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In memory of a master

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ANUPAMA R.

Dedicated to Ayyappa Paniker, the latest issue of Samyukta is every researcher’s delight.

Samyukta, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2007, Women’s Initiatives, Rs 150.

Ayyappa Paniker — pioneer poet, cherished teacher, earnest critic and essayist. The name that heralded the arrival of modernist Malayalam poetry in a largely romanticised literary world. This rare intellectual with amazing grace remains one of the most respected literary figures in India and abroad.

Young poets and aspiring writers have been touched by Paniker’s incredible humility and down-to-earth genius.

Timely tribute

Paniker passed away on August 23, 2006, leaving his family of students, well-wishers, and wannabe-Ayyappa Panikers bereaved beyond belief. So, the latest issue of Samyukta (Vol. 7, No.1, January 2007), entirely dedicated to this master poet, is more than just timely.

Brought out by Women’s Initiatives, an NGO formed by women professionals — most of them Paniker’s former students — based in Thiruvananthapuram, this half-yearly journal is a painstakingly well-researched tribute to Ayyappa Paniker. As G.S. Jayasree, puts it in the editorial, “Unfortunately, no one has taken the efforts to do justice to a wide-ranging thinker… This number of Samyukta is an attempt to address this failure on the part of researchers, scholars and critics.”

The journal contains 10 critical essays that analyse Paniker as poet, theoretician, critic and translator, besides three collections of his verse in English translation, one of which is being published for the first time.

That the book has been carefully planned is evident in the logical manner Ayyappa Paniker’s oeuvre has been approached. The first three chapters form a unit: While the first looks at his early poetry, the second analyses the later half of his poetic career and the third presents him as theoretician, historiographer and aesthetician.

The first chapter by Hema Nair, “Ayyappaayanams: Exploring the Quest Motif in Ayyappa Paniker’s Early Poetry”, scrupulously details the manner in which Paniker approached the themes of fulfilment of love, death, one’s roots, etc. in his poems written from 1951 to 1981. “One major feature of Paniker’s poetry is its propensity and openness to change and to evolve,” says Nair, in her introduction, capturing the essence of Paniker’s verse. This essay clearly equips the uninitiated reader with valuable insights to understand what follows in the next chapters.

After the first unit, the book proceeds to look at Ayyappa Paniker, the essayist and then the translator. The first five chapters aptly introduce the reader to the poet’s works: the path-breaking Kurukshetram and Southbound.

New verse

Being published for the first time ever, Poetry at Midnight, Ayyappa Paniker’s last collection of poems translated into English by Ravindran Nayar, is, undoubtedly, in Jayasree’s own words, “the heart of the book.” While each of the 62 poems in the collection is proof of Paniker’s endearing vision of life, a few that touched me are “Writing” and “Youth”.

In the first, the poet says: “Poetry is a means to know/ Not a manifestation of what is known/ He who thinks he has known/ does not write anything.” Paniker demands: “For one more year/ Give me my youth” in “Youth”, which Rati Saxena calls the “core poem” of Poetry at Midnight in the following chapter.

Down memory lane

The next essay is a delightful trip down memory lane, as noted dramatist and poet Kavalam Narayana Panicker reminisces about his cousin, Ayyappa Paniker’s “interface with theatre”. This is followed by two essays that look at Paniker’s poetic personality. Placed between these two is “To Ayyappa Paniker” a poem by Malayalam writer K.G. Sankara Pillai.

What follows is an in-depth bibliographic essay by Lakshmi Sukumar that provides a comprehensive account of Paniker’s prose writings on poetry, drama, fiction and literary criticism.

The book ends with a truly exhaustive bibliography of Ayyappa Paniker’s primary works. Looking at the list that runs to 36 pages, it is easy to believe Jayasree when she says, “Ten years from now, people will come to me for the bibliography.”

This Samyukta issue is not only every researcher’s delight but also a remarkably well-organised record of information on the poet.


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