The 19th Sahitya Akademi Samvatsar Lecture

Like a River Fed by Many a Stream: Reflections on the Confluence of Cultures

 By K. Ayyappa Paniker

The Local and the Universal

The local is the felt reality; the global is only virtual. The latter is an abstraction, at one remove, hence not of the present, but distant. It has no immediacy. This is especially true of cultural matters. Since culture is not the superstructure, but the base of civilization itself, and the mind is matter concentrated, it cannot be isolated; it is a free bird, which perches where it likes, ignoring the artificial borders of nations. The mind is activated by local experiences, which are concrete and specific, which stimulate the imagination more than the things that are far away. It is the stuff of which culture is made and by which it is fostered.  It is attracted by far off things, tempted by illusions of grandeur from afar. Hence every culture crosses its boundaries and extends the relationship of the local to other localities, which are near-by. But home is where we start from; home is what we look forward to, even outside our home – a home far away from home. So the spread of culture results in the creation of an extended home. Culture, being ever in a state of flux and growth, cannot remain idle and immovable. Culture is the root, and like the roots of a tree, it grows and makes the tree of society also grow. Since growth is the sign of life, it is but inevitable that the local has its own locus of movement, of reaching out to the other, and by extending the boundaries of the local, it receives nourishment from its immediate and distant environs. Culture being the base, keeps sending out feelers to other cultures, thereby supporting the superstructure of sociological and economic ideologies. What promotes trade and commerce, production and distribution, is not these ideologies, but the basic factor of the ideas and aspirations of the people that constitute culture. We produce only what we want to produce; we sell only what we produce and can spare. The culture of a people decides what they buy and sell or produce and distribute. Through a slow process of trial and error or by what has come to be called natural selection, culture discovers what is good for it and what it wants from other cultures.  This give and take is ultimately determined by what each culture needs.

The Personal and the Impersonal  
Culture, being something cultivated or cultured, is not just the raw stuff. It is processed, purified, preserved, enhanced in quality, and more or less steady under given circumstances. But it begins in the innermost self of the individual and is intensely personal to start with. What gives it relevance and meaning is that there is at the center a person who vouchsafes its existence and authenticity. When it fills the personal self, naturally it overflows into the neighbouring selves. The personal self cannot keep it for ever. It needs resuscitation and validation from what is not itself. Thus starts the process of validation. The personal seeks validation in the impersonal. What is true of the individual self becomes true of the other selves, thus gets transformed into the interpersonal and finally impersonal to the point of denying the personal. Culture is thus both personal and impersonal. It begins in the personal and seeks fulfillment in the impersonal. This twin aspect of being personal and impersonal at the same time is a feature we find in many cultures. The vyashti (theindividual) has no meaning without the samashti(the group)—each defines and fulfils the other. The impersonal does not negate the personal in toto. A rainbow by definition is made up of many colours. There never will be a monochromatic rainbow. One colour does not make a rainbow. And yet the seven colours we count as vibgyor retain their separateness and do not get confused.  There are at least seven colours and together they constitute a rainbow; together it is that they become a thing of beauty. They dazzle; they console; they excite; they pacify.  Together they reveal to us the truth of reality; together they make us feel the reality. The rainbow is there, not because it is actually there, but because we feel it is there. Like the many-coloured glass shattering the white radiance of eternity, it makes us understand the brittle, almost non-existent nature of the absolute and the eternal. Black and white do not have this effect on us – for they swallow up variety and the rich vitality that comes from diversity. They rule out the co-existence of contradictions and contraries; black and white resolve them and spoil the organic nature of culture. Culture tolerates and even encourages contradictions, because contradictions and conflicts are natural and make room for healthy growth. That culture which arrogates totality to itself withers away and ceases to be culture. In fact, every culture tacitly presupposes the existence of other cultures, and thrives on the opposition and contradictions arising from contact with other cultures. One slowly begins to learn that one colour is as good as any other; their raison de etre is their difference.

The Regional and the International
Culture, in its intimate phase, is often region-specific. This is primarily because it is a product of the immediate concerns of the people who originate it. Every region generates its own ethos, aesthetics, fables and stories, poetry and folklore. The flora  and fauna of the region or tinai, as it is called in ancient Dravidian, have a dominant role in determining the customs and food habits of the people who inhabit the region. In a primary anthropological sense, culture implies the style of living of the community, which marks it off from other communities. One may say that a country’s culture is the mirror, which reflects its inner intellectual and emotional set up. The reactions of the people to any external stimulus may be predicted on the basis of the predominant features of its culture. The ballads and epics of a people are a living demonstration of the everyday concerns of the participants. The rituals and beliefs, the dance, drama, music and architecture also partake of this regional bias. In the countries of South East Asia one may see several common features which identify the region in the cultural map. But even within this small part of the world with certain common regional features, one can see great divergences. The same text will have divergent realizations. The epic of Ramayana is variously interpreted in Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. For that matter, even in India, Ramayana is read and remembered as a text with multiple variations. The medieval translations of Ramayana – like the versions of Krittibas, Tulsidas, Kamban, Ezhuthacchan – not only manifest differences arising from the tastes and beliefs of the individual translators, but also indicate that these respective versions are acclimatized to the different language areas and thus confirm that they reflect regional orientations. The regional is often thought of in opposition to or in conflict with the international. But if the claims of regionalism are ignored, the attempts at internationalization are not likely to succeed. What is needed is internationalism with due provision for safeguarding the interests of the regional, which is bound to surface and raise its head in the long run, even if it can be muted for some time. The histories of nations are replete with examples of the periodic rise of the regional fervour. The novels and poems of Albert Wendt illustrate the features of Pacific literature, which reflect the life and customs of the people of the scattered islands in the Pacific ocean. The colonial agitations in the 19th and 20th centuries in several countries are in a sense examples of the resurgence of the regional, cultural and political interests.

The Particular and the Universal
Culture, we have seen, originates in the local and the regional; it emphasizes the particular – but nevertheless aims at the universal. The particular is not diametrically opposed to the universal. The particular is not diametrically opposed to the universal. In fact, the universal can be, and has to be, realized in terms of the particular. Since art abhors abstractions, it tends to focus on particulars and details, which have a specific local habitation and a name. Only these will terminate in imaginative experiences.  However, all the particulars, taken together, move towards the universal. One can then say that that universal is valid which is rooted in the particular, and, as a corollary, that particular is valid which leads to the universal. Thus there is on the one side, the local, the regional, the personal and the particular, which is different from, but not necessarily opposed to, the universal. Culture therefore is the creation of an ambience, which faces both ways; it is an assertion of the particular, but not a rejection of the universal.   Philosophers have in the past tried to dwell upon `Western Philosophy’, `Indian Philosophy’ etc., which in a way is a denial of the essential universalism of philosophical ideas and perceptions. But the use of concepts like `particular’ or `universal’ is not totally exclusive: they can be inclusive or overlapping – each valid in its own sphere. The term particular seems to interiorise a desire to be more than particular, a desire to be universal, just as the term universal also hides an inclination to break down to particular specifics. Hence, the particular or the regional often claims to have a universal or international relevance and validity. They do not cancel out each other, especially in the field of culture. No culture is without mixture, without an admixture of the elements of other cultures, which provide a point of reference and make it exchangeable currency. The claim of regional identity is not to close all doors on alien ideas, for culture is a two-way process. The United Nations long ago confirmed that no man has absolutely pure blood; all the races are inter-connected. The claims of purity of race, tribe, family, etc. is unscientific and without valid evidence. No culture, per se, is superior or inferior to others. The very idea of culture militates against such an attitude. All cultures are equal and partake of each other. And, yet, in common parlance we often brandish the hackneyed journalistic expression. “So and so hails from an ancient family,” although we know that all human families are equally ancient; no family can be said to have come into existence just like that in recent times.

The Imperial and the Colonial
Attempts to study the history of mankind or of civilizations have so far been largely one-sided. Neither Sorokin nor H G Wells knew enough in their time to make broad generalizations involving cultures in the East or South. They lived and wrote in the days of Western supremacy, which they almost took for granted. It was a hegemonised world, and there were pet assumptions about the inevitable course of history or even of human destiny. Arnold Toynbee, in his The Study of History, also has tacit assumptions based partly at least on the inherited ideas of the 19 th and 20th centuries. The study of colonialism, analysing and exemplifying the impact of the colonies on the colonizer, was incomplete in his time. Western theoreticians of recent times too have based their ideas on their experience of the colonial countries in the West (cf. Franz Fanon) or at best in the Middle East (ef. Edwad Said and his followers). The experience of India or of the Far East has not been properly ploughed into their understanding of the consequences of imperial expansion. Imperialism, the extension of Western hegemony over other parts of the world, as soon from the vantage point of the West, is not identical with colonialism, which is the worldview of the subjected nations, some of which had greater civilizations and stronger cultural identities than their so-called conquerors. Even K M Panikkar, himself quite capable of projecting unorthodox views, did not, in his Asia and Western Dominance, put due emphasis on the after-effects of colonialism in Europe. The backlash of colonialism requires and deserves to be studied with great caution. There is, for instance, what may be called ‘colonialism in reverse’, like reverse osmosis. In the post-imperialist world, the impact of India on the West is to be studied along with that of the West on India. This will be a corrective to the Euro-centric view. It will help us to understand the real nature of the current theory and practice of globalism. A viable relationship between the existing variety of individual cultures and the overall aim of universal or global interaction is the understanding that the ground reality is diversity, and the desired objective, some kind of unity. That is to say, the genuinely felt, objective, well-defined heterogeneous diversity of local/regional cultures is more fundamental than the abstract, subjectivist, vaguely perceived, idealized, imprecise, homogeneous concept of uniformity. Uniformity is the end of culture, of growth, of life.

Divergence and Unity
The possible advantage of such a balanced, cautious and tentative approach is that it is adjustable, resistant, self-corrective, unorthodox, tolerant, humane and affirmative. It helps to maintain a creative tension within each culture and between one culture and another. It prevents culture from becoming rigid, opinionated, aggressive, hegemonising and fossilized. Culture is fluid by nature, and this fluidity retains its vitality and militates against fixity and obstinacy. Like the protons and electrons within the atom, the basic features of a culture remain active within so that it can maintain its own live identity and enter into correspondence with other cultures. As in the flow of magnetic charge, like poles repel and unlike poles attract. When one culture moves into the close proximity of another culture, it seems to put into operation the principle of complementation. Dissimilarities are the sources of attraction and absorption rather than similarities. They help to maintain the required degree of creative tension. What a culture already has in its structure or texture, it may not borrow from another. What the West took from the Orient constitutes elements it did not have in its repertory, while it was willing to give to the other cultures what it already had in its possession. Sometimes it took the form of trade or commerce. We have to remember that it has at all times been a relationship of give and take – what it gave was willingly and perhaps compulsorily given, but what it took was unconscious assimilation, although in the case of material goods it used force to take what it wanted and was reluctant to give what the other country needed. In all such cross-cultural transactions, it is the unintended result, and not the conscious intention, that matters. In cultural matters, there is always the collective consciousness of a people, which operates, directing and controlling all instances of interaction. You do not always get what you aim at, but you do benefit from the unseen consequences of a fall-out. Because no culture is fully resolved or automatised, it contains elements, which it is eager to share with other cultures. The histories of national cultures are full of examples of these cultural inroads from the divergent cultures, resulting in cross-fertilisation.

West to East to West
An unbiased account of cultural encounters the world over during the past several centuries of recorded history makes it clear that such give and take have taken place even between unequal or unwilling partners. Some modern historians, in their eagerness to hatch out new theories, assume that the history of world culture began with the Renaissance or Enlightenment in Europe. Alexander of Macedonia cut across national boundaries in his eastward conquest till after reaching India he went back to die an early death, but the trail he blazed left his imprint on the cultures en route. The contact between Greece and India so early in history had its consequences in the cultural scene. Julius Caesar’s Westward conquest till he reached England and his return to Rome only to be assassinated by his own associates had left its impact on the countries en route. So much has happened in history in later times that the vestiges of these attempts at political expansion may not count far much at this distance of time. (One may still think of the Yavanas or Ionians in North West India and the Roman roads of Britain, as possible examples). Of still greater impact are the adventures of Genghiz Khan and Timur across the North West borders of India and also the journeys of Fa Hien and Huien Tsang in the North and North East. The spread of Indian narratology and Indian astronomy to the Middle East and the West are significant. The travels of men like Pliny have been of some consequence in this regard. Early trade and commerce between China and India or Rome and India across the uncharted oceans are also worth noting. These contacts were few and far between. But from the 16th century onwards, the contacts were more frequent and more intensive as well as extensive. The 18th century was the age of unprecedented explorations; the 19 th was full of active encounters across the Atlantic and Pacific too; the 20th was a period of clash and collision, with the large scale presence of the West in Asia, Africa and the Americas. The present century appears to be moving towards global mixing; mere geographical or physical expansionism has been replaced by metaphoric dominance. While in the political sphere, the impact of the West on Asia, Africa and the Americas has been more visible, in the cultural sphere, the reverse impact of these continents on Europe has been tremendous. Today, Asian, African and Latin American presence in the West has blown into unprecedented proportions. European painting (cf. Gauguin), theatre (cf. Artaud and Grotowski), philosophy (cf. Yoga), literature (cf. Kalidasa or Kabir), music (cf. Ravi Shankar), Ayurveda (cf. herbal medicine) have imbibed considerably from Indian models and practices. Every tourist brings back home some pet designs and perhaps pet aversions too. But the contact between the East and the West is still in full swing. No culture today is an island, and no culture can flourish in total isolation. Asians migrate to the West for higher studies, better jobs, more successful enterprises; people from the West move into the East to learn judo or kathakali, to study linguistics, to explore the intricacies ofphilosophy and psychology. In Latin America too, the two-way impact is quite strong. Practically, the whole of South America from Mexico downwards speaks Spanish or Portuguese, but their literatures manifest non-European tendencies. The ghosts of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans keep coming back into the culture of these people: they account for the magical in magical realism: the realism may be from rationalist Europe, but the magic is an inheritance from the pre-European past. Modern mainland Spanish literature is also considerably under the influence of erstwhile colonies in Latin America.

Inside Asia
Among Asian nations also, this kind of cross-cultural contacts has borne fruit. The spread of Buddhism into China, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Korea and Japan acted as a cohesive force, and yet their respective forms of Buddhism are coloured by racial, linguistic and cultural differences. When the Dravidians or the Aryans or other people moved into the Indian sub-continent, their cultures merged with those of the Adivasis or aborigines, who had been here earlier. There is a memorable legend in Kerala about the origin of different castes among the people of the land. Vararuchi, the Brahmin sage, married a Pariah woman, and their children, born one after the other, took up various occupations, and each constituted a distinct caste. It has come to be known as “Parayipetta panthirukulam” – the race of twelve children given birth to by a Pariah woman (untouchable). Together they constitute the entire spectrum of castes, with practically no hierarchical discrimination to start with. The father a Brahmin, the mother a Pariah, and the twelve children in between – a minstrel, a carpenter, a basket maker, a washer-man, a madman, a handicapped man, etc. This legend affirms the common origin of all humans, irrespective of occupations, and their basic relationship and equality. The coexistence of diverse cultures within the same family is reinforced by this unique story. The distinctness of each is corroborated by the unity of all. Today one cannot say the situation is as ideal as the one at the beginning of history.

Within the same Nation
If one takes the subcontinent of India, the culture or cultures cannot be said to be monolingual, monoracial, monoreligious, etc. and yet diverse sub-cultures provide a colourful spectrum from the east to the west and the north to the south. Horizontal and vertical divisions have added to the richness and variety of the cultures. Historical and geographical factors have intervened to multiply this diversity. Sometimes these differences prove to be unhealthy since they generate ill feeling between different groups. Border cultures have at times compromised and given rise to composite cultures. In Kashmir, the close contact between the Hindus and the Muslims has resulted in the rise of Sufi beliefs and customs, and the poems of Nund Rishi Mohiyuddin provide a harmonious blending of divine elements. Sikhism in Punjab under Guru Nanak has acted as a force blending diversities and forging a united identity. The Guru Granth Sahib is a brilliant demonstration of the multilingual and multi-regional elements, achieving a rare harmony. The absorption of Sanskrit elements into various Dravidian languages like Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam in varying proportions is a clear instance of the deep penetration of the Aryan culture into the ethos of the South Indian population. The local flavour is still retained. Even in the interpretation of Vedic and Upanishadic cultures, we find variations like Suddha Advaita, Dvaita and Visishtadvaita. When these coexist in harmony, social life acquires a special beauty.

The Dispersal of Culture
In Australia, the Maoris and the Bushmen seem to have survived the initial assault of the white man, and down under a composite culture is apparently taking shape. After the initial attempts to subjugate and dominate, to obliterate and bypass, now there is a better approach on the part of the European settlers to understand, assimilate and even project the cultural ethos of the aborigines. There is something similar in the treatment meted out by the colonizers to the aborigines in all countries. Even the patronage extended to the tribals is roughly on identical lines. And there are groups of philanthropists and well-wishers to promote their interests out of sympathy and regret for past actions. The various American or Red Indian tribes in the United States driven to the Reserves tell us a sad tale; it is difficult to find out how best the situation can be met. The First Nations in Canada, including the Eskimos, are also in a similar position, who are expected to benefit from the benevolence of the white masters. These are minorities, marginalized numerically, politically, culturally, sometimes confined to specific regions, the hillside or forests, kept on display at times for the entertainment of tourists or the research of indefatigable anthropologists – never a full-scale human or humane deal. There seems to be a common pattern in all countries of the world in the way the subaltern cultures are relegated to the backyard to languish there in near-total neglect.

Migrations of Tribes and Cultures
Cultural dispersal on a global scale started centuries ago when mankind started migration of groups from one region to another for various reasons – like looking for pasture or arable lands, escaping from tyranny or torture, seeking freedom of belief or expression, or just being haunted by wanderlust. The immigrants bring their cultural possessions as their baggage and try to promote them en route or in the new settlement. They intermingle with other tribes they encounter on the way – through war or trade or marriage or common enterprises. There is a tense period of altercation in the beginning, then after a time calm prevails, and the arts and crafts of peace do flourish. Give and take becomes the mode of relationship. In a free atmosphere without the hegemony of any of the cultures, each group grows into a heterogeneous society. So the people of Mongolia might have cross into Alaska, so the Anglo-Saxons moved into Britain, so had perhaps Moses led the chosen people into the Canaan land or in search of the promised land. So perhaps did Columbus lead the new nations of Europe into the global adventure. Then it was that colonization became a means of conquering other countries and cultures, and bringing them under the domination of the conquerors. Trade and business are powerful motives today for the large-scale migration of people from one country to another. All these are instances of cultural mixing. Every group retains an atavistic instinct, a nostalgia for the old home, for a time – a generation or two later the merger leaves little trace of old affiliations. In another century perhaps, one might venture to forecast, the population of the world will find it difficult to keep their old regional affinities. Where you live at any given moment becomes your region or tinai – youbecomeattuned to the flora and fauna of the new locality. The local merges with the global. Few will be there who retain their old identity. The new dispensation will overhaul the set up everywhere. Already the hyphenated generations are forward-looking, free from the sentimentality of cherishing lost identities. No man or woman can live in isolation for long – no culture, either. The centripetal and centrifugal forces may be in operation for a while. Countless generations may have prayed and prayed for the coming into existence of each individual citizen, so secure in his belief and hermetically sealed apparently to resist all influences from outside, and yet, as we know only too well, so sensitive, so vulnerable, so porous, so receptive to unsolicited responses and reactions! So independent and yet so dependent at once! The genes, the DNA and the RNA are already interiorised, every nerve remembering what has gone before; the body and the mind and the spiritual self are susceptible to what others think, say and do. It is ignorance that breeds fear, fear begets hatred, hatred destroys self-confidence, and that leads to decay and death. Several ancient cultures may have met with this kind of end in the distant past: to survive one has to absorb the other, even if the other be hell. Like the demure Victorian virgin so tempting in her blush as if asking the reluctant youth, surveying her and hovering around, to come and take possession of her despite her seeming protest. Fear is negative attraction, and resistance is a means of imbibing the best from the apparent enemy. True, each one is an indivisible unit in theory, but in practice each one is more than willing to share. The most pious devotee turns into the traitor, the apostle becomes an apostate. The best communist sometimes evolves into the worst anti-communist. It was an archangel who became the leader of the devils in hell. Jealous separateness is often replaced by total surrender. St. Paul’s conversion may be a good example. All the love poems of the world are elegies on loneliness longing for union. We want and yet do not want what we lack; we are wanting in what we do not have and yet want to have. This simultaneous loneliness and longing keep our cultures unique in their isolation and integration. The stars so fixed in the firmament in their appointed spots, yet move incessantly, each brilliant with its own light beckoning to the others and weave the web around the universe. The cosmos is a unity, yet made up of apparently irreconcilable opposites. What a harmony is woven out of these heterogeneous, discordant notes, the music of the spheres! The same note may produce melody, but contradictions and oppositions are required to achieve harmony. And the cosmos is so orchestrated in our everyday experience too – we hardly perceive the contradictions – so divergent, and yet so similar, never identical, always aching for the coalition. Kamban, the Tamil epic poet, for all his devotion to Tamil, chose to retell the story of Ramayana taken from Sanskrit, and yet produced an epic of Tamil culture in mellifluous Tamil idiom. Opposition evokes an irresistible fascination. In Malayalam by retelling Ramayana and Mahabharata, Ezhuthacchan became the father of the language. Examples of such magnificent appropriations may be multiplied from other languages of the world. To absorb the other into oneself, and yet not to get absorbed in the other is a phenomenon we often come across in the history of intercultural relations. In Rabindra Sangeet, we see some elements of western music. Biblical psalms and prayers in all cultures, which are fused with the basic features of Vedic, Buddhist, Jewish chanting and traditional baul bhajans.

Surface and Deep Structures
The significance of such surface differences and deeper affinities dawned upon me more clearly when I met the Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott in Washington DC, a few years ago. At a conference of world writers held there, Walcott told me about what he felt India had in common with the Caribbean culture; the differences are mostly on the surface and quite obvious too. He recalled his visit to India, his seeing the films of Satyajit Ray, and several casual encounters. The deeper perceptions that held Caribbean and Indian cultures together, according to him, included our shared sense of time. There is a time, he spoke at the Conference meant to herald the new millennium according to the Western Calendar, there is a time of the sun and the moon, a time of the seasons, a time of the wind blowing over the cane fields, etc. This is the invisible thread of affinity between Indians and Caribbeans – as opposed to the time of Western culture measured out by the clock with its mechanical regularity and high degree of predictability. I felt cheered up listening to him. Behind the superficial similarities between any two cultures, there are significant differences, just as behind superficial dissimilarities there are important identities. In the year 2000, I was in Athens to participate in the Foundation of the world Academy of Poetry under the auspices of the UNESCO. The next year, we met in Verona in Italy. There I could meet some of the great poets of the world today – from Russia, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, Romania, France, Brazil, United States, Canada, Africa and other parts of the globe – Wole Soyinka, Andre Vosnezensky, Ko Un, Maria Luce, Kama Kamanda, Arthur Rothenburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Kinsella, etc. In 2002, the festival of literature in Luxembourg also had very distinguished poets and novelists from several countries. In 2003, the venue was Jerusalem, and between the warring Israelis and Palestinians was the nest of poetry – Nishkanetwe the poets of many lands warbled our respective songs – for love, for beauty, for peace and for happiness. No two poets had the same voice or the same tone or the same language. They came from far away and met for the first time, as it were, but it was an act of faith – the confluence of cultures from round the globe. In our separate tongues, we celebrated our differences, we shared our anxieties, we cherished each other’s hopes; and the river of culture flowed, fed by many a stream.   The rainbow of myriad hues appearing bright in the sky – each jealously guarding its own identity, but answering to the glow of the neighbouring hue.
So now, at the beginning of a new century, I don’t like to share the fate of the political prophets of progress unlimited of the end of the 19 th century, nor the gloomy prophets of doom about the End of History and Clash of Civilisations at the end of the past century.  The vision, as I see it now, of what might happen in another century, is not plain and flat: for, deep within the heart of man there is the potential for happiness as well as unhappiness, for earthquakes and seaquakes, nor is he the sole arbiter of his destiny – there are unseen mighty forces under the overarching skies – in the outer space as well as in the inner space, which, in fact, is a replica of the former. So I am tempted not to prophesy since many of the prophets of the past have been proved false. I like to look at the future of human culture with care and caution, with doubt, but not despair. For, faith is necessary, though not of the blind variety, to cheer up the sagging, heart of humanity at any critical juncture, which of course is any moment.

A single wave is no ocean;
A single tree no forest;
A single hue makes no rainbow;
And a single note is no music.
(Paniker delivered the 19th Sahitya Akademi Samvatsar lecture at the Sahitya Akademi Festival of Letters 2005 in New Delhi in January 2006)

Isn’t that shameful for us?

Isn’t that shameful for us?

Everyday at night in the kitchen
a little food must be kept.

Suppose, the thief was to come
if he’s hungry doesn’t find food

He might get angry and cross
and get away without thieving a thing.

Isn’t that shameful for us?.


The “Net” By Ayyappapaniker

The squares at least don’t remain squares
and taut linking loops
Threadbare wet-looking ropes
Knotted trapped and trembling lie in thirst
The sea at large lusting to drink in measures
Through the loops drainscapes the sea
Sardines, anchovies and seer
From the infinite indefinite water bodies
To the freedom attained through assured bondage
of a definite ending For the fishes in waiting
the net’s a mirror through which they swim
to another world.

(Translated from the original in Malayalam by Annie George)