Abstract: A creative writer who attempts to analyse literature often gains insights which an ordinary critic may not obtain. The uniqueness of Ayyappa Paniker can be understood when his genius, as a writer who dared to inaugurate new techniques and styles of writing and as a critic who re-conceptualised creative and critical sensibilities, is viewed in a new light. This study looks into the essays and interviews of Ayyappa Paniker and examines his contributions as a creative intellectual. According to Paniker, an intellectual is one who gives food for thought to humanity that is starved for ideas. A creative writer as intellectual is endowed with a sixth sense for new ideas. He also has the courage to give voice to his thoughts that can tear open the cells of narrow views in which human consciousness is imprisoned. An intellectual accomplishes the task of enrichment of culture and liberation of thought.
Keyowrds: Malayalam poetry, new poetic sensibility, art forms, literary movement, Malayalam literature, cultural integration, human consciousness, philosophy of life, post-modernism, re-conceptualised creativity
Ayyappa Paniker tried to keep himself free from the restrictive systems of conventional concepts. Through creative writing and criticism, he wanted to challenge time-honoured ideas regarding the author and literature. Paniker’s wide reading, travelling and close associations with famous intellectuals who were his contemporaries, proved invaluable in shaping his critical genius. His writing is characterised by keen observation, scholarly outlook and sensitivity to the nuances of language. Integrity is a key concept in Paniker’s critical scheme and his notion of the intellectual. Integrity implies honesty of feelings and expression. It contains the idea of integrating multiple views and perspectives in the reading of works and conceives criticism as a catalyst in the process of cultural integration.
Paniker’s perceptive enquiries into poetry, fiction and drama of different ages and languages and his views on the function of criticism and role of the critic are of great import. The three volumes of his collected essays show that Paniker had a studious interest in ancient Indian myths and folklore. At the same time, he kept his mind open to the riches of world literature. He appreciated Malayalam literature of different eras and genres and works in other regional languages of India. His willingness to acknowledge new trends and movements in literature cannot be overlooked. Ayyappa Paniker made familiar many writers from abroad to Malayali readers through the critical analysis of their works and interviews with them. More importantly he introduced writers of Malayalam to readers all over the world through translations and studies of their works. He will be most remembered for making the medium of criticism a channel for cultural transaction and intellectual exchange to facilitate the liberation of human thought from its narrow confines.
Paniker’s sensitivity to contemporary issues of social and cultural relevance is obvious. He asserts the intellectual’s right to intervene in human experiences through the process of writing. Writing becomes a variety of social activism. This intervention is not a simple aesthetic exercise, nor is it done solely out of a sense of social obligation. Paniker believes that any work of art should have timeless relevance. A great work acts as a bridge between human minds and cultures. Timelessness implies that a work has a historical value besides it being pertinent in the present and the future.
A candid and truthful intellectual is capable of producing works that have timeless importance. Paniker insists that a great work of art is not like an exhibit in a museum. A great work transcends the limits of time and space. He gives the example of Christ’s parables, asserting that these stories are not only the past, but also of the present and future. Great works of art are forever important everywhere. When it comes to literature, only a writer who has the honesty to maintain the harmony of words and deeds can create such ever-relevant works. A writer needs to be sincere to his feelings and should have the daring to express the truth as he finds it. In the interview, ‘Everyone Wishes ‘I’ should the Chief-Minister’, as a response to Akbar Kakkattil’s question regarding Paniker’s contemptuous attitude to the works that deal fleetingly with contemporary issues, he replied:
When we study the matters of contemporary relevance
deeply and intensely, they become of timeless relevance.
Otherwise these matters have only a short-lived
significance. What most of the writers did was merely of
momentary relevance. (31)
Ayyappa Paniker differentiates between works that have only a limited relevance and the works that stand the test of time. It is through the intrepid proclamation of truth and by maintaining sincerity that a work attains the unparalleled and inimitable status of creation. This process of truth telling is not regulated by market forces, politics of publication or award winning. Only committed intellectuals can create such great works. In ‘Everyone Wishes should be the Chief-Minister’, Paniker states:
Creation is not construction. Taj Mahal which is
a creation does not have a model; we cannot have a second
Taj Mahal. Any creation cannot and should not be imitated.
A model is not the ideal. What we describe as time is
the awareness about change. Change is also subject to change.
Even the prophets have limited relevance…. Reality is
extensive, truth precise…. Most of the writers do only
construction. (Mathrubhumi 31)
Paniker values the inherent capacity of all human beings to interpret their world and to change it. He has acknowledged the role of the intellectual as a decisive one in facilitating social transformation. Not only the organic intellectuals but those who have the image of the traditional intellectual such as the clergy, writers, philosophers and professors can also be supporters of the dominant group in society sometimes. But they are the ones who can transform society and for this social awareness, knowledge of the life around them of which they are a part and great audacity are needed. Paniker agrees that an intellectual is not a dweller of ivory tower. Habermas’s view about the intellectuals’ role and interventions in the public sphere gives a new dimension to this concept. The intellectual realm is something grounded in everyday life and experiences. This new intellectual is not just an eloquent and convincing speaker or writer; he is an active participator in practical life; a constructor, organiser and an ever alive and relevant persuader. Writing, for this intellectual becomes a means of communicating about and with the world.
Ayyappa Paniker, being a specific intellectual could concentrate his critical vigour in the areas in which he had the maximum expertise. He never tried to make generalised proclamations about everything and refused to get involved actively in all issues. Specific intellectuals are able to effect substantial changes in the world by bringing about a transformation in the world of ideas. Paradoxically the specific intellectuals often metamorphose into universal intellectuals. Anyway, the intellectual realm of masterminds cannot be mapped and the limits are not easy to set. Vastness and variety of thought is natural to them.
We can analyse such a transformative role of the intellectual in the light of Paniker’s contributions. The transforming intellectual uses the power of free speech to change the world. An intellectual is part of the community, the man next-door who strive to sustain people’s critical commitment. Though the intellectual operates within a theoretical framework determined by the relations of power, it is possible for him to re-interrogate the established notions and unsettle the habitual ways of thinking and doing. The intellectual keeps ideas in the air. Ideas may not get the status of ultimate truths; in fact it is desirable that ideas never get the fixity of truth in the conventional notion of the term. Ideas should change and get modified.
Paniker suggests that a writer who aspires to be an intellectual capable of changing the world needs the courage to question the established views and the audacity to assert ones own ideas. Paniker is not trying to recommend a variety of socialist realism when he says so. He does not concede to the view that socialist realism is the most important aspect of literature. More profound and intensive than reality, there is truth. Paniker does not believe in a universal or absolute truth. He does not see truth as something that is solely produced and sustained by power.
But Paniker’s idea of truth is different. It is not a mere outcome of power. The question of how to sort out and decide truth is essential to political and social dissension. The function of truth telling is not only to demonstrate truth but also to criticise. This criticism does not place the truth-teller on a high pedestal. A truth-teller evaluates his position constantly. This willingness to be self-critical is a substantial feature of the intellectual. An intellectual of this kind is expected to remain unaffected by propaganda and self-deception.
Paniker suggests that when an artist gets the courage to express himself truly, to give voice to his feelings and thoughts, he becomes a sincere truth-teller and his work obtains a timeless quality. For Paniker telling the truth is a form of honest self-expression or self-assertion. Through writing and such intellectual activities, the self keeps on changing. Honesty of the writer has to include the willingness to accept changes in one’s own self and the ways in which it interacts with and defines the world. Paniker’s intellectual realm was not a fixed territory. Its borders kept on changing. He never took extreme stands in social issues. In matters regarding literary appreciation, his stance was often firm, especially when he confirmed the need to acknowledge postmodernism in Malayalam.
Paniker considers writing as a powerful activity. We can assume that the daring that Paniker recommends for an intellectual would help him to overpower the disciplinary forces. In his essay, `Kaviyum Kaamukanum Viplavakaariyumaaya Shelley’, (Shelley : The Poet, Lover and Revolutionary) Paniker makes the observation about such intellectuals, who like Shelley have the courage to be different and would not stoop to be conditioned:
They have the guts to proclaim their ideas, keeping
themselves away from the tendency to make cowardly
compromises by accepting with a complacent meekness
everything that has already been established and validated
as true and right. These non-conformists radiate the
energies of an era to the optimum degree and then vanish
behind the curtains of time, making their lives intellectual
legacies bequeathed to society. They live a life to which
time cannot set limits. These people liberate human
consciousness from its narrow confines and set it against a
broader backdrop. The light emanating from their great
souls illumines the path to endless enhancement.
(Lekhanangal Volume I 1)
This idea of the intellectual expressed in the first volume of his collected essays becomes clearer when Paniker defines literature in terms of culture in the essay `Vagarthapporutham’ in the third volume of the collection. He describes culture as the harmony of word and meaning and literature as the union of word and meaning, also of telling and doing. It might sound like an abstract idea when he says that ‘Culture gets ruined when word moves away from meaning. If the word which is said and the deed which is done remain opposed to each other or if they contradict one another, meaning becomes meaningless and disastrous’ (Lekhanangal Volume III 224). The main feature of literature, according to him, should be the inseparable oneness of word and meaning. In the absence of complementing deeds, words lose their essential grounding of meaning. He makes a significant observation:
In literature words and deeds unite. If a writer is
immersed in words and shows indifferent reluctance to
deeds, it is harmful. It is a pitiable condition if he confines
himself in deeds and forgets words. Not only the literary
artist, but also the lay man who appreciates literature should
maintain the harmony of words and meanings. When
meaning of word goes wrong, man loses his balance. (224)
Paniker’s view becomes more profound when he says that the aesthetics of life or its beauty itself is the concordance of word and meaning. Vak or word is artha or meaning itself. He expands this idea further by pointing out that the world which is signified through words is created by words and words are in turn created by the world. The world and words contain each other and meaning acts as a means that make this process possible. This concept gets a new dimension when Paniker says that meaning is the deed which is in accordance with the word. Paniker asserts that the inseparability or advaita of word and meaning is the characteristic feature of literature which expresses the world. According to him, ‘A writer can claim authenticity only if he has sincerity; in what he tells and does. Most of the writers do not have it. The revolutionaries also do not have it’ (Mathrubhumi 28). The ideas of authenticity, sincerity and truthfulness are associated with the concept of the harmony of word and meaning, of the integrity of telling and doing. He ends the essay, `Vagarthapporutham’ with the assertion that Only the truth wins is not a mere slogan. There will be dire consequences if this principle is disregarded’ (245). Only the literature that can claim authenticity, sincerity and truthfulness attains the status of creation. Such literary creation would be able to stand the test of time, forever contributing to the intellectual legacy of the world. Writing that has the power of deeds has its origin in the sincerity of the author’s mind.
This sounds idealistic if we attach conventional meanings to the words authenticity, sincerity and truthfulness. These concepts need further clarification to understand Ayyappa Paniker as art advocate of intellectual freedom. Here, being truthful does not imply conformity to some profound and indisputable Truth. A work is authentic if the writer dares to sincerely articulate his ideas and views and permits the free play of his intellect. The ideas and views vary from person to person. They are not ultimate and monolithic, they are multiple and indeterminable.
When Paniker refuses to give supreme significance to the idea of social realism, stresses the honesty of self-expression and uses a language rich in poetic beauty, one may see the strains of Romanticism in his critical outlook. He uses varying tones and suggests ideas which seem to contradict each other. Before we enter into such complexities and partially or wrongly evaluate him as a romanticist or humanist who believes in the transforming powers of the individual author’s intellect and prescribes for the writer the role of a truth-teller, we should keep in mind the fact that these essays span a period of over forty-five years and map the different stages of Paniker’s intellectual growth.
In the works of Paniker, there are several ambiguities which he deliberately keeps unresolved. Paniker cannot be pinned down to a category; definitive labels such as romanticist, modernist, liberal humanist or postmodernist do not manage to contain or confine his genius. One can genuinely suspect the presence of multiple views which appear to coexist in his work with some amount of inconsistency as a purposeful attempt to show that varied views are possible and acceptable. The ambiguity resulting from this would be justified by this statement that In every work, an element of ambiguity pulsates’ (Lekhanangal Volume III 278).
The answers regarding the ambiguities in Paniker ‘s views about the function of a writer, truth of writing and the relevance of such truth can be assumed when his question ‘why does one write’ and many possible responses to it are analysed. One might write because of the inability to restrain the urge to write or for money, fame or enjoyment; for some, writing is an occupation. Some write because their dear ones compel them to do so, There are people who write to convey their ideas to the readers. Many purposes may combine in the creation of a single work, the same person may write different books for different reasons. It is the duty of the reader or critic to find out what can be the purpose of any writing. Ayyappa Paniker emphasises that masterpieces of every writer is written due to some inner inspiration, for one’s own joy and this kind of creation happens unintentionally. He quotes a famous couplet of Narayana Guru, which means whatever we do for our own joy should give pleasure to others, to justify how writing for one’s own delight gives happiness to the readers. This joy is a consequence of the author being truthful to his ideas and feelings. The author who gets joy from writing is the one who dares to express himself without inhibitions. Every great work has these elements of sincerity and truthfulness that a precocious reader can perceive. These give the literary creation an everlasting relevance. This principle is valid in the case of other art forms.
Paniker as a Critic of Poetry
The literary artist becomes a truth-teller. His works tell what he is and how relevant his contribution as an intellectual is. Paniker as a critic of poetry expresses the same view. He does not limit poetry within the age-old concepts about it. Paniker states that ‘The subject of poetry should be ever-relevant. No two poems should be alike’ (Mathrubhumi 31). He acknowledges the importance of emotions and imagination, but affirms that the intellectual aspect of poetry as an expression of truth cannot be ignored. He discusses a significant dimension ‘of the art of poetry:
What is poetry? It is a way of expressing the truth….
When it comes to intellectual greatness and truth-seeking
insight, a poet should be second to none. He can be a
philosopher of the particular age. He is also a good
scientist. Poetry requires intellect and imagination; if poetry
is only emotion, then it becomes sentimental… Know the poet
through his poems – that is what we need. (Mathrubhumi 30)
We cannot comprehend the import of Paniker’s views regarding poetry without keeping in mind that he was a poet who launched a new poetic sensibility in Malayalam. He could combine the beauty and gravity of prose with the splendour of poetry. Paniker as a poet did not lock himself away from society and make an imaginative realm of his own. His vast knowledge in world poetry and personal associations with great poets have influenced his style, techniques and ideas. Many of his poems were experimental pieces; the poet was trying to find a voice and a rhythm that suited, shocked and resisted his present. The novelty in form, unconventional diction and the use of hitherto untried and dynamic techniques made possible a darkly humorous, ironic or even satiric portrayal of the contemporary world. His poems were inspired by the world and they could communicate with the world. New forms that he uses proclaim how poetry is moulded in the harsh workshops of the present; these forms nevertheless convey certain attitudes and views about and intense responses to the world. These experiments cannot be dismissed as mere tricks to glitter with novelty. K.P Appan opines in an essay ‘Ayyappa Paniker Nammude Kavithayil Cheythathu :
There was no academic inertness in Paniker’s poems.
It was poetry for cultural liberation…. As a poet he taught
us that not facts, but poetry is reality. A poet is not a unique
being, not god or Orpheus, not even a professor; the poet
is an intelligent man next door who knows how to laugh.
That laughing man next door is not imprisoned in
transience. (Mathrubhumi 10)
From this observation made by one of the famous critics in Malayalam, it is evident that Ayyappa Paniker could be the kind of intellectual that he aspired to be; not an ivory tower intellectual but an intelligent man next door who is not imprisoned in transience. The truths that he conveys through poetry smells of contemporary life; they are intensely familiar to the readers and strongly experienced and expressed by the author. It is not through the profundity of unfamiliar truths which are beyond the comprehension of the layman that this laughing intellectual asserts his immortality. It is through his sincere observations about the world in a language where words attain new dimensions of meanings and gain the power of deeds that Paniker has managed to escape the imprisonment in transience.
As a critic, Ayyappa Paniker has done significant studies of Malayalam poetry and poets. He admits that a poem, poet or a literary movement can be interpreted in different ways by different critics. When the critique of a work is being done, Paniker suggests a method that would help one to do justice to it, to find the poetic principle of a poet and in the light of that analyse the nature of his work and evaluate it’s worth’ (Lekhanangal Volume I 60). For the ones who deal with language creatively, Paniker does not recommend linguistic erudition. It would be good if a poet knows the science and techniques of language so that in the selection of metre and rhythm, he will have an intuitive insight.
He acknowledges three main influences on Malayalam poetry. Dravidian aesthetics, Sanskrit and western literature have contributed to the formation and growth of poetry in Malayalam. According to Paniker, we can find the amalgamation of different cultures, perspectives and aesthetic experiences in the poetic sensibility of a Malayan, whether he is a poet or a reader. No study of Malayalam poetry will be complete if these diverse aspects of its structural peculiarities, varying styles and tones of language-use and intellectual and emotional implications are not taken into account. Paniker considers the inability of many of the scholars to incorporate multiple perspectives to be a major draw back of the critique of Malayalam poetry. He has a strong feeling that for the comprehension and enjoyment of poetry, a good knowledge of its socio-political background is essential. In order to understand the poetry of a region, one needs to know about the culture and the attitudes of people.
A journey through the essays on poetry in these three volumes would make us familiar with various Malayalam poets and their works; more importantly, these essays attempt an analysis of the history of Malayalam poetry. The essays do not treat the poems and poets in Malayalam poetry chronologically. Instead we can read the story of significant literary movements in Kerala. Paniker is aware that most of the readers expect the poem to be good, whatever the literary movement be. The ordinary reader is not concerned with the historical phases of literature and for them the appreciation of poetry is not regulated by the knowledge about various literary movements and their peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses. Paniker agrees that in all literary movements there has been Works which can be considered good or bad. Not all works belonging to a ‘significant movement need be good. An ordinary reader who approaches literature from a purely aesthetic point of view need not bother about the literary movement of which the poem forms a part.
In his studies on poetry, Ayyappa Paniker follows a pattern which is common to most of his critical enquiries. While analysing a particular author, he finds room for making general observations about literature, style of writing and the possible readings; he compares and contrasts the writer with other writers. The works that he examines are often used to illustrate any specific view. In the three volume collection of his essays, more than half the space is allotted to the study of poetry. A peculiarity of Ayyappa Paniker is that he could set free the works of several Malayalam writers from the narrow-minded and clichéd ways in which they were usually analysed. He considered it unjust to lock up writers in small chambers of categories. The works of several victims of critical prejudice and short-sightedness, such as Asan: the social reformer-poet, Changampuzha: the poet of tender emotions, Balamani Amma: the poetess of motherhood, Kamala Das: the poetess of flesh and Chullikkad: the angry young poet, are given fresh readings. He could venture beyond the most obvious aspects of any work that are apparent in the first reading.
Paniker makes extensive evaluations of different movements in Malayalam poetry and world poetry. His observations about the subject, metre and rhythm of poetry are of great interest and importance. Paniker emphasises the ideas of beauty, genuineness and courage to assert one’s views despite the possible consequences as the elements that give greatness to poetry. Paniker states:
It is self-deception to be involved in artistic creation
that is inspired only by momentary benefit obtained through
the willingness to write for the sake of social consciousness
which remains extrinsic to oneself and contains only
relative truth that alters and adjusts according to situations.
By doing so one becomes incapable of maintaining
intellectual honesty. (Lekhanangal Vol I 58)
Paniker says that Ezhuthachan and Asan had this honesty which Val lathol lacked. Ezhuthachan, the father of Malayalam literature breathed a new life into the Malayalam language through his works. He used Malayalam in such a way that it could convey the gravity of the poet’s self and thoughts. Through the Malayalam translations of the great epics of India, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata, he made possible the localisation of an ancient and rich national culture. He could portray Bharatheeyatha and Keraleeyatha. Important aspects that grant him the right to be described as an honest poet are the absence of deliberate attempts to please the ruling class and his success in the .efforts to present a political concept based on the idea of nation. Ezhuthachan was not merely a bhakti poet whose mission was to spiritually educate people. Paniker sees him as the one who paved the way to lyrical poetry.
If we analyse the literary history of Malayalam, we can find the development and dying out of many movements. The first half of 20’ ‘century in Malayalam poetry, according to Paniker, is a golden era. There were many who helped poetry to escape the hackneyed styles and to nourish a significant romantic movement in Malayalam, such as A.R. Rajaraja Varma, V.C Balakrishna Paniker, Asan, Ulloor, Vallathol, Nalappattu Narayana Menon, Edappilly, Changampuzha, Sankara Kuruppu and Balamani Amma. Ayyappa Paniker considers A.R and Balakrishna Paniker as the pioneers of Romanticism, Adhunika Kavithrayam or the three great poets of modern Malayalam as the ones through whom the movement triumphed. It echoed the conch shells of change through the works of others. The famous dvitheeyaakshara praasavaadam is the proclamation of Malayalam poetry’s liberation from classicism. The elements of classicism, romanticism and realism can be seen in different degrees in the writers of that age.
Paniker studies the works of Adhunikakavithrayam extensively. He has great respect for Asan. The interpretations of a splendid poet’s works would be many and Paniker finds most of the views about Asan partial and lacking in foresight. By isolating some lines and concepts in Asan’s poems, people have read him as a poet who leads an intellectual struggle against the caste system, supports the national movement and dreams loudly of a welfare state. Paniker points out that Asan is not just a social reformer poet. It is not by being a social analyst and critic of the evils of world that Asan became a Mahakavi. According to Paniker, like Ezhuthachan and Poonthanam, Asan gave depth to Malayalam poetry and made its horizons vast. Asan paid due attention to the use of language and the way of presenting his ideas.
Ayyappa Paniker affirms that the reason behind certain unhealthy trends in Malayalam poetry is the blind affinity to the poetic legacy of Vallathol. Vallathol tried through his poems to evaluate the situations in puranas and history from the perspective of contemporary life. Paniker says that regulating the poetic expression of emotions and thoughts by keeping the taste, attitudes and opinions of the reading public in mind is the main characteristic of the poems of Vallathol. He was not a poet who communicated his intense emotions, but since he wanted to please the public, he had to be the promoter of certain literary movement and the voice of socio-political stands. Vallathol’s eulogies of Gandhi and Stalin are good examples: The literary realm of Vallathol has more breadth than depth. The poet’s style was easy to imitate and this is one of the main reasons for the influence he had on other poets. Asan’s style, characterised by inner vision, minute observation and sensitivity, was beyond imitation and Ulloor used varying styles. Ulloor, when he wrote was trying to raise the Malayalam verse to the status of Sanskrit poetry. His love for classical style was greater than the romantic traits.
Changampuzha and Idappilly were the poets of tender emotions and tense anguish. Changampuzha as a translator attributed his own style to the arks of others. Vyloppilly is described as the poet of Malayalitham. More than „the geographical features of the locale, the nature of the people in a region and their peculiarities attracted the poet. In his poems, Malayalam ceases to be a language and becomes a bhava of the mind; Kerala ceases to be a place and gets e status of a cultural phenomena. The works of Balamani Amma who is labelled the poetess of motherhood and womanhood is read in a new light. Paniker es the works such as Mazhuvinte Katha, Viswamitran, Mahabali and Vibheeshanan that reconstitute certain episodes of Indian myths, puranas and epics. According to Paniker, in these works the poetic genius of Balamani Amma expressed in the most powerful, original and independent way. He appreciates another such reconstitution in Malayalam literature by K.V.Simon who gives a fresh reading to the Book of Genesis in the Bible which is comparable in many wqys to Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Paniker explains the poems of Sugathakumari as the gayatries of tenderness. Her poems have the power of a storm and she belongs to the literary tradition of Balamani Amma. The worship of sorrow is a major peculiarity of the Romantic Movement and Paniker feels that the major bhava in the poems of O.N.V Kurup is pain. He associates his personal woes with the agonies of the contemporary society. He appreciates Kama]a Das for her power to depict emotions powerfully. Her poems proclaim the fact that it is not words but the experience throbbing behind them that gives life to poetry.
The end of the Second World War, India’s independence, the death of Changampuzha and the disappearance of the idea of social realism happened between 1945 and 1955; this period, in Ayyappa Paniker’s opinion is a transitional one that witnessed the rise of a new poetic sensibility in Malayalam though Romanticism survived in different forms. This change was not warmly welcomed. There were many grievances about the death of real poetry. Critics complained that there was stagnation in poetry, Romanticism was getting degenerate and the rhythmic beauty of poetry was gone. Paniker responds to these views by sayin that what many thought as a decline or stagnation was a momentary stillness-before the coming of a new era. He recommends the change in critical sensibilitie in accordance with the changes in literature.
Paniker makes the observation in an essay about N. V Krishna Varriers’ `Kochu Thomman’ that one cannot say that Malayalam Poetry has becom realistic; it is still in the clutches of Romanticism. According to him the creati and communication of emotion is the major function of poetry. Even the portray of the country life in poetry of the 60s had started to become artificial. Panik feels that ‘Kochu Thomman’ is an exception owing to its realistic style a deliberate avoidance of those cliched words that Changampuzha and his follow popularised. He compares Krishna Warrier to T.S Eliot.
When he analyses the poems of Akkitham, Kakkad, Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri, Cherian. K Cherian, R. Ramachandran and Madhavan Ayyappath, Paniker insists that good poetry should have originality. According to him main element that makes newness possible in poetry is originality. New images and styles are being employed. These new poems might not be overtly political or didactic. They have emotional restraint and a serious introvert nature. This newness has to be intrinsic. He enumerates several features of this new poetry:
In the first reading we find only shattered images that
seem disconnected, the word structure hints varied and
contradicting meanings. Innovative words that hold well
only in the context of use, humour that tones down
deliberate exaggeration, irony which the Romantic
Movement totally lacked, the generous use of techniques
like satire and parody and the inclusion of shattered and
disjointed parts here and there in the work which is the l
basis of an integral construct many are the peculiarities
of the of new poetry…. The ideas have only a broken relationship
with the verse, as if to suggest that poetry is only a medium.
(Lekhanangal Volume 40) )
Paniker feels that while compared to the trends in poetry in Indian languages, the rise of new poetry happened late in Malayalam poetry. Modernity in Malayalam poetry began in the 50s and after having fulfilled its historic mission, gave way to postmodernism. Paniker studies the postmodernist traits of Malayalam poetry through the analysis of his own works, the poems of Kadammanitta, Attor Ravi Varma, Sachidanandan and Chullikkad.
Paniker does not fully agree with the views of Prof. V.K Gokak and Srinivas Iyengar that it is through the interactions with English literature the newness and literary revival happened in Indian literature. His observations that being idealistic and having great ideas are different matters, is very significant in the understanding of the Romantic Movement. He points out that the Romantics lacked the power to objectively analyse the dreams about future and they had always been subjective. Paniker does not deny the fact that literature and especially poetry cannot be objective beyond a limit. The Romantic Movement in English literature can be proud of poets like Blake, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Byron. Paniker describes Shelley, the prophet of a novel humanism and the poet who lived and died young and who forever lives with youthful vigour, as an inspiration that leads the human race to the thresholds of beauty and freedom. When Wordsworth became willing for compromises, Keats sang incessantly about the crushing he woes of life and Byron gave expression to his inner agitation without kindling :the fire of revolution, Shelley took the stance of a lone and untiring warrior for the liberation of humanity. Like Prometheus, Shelley’s human beings never know tits failure even if they endure immensely. Shelley is an ideal intellectual in Paniker’s view. In musical mellifluence, emotional intensity and sincerity, Shelley excels all the other writers in English. He won where Wordsworth and Southey had failed.
Paniker feels that when it comes to sincerity and truthfulness, Shelley is superior to Shakespeare. Though Shakespeare the dramatist made his characters utter profound truths and suffer great woes, Shakespeare, the man led a life absolutely detached from the problems of life that he portrayed. But Shelley who proclaimed that ‘A poem is the very image life expressed in its eternal truth’ wrote what he lived and lived what he wrote. Shelley’s optimism was n a baseless one like that of Browning. Though writers like Bernard Shaw protest against social injustice, they could still live in England. But Shelley had to leav every pleasure for his principles, including the joy of living in his motherland.
Paniker makes the observation that in Britain and many other European countries, the beginning of the 20 century was a period of experiments; his historical eye perceives this era as a continuation of the 19th century. The superiority assumed by the western culture was confronted by a possibility of utter demolition. The first half of the 20 century radiated a false glory as the works of Shaw and Galsworthy would reveal, but the latter half witnessed an explosion which was facilitated by the Second World War and new inventions. Great writers lamented the spiritual bankruptcy, corruption and moral anarchy of the age. The consciousness of a spiritual and material degeneracy that reflects the social conditions of the age could not be expressed through the works of Hardy and Bridges effectively. Paniker admits that Yeats was boldly experimental, but lacked the creative vigour and organisational skill needed to start a new era. James Joyce and Eliot succeeded in portraying the variety and inconsistencies of their age and for this the new forms and styles of writing which they had adopted have helped a lot.
Paniker regards T.S. Eliot with great esteem. Keeping himself free from Romantic sentimentalism and verbose expressions, Eliot combined the fierce and the brilliant, the brutal and the spiritual in his verse. Ayyappa Paniker appreciates the way in which Eliot portrays the bitterness, emptiness, hollowness, dryness and spiritual anarchy of the age without giving a defeatist message. lie marvels at the effectiveness of the technique of objective-correlative. Ayyappa Paniker says that though we cannot determine whether the message at the end of Wasteland inspired by Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad is a true remedy for the modern illness, it gives ample proof that the poet has endured this ailment. Paniker opines that Eliot’s is a poet of a few and it is his strength and weakness; his poetry is like a self-created garden where superficial belief and false hopes lay rotting, nourishing the imagination of a sensitive mind.
Paniker expresses a significant view about poetry, based on the works of Eliot, ‘When we read a poem it should be felt even before we understand the verse fully. The language of emotion and thought should be put together. Reading poetry is not like a study, it is a deep-felt experience’ (Lekhanangal Volume I 30). The poets like Spender, Auden and Cecil Day Lewes, McLeish also emanated the warm wind of encouragement and not the putrid air of decay and loss through their verse.
Ayyappa Paniker’s contribution as a critic of poetry is invaluable. He could understand poetry from a poet’s view and had innovative ideas about the craft of poets. He had a thorough knowledge in Sanskrit, Sangha and modern Indian poetry. Moreover, Paniker’s scholarly approach to world poetry as a critic and translator sharpened his critical acumen. He encouraged novelty in ideas and styles. As the editor of Kerala Kavitha, his mission was to discover and give encouragement to budding poets. The poets of Kerala and those who take poetry seriously are indebted to Paniker.
Paniker as a Critic of Drama and Visual Arts
Drama has a spectacular effect and we may think that since Paniker suggested writing to be an intellectual activity, he would definitely conceive drama as a more effective channel to convey the writer’s ideas and communicate with and educate society. As a reading of his critique of drama would indicate, for Paniker, the instructive role of drama was only secondary to its emotional appeal and aesthetic effect. The idea of integration is valid in his critique of drama. He sees in drama the integration of many art forms. Drama integrates a script and its performance. Cultural integration is also effectively done through drama because theatre is open to several inspirations and intellectual influences. Paniker introduces many theatrical concepts through his writings.
Paniker has done a number of studies about drama, performing arts such as Kathakali and ritual arts like Koothu, Koodiyaattam and Theiyyam. He shows erudite interest in the literary aspects of these art forms. Unlike most of the literary critics who understand drama as a script and kathakali as aattakatha, Paniker has awareness and scholarly opinions about the histrionic, representational and aesthetic aspects of these art forms. Paniker’s knowledge regarding various theories of aesthetic expression and views on the modes and extent of representing life are of great relevance. Varying shades of the experiences of performer and viewer have been analysed by him. Paniker gives philosophical dimension to the appreciation of drama and such art forms meant for performing.
Paniker discusses two contradictory views about drama. There are people who argue that acting should be life since the world is a stage and the life in it a play. Regarding this point of view, Paniker feels that it places us on the dangerous if of half-truths. This concept reveals a shallow outlook on life. According to Paniker, if life and drama are one and the same, there is no need to differentiate and study them separately. He insists that only if life and drama are understood separately, we can study the latter as a form of art.
Paniker suggests that the concepts of natyadharmi and lokadharmi in Indian Drama cannot be defined satisfactorily since all definitions are either exaggerations or underestimations. The word stylisation is not an exact equivalent of the concept natyadharini, but it conveys the idea to an extent. In ritual arts, Greek tragedies and Japanese theatre, stylisation is deliberately used to diminish the illusion of reality. The awareness that the event going on before the eyes is not life but only a performance, has to be sustained. The rhythmic movements, curious costumes and musical conversations are employed in these art forms. Natyadharmi is a shortcut to the detailed and realistic depiction. Mudras, movements of eyes, dance steps, use of masks and the like do not give the art form a possibility of being a mirror image of life. Paniker was a great admirer of the ancient. Greek theatre. He has analysed the concepts of Aristotle about catharsis and tragedy with a fresh critical outlook. He finds several similarities between Naarya Sastra of Bharata and Aristotle’s Poetics. Paniker makes the observation that the definition of tragedy does not fully explain all the tragic plays of Greece. In comedies also the flaws and aberrations in man’s nature are portrayed in a satiric manner with a purpose to purge the human character of its defects and give it balance and harmony. Paniker suggests the term comic catharsis for this process. Paniker’s analysis of the structure and principles of Greek tragedy is thought provoking. He gives a new reading to the plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides and observes that several traits in Sanskrit theatre are similar to the fatalist philosophy of life and empathetic enjoyment of the play in Greek drama. Paniker makes a significant study of the different adaptations of the play The Trojan Women by Euripides. Sartre in French, Ronald Duncan in English and Kavalam in Malayalam could reconstruct the tragedy of the women of defeated Troy who were tortured, widowed, insulted and left alive to suffer the aftermaths of war.
Early Greek theatre, Shakespearian theatre and ancient Indian theatre have made use of the potentials of the open stage. In ritual arts and temple arts the use of open stage can be seen. The open stage gives new possibilities of representation. The concept of the stage changes according to the varying ideas about drama, theatrical techniques and modes of representation. The stage should be suitable to express the nature of the play and theatrical techniques used in it. A realist will use the kind of stage settings and light arrangements that would enable the audience to view things in their actuality, an expressionist may want to indicate the mental states of the characters through the setting and the experimental playwright can include more than one style of setting on the stage. In the open stage, the actors are surrounded by the audience and such a set up would not suit the realist plays. The audience views the actor from different angles and unlike a closed stage he does not face the audience and so should make his acting appealing from all angles. The closed stage which is used to suggest spaces such as the rooms of houses and courts can be replaced by the open stage if there is a shift of importance from such external realities to essential reality. The audience see the stage, not a room and the actors give the suggestion through acting that the open space should be considered a room. If acting is suggestive, then unnecessary stage properties can be avoided. Paniker observes:
If art has to be a representation of life, then one must
accept the difference between art and life. Artistic exercise
is a part of the activities of life. To express the elements of
life meaningfully, the actor has to utilise certain techniques,
not as a character but as an artist. The outward actions
may give the impression that the performance is far
removed from life. In art the creator has to employ the
technique of distancing. Through acting one can depict
the inner feeling in an intense manner so that he can touch
life deeply through performance and generate the rasa
in the mind of audience…. The irony in art is that artificiality
at the outset is essential to the intrinsic sincerity.
(Lekhanangal Volume 1 216)
Ayyappa Paniker does not fully agree with Brecht’s principle that theatre should appeal not to the spectators’ feelings but to his reason and that drama, though essentially is a medium of entertainment, must be instructive and capable of prompting social change. Paniker was aware that Aristotelian theatre arouses the feelings of pity for the suffering individual and fear that the same misfortune might happen to oneself; leading to a catharsis, a purging of emotions and consequent quietude. Paniker is appreciative of the power of tragedy and does not believe that drama has to be propagandist. Still in the suggestions regarding the technique of acting, he shows affinity to Brechtian principles. Paniker, like Brecht wanted spectators to maintain some distance from the events depicted on the stage. Audiences should not be made to misunderstand that the action of the play occurs in the present; it is lived experience and the missing fourth wall of the traditional stage enables the viewer to pry. Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekte or the alienation effect is an anti-illusive technique. Paniker’s views about the open stage and the techniques of distancing have much in common with the views of Brecht. From his actors Brecht does not demand realism and identification with the role. The fundamental difference between the views of Paniker and Brecht is that while the former wanted drama to be entertainment and the audience to get involved in it emotionally, the latter was against emotional involvement and promoted a more critical attitude to what was happening on stage. According to Brecht:
In order to produce Alienation Effects the actor has to
discard whatever means he has learned of persuading the
audience to identify themselves with the characters he
represents. Aiming not to put his audience into a trance,
he must not go into a trance himself. His muscles must
remain loose, for a turn of the head, e.g., with tautened
neck muscles, will magically lead the spectators’ eyes and
even their heads to turn with it, and this can only detract
from any speculation or reaction which the gestures may
bring about. His way of speaking has to be free from
ecclesiastical singsong and from all those cadences which
lull the spectator so that the sense gets lost.
(A Short Organun for the Theatre, 1948)
Paniker broods over the role of the audience in drama and analyses a state in which the actor and audience have moments of convergence. An actor who cannot understand the view of the audience and the audience who cannot have an idea about acting are deficient in aesthetic appreciation. Ideally, the actor and the audience complement each other. The audience have to be creative and critical. They participate in the action on the stage. The audience of a movie have a different function. The responses of the audience do not affect the actor in a film. Paniker analyses various concepts about the audience. The idea of Bharata about the audience emphasises good nature and scholarship required for the viewer of the play. Paniker’s analyses of Greek drama, East-Asian drama and modern western theatre and the changing concepts about the audience suggest that there is no defined and predictable audience. The concept of the audience changes from time to time. Paniker agrees that the audience have a great role in the making of good drama.
When it comes to the definition of an forms, especially performing arts, any kind of generalisation would be incomplete. Limitations of the perspectives of persons who make these definitions and the indefinable quality of the pleasure that art gives explain the inadequacy of generalisations and definitions. There is no art form which is fully lokadharmi or true and natural depiction of life; if there is one, then it is life itself. He sarcastically states that since we have a tendency to imitate art, life itself has become natyadharmi; Paniker’s satire becomes hilarious when he observes there are people who live a life which is an imitation of television serials and regulate marriages, swearing-in ceremonies, inaugurations, the proceedings of the parliament and even death rituals in accordance with the angle of the camera lenses or with an awareness that there are viewers around.
The use of musical instruments, playback music and the technique of dubbing incorporated in cinema and commercial plays dilute the element of realism. The debate about nalyadharmi and lokadharmi takes us to the conclusion that without stylisation, no performing-art form is possible. Acting or performance is a re-experience, natyadharmi is a transformation of lokadharmi and this transformation gives an existence to art independent of life. According to Paniker, the language of imagination is natyadharmi; art is the way to experience imagination and not life.
Based on kathakali and drama, Paniker further elaborates this idea. Kathakali is a visual art and drama also is one. Paniker expresses his strong view that kathakali and drama as art forms have different modes of presentation; it is an insult to both to state that kathakali is a kind of drama. Aattakatha or the musical composition of kathakali literature is often mistaken to be a script. Kathakali has dramatic elements and by this we should not understand that it is a representation of life as drama. This dramatic quality is not based on the literature of aattakatha, the episodes of puranas on which these aattakathas are ‘based are themselves dramatic; they have an emotional intensity, quickness of incidents and even the element of suspense; the literary aspect is not significant in drama even if actions are there, the dramatic quality is controlled by the words used by the dramatist. In drama, literature is the main medium and creating a sense of reality is aimed at.
Ayyappa Paniker analyses another possible meaning of ‘dramatic quality’. The writer, without directly revealing his individuality expresses it through characters and situations; both kathakali and drama have this kind of dramatic nature. There is a rejection of individuality; a deliberate distancing between the amatist and the character is maintained. The writer’s view evolves through the artistic creation. The dc-individualisation happens in the case of the writer and actors as the former does not directly express himself and the latter reject or conceal the identity of their daily lives. When a person does the role of a character, he does not become the character, the actor in the person conceals the individual in him and in the eyes and minds of the audience the individual ceases to be and the character remains. People in the audience also get transformed temporarily as they watch any performance. They forget their individuality and take the bhava of the character. If this does not happen, then there is no artist and no appreciation of art, Kathakali will fail in the absence of such a process. The kathakali artist or the actor in the play has to keep aside his ego and express the characters. To sustain this dramatic nature, merging of the individualities of the actor and the character has to be resisted, The actor should not become the character. Ayyappa Paniker concludes his argument:
The actor becomes the character in the minds of the
audience when he acts as the character on the stage and
not if he becomes the character. What is essential for
making this imaginative rendering of a character’s role
successful is the dramatic element…. Perhaps this is the
principle of acting. (I 222)
There is a major difference between Paniker and Brecht. When Paniker uses the idea of distancing it happens between the character and the actor, not between the character and the audience. Alienation is partial here. Akind of catharsis happens when the audience understands the bhava of the character. Paniker’s idea of distancing should not be mistaken for the Brechtian alienation effect. Paniker defines art as powerful expression of infinitesimal and subtle awareness. This definition is most relevant in the case of performing arts. He discusses artistic expression and enjoyment philosophically. Art does not represent mere consciousness; but it seeks to convey forceful awareness. When art is used for some other purpose such as propaganda, then it loses its power and vitality. Art is not just an expression of awareness. From the artist’s perspective expression is significant, but for the audience an intense sensation is needed. This sensation has to be uninterrupted and inspired. He modifies the definition like this, ‘Art is the powerful expression of minute and subtle awareness and the uninterrupted sensation’ (Lekharrangal Volume II 75)
To substantiate this view Paniker gives the example of Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair. His style corresponds to a concept in Tholkappium known as ulluvarai or finding the tongue inside the word; to be more precise to understand the subtleties of language. Through the body movements and facial expressions, he could bring the sensation of the most minute and subtle shades of emotion in the mind of the audience.
Paniker has studied the traditional visual arts like Kathakali. It is still a matter of debate whether Kathakali has to be considered a purely visual art and should aattakatha be taken as a literary creation. Ayyappa Paniker remembers the comment of Ulloor that aattakatha contains many elements that are added to entertain the laymen and the retort of Vazhankeda Kunchu Nair, a famous kathakali artist at the suggestion of Mundassery, a veteran literary critic that Nalacharitham should be presented as a play. Vazhankeda stated that Mundassery knows neither drama nor kathakali and so he’d better do his work as a literary critic. Paniker proposes that while reading aattakathas or watching kathakali, a new artistic sensitiveness is desired for. Literature, dance, music and acting are important in aattakatha and kathakali. In each aattakatha, there is a central theme and rasa is presented according to it. To illustrate this idea, Paniker analyses the aattakathas of Kottayam Thampuran in which the central theme is loss of the royal power and glorious attempts to regain the crown. The dominant rasa in the aattakathas of Thampuran is veera and he has used sringara, bhakti, bhayanaka, bheebatsa and karuna to enrich it.
Paniker does not agree with the views of many who suggest that kathakali has to be artistically revised and improvised. He argues that ancient art forms which have attained full development do not need any deliberate modification. Paniker justifies his stand by saying that revision for the sake of revision is not advantageous and aattakathas cannot be grafted to other stories, ignoring their major theme. The great art forms are enriched from within naturally; no external factors can impose improvements on them. The natural evolution of kathakali has to be encouraged, not the attempts to create a mutated new version of it. ‘Kathakali is a living art form since it still retains the power for natural growth and artistic development.
Our duty is to preserve this life by protecting kathakali from getting reduced into a ballet. Paniker discusses the principles regarding the Dravidian theatrical concept in ‘Porulathikaram’ which is a significant part of Tholkappium. These concepts are the most ancient and authentic ones about the Dravidian theatre. In Porulathikara Sutras there are many situations suitable to be presented on the stage. Sangha poems in general are full of dramatic moments; the lyrical and narrative qualities contribute to the dramatic element. These poems have a spectacular visual effect and the style is more or less conversational since the literary artificiality and textuality are minimal. The concepts of natyadharmi and lokadharmi get a new facet in Tholkappium. According to Paniker, a major difference between Natya Sastra and Tholkappium is that the former analyse rasa from the viewers’ perspective and the latter discusses bhava from the rata’ or the actor’s point of view by emphasising the physical expression of emotion and not just bhava in an abstract form. Paniker reaches the assumption that in Dravidian theatre, body language and physicalisation are important. The artist’s judgment becomes more important here when compared to the views of Bharata and Aristotle’s concept of catharsis which give weight to the viewer’s reception of and response to the emotional content of a play.
Paniker feels that ancient Tamil literature and theatre demand intensive research and critical explorations. He enumerates several works that discuss the principles of drama which are either lost during the colonial period or still are not studied with due seriousness. He finds the study published by the Tamil University of Tanjore inadequate because it looks into the literary aspects of Sangha plays and does look into theatrical elements and principles of performance. Paniker makes the suggestion that based on `Porulathikaram’ an analysis of Dravidian theatre is possible; this will help in reviving the art forms lost in the passage of time and inspire the establishment of an indigenous theatrical concept.
Paniker admits that traditional rituals and art forms linked with them along with their social background and subtle associations of these factors with the theatre culture in Kerala deserve serious and painstaking study. He analyses the concept of the ritual elaborately and enumerates the main features. Rituals are myths in action and ritual arts give a representational and collective expression to a myth. Rituals have spiritual and secular dimensions- In the theatrical experiments of Kerala, the myths and rituals do have a significant role. In Koodiyaattam, kathakali and Malayalam theatre that is slowly freeing itself from the western influence, the influence of myth is evident. The plays of Kavalam and C.N. Sreekandhan Nair use myth as a sub-text to the script. In the theatrical presentation of contemporary plays, the subtle use of ritualistic style can also be seen.
The oral narratives have influenced the Malayalam theatre. In koothu, koodiyaattam, thullal, harikatha, villupattu and kathaprasangam we can see the simple beauty and richness of oral tradition. This oral narrative tradition is being threatened by the visual media and Paniker asks whether the desire to hear stories is as strong as the passion to narrate them. Doubtless, the oral tradition of Kerala has influenced Malayalam drama. Malayalam drama is not very old. It was after the golden age of Kathakali and aattakathas that plays started to be popular. The influences of Sanskrit, Tamil and western theatres can be found in Malayalam drama. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen and many others have influenced the playwrights of Kerala. Paniker considers the invaluable contributions of C.J Thomas and appreciates his translations of Greek tragedy. Paniker acknowledges the fact that for a play to be staged and considered successful, there are many factors which are extrinsic to it. Many of the plays of. C.J Thomas have not yet been staged in Kerala despite their beauty and strength. Thomas could translate the inner conflicts and agonies of human beings into stage language and portray the complexity of human emotions. The plays of Thomas are notable because of suggestiveness which gives them a poetic quality.
Most of the playwrights present a crisis which is personal or social and suggest a solution for it through the play. When a problem is depicted powerfully at the beginning of the play, its strength and intensity has to be maintained till the end and many of the dramatists fail here. An oversimplified solution at the end may make the play optimistically realistic. But this is not the path that playwrights like C.J. Thomas and C.N. Sreekandhan Nair followed. Paniker evaluates the trilogy of C.N. based on Ramayana, Kanchana Situ, Saketam and Lankalakshmi, as a daring reconstruction. The central theme is the concept of the country and society. These plays open a new intellectual realm. The novelty in characterisation, gravity of dialogues and the force of the philosophy of life expressed through them make these plays great assets to Malayalam theatre. N.Krishna Pillai has given Malayalam theatre a new seriousness in theme and social significance. As a playwright he kept himself away from the pressures of the market requirements. His dialogues were quick and apt. Paniker envisages great possibilities of theatrical innovations in Malayalam.
Perhaps, no other critic in Malayalam literature has shown so much interest in Japanese theatre. Paniker points out many peculiarities of the Japanese theatre. Drama reflects national culture. In the construction of the stage and ways of acting, the Japanese theatre has indigenous merits. Paniker studies the No plays of Japan. They suggest the principle that truth cannot be explained through words, but is revealed from within through meditation. The influence of Zen philosophy on No plays is obvious. The highly stylised traditional theatre of Japan does not insist on realism. In kabuki plays, music, dance and body movements have great significance. Paniker suggests that a comparative study of kathakali and such Japanese art forms can be done. Paniker recommends mutual influence of the theatrical traditions of the east and the west. According to Paniker a scholar’ study of Indian theatre and the awareness of the fast changing theatrical techniqu of the eastern and western countries along with a deep knowledge in visual arts folk arts and ritual arts are needed to reinvigorate the Malayalam theatre. Fro Japanese drama, we will be able to learn much.
Paniker has tried to understand drama from the point of view of th audience. The audience has a great role in determining the quality of the play. Paniker has done some significant studies of Malayalam Cinema from the same perspective. His observations about the films of Adoor, Aravindan and John Abraham are very significant. He studies the division between commercial and art films. The films like Piravi which portray the ruthlessness of an age through personal losses give a new hope. According to Paniker the film-goers of Kerala are used to appreciating cheap comedy, glittering stars, roaring music and fight scenes. The art films rarely get commercial success in Kerala.
Paniker has analysed drama and visual arts from several angles. His views give a new insight to the playwright, performer, actor and audience. A remarkable feature of Paniker’s critique of drama is that he could combine the literary aspects and the elements of performance in his analysis. Through his critique of drama, Paniker suggests another plane of intellectual activity. He does not prescribe an openly didactic and propagandist type of theatre. He has a balanced view which accommodates the aesthetic experience that a play gives. Art can be an intellectual activity, but it should be able to give pleasure also. Paniker recommends for critics in general and drama critic in particular integrity of vision and the need for an approach that integrates many aspects of a work. Poetry and drama are not merely literary forms. The former has musical aspects and the latter has histrionic elements. Paniker’s advantage as a critic is that he possessed integrity of vision and could integrate multiple perspectives about different aspects of a work. Paniker familiarised many foreign dramatic forms, theatrical concepts and schools to the Malayali. He approached Kerala’s traditional and classical art forms in a different way. Here too Paniker could make possible a meaningful cultural exchange. For him criticism is an intellectual mission of cultural integration. His study of fiction and short stories reveal the same credo of Paniker as a critic.
Paniker and the Critique of Fiction
Novel is a western literary genre. When the western culture reached India, its effects were felt in many ways. The social relations and individual lives were observed from a modified perspective at this stage of social change. The social reformers and activists came up with new ideas. In novelists like Chandu Menon, we usually see only the tendency to critically asses and re-evaluate our traditional values and proclaim the greatness of the influence of foreign culture. Paniker feels that this is a partial analysis. Indulekha, in many ways is a comedy of runners. It teaches us to laugh at the ridiculous aspects of our culture, but does not instruct to forget the traditional values and embrace the foreign ideals. Paniker’s insight that lndulekha suggests us to resist a foreign encroachment of culture is a significant one. To understand the social revival in Kerala, one has to understand these influences from abroad and challenge and discard some undesirable aspects of it. The idea of influence includes acceptance and rejection simultaneously; a judicious rejection is more effective than a blind acceptance. According to Paniker, this is the message of Indulekha and not many have seen he elements of nationalism and tradition in Indulekha.
Writers like C.V. Raman Pillai responded to this foreign influence in an altogether different way. The coming of foreign culture made it possible to study the greatness of Indian culture and revive it. Many intellectuals, such as C.V assisted the discovery of the greatness of our culture. It will not do full justice to C. V Raman Pillai if one describes him as a writer of historical romances or even historical novelist. The novels of C.V use history as a raw material and his arks present a philosophy of history. There is social critique, a close scrutiny of mental states and emotions of characters and a powerful philosophy of life. More predominant than the social and psychological aspect is the politicisation of historical facts by looking at them from the point of view of the author’s present. In Rama Raja Bahadoor, Raman Pillai attempts an aesthetic recreation of history to match the contemporariness which gives his novels a political dimension. His style is often suggestive and figurative.
Paniker says that historical narrative is a hybrid of history and story. When history is reconstructed through fiction, many lost truths and subjugated aspects of traditional history get highlighted through new readings and writings. Facts are not important for the one who tries to reconstruct history because facts can be misrepresented and distorted. Fiction can reinstate the truth. A writer can reinvent the yesterdays today, reconstruct the presentness of the past, understand the past in its presentness and the reinterpret the past in the present. Paniker’s ideas have several similarities with Foucauldian idea of the genealogical method or the history of the present and reconstruction of history, taking into account subjugated knowledge. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and C.V. Raman Pillai, through their historical narratives, could touch the hidden aspects of tradition history through their historical novels. These writers reconstituted history a reconstructed the novel form to suit the narration of certain episodes of Indi history.
Paniker makes a significant comparison of C.V. Raman Pillai an Thakazhy. Like Marthandavarma, Dharmaraja and Rama Raja Bahadaar by C.V, Thakazhy’s Kayar is a long narrative that has epic proportions. There is no aspect of life that is not mentioned in Kavar. A novel that started with external realism could reach a philosophical transcendental realism without compromising the beauty of narration and this is a significant merit of Kayar. The development of Thakazhy’s craft and social awareness is notable. His writing which started as an aesthetic exercise became social critique with definite political aims and vision and later attained a philosophic nobility and clarity of vision.
In all the novels of Thakazhy, the relationship of the human being with things of nature can be seen. Thakazhy’s novels contain glimpses of the social history of an age and portray the peculiarities of the region of Kuttanad. Paniker observes that the main theme in Kayar is the relationship between man and earth. It is interesting to note that Paniker suggests the use of the Sangha a theory about dividing nature into seven thinas or areas with geographical specificity to understand the works of Thakazhy. In the works based on Kuttanad, we can see the peculiarities of neithal thina. The major theme is the separation of lovers and the awaiting of reunion. More than the fulfilment of love, Thakazhy portrays the expectation for a reunion.
Paniker emphasises the tragic element in Thakazhy’s works and analyses the concepts of time and change in his novels. Paniker attempts a reading of Basheer based on the rasa theory of Bharata. He points out that the dominant rasa in Basheer’s works is karunam. Many other rasas such as sringara and hasya enrich this core rasa. The novels of Basheer cannot be understood in the first reading. They have many levels of meaning and richness of poetic images. Paniker recommends the use of rasa theory to understand the author’s philosophy of life.
Paniker observes that in the stories of Basheer and Karoor there is a stronger feeling of social awareness than in the works of Thakazhy, Kesav Dev and Ponkunnam Varkey. Karoor was influenced by the ideals of the progressive literary movement, but he expressed the social concerns subtly and artistically. His style has the simple beauty of oral narratives; the writer keeps a distance from the narrator. Paniker observes that when the identities of the writer and the narrator merge, there is a possibility of exaggeration and sentimentality; the story may become artificially dramatic. In most of the stories of Karoor, the unknown narrator acts as the pen of the writer. What makes Karoor’s techniques of characterisation remarkable is the importance given to subtle and minute aspects of human nature.
Paniker has not made an extensive study of Indian writing in English. He does not place Menon Marath among other Indian writers in English such as Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K Narayan. As a novel that portrays the fall of Nair tharawads, Wound of the Spring has a significant space among the Malayalam novels that have dealt with the same theme. Marath does not portray the individual, family and society from a social reformer’s perspective or as a prophet of political change or moral adviser; he takes the stance of a mature story teller and uses lucid English.
Paniker’s comparative approach to works of Indian writers and opening of new vistas of literature by introducing novelists, techniques of novel writing and literary movements helped the average Malayali reader to escape the possibility of remaining an intelligent frog in the small well of Malayalam literature. Paniker led us to the ocean of world literature through his scholarly essays. His studies of novelists from abroad are done in such a way that the readers’ passion to read will be kindled. Paniker examines the dominance of anguish in the novels of William Golding. Intensity of feelings, complexity of characters and simplicity of style make his first novel Lord of the Flies a classic. In the other novels of Golding, we find the concerns regarding freedom, urge to sin, identity and existence. Golding’s novels are contemporary myths that critique the complacency and blind faith in progress which characterised his world. In the reading of fiction, Paniker made a cultural exchange possible. In his studies of modern English novels, Paniker has examined the peculiarities of the stream of consciousness novel and the influence of psycho analysis on literature. The awareness about the complexities of human mind has contributed new sensibilities in literature. Paniker says that even before Freud and Jung, writers like Dostoevsky have done great studies of human consciousness. The novels of Proust, Kafka, Virginia Woolf and Joyce explored new terrains of human mind the possibilities of language use.
What Paniker did as a critic of fiction was to introduce new possibilities reading and comprehension. He never assumed the role of an authoritative critic who has the last word about a work. As a critic, Paniker enriched the literary sensibilities of Malayalies by introducing literary movements, theories literature and art and great works of world literature. The use of rasa theory and thina concept in the understanding of the fictional worlds of Malayala novelists is significant. His analysis of the works from other countries was a attempt for cultural integration. His views on criticism support the mission cultural integration.
Paniker as a Critics’ Critic
Paniker opines that the most insipid and driest branch of literature is criticism. It does not have a continuous history and logical development. Literary criticism is not praising a work or fault finding. It should give importance to close reading and careful evaluation of a work. Superficial studies of literary works are in abundance. But a serious approach to literature through criticism is desirable. Criticism is not prescriptive, but analytical. The prime duty of a critic is not to point out the shortcomings of a work. The merits of a work have to be appreciated. Each work has to be evaluated according to its inner principle and the aesthetics of reading a particular work should be derived from itself.
Paniker has evaluated many critics of Malayalam and other languages. He makes the observation that Asan’s critical faculties are a by-product of his creative genius. As a critic, Asan does not strive to flaunt his scholarship. Asan shows his confidence and humility while writing poems and expressing his views on literature. Paniker’s study of the major critics of Malayalam such as A.R. Rajaraja Varma, P.K.Narayana Pillai, Kuttikrishna Marar and Joseph Mundassery are significant. He observes that Rajaraja Varma and Narayana Pillai gave importance to the study of the genres of literature, influence of Sanskrit language and literature on Malayalam and major trends and techniques of writing. They did not emphasise the contemporary life and its expression in literature.
Balakrishna Pillai, M.P. Paul and Mundassery studied the works of contemporary era and introduced a new style of criticism. They studied the main trends in literature and sought inspiration from ancient Indian and western critics. They brought light and warmth in the field of literature. New theories were introduced and writers experimented. With styles and techniques introduced by these critics. Kuttikrishna Marar did not appreciate the blind reverence to western theories and methods of criticism. He studied the works of Vyasa, Valmiki and Kalidasa and theories of Bharata, Dandi and the like. He does not show a slavish adherence to the ancient theories and refused to grab the new ideas. He expressed his views and feelings and never made an impulsive observation. Paniker feels that Marar’s stance is not adequate in appreciating modern literature and new techniques.
Paniker compares and contrasts Joseph Mundassery and Kuttikrishna Marar, the veteran literary critics of Malayalam. In their studies of Kalidasa, there are several similarities. In Mundassery, we find an amalgamation of the eastern and western sensibilities and Marar seeks intellectual vigour from Indian sources. They have impressive styles that are influenced by English and Sanskrit. Mundassery emphasised the contemporariness of every work and believed that literature can be used for instruction and propaganda. Marar stressed the aesthetic and social elements of a work and gave importance to the timeless aspects of a work. Paniker quotes Marar’s statement about criticism:
After reading a book one might feel that it is good, bad
or something in-between and often people share such
opinions. This is the primary form of criticism; it is the
spine that takes shape in the foetus. Such evaluation implies
that even if others do not like the work, there was something
which amused you or you did not like the work despite
it being considered good by others.
(qtd in Lekhanangal Volume I 278)
Mundassery had great affinities to Western literature and theory. But he praised his favourites and underestimated many others. His credo was to understand a poem in its essence and study its background. N. Krishna Pillai’s Prathipatram Bhashanabhedam is a significant linguistic analysis and character study of C.V. Raman Pillai’s novels. Paniker finds this critical work insightful and it encourages the reader to reread the works of Raman Pillai. A good critical analysis should give new ways of approaching a work and inspire the reader to go back to it.
Paniker observes that though there are some works of criticism in Malayalam, none of these give an integral view of Malayalam literature. Malayalies do not have a literary theory of their own to understand the works in Malayalam and the critics rely too much on Sanskrit, Tamil or Western theories. This promotes a second-hand and superficial criticism. He does not appreciate the hostility between Malayalam writers and critics. Personal animosities should not influence the evaluation of a work and a critic should not be a mere faultfinder who smothers the literary talent and crushes the budding geniuses.
To be a good critic, a good knowledge about the literary genres is important. In genre studies, there are many theoretical, historical and critical aspects. Behind every genre there are psychological, sociological and aesthetic aspects. Every genre has to be understood in its proper cultural context. The concept of the epic is not the same in India and Greece. The relationship between literary movements and genres is also crucial. The study regarding the growth or decline of any particular genre during a historical juncture is significant. The purpose of genre studies is not merely to value the form of work superficially. The key function is to enhance the quality of literary appreciation, support the totality of vision and promote rational expression. Paniker affirms that for the growth of culture and literature, genre studies can make significant contributions.
As a critic, Paniker is aware that any form of art is one step away from life. He says that the argument, ‘art is life’ is an exaggeration. A work of art is a living consciousness and good style gives it timeless splendour. When the insistence that literature is and should be a reflection of society overpowers creative genius, he becomes a social worker. Paniker does not agree with the view that a creative writer should aspire to become the engineers of human soul. Paniker discusses the condition in Stalinist Russia when writers were instructed about writing and its purposes. He emphasises that literature cannot be created according to theories and such attempts will be futile. Literature is an expression of life and life is not the thing defined in the theses and theories of political parties and social organisations.
According to Paniker, the work of literature is important, not the theory that aids the perception of it. Critics should be ready to revise the theory according to the new works in literature and changing literary trends. It is through practical criticism that literary theories form and their significance revealed. Literature grows and changes. New literary movements and trends were always welcomed by Paniker. In his analysis of postmodernism in Malayalam, Paniker emphasises that postmodernist traits can be seen in the works of many writers though pre-modern and modern streams are still prevalent. It is a natural phenomenon since the appearance of new blooms does not imply the loss of roots. According to the changes in literature, new theorisations are needed in criticism also. In the field of criticism, Paniker could foresee many revolutionary changes.
In Paniker’s opinion, it is important to evaluate the specificity and peculiarity of works in Malayalam while comparing them with the works in world literature. A critic’s duty is not to judge a Malayalam literary work as an imitation of a great work in the west. Paniker mockingly describes this trait in criticism as westernism. Though comparative study is essential in literature that does not imply that a critic acts as a detective who traces the literary influences and judges the writer as a thief who steals themes, ideas and styles from others. The western influence of Malayalam literature has been exaggerated by critics who were more interested to exhibit their scholarship and familiarity with great works of world literature than to appreciate a work for its merits. Westernism prevents the critics from understanding the originality and genuineness of a work.
Works in different languages can have similarities and this does not always mean there had been deliberate attempts to imitate. These semblances may result from social consciousness and imagination which is common to mankind. Great works of literature revolutionise critical sensibilities. The effect of westernism is very prominent in Indian literary criticism. Even when writing about Vedas and Indian epics, we cannot do out quoting a western scholar. The writers and critics turn towards the west. If realism is more acceptable in the west. we grab it; if magic realism is fashionable, we recommend it. Paniker ridicules this colonial hangover and inferiority complex of Indian intelligentsia.
For Paniker, studies in comparative literature and translation are means of cultural exchange. Paniker evaluates current approaches to comparative literature and welcomes the idea that it should be part of the curriculum in Indian universities. The purpose of comparative literary studies is not to reach the conclusion that a writer in one country is superior to or less talented than another writer in a different country. It is not enough to describe a writer as the Shakespeare of India, Ibsen of Malayalam or Tolstoy of Hindi.
According to Paniker the saying that ‘literature is the same in whichever language it is written’ is an aphorism which does not have any significance in literary practices. Since language is a significant part of society and culture, a mere literary evaluation of the work is meaningless, if the socio-cultural aspects are not taken into account. The dynamic and diverse aspects should be considered in a comparison of literature in different languages. The study of comparative literature includes the techniques of writing also. Paniker suggests that it will be good if a student of comparative literature has mastery in more than one language.
Paniker understands the relation between linguistics and criticism. Language is the medium of literature which is a form of art. A literary work conveys meanings created, communicated, suggested or implied by words put together. The writer’s intention is not of prime importance. The reader explores the realms of meaning and experiences in a work. Not all readers approach and understand a work in the same way. Paniker suggests that the world of ideas that readers find in a work cannot be totally extrinsic to the limits of its meaning. The linguistic analysis of a work should be based on the rules of the language in which the work is written. A Malayalam work cannot be judged using Sanskrit grammar and semantics. A writer needs to know how to use a language correctly and beautifully; he should be able to innovatively discover the new possibilities of language use.
The difference between ordinary language and literary language is that when the former does not allow one to break the norms of language use, the latter does. A writer can alter the word order, coin new words or use various combinations of words to express his ideas and employ figures of speech. Paniker points out the relation between different literary movements and the ways of using language. He suggests that there should be more attention on stylistic aspects in literary criticism. He expresses the wish that our critics should come out of their prejudices and stop analysing a ‘work from a singular perspective. A good work demands multiple perspectives and readings. The linguistic and stylistic peculiarities of a work have to be studied.
It would not be an exaggeration if we describe Ayyappa Paniker as a critic with a poetic style. His writing is characterised by vibrant figures of speech and novelty of expression. The description of Shelley, Keats and Byron as the precious blossoms on the branch of Romanticism nourished by Burns and Blake and the comparison of small lyrics in Prometheus Unbound to a filigree of rainbows tell us a lot about the peculiarities of Paniker’s style in his early works. As this account of Sugatha Kumari’s poems reveal, reading of great poems can inspire poetry in a critic:
When stars twinkle in the empty expanse of night, they
shed pollens of dreams. They descend to earth, become
drops of dew and quiver on the tender tips of grass. Those
droplets reflect the innate beauty of verdant nature.
Soothing the past, present and future with cool moistness,
they quench many thirsts of the earth everyday and return
to the firmament when morning rays of sun touch them
and they come back to earth again. To sustain life, this
daily phenomenon has to continue ceaselessly. The poems
of Sugatha Kumari reveal an iota of such profound truths.
They are the gayathries of moist tenderness. (Lekhanangal Volume II 1)
Paniker uses the expression, ardrathayude gayathri to describe the poems of Sugatha Kumari. This single phrase contains plenty of insightful meanings. The critic is trying to say that like the gayatri mantra of Rig-Veda, the poems do have a profound meaning and they resolve enigmas about nature and man’s relationship with it. The poems are moist and tender with compassion; they are reservoirs of pure and unfathomable feelings of human soul. This illustrates how Paniker uses certain telling phrases and unusual word combinations to convey a great deal through a minimum of words. This brevity of style is attained through the innate suggestiveness of Paniker’s language and the apt use of figures of speech.
The difference in styles in his essays about Shelley and Eliot reveals another aspect of Paniker’s language use. In the essay about Shelley, the critic employs figurative and lucid language so that he could write a poem about Shelley in prose. When he writes about Eliot, the language becomes grave, dry and analytical. The figures of speech are shocking; Paniker observes that the dance of live corpses rejected even from the hell around the poet’s soul inspired Eliot. Paniker’s wit adds spice to his writing and very rarely do we taste bitter satire. He uses a hilarious style while analysing the follies of society and traits of criticism. Sometimes his style assumes scholarly gravity and sober tone. The use of varying styles indicates Paniker’s sensitivity to language and the way in which he responds to the subject of writing.
Paniker makes use of interviews and conversations with writers and critics as a means to gain an insight into their work. Questions are cleverly framed to reveal the writer’s attitudes and philosophy of life and they show the interviewer has clear perspectives about the interviewee’s world and works. Often these interviews become lively debates between two intellectuals. Ayyappa Paniker as an interviewer has vivacity and critical insight. These conversations with people from different parts of the world and diverse fields of intellectual activity bring several issues of contemporary relevance. The significant queries related to the present era, society and culture are raised during these conversations. Paniker shows openness to diverse views. Conversations become a means for cultural transaction and integration. There is sharing of ideas and experiences.
Paniker’s active involvement in matters of contemporary significance is noteworthy. He kept himself away from overtly propagandist and instructive Way of intervention into society and culture through writing. Paniker was not an intellectual who thought it imperative to have a say in all issues of current relevance. He reacted and responded to problems which deeply moved him emotionally or appealed to his intellect. His observations about the post-independence Indian scenario and problems of modern India are incisive. Paniker analyses fanatic nationalism, religious fundamentalism casteism, animosity resulting from linguistic and regional differences, economical disparities, corruption, misuse of power, social injustice and subservience to the western culture as the dangers from within and terrorism, pressures from foreign countries, defects in defence strategies and the like as perils from without. He was careful not to confine himself in the present. He studies these issues in their socio-cultural, historical and political contexts.
Paniker could explore the present and past of world literature and culture. Moreover he was an intellectual with a futuristic vision. Ayyappa Paniker enumerates several factors that give timeless significance to any work of art and literature. The writer who lives ahead of time and have an innovative vision transforms the world of ideas. In his essay, `Kaviyum Kaamukanum Viplavakaariyumaaya Shelley’, (Shelley : The Poet, Lover and Revolutionary) Paniker makes the observation:
In the practical world, leading a life in accordance with
the inspirations of the self might not open the pathways
to success. The worldly-wise materialists would find such
individuals utter failures worthy of ridicule. But the ones
who lead such lives become the deities who earn the adoration of
future generations. They die, their worth and eminence still
not realised. But the brilliance of those lamps illumines
the pathways of future. (Lekhanangal Volume I 1)
This is perhaps the kind of intellectual that Paniker always respected and aspired to be As his works reveal, he is an intellectual who dared to be different and have his own views. His idea of the intellectual as someone whose relevance is timeless is very complex. The daring to tell the truth indicate one’s honesty to utter the truth of the self and admit the changes in the self’s perceptions of the world. Paniker always acknowledged his changing views and this was his way of being true to himself. In many ways he was a balanced intellectual. He never took extremist positions and considered writing as a form of active intervention into the world. For him, intellectualism meant integration of ideas and cultures and the ability to create and accept newness. He could portray his times in different hues. He knew life and even death. The dark humour of his vision amused him. As a philosopher poet he understood that
When one dies
Someone else fills the gap
Having lost in ecstasies of life
(qtd in Lekhanangal Volume III )
When we think about a great writer, intellectual and critic whose death
happened recently, the ecstasy that his works gave us and the life we saw in those pages flash before our eyes. We understand him as a presence in absence. The old notion of the work as the precious lifeblood of the author embalmed and preserved for a life beyond life is perhaps still valid in the case of many. We have heard the proclamations that the author is dead but the text remains as a living organism that changes and yields to multiple interpretations and views. Even if the pages of a work become the burial ground for the author, the experience of beauty and knowledge that his writing has given us will not know .mortality. Time will tell.
Appan. K.P. ‘Ayyappa Paniker Nammudey Kavi thayil Cheythathu.’ (What Ayyappa Paniker Did in our Poetry) Mathrubhumi 86. 28 (2006): 8-10
Brecht, Bertolt. A Short Organum for the Theatre.<http://www.kirjasto.sci.filbrecht.htm.>
Kakkattil.Akbar. ‘Ellavarum Njan Aakendiyirunnu Chief Minister Ennagrahikkunnu’: An Interview with Ayyappa Paniker. (Everyone Wishes ‘I’ should be the Chief-Minister) Mathrubhumi 86. 28 (2006):29-32.
Paniker, K. Ayyappa. Ayyappa Panikerude Lekhanangal (The Essays of Ayyappa Paniker) Volume I 1950-80. Kottayam: D.C. Books, 1982.
. Ayyappa Panikerude Lekhanangal (The Essays of Ayyappa Paniker) Volume II 1980-90 Kottayam: D.C. Books, 1990.
. Ayyappa Panikerude Lekhanangal (The Essays or Ayyappa Paniker)Volume 111 1990-2005. Kottayam: D.C. Books, 2005. –
. Ayyappa Panikerude Sambhashanangal. (Conversations) Calicut: Olive, 2005.
Rajagopal. K, Ashalatha. `Eriyatha Suryanum Vilaratha Chandranum: A Conversation with Ayyappa Paniker’. Mathrubhumi 86. 28 (2006): 12-28
BINI B.S. Submitted her doctoral thesis to the University of Kerala. Interested in creative writing and translation. Writes genuinely inspired poetry.