C. Gouridasan Nair

Ayyappa Panicker had few peers in scholarship

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: K. Ayyappa Panicker, poet and teacher who died after a brief illness here on Wednesday, was in many ways an enigma. He had few peers in scholarship. He was as well versed in modern and post-modern literary theories as in ancient Indian aesthetics and literary traditions. He was one of the harbingers of modernism into Malayalam poetry. He was a teacher with a huge fan following and had played a major role in transforming Malayalam theatre, which had got stuck in the proscenium mode. During the 1980s, he was all over Kerala, reciting poems and interacting with people. But, all through, he was a recluse, one who travelled alone through the domain of poetry and life. Dr. Panicker was one of the few scholars in Kerala who was not intellectually stagnant. His was a life of enquiry and it might safely be said that he was instrumental in familiarising the new generation to the changing contours of modern literary theory, besides working closely with an entire generation of writers to herald a new poetic sensibility in Malayalam.

As a teacher, he never believed in rhetorical tools. His advice to a literature class, stressing the `spear' in his very own style, was: "A Shakespeare a day will keep this doctor away." That was a class he taught a paper titled `General Shakespeare'.


The main tools that he employed in his poetry were irony and black humour. He was not satirical in the conventional sense. He used irony as a kind of scalpel to clinically unravel the hypocrisy of the Malayali middle class. He was never afraid of experimenting with the form of poetry. He lifted irony to a level that was unfamiliar to Malayalam poetry and his own renditions of some of these poems were quite popular during the 1970s and 1980s. The Left could never approve of Dr. Panicker's poetry or the vision of life that they sought to convey, but his intellectual antennae were so sensitive that it could sense even subtle shifts in the literary terrain worldwide. He also played a major role in familiarising the average Malayali reader with poetry from different parts of the globe and in taking Indian English writing to the rest of the world.

His dialogues with Frederic Jameson, Richard Schechner, A.K. Ramanujam and others like them are windows on the world of literature.

His attempt to bring ancient Indian literary theories to the study of modern literary works in Malayalam calls for special mention. His close kinship with such eminent theatre and film practitioners as G. Sankara Pillai, C.N. Sreekantan Nair, Kavalam Narayana Panicker, G. Aravindan and Narendra Prasad was crucial in the evolution of a new idiom in Malayalam theatre.

He has won several honours and prizes, but his life was essentially a journey inward.