Keywords: romantic poetry, Malayalam poetry, Kurushetram, modernism, Malayalam translations
Ayyappa Paniker came to be counted as one of the most notable poets in. Kerala after the publication of Kurukshetram’, the first modernist poem in Malayalam. Kurukshetram’ is central in Paniker’s oeuvre and is the most hotly debated of his works. The poem challenged accepted notions of Malayalam poetry and modern life and is aeons away from the sentimental romantic poetry of the Changampuzha school. Nothing is explicit in ‘Kurukshetram’, for everything is mediated through myth and symbol. Through the poem’s proliferating associations, connections and comparisons, meaning in Bakhtin’s terminology is ‘centrifugal’ (dispersed) rather than ‘centripetal’ (centralized).
The poem has been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. In the year 2000, DC Books, the most prominent publishing house in Kerala, brought out a 300 page volume called Kurukshethram 2000 containing studies of the poem and its translations into English, Hindi, Tamil, French and Spanish. The poem that has been the subject of great critical attention is a work 4294 lines, divided into five segments.
‘Kurukshetram’ is the first poem of Paniker with a definitive thematic significance. The epigraph with which the poem begins is taken from the Bhagavad-Gita. The poet K. Satchidanandan has summed up the poem beautifully in the afterword to Days and Nights. He writes:
‘The first section of the poem introduces the ontological
anguish shared by Arjuna and Abraham alike and
inherited by the modern man in his Hamlet — like
trepidations. The second points to the futility of the
philosophical systems invalidated by the burning reality
of existence. The third contrasts the phenomena of
experience with the archetypes of the imagination and
rejects contemporary 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 filth section rejects even the
solace of mystery…’
Almost all responses to `Kurukshetram’ begin with the critics’ awareness of the looming shadow of ‘The Waste Land’, particularly as Paniker is the translator of Eliot’s poem into Malayalam.
Commenting on the `Ketrukshetram’ in his article entitled ‘Kurukshetropaghyanam’, the poet says that he took about six to seven years to write the poem. More than any other work that the poet had written, this poem had a long incubation in his workshop. The countless revisions, edition and the care the poet had lavished to sharpen and polish his words to perfection is evident in the most cursory of readings. In the article, that allows the reader the perspective of Daedalus, the poet reveals the context of the poem and talks of the places that he had lived in during these years ranging from Kottayam where he worked in C. M.S. College, his frequent trips to his sleepy village of Kavalam, to his short stint in M. G College and his longer stint in Trivandrum. He records that the very first lines that he had written is part of the first section but occurs only in the fifth stanza of the poem:
‘When the sun at break of day
sheds his gentle golden rays
on the world beneath,
with their double braid of lovely hair
and smiling faces fanned in shawls,
the little girl runs fast…
Tell me, Sanjaya, what my sons and the sons of Pandu did,
when they gathered on the sacred field of Kunikshetra eager for battle.
The Bhagavad Gita
where the horizon dips,
hurled out of the bowels of the steaming Void,
awake O star in the cerulean blue!
Quicken the flow of blood and the beat of the pulse.
O star in love with life, cast your gaze on the earth beneath,
sweep your glance on this stage
where we ply our mortal lot!
Do you not hear the mute voice of our grief?
Let drops of light fall from your eyes like tears!
caught in the labyrinth of our daily grind:
this crowded market
where we plunge and push and outsmart
to gain each our end
this is the world as we style it.
And here they come,
come to buy and come to sell;
themselves they buy and themselves they sell,
in human souls they deal!
The eyes suck and sip
the tears that spurt;
the nerves drink up the coursing blood;
and it is the bones that
eat the marrow here,
while the skin preys on the bones.
The roots turn carnivore
as they prey on the flowers
while the earth in bloom
clutches and tears at the roots.
Look, look at this earthly sphere
where we walk our wonted ways.
On the patterned floor
sanctified by ritualistic lore,
down the cool gleams of vestal lamps
trickles the voice of human grief:
Give us our happiness, oh Lord!
Give us our happiness.
These acute geometrical spike-like spires
of church and mosque and temple
that rise against the sky
toss and tear in glee
the heart of the mortals that throng this earth.
And the hordes of the devout
deftly tear the eyes out of their sockets
and fix in their stead the lenses of faith.
Across the figure of the cross
gleams the keen and angry look
of the blind fanatic, chanting the gospel.
The order of faith
issues in a sterile flood, boiling hot,
in these centres of the devout.
In the theatre that is cleaned
Life like a surgeon works.
Here the priestly order
like aproned doctors move;
and these nuns and sisters,
these youthful nurses,
trail the doctors true.
As though all wakeful sins
would be wiped off soon
at the foot of the cross,
the course of mortal life
inches along in agony:
Full of grace…
Blessed art thou among women!
When the sun at break of day
sheds his gentle golden rays
on the world beneath,
with their double braid of lovely hair
and smiling faces framed in shawls,
the little girls run fast.
Before the hour of darkness
like a drowsy river:
the girls glide along,
clad in their flowing skirts.
And here are the mothers going by
who in the strength and purity
of their passion of maternity
bring to the brooding soul
the fervour and warmth of the sun at noon.
Here like sombre clouds of darkness
that spread over the earth at midnight
hobble and stagger grey and withered crones.
Here where the passionate souls
pulsate in their bodies
and lusty youth tear past
and even death steps aside
before this onrush of the mortal stream,
why is the quiet voice of grief
continually swelling by?
Inside the church of faith,
inside the fortified wall,
in their black robes
the priestly order stand;
And like souls in torment
tremble, dwindle, and waste.
When the devouring flames of fire and, light.
erase the last traces of the dark blue clouds,
and civilization closes its eyes,
my soul wilts.
Do you who read this know it,
or don’t you?
Caught in the labyrinth of dreams fleeing
at the mercy of demented Time and Space
that play at hide-and-seek
with the burden of festering visions
trailing a bundle of fading memories
which I deftly tie up
in a fetch of crackling shroud
and dandle like a suckling babe,
and put to the deeps of slumber now;
and tongues of flame
of sullen red and amber bright
lick and wipe these corpses that lie quiet;
and out of the cradle
the ghosts of memory
like children in sleep
toss and turn
ready to wake with a start
like buried seeds sprouting in spring.
Out of the star-strewn sky
comes this backwash of music
to lull the senses to sleep.
And the tall palm trees
stretch their skeletal fingers athwart the
blue and glassy air
to plunder and pocket the blue of the skies.
Out of this watery lake
which the volcanic sun roils to its depths
spirals of steaming vapour dart and leap
and on the surface of this still-vexed lake
spread circles concentric and endless
that swell and break, into larger and larger
Like this still-vexed lake with its ever receding shore
the movements of the mind foam and fret,
resting not, ceasing never.
In the atom split
in the dynamics of nuclear fission
the design of all these multiplex spheres
that move in the naked air above.
The melody simmering in the veins
reflects the pattern of the world
arising from the clash and clasp
of Being and Becoming.
My soul too does rage like a star
caught in the grip of the nuclear dance
that drums the singing blood to a wild ecstasy.
Do you who read this know it,
Or don’t you?
Rose of my dream,
why do you wear the fevered look?
Singer of my vision,
why do you droop and wilt?
Dear soul, have you forgotten
the hopes that visited us
in the time of your ample innocence?
Do you forget, dear reader,
the grief that fills us both?
The groundlings hold the stage now
with their derisive laughter.
Have you too
gone over to their side?
When life knocks at the door,
who is this that talks
like a wily trickster
of that Which Is and Is Not
turning the vedantic wheel?
A thousand questions rear their heads,
and who, pray, can shoot them off?
The womb that breeds them
cannot still prophesy
the events yet to be.
Behold the naked air aloft!
You see the nude stars
caught in a tangle of arms and limbs,
locked in the curl and coil of a blinding lust;
and in the soft and luminous
ambience of the moonlit night
the earth sighs and the buds burst open,
the very air grows odorous.
Inside the shut and locked door,
behind the curtained window,
in the privacy of closed chambers,
the torments of dream, desire, and despair
make the soft air and the silent night
quiver like souls in pain;
and the blood-red blossoms on many a lurid stem
wet their parched lips
with the crystal drops
shaken down from their own shuffle of
stems and leaves;
a pair of stars, alien and unbeknown,
fly to each other’s arms.
Inside the convent walls
that so well serve like a fortress
and in the bosom of the family
which circumscribes like a cage,
the visions of youth
and the desires of love,
bloom and fade in succession
the dead hopes of a forgotten past.
And athwart the circumambient void
an expiring meteor hurtles to the earth beneath;
and this sphere of ours
turns on its self-driven axis.
On these skeletal crags
that dot this earth,
in mortal guise you traversed by:
why? Was it your vengeful spirit
that drove you to prey
on the life of him who ruled
the isles of Lanka?
Or, was it, like a hapless mortal,
to lose your destined spouse?
Could human intellect
pause, consider, amd mark off
this is Sugriva and that Vibhishana?
Could even Vasishta, that master of the Laws,
perpend this question, and give the answer meet?
And weighed in the balance,
after all the talk,
what was the bargain struck
what could Rama claim
as the mark of his life here on earth?
Time isn’t a lying jade, I believe,
the cunning dialectics of even the world-
wilts before the bright mockery
of a blade of grass
that a mere curl of fire and smoke
could so well destroy.
On the field of battle
crying for justice
with streaming eyes
Arjuna heard the Gita;
but that Arjuna I am not.
In this earthly sphere
in the similitude of a nest of pain
I greet the living hour.
Fearful secrets and pent-up passions,
crawl and slither
in the dungeon of the heart,
sombre and dark.
And although at the crossroads afar off
I dealt a mortal blow
to him that begot me,
and her I ravished
who nursed me as a suckling babe,
these are the strange music of my pulse
caught in the coil of
my tormented spirit.
Sage Vyasa knew the truth
and one day, while at table,
illumined the soul of Vidura of old.
Since then endless sleep has supervened,
and all the gods gone to sleep,
till myths and fables come that way
to wake them up!
Fade and begone
you, memories of cast iron,
withered dugs of a battered dame!
Shades of darkness
and shadows as well
bless this earth with darkness and light
and thus they work
the ply of day and night,
turn and turn about
like the two shutters of a door
that open and shut
and shut and open
alternately for days on end
till they both are together shut
never to open again.
By that time
our dreams too shall fade
into the folds of forgetfulness.
Like a wave of rapture,
like a single faith for this vexed world,
in that brief season of my innocence
when zero-wise I moved in light and freedom,
then indeed your eyes grew soft and warm,
and you took in hand to chart and pilot
the course ahead,
A prop for the aged,
a symbol of love for the young
a kiss for the tender lips,
all through the revolving years
your beams enlivened the world around;
this earth of ours
was, then, emparadised:
but why do these twin eyes
that had witnessed all this
now sit in the porch of oblivion and grin?
Will not the heaven we foresaw
ever come into being?
Can the banks of this world
yield a better return?
like the gleams of a broken dream,
the wrecks of a dissolving faith
mock at the living hour;
they grin and hoot at whoever mounts the dais,
and force the meeting
to a ludicrous close.
the varied visions of a heaven on earth
grow dim, and dwindle, and die;
what avails the journeying spirit
in its onward march?
What can self sustain?
Let us, then,
move into a new frenzy
and wage an endless fight
to shape and remould
the world around
nearer to the heart’s desire.
Our own hands must trace the route ahead;
our own eyes decide where the feet should go.
Unable to distinguish
that which is before
and that which is behind,
we face a thousand questions.
Plunge into the fray, shall we?
Or, be content with whatever delights
the living moment promises.
Let us not, then,
put our trust in Time that nibbles
at events which seem to flatter our vanity.
Like a mother’s wealth of affection,
this world invites us
to a thousand bonds of delight.
And death we shall court
for the sake of that passion
that taught us to love one another,
even as the spirit thrills
to the concord of sweet music,
and ecstasy shakes our life to the root.
When this game of Right and Wrong is on,
we shall enter the world of oblivion,
singing and rejoicing.
out of the white seeds of fire
hurled down by the sovereign sun
and plunged into the womb of the sea,
days are born anew;
Time that within a moment
erects this dome of desire endless,
out of every act and deed,
out of all those truths of life,
that in a vision held out for view,
both beauty and terror.
All these, sculpted
into the fabric of mortal desire,
stay still and spike the air.
Here at the crossroads
as time lengthens,
let us watch and witness
this fabric of life,
so like a dream
erected by Time.
In the uncertain course of this world
where we together rise and set,
these tents and these tombs
bed us a little while
in this fugitive sphere.
The time we spent in
is the sum of happiness
gained; this much I know;
this, after all, is all that life means.
although you be a star,
I greet in you the very seat
that holds the warmth and fervour
of my affection and love.
To me you have bequeathed
strange and visionary dreams never thought of,
made me speak a language I never learned,
granted me an heir by a grace I barely touched.
O star, you burn in the high heavens,
so my blood drip and the world awaken to life!
We throb and pulse
with the rhythm of life,
and driven to each other’s arms,
by the force of desire and love
we create anew this joy.
At the twilight time of my life
that is full like the sounding sea,
when that rhythm and that joy
make themselves felt
and the flames of a burning rapture
leap across all Time and Space,
when that hour is come,
will these varied spheres
hearken to the harmony
we have together evoked?
When I sow my thought in you,
putting the holy seed within,
the living light shall grow and ripen
to a smile through you
in the fullness of time
when we are gone.
Children of goodwill
shall once again walk this earth
and cherish visions of sweetness;
bright and new-fledged stars
shall light the heavens above,
when we and the world for us are annulled
and beneath this then different sky,
the curtain drawn on the stage of time,
be adventure of human endeavour
shall bring delights still undreamt of.
Today we know each other,
today we converge.
Under the vast, expanding skies,
out of smouldering bowels of time
in the intense heat of the earth’s interior,
the roots break their shells,
and sprout into suckling birds,
the message of my eyes
and the compassion of your rays unite,
and your love buds into blossom into fruit into seed.
At the time
when this spectral world,
all through the seven spheres,
was lost in slumber
and riven by nightmares
and lay insensate,
when, shouldering the load of human pain,
I waged the battle of the spirit at Wardha,
When, on my mission of peace, I trod the
streets of Noakhali,
what had you to say
on good and evil?
When the subtle dialectics of the intellect
breathed there a mortal
who could cook this vedic lore?
And do we have to fry it with mustard?
All that philosophy
with its varied schools of thought
is, I think,
to arrest a splintered gleam
of the primal cause, that
sustains whatever we feel and perceive.
Schools of speculation dazzle the eye;
they cannot trap the bird in the air.
The forced mating of cause and effect
which all the lessons of philosophy flaunt
is the discord that stifles
the voice of the spirit,
the vile cacophony
that tears the air
and breaks the music.
While yet we know this in our veins
in the prolonged stillness around,
who, pray, hies to the sacred Bodhi tree
for the torch that will cast the needed light?
If the soul is illumined
who has to speak
of the Mount of Calvary
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…
Translated from Malayalam by Nakulan