Death of a poet

Noted Malayalam poet Ayyappan died here in Trivandrum yesterday. He was 61.

Ayyappan was found lying unconscious at Thampanoor, near the city’s railway station on Thursday evening, and was shifted to the hospital by the police , where he was pronounced dead a few hours later. His body was kept in the mortuary as unidentified before the doctor in charge yesterday identified it during his routine rounds.

Unmarried and leading a bohemian lifestyle, the poet was known for his intensity, meditative beauty and romance in his poetry. He did not have a family of his own. An abusive alcoholic, Ayyappan described himself as “a poet from the gutters”. The poet had a large number of readers, specially youngsters. He used to loiter the streets and lanes near the Secretariat. He was a wanderer and used to sleep any where he felt like, often at railway stations, and occasionally used to take refuge at friends. His poetry carried the stamp of anarchy, anger and angst, with repeated reference to hunger and destiny.

Ayyappan was orphaned in childhood. He lost his father when he was one year old and mother at 15. “While my friends were carrying me on their shoulders after I won a school election in Class IX, I saw an ambulance speeding past with the body of my mother,” Ayyappan wrote about his losses in childhood.

He had nothing to call his own. He died the way he lived.

He was awarded this year’s Asan Memorial Prize, considered to be the highest literary award in Malayalam. He had been awarded the Sahithya Academy Award earlier, in 1999.

Ayyappan wrote more than two thousand poems starting from his student days. His famous works include ‘Maalamillaatha Paambu’ (snake without a hole) ‘Buddhanum Aankuttiyum’ (Budha and the baby elephant) and ‘Veyil’ (sunshine). He also published a collection of short stories titled Onakaazhchakal( Onam Offerings).

Police who conducted inquest in the hospital found on him a poem replete with his hallmark acidic imagery, scribbled on a piece of paper .It makes a prediction about an arrow that could pierce his body anytime. He had written the poem, to be read at the award ceremony. It was as if he had foreseen his destiny. The organizers announced that they will recite the poem at the ceremony.

Soon there was an outpouring of condolences from known and unknown personalities. Politicians crowded the hospital in no time. Some of them were in tears. Contemporary poets wore the masks of sorrow. A huge crowd gathered at the hospital premises. They were unhappy at the delay in the cremation process. (The sad thing was that no one had identified him till a day after his death!)

As usual, the Manorama daily covered Ayyappan’s death with a full page cover story. There was Ayyappan’s life story, a description of his poverty and the sad state he lived in, and even photos of his sister and her family, the room in which Ayyappan used to sleep while at her house and so on. There was also a picture of Ayyappan sleeping on a pavement at Ernakulam, some time back.

In Kerala, a person like this gets fame and respect only after his death. And everything is forgotten in few days.There is an outpour of grief and condolences from everywhere now. On his behalf there will be prizes, endowments, monuments, and what not! There are no more places for statues at Trivandrum. Every nook and corner is occupied by statues smudged with bird droppings. Probably Ayyappan would escape that ordeal.


  1. Doc , a decent post. and seems you did a bit of research.
    A respectable requiem , for a man who cared a damn for such niceties.I'm certain.
    And the poem found on him = was it not a kind of premonition of the end?
    But have we ever wondered and tried to find out why certain people choose to lead a vagabond kind of life and the end seems to be the way they wanted?

  2. @Anil,
    You hit the point.Ayyappan was more or less like the Thabalist Ayyappan of "Yavanika".
    His closest friend was John Abraham,the film director,who led a similar,carefree life.And Ayyappan took after P Kunjiraman Nair,the renowned poet,who also led a similar life style.He was found dead in a lodge at Trivandrum.

    I think there are similarities in the lives of famous artists.They all had something out of the ordinary.And so,they could produce extra ordinary works as well.

  3. its very sad!..great poet found dead like that...shame to sahhitya academy and other people who couldn't recognize him....what a shame...if they build monuments or status..for departed
    I remember Gurudutt's "Pyasa"(movie)..for this real life poet!!
    may his soul rest in peace!!
    thanks for sharing DOC!!

  4. May his soul rest in peace .It is really sad that he had to die like that . It is a premature loss of such an extraordinary talent.I always wonder why many artists turn alcoholic and later die in poverty .

  5. I guess, he chose to live and die that way. Nobody could have interfered, could they? There are many before him, not just in Kerala but across the world, who've lived their 'detached' lives in that manner. The State, I believe, was only doing its duty, of honouring a legend. If they hadn't, there would have been a greater fuss, don't you think?

  6. Good post, Doc, almost the way Ayyappan would've liked it. Ayyappan was just like anyone of us,choosing the life he wanted to lead. When I was in Eranakulam in the mid-80s, Ayyappan tried to commit suicide and I was among the group of friends who took him to hospital and revived him.

    Non-conformist Ayyappan might have been to the ways of the mainstream society, but he had his own rules and idiosyncrasies. But we need not bother ourselves with that. All we need to look at is his legacy, his poetry. Ayyappan will be remembered for his contribution to setting Malayalam free of the conventions and dogmas of establishment poetry and liberating the thought and language of Malayalam literature.

  7. Seems this was how he wanted to live. May his soul rest in peace

  8. Very sad !!!

    A very good read though.

  9. @Harman And Kavitha
    Artists have a way of their own. I have often wondered if inebriation leads to creativity.
    @BKC Thanks for the visit
    @ RGB.You are right in a way.Some of these artists like a vagrant life style.But something more could have been done when they were alive.Depression and frustration leads to habituations.
    @ Balachandran
    Good , you knew him personally. I hadn't heard about that suicide attempt. I came to know him through a friend of mine,who was a fan of Ayyappan.And this friend had given me some of his works. Yes, artists live in a world of their own.They think extraordinary, and live extra ordinary.
    Thanks for coming in. I loved your last post. I can see the artist in you!
    @A..Yes it a sad story. Compassion ia a rarity these days.

  10. oh..i had not heard of ayyappan;you have created an awareness in me."poet from the gutters"was an impressive statement,he was indeed very humble.

  11. was always lover of his poetry - since i read him first time. And met him many times on the road...near fine arts college, statue, palayam - we once invited him for a poetry work shop at Engineering college - Denied, outright!

    Nice tribute, Dr. Anthony - i'm from Nalini Hebbar's Blog :)


  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. @Doc...

    I hope at least this time, I can post here. I have trouble leaving comments on your posts.

    It is nice of you to pay tribute to Ayyappan.

    Ayyappan was a great poet. Just like so many other highly talented people, Liquor drowned his talents and life. It is so tragic.

    When I read about his death on Newspaper and on your post, what I felt is

    "Another precious life cut short by booze"

  14. @Raji
    Thee is no more simplicity among artists these days.
    @ Devika
    Welcome. I had noticed with interest your comments at Hebbar.
    You must know then many of the contemporaries at Trivandrum.Most are language professors turned writers.Who have also learned the "art of making use of art in making a good living".
    Thanks for the visit. I asked the same question before. Does inebriation help creativity?

  15. @Devika
    Because you knew him.Ayyappan was a close friend of John Abraham,the film director who led a nomadic existence and died young.Ayyappan was an arid fan of Mahakavi P Kunjiraman Nair,who also had a nomadic life and then found dead at a lodge in Trivandrum.For such men"journey itself is a destiny".

  16. No i never knew him personally, Dr...or spoke with him. But a life i keenly observed from afar -- and i knew many stories of his life from friends and through magazines,

    knew about his friendship with John Abraham..Mahakavi Kunjiraman Nair (Kaviyude Kaalpadukal says its all...and possibly about the likeness of the two souls,

    those are lives beyond our commendation, Dr...and while to some others their lives many seem wierd, they were living what they were destined for :)

    when i just popped in here from Nalini's, it was too touching to read this tribute, and to see Ayyappan's photo --


  17. more talented life has come to an end.

  18. I got all sorts of emotions running through me when I read this - to die on the streets and remain unrecognised while his poetry has gained him recognition and the Asan Memorial prize......
    ...the stark tragedy.
    You have given him a good tribute, Doctor.

  19. A nice tribute to the poet. Your piece makes me want to read his work. are there translations available?

    And what a sad way to die!Methinks that artisic creativity and alcoholism seem to have a link. They have a sensitive mind that is unfortunately unable to handle the harsh realities of life and seek to forget their woes by drinking. I could be wrong but the number of creative geniuses who've wasted their lives due to this addiction is too great to be ignored. May his soul rest in piece.

  20. A well written tribute, I have read a couple of his poems.. :)
    However, I wonder why so many poets lead such a life, I don't know what makes poetry but is it necessary to be in the gutters, be unclean, unwashed and on drugs to versify! But the outcome otherwise is also good.. we have poets for proof.

    To each his own.

  21. very sad .. its not just kerala this happen quiet often in india, I rmeember near chandigarh a place caleld Pinjore it was garden made by maharaja of punjab, there use to be a old guy who would be a chain smoker and attach 3 -4 cigarattes and smoke but he would sing and had a flute and i tell you he was mesmerizing ..
    in evening there use to be loads and loads of people sitting there listening to him and he wud have gazals and shayers beautiful... he wud be invited to participate in workshops but no body did anything for him , he was still a poor bloke ..

    You have given a good tribute to the poet...

    Bikram's Blog

  22. @ Madhu
    Thanks for the visit.
    @ Raji
    That is how life is.
    I was thinking the same. Most of the great artists had some kind of deviations. Most are highly emotional and sensitive.They try to drown their problems in liquor and probably it opens up their minds.
    I will see if there are translations of his works.
    @ PNA
    welcome to the blog.Yours is interesting.
    Yes,it happens everywhere, especially to low profile artists.It is a paradox that some lucky ones amass wealth and others lead vagrant lives.


Post a Comment

Please spend another moment to make your comment before leaving.

Popular Posts