86-89)

Nature too has her share of grief and pain:

…Bereaved are we all, separated

for long are the earth and heaven,

melting and rolling under the heat

of a grief, caused by an old separation. (109-112)

The days, nights, rocks, seas and stars disclose a cosmic truth: ‘Birth, birth =death, the birth of death/ and death meant the death of birth’ (123-24). History is not only the history of the oppressors and the rulers but also of the oppressed and the marginalised. The poet’s contempt for the feudal systems finds its outlet in the biting sarcasm in the valediction. His optimistic self, despite the dark and the horrible, can boost the morale of the reading public: ‘but there is light/even in this darkness; dark is itself light (180-81).

What makes the poem additionally significant is that it draws our attention to the poets’ social responsibility:

Sing to the glory of man, O sing to the glory of man!

To the neighbourhood girl

whose belly is empty

he gives a full belly; sing to the glory of man, O

sing to the glory of man! (192-98)

The poet further clarifies his concept of poetry:

Tales that please must be told;

That’s what human life is for.

If the poet’s tongue matches in length

the ears of those that listen,

it will not bore; the tellers and

hearers will be of one string.(130-35)

It is curious to observe that he held this idea even to the fag end of his poetic career as exemplified in Poetry at Midnight:

Good poetry is conversation.

Sometimes only one person speaks.

Sometimes both.

That is the enduring characteristic of poetry.

(`Conversation’ 14-16)

Dream pervades the poetic universe of the first volume of Paniker’s writings. But unlike many other poets, dream for Paniker is not an escape from reality, but a way to concretise the ideal and localise the global. This is very prominent in `Kurukshetram’:

Here at the cross roads

as time lengthens, let us watch and witness

like wayfarers

this fabric of life,

so like a dream

erected by Time. (366-372)

Dream is the expression, or rather a projection of the inner urges of the body, a substitute gratification, a transport (sublimation), a visionary ideal, a displacement and condensation of the disparate experiences. The poem `Kurukshetram resounds with dream:

Let us then,

move into new frenzy

and wage an endless fight

to shape and remould

the world around

nearer to the heart’s desire. (320-325)

Dream is the royal road to self-actualisation — one’s success lies in being oneself and not by imitating others. This can be made possible by being faithful to one’s dream:

If indeed for a rare moment

we could all just human be

If only we could redeem the visions that hurtle

through our dreaming soul. (385-389).

The second volume of Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal (1969-81) comprises poems like Takalukal Rathrikal’ (Days, nights’), ‘Urvasi’ , ‘Chori’ (`Itch’), ‘Passage to America’, `Modiram’ (`Ring’), ‘Cartoon Kavithakal’ ( `Cartoon Poems’ ), `Sabarmathi’, `Sathyaseelan’, `Gandhiji Padicha Moonu Padangal’ (‘The three lessons Gandhiji learned’), to name only a few. The first poem of the volume ‘Days, nights’, in the form of a dialogue between self and soul, and heart and mind, strikes the key note of the collection. The poet looks askance at the entire thought process and pooh-poohs the subconscious in him even in the opening lines:

Mind is a vain task

and thought, a tactic.


Man’s thought, restless, goes on searching

along the high ways where dusks float

and the gutters where nights rot. (1-6)

The twilight, the moment of the union of day and night, forces the transient beauty to vanish into the darkness of the night. But the confluence of the three Moments, symbolically holding together times present, past and future, is at once a reminder of birth and death; of memory and desire. The brightness of the day gives way to the darkness of night in twilight, but night has its own consolation with the twinkling of the stars and the candle flames held against war (32-34). The poet would dance in the eternity of time:

We entered the present, we danced,

Hugging the body of still eternity,

pastless and futureless. (556-58)

Written from September 4 to November 9, the poem is spread over 21 sections, each section devoted for a day. The binary polarities of day and night serve as indicators to the contesting realities: joy/sorrow, success/failure, fame/ notoriety, honour/shame, life/death etc. Life is a conflict of opposites, and it is for man to reconcile the opposites. But the poet knows for certain:

By the time this vain task ends

life ends too.

May be, that too is a tactic. (7-9)

Bhakti or devotional love assumes complex configurations in the great tradition of Indian literature. The poem ‘Gopikadhandakam’ (‘The song of the cowherdess’) renders the travails of a bereaved lover with an epistemological intensity. It is an extended plaint of love, pain and forlorn desire for a parted lover. The poem positions the lover/beloved relationship as the microcosm of devoted/deity macrocosm; Krishna/Gopika forming the epitome of this essence. The poet reverses the conventional pattern to reveal that it is the deity who pursues his devotee and not the devotee who searches for the deity. He also dwells on the strange interlude of life to show that it is a strange conglomeration of beauty, love, bereavement, conflict, contest, pain and death. The polyphonic voices of his writings help to conceal his identity as they also give a universal dimension to his experiences. His consolation lies in knowing the eternal truths:

And this also we understand: if man did not have eyes,

what could be the loveliness of the rainbow? Listen,


if man had no mind of his own, what could be the sheen

of the eyes?

O cowherdess, without you, without your penance and


this black Krishna would be mere charcoal,

this I realise again and again. (111-116)

The poem `Mookambika’ is a hymn in praise of the goddess and the protagonist seeks the orgy of pleasure in the goddess. The joyful acceptance of this involvement elevates the experience to a transcendental dimension. His mode of textual exploration, through a discovery procedure or hermeneutical process, enables us to effect an entry into the interior of the lover’s soul, and through words, sentences and metrical lines, renders palpable the imaginative as well as the religious experience. But the poet can at once make prayers satirical of gods (50) and hymns in praise of goddess Mookambika (151).

The third volume Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal (1981-89) continues the themes of his first two volumes, though the emphasis is on his divided selves and his encounter with his different personae. The poem `Dukhamo Sakhi’ (`Sorrow, my Beloved’) infuses a personality that is alternately generous_ headstrong, sardonic and polemic, and articulates his schizophrenic self (24):

The sculptor seeks the statue in the stone

The statue in the stone seeks the sculptor

Swinging betwixt the two quests

My mind, you search your song. (1-4)

His poem ‘Writing’ resounds with the same idea: ‘We do not know ourselves./ The other self may know’ (7-8). The satirical piece ‘Raman Vanalum Ravanan Vanalum’ (Whether Rama Rules or Ravana Rules’) presents the contemporary politics of power and corruption. The subversion of the traditional song of ‘Maveli Nadu Vanidum Kalam’ (`The Reign of Maveli’) succeeds in satirising the cosy and comfortable life of the rulers resorting to means more foul than fair, and the subjects’ love for easy money and foreign goods at the expense of their traditional values and native resources (52). The poet attempts a parody of the prayer song `Deivamme Kaithozham Kelkumarakennam’ (‘O God, Hear us, We fold our hands in prayers’) where in the devotee seeks counterfeit currency, popular support, carnal pleasures, media hype and all that is scorned upon by the traditionally aristocrats (100-01).

The poem `Gothrayanam’ (`Southbound’), consisting of twelve cantos, reveals the poet’s verve to create an epic with a view to celebrate human life as also to problematise eco-critical concerns. The exiles’ awareness of the existential predicament leads them to a search for the lost paradise of Nature more or less to be located in the world of Aryavartham (Bharat). Satchidanandan in Indian Literature: Positions and Propositions observes that ‘Southbound’ is ‘… an attempt to reconstruct regional history at the level of myth’ (59). The poem underscores how the native idiom helps to foreground an eco-aesthetics of racial introspection and retrospection. The realisation that salvation lies in self-sacrifice ,and retreat to Nature serves as an antidote to their pathetic plight ‘a little love, a ,little love, / the priceless pearls that man can have’ (378-79). The poem acknowledges an ecologically conceived and conditioned nature of human existence and captures the paradoxes of living:

The loss that is enshrined in gain,

The failure implicit in success

Puts ‘me’ on par with ‘you’

Alas? the plight of man. (191-194)

The poem `Kannamma’, titled after the protagonist, provides a key to understanding the adivasi’s personal and social experiences, and the desire for the imaginary and the possible versus the actual and the real. Though the canvas is limited, Kannamma comes to life with a few strokes of the pen; and the poet’s preoccupation with the domestic and material realities underscores that home and house are central to social and psychic experiences. She carries out her domestic chores and feeds her father, brother and the guests. The fact of not mentioning the husband in the roll-call drops a hint that the baby’s father might be some guest who stayed at her house some day. The dalit woman, marginalised within her own anthropological space and gendered construct, stoically resigns herself to her plight of weeping and wailing in the darkness of the night (74-75).

Encompassing several poems like ‘Ozhivukalasamvadham: Rahudesa’ (`Holiday Whispers : the Rahu phase’), `Ozhivukalasamvadham: Vyazhadesa ‘ (`Holiday Whispers : the Jupiter phase’), `Swathantryam’ ‘Freedom’), ‘Alice’ , ‘Ketto Prahakara’ (`Do you hear me, Prabhakar’?’), ‘Pandithanmar Parayunnu’ ( ‘So Scholars Say’), Vayana’ (`Reading Habits’), ‘Pookathirikanenikavathilla’ (I can’t help blossoming’), ‘Cricket’, and ‘Enne Maranu Kazhingirikunnu Jan’ (How well have I forgotten’), the fourth volume Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal (1990-1999), appropriates the dialectic of the protagonist from within and without in which memory and desire, voice and silence, private and public coalesce to bring out the dichotomies of life. The poem ‘Holiday Whispers’ falls into two sets — the `Rahu Phase’, consisting of sixteen titled sections and the ‘Jupiter Phase’ consisting of nine sections. With the allusions of the waxing and waning of the astronomical forces of Jupiter and Rahu that make up the Hindu zodiac, Paniker recreates the pain-pricks of long-lasting grief on loss and the irresistible desire to recover the lost love. It is not a psychological or emotional connection through memory that is attempted but a physical union of their beings and bodies (I Can’t Help Blossoming 60-80).

The poem ‘I can’t help blossoming’ is a product of imagination bearing a largely metaphoric relation to the environment. In the form of a soliloquy of ‘ the tree, it articulates the helpless lot of a golden cassia that cannot but blossom in the season of Vishu casting a spell of golden yellow all around: ‘Am I not the golden cassia, and isn’t this I the season of Vishu, oh, I can’t help blossoming!’ (54-55). Blossoming is a predestined chore from which neither the tree nor the poet has any escape. His poetry is engaged with the living situations of life. The arrival of the season will stir the tree from slumber and fill its sap with new .energy and elements. The chemistry of the process covers the whole tree with flowers, and the tree discovers itself in its new found beauty: `am I not the )golden cassia, celebrating/all this splendour dancing on the sprigs? (16-17).

`Do you hear me, Prabhakar’, using the modernist techniques of parody and double meaning, attempts to convey the chaos of the present through bare minimum words. Far from being a condemnation of personal disorder, the poem is a satire on the erosion of values and commercialisation of even private lives (I Can’t Help Blossoming 44-45). ‘Retrospective effect’ satirises the craze for the new found English education. The ‘dummy’ son is the ‘Panikeresque’ portmanteau of `darling to mummy’ dressed in English code and fond of English nursery rhymes. The pungency and poignancy of the situation lies in mummy’s wish to have a white man for her dummy’s father. Uncle Pillai feels that it could be possible with a retrospective effect. The ridiculous becomes reality for the English crazy Indian (115-16).

The anthology Pathumani Pookal (Poetry at Midnight) harps on the preoccupations characteristic of the poet’s poetic canon and serves to crystallise his major concerns viz., love, nature, death, dream, memory and language. The sixty two short poems reveal his vision of reality as not only inherited from the past and reinforced by the present but also shaped and communicated through language. These poems are answers to his earlier sense of disintegration as the celebration of sexual love and physical creation swings the balance in favour of the joyful integration into the great round of nature. The poems ‘Celebration’, `On Annamalai’, `By the Riverside’, ‘As such’, ‘The Aroused’, ‘The Barber Crow’, `Kavalam’ , ‘The thithiris’, ‘The Honey and the Flower’, ‘Many Coloured Green’, ‘The Snake’, ‘The Flowers’, ‘Nature’, ‘The Peacock and the Moonlight’, , ‘The Fire-fly’, `The Beginning of the Word’, ‘The Sunrise’, and ‘The Stone’ reveal that the poet’s urge to identify with physical passion and with nature is strong, and that the intellectual qualifications are subsumed within the symbolism, resulting in a poetry at once sensually passionate and metaphysically strong. But sometimes the lyrical drive to sing of love and time is accompanied by an Awareness of the transience of time: ‘The end will be abrupt’ (`The End’ 6). The symbolism which fuses the contrary urge is archetypal, for it takes us back to the primitive mythic sense of fertility of the earth, the cycle of days, the seasons and cosmos, and of man’s participation in and integration into this round:

The wheel will rotate,

Forwards and backwards.

Impossible even for

The nine planets or constellations

To escape this rotation.

You and I, friend, live In this rotation.

All that happens is the rotation

Of the wheel. (`The Wheel’ 5-13)

While the fractured surface of many of the poems is nervously responsive to fleeting sensations, their mythological subtexts are stealthily at work converting the stuff into archetypal truths.

The poems ‘The Hospital’, ‘Yesterday I did not’, ‘Desire’, ‘The Aroused’, `Warmth’, and The Sunrise’ are organised around the conception of the Feminine in its most potent and comprehensive sense: the generative power inherent in the aspects of being. Love is primarily a unifying force, reconciling individuals with one another, integrating them into the cycles of natural world and guaranteeing continuity of all aspects of being. The beloved is

The floral fragrance of my seasoned cycle.

My mango nectar.

My autumnal harvest. (`The Aroused’ 15-17).

And he would delight in taking her to a journey to eternity. In ‘The Hospital’ he is diagnosed with love sickness, and her care and caressing subdue his fever and modulate his heart beat. The poetic piece ‘Yesterday I did not’ exploits the full ambience of dream to communicate the spiritual binding of two selves. The poem has a double perspective in which the absence implies the presence; and the presence, the absence. Since love is coeval with chaos, it maintains the harmonious balance of all aspects of existence — death and life, destruction and regeneration, and happiness and sorrow — as revealed in ‘Desire’.

The eco-critical concerns gain considerable momentum in the poems of the anthology seeking to establish the theme of the inextricable bond between man and nature. ‘Celebration’ dramatises the potential consequences of a return to nature. A sleep in the lap of nature is highly rewarding. However, the progressives may blame them fox escapism, but the poet has his own remedy, for he would rather take them also to such a milieu. ‘On Aanamalai’ can be read as a meditation on how human relations can function through links and reciprocal relations with nature. A stay on the top of the mountain will soothe their spirits and endow them with a Chaucerian kind of cheer and leisure. His anticipation of poetic autonomy is in the fact that there is no grammar over the hills and mountains. The ‘Light Breeze’ sustains the earth; ‘The Sea’ symbolises life, and the river meeting the sea signals the poet’s self merging with the cosmos; ‘The Sunrise’ represents the lover and beloved; and ‘The Thithiris’ suggests the great truths of life. ‘The Bird Tree’ reflects the values of a social system which subordinate the aesthetic or the social to utilitarian concerns; ‘The Snake’ creeping up his body to kiss him symbolises both life and death alluding to the serpentine arms in ‘Hymn to Death’; ‘The Fire-fly’, a metamorphosis of his school-day friend, reminds him of his friendless childhood, lonely teens and arrogance of bouncing youth; and ‘Water at Kannadipuzha’ satirically presents the ravage done on the rivers by men and officials. The anthology embraces a whole gamut of feelings that arise from an affinity to nature.

No poem in the anthology can be read in isolation; it spills over constantly into the other works, generating different perspectives. It can neither be sprung shut nor rendered a limited connotation. The belief that ‘Going back is out of question’ (`Holiday whispers: the Rahu phase’, 1) is reinforced in ‘You say/ Nothing that is lost can be retrieved’ (`Desire’ 5-6). ‘The Flowers’ seems to be a culmination of ‘I can’t help blossoming’, but the flowers in the Poetry at Midnight have fragrance while the golden cassia in ‘I can’t help blossoming’ is without it:

This earth likes flowers.

Not only leaf flower and petal flower,

When an entire tree stands like a single flower,

When that flower is full of nectar and fragrance,

It is difficult to find a place to cry. (38-42)

`The Flowers’ is a clarion call to bid goodbye to tears: ‘Those who like flowers `should not cry!’ (46). The fact that the poems ‘Fear of Enemy’ and ‘Writing’ examine the divided selves of the poet has already been explicated in the earlier part of the paper. The metaphor of star is prominent in ‘Kurukshetram’ ‘The Passage of the Tribe’ and ‘The Lone Star’.

Now here I am,

Beyond the horizon,

A solitary star. (`The Lone Star’ 17-19)

Paniker’s poems are unique in that the poet can hold a mirror into the inner eye to reveal the interior reality and not the external. The poems ‘Days, nights’, `Horsehorn’ and ‘The song of the cowherdess’ are typical. Impersonality is not primarily a defensive strategy or an elitist displacement of the social by abstract cultural constructs. Rather it provides the means for elaborating and intensifying the fluid intimacy that Paniker achieves by imagining poems as literal sites where complexes of feeling play against the fantasies of selfhood. His schizophrenic nature is evident in his poem ‘Fear of Enemy’ wherein he declares that he had an enemy by name Ayyappa Paniker. The alter ego implicit is the failure of the living poet to articulate himself in the genre of lyrics (Selected Poems 101).

Paniker tries to reconcile the conflicting sense of cultural identities that exists within the victim. In the poem ‘The three lessons that Gandhiji learned’, the gentleness of the cow is juxtaposed with the aggressiveness of the leopard. Gandhiji was committed to train himself and his disciples the rationale of non-violence and truth. Paniker attempts a similar task of inculcating the virtues of the cow into the leopard. However, he feels that it is bizarre and irrational to repress the natural instinct for self-preservation in a situation of brutal confrontation. Paniker’s commentary of the form of resistance that seeks to balance and contain the opposing forces of the mind and body also recognises that aggression is innate in the oppressed as in the oppressor (Selected Poems 102). The poem ‘Suicide Killer’ provoked by the Palestinian suicide bombers provides an exploration into their psyche as it also creates a space for the interpretation in the context of being subjected to an occupying power. By being deliberately silent about the context and by referring to the subject victim and the oppressive figure as ‘I’ and ‘You’, Paniker gives a universal dimension to the situation and tries to reconcile the tensions between religious communities through an exploration of the self-conflicting and self-destructive psyche of the insurgent victim. The poem `Chori’ (Itch’) is a virulent attack on the dry-as-dust scholars engaged in futile discussions. Whatever be. the philosophical disputations regarding the itch, all that the poet affirms is the pleasure of scratching an itch:

all i know is this

the pleasure of scratching an itch

all else may be illusion

this is truth eternal. (12-15)

To suit his themes, Paniker resorted to different modes of poetical narratives — satires, lyrics, chronicles, folk songs, hymns, minstrels, prose-poems, saropadesa kavithakal (moral poems) and cartoon poems. The various techniques of his writings impart a complexity to the several themes of his poems. Jayanta Mahapatra observes: ‘Paniker’s poems have helped me to see the world through implication’ (<http//www.tribuneindia.com>). Paniker’s vision of life borders on reality and his realism is woven with the deft use of words and symbols. The aggressiveness of his writing and the immediacy of his words are part of the energy and topical relevance of ideas and eagerness to render a novelty to his discourse. He is an intellectual bruiser with a rather heavy-handed line in humour and satire; and a maestro in orchestrating these elements in their subtle shades and varying degrees into the very essence of many of his poems, in addition to his exclusive ‘cartoon poems’. These elements almost always serve as correcting force or edifying influence and occasionally as a facade to the poet’s deeper angst.

His use of language varies from the figurative to the intensely literal, creating a visual reality which is appealing both to the lay reader and the erudite critic. Denying a proudly populist trust in the robustness of routine meanings. Paniker resorts to the postmodern celebration of the off-beat and dislocation of language. He believes that falsification of language is suicidal and a betrayal. His agenda is clear and his plan precise — to use a word close to the thing it means. His language always aims to emphasise, stress, underscore, intensify and condense his ideas and emotions, even if he is to revert, for effect, to the romantic style of Changanpuzha. His technique is a means of conveying an exact impression of what he means in such a way as to exhilarate and to involve the readers in the poetic process even while admitting man’s fundamental inability to express himself fully and the inadequacy of language to voice the human `selves’.

Throughout his works, Paniker seeks the poetry of essences through a set of recurrent image-patterns using what might be called his ‘phantasikon’ (image-inventing faculty). With him imagism is not only a literary style but a metaphor to slice, purify and concentrate feelings, emotions, ideas, thoughts and language in his criticism and writings. Dream, wind, fire and twilight are among the recurrent images in his works. The poem ‘Ennangale Ponangale’ (‘O My Brother, Sweet Brother’) makes use of the horizontal as well as the vertical shape of tidal metaphor. While the horizontal sweeping shape creates a landscape of waste and ruin, the vertical shape can ease the tension of the situation. `(The) image is presented in the form of ‘tears’ falling into `theyyanis’, as the inner sense of grief at the hardship of day-to-day survival silently voice itself’ (Jessica Peart, 103). His borrowing and appropriating the traditional figures and phrases reflect his absorption of the same and his zest to root his works in his native tradition.

Another site of energy for Paniker is the page: the visible form of his writing leaps about in regular and irregular lines and voices, from the regular stanzas of ‘kalavishesham’ to the irregular pattern of the poem `zha’, and his poetry, like ‘Net’ becomes an exercise in linguistic gymnastics leading to the semiotics of meanings. The poem ‘Kam’ provides a good illustration:




beheading the being

beheading the being of the banana bunch

beheading the being of the banana hunch of bodh

beheading the being of the banana bunch of cosmic bodh.

beheading the being of the banana bunch of bodh

beheading the being of the banana bunch

beheading the being




(Trans. A.S. Francis)

Another poem worth citing is `Indan’:

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 … . (1-8)

The stylistic technique of conveying the enigmatic paradox of living and the mysterious nature of experience adopts a discourse where he picks out an item from each of the several paradigms and mutually substitutes elements leading to revealing combinations of the linguistic items. The process of selection and combination, based on the principle of contiguity of the binary opposites interacting with each other, renders a rare splendour and deep significance to the writings as in ‘Days, nights’.

You are life, Sandhya

Death too you are (128-29)

You gave me life, Sandhya,

death too you gave, (244-45)

The life you gave,

and the death you gave,

both you carry away, O Sandhya! (275-77)

The ‘Nest’ illustrates the stylistic mode of framing stanzas as an acrobatic exercise of placing lines from the stanzas in different patterns:

Summer has come and gone

It’s time to build a nest

Hurry up! (1-3)

Hurry up

Summer is gone

Time to build a nest (11-13)

Time to build a nest

Hurry up

Summer is over (20-22)

Paniker has his own concept of writing as underlined in his poem ‘Hymn to Death’. It has become a common phenomenon that the poets and the poetasters can wield their pen on any casual happening and mint money or seek popularity:

When there is a war,

or be it famine,

he who lives for the people

turns it to verse,

and mints a little cash. (39-43)

He reiterates the same idea in his poem ‘So Scholars Say’:

Art galleries, monuments and memorials

went on demanding the services of the scholars.

The hardships of the people also kept growing. (62-64)

But in the last anthology, the poet puts forward his concept of poetry in philosophical terms: ‘poetry is a means to know/Not a manifestation of what is known’ (`Writing’ 9-10); and ‘the writer in him is his other self’ (17).

Paniker’s poetic explorations often took the form of caricature and parody as well as of mythic exposition and vivid rendition. To some extent, these literary modes helped Paniker handle and shape the heart of darkness he found at the core of all human social and moral experience. Rather than simply participate in the prevailing discourse of his age, he developed oppositional critical perspectives which sought spiritual insights from both eastern and western traditions. His was the goal of `interiorisation’ an aesthetic appreciation which …the reader attains [it] through creative partnership with the author’ (Interiorisation, 8). The reader/critic in Paniker interacts and intervenes with the poet in him to interweave a web of allusions and semantics of figurations. Perhaps the critic perfects the poet, and the poet challenges the critic; and hence his zest for diverse thematic strands and revealing stylistic experiments.


Devan, M.V ‘Preface’. Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal- Vol 1 (1951-69). Kottayam: D.C. Books, 1992.

Mahaptara, Jayanta. ‘Poetry Powered by Realism’. M. S. Unnikrishanan. (<http// www.tribuneindia.com/2006/spectrum/index>).

Paniker, Ayyappa- Ayyappa Panikarude Kruthikal- Vol 1 (1951-69). Kottayam: D.C. Books, 1992.

.Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal- Vol 2 (1969-81), Kottayam: D.C. Books, 1982.

. Selected Poems of Ayyapa Paniker. Trivandrum: Modern Books, 1985.

.Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal- Vol 3 (1981-89). Kottayam: D.C. Books, 1989.

.Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal- Vol 4 (1990-99). Kottayam: D.C. Books, 2000.

.Days and Nights. Trivandrum: National Educational Research Centre, 2001:

. I Can’t Help Blossoming: Selections from Ayyappa Panikerude Kruthikal (1990-’99). Kottayam: Current Books, 2002.

.Interiorisation (Antassanivesha): Essays on Literary Theory. Trans. Krishna Rayan, Trivandrum: International Centre for Kerala Studies, Univ. of Kerala, 2003.

Peart, Jessica. ‘The Ancient and the Local: The Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Ayyappa Paniker’. Journal of Literature and Aesthetics. 3.1& 2 ( Jan-Dec, 2003): 99-105.

Satchidanandan, K. Indian Literature: Positions and Propositions. New Delhi: Pencraft Internationa1,1999.

. `Ayyappa Paniker’s Poetry: Afterward’. Days and Nights, by Ayyappa Paniker. Trivandrum: National Educational Research Centre, 2001.


VINCENT NETTO. Teaches English at the Fatima Mata National College, Kollam. Has taken his Ph.D from the University of Kerala and his area of interest is Indian Literature in English. 

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Teaches English at the Fatima Mata National College, Kollam. Has taken his Ph.D from the University of Kerala and his area of interest is Indian Literature in English.

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