Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two Great Men - Dr. Aiyyappa Panikar and

This is my third post on Dr. Aiyyappa Panikar. While searching for something else I came across a synopsis which I had written on a bibliography card (!) as demanded by the great man who was then the Director of the Institute where I did research. As I was writing it down with shaking clammy fingers, a fellow Research Scholar told me this story.

Dr Aiyappa Pannikar (AP) was a very demanding Research Guide. He only had to look at a page to detect the grammar errors! His eyes need only to run down the pages of an entire assignment for him to ascertain the quality of the work. If he was in a foul mood, he would tell you in harsh language what exactly was wrong with the paper – whether it was puerile, simplistic, superficial, biased, judgmental, lacks cogency and consistency, or whatever. If he was in a pleasant mood, he would tell you the same things in the most humorously sarcastic language that you will laugh at yourself. Either way, it was an education – a rare one that you will always treasure for it was a clear and emphatic discourse on what research should or should not be.

So, one of his students – it happened to be a nun –once went into his room which was adjacent to the Research Scholars’ room (he was not the Director then – it happened long before my days at the Institute). The Research Scholars’ room and Dr. Panikar’s room, on the first floor, had the corridor on one side and, on the other side, huge half French windows over looking a stretch of vacant plot with trees and wild growth. One would not dare to venture into that plot for fear of snakes and insects. It was as dangerous as going into Dr Panikar's room with a badly done assignment. The Research Scholars’ desks were placed against these windows and they sat facing the windows.

So, this nun announced that she was going to submit the first chapter of the first draft of her thesis and went out. Five minutes after she left the room, the research scholars facing the window saw A4 papers floating over the vacant plot like so many kites out of control. They quickly asked each other to check the papers on their desks to see if their papers were blown off the desk by the ceiling fan. Nobody had lost anything. They were wondering what it could be. Some one said it could be from the desk of the professors’ rooms, all of which had these windows on one side. As they were discussing, one of the scholars spotted the sister walking gingerly into the plot, looking up furtively to see if anyone was watching from the Research Scholars room. All of them kept themselves out of sight ‘cos they realized what had happened, and didn’t want to embarrass her. Apparently, Dr. Panikar had flung the papers out of the window.

The poor sister picked her way through the overgrown grass and thick vines, praying, no doubt, to St. George to keep her safe from reptiles. Occasionally, she would shoot a quick glance at the windows. The Research Scholars watched the entire operation keeping themselves out of sight. Soon, there was only one more sheet of paper to be picked up. It was right below the window of one of the Research Scholars. As she bent down to pick up the paper, he threw down the cigarette he was smoking so that it fell near her paper. She jerked her head up to the window to see her fellow Research Scholar wave out to her with a sweet smile.

That Research Scholar with none other than the late Dr. Narendra Prasad, who later became a famous actor in Malayalam.


  1. What a story! :)
    One would not dare to venture into that plot for fear of snakes and insects. It was as dangerous as going into Dr Panikar's room with a badly done assignment.


    You know although I don't remotely know this great man, I'm in complete awe of him through your stories.
    Remember him from your earlier stories (DR. Aiyyappa Panikker (AP) : random, unforgettable, privileged memories)

  2. ‘Academic bullying’ has been defined as: ‘asserting a position of intellectual superiority in an aggressive, abusive or offensive manner, threats of academic failure, public sarcasm’

  3. I tend to agree with the stoic. But a colleague of mine who did research under AP got away with a plagiarized thesis, believe it or not. This colleague was the type who knew which side of his bread was buttered. My own personal memories of AP, thank God, (if there is a God), are much more pleasant. Part of the reason could be that I never did research under him. I loved him and respected him for the things he did and said - and sometimes desisted from saying.
    For instance his polite refusal made directly to the then education minister when the latter wanted him to take up vice-chancellorship of the Kerala University, an act of which Dr.Panicker never told anyone.

  4. AP was temperamental, but everybody forgave him 'cos of his larger than life presence, and 'cos of his sheer brilliance.

    also, he knew his worth. Just to have AP as a guide was enough to ensure a doctrorate. he is supposed to have told someone who submitted a not-up-to-the-mark draft that "there is a limit to the magic that even the name of Aiyyappa Panikkar can work'!:-))

  5. AP's sense of humour (often wry) has often been written about.

    A foreign academic found the name Ayyappa Paniker (I believe that was how he spelt his name, though I am not sure) more than a mouthful. AP was quick on the rebound: Say "High" followed by "up a" and then "panicker". There you are!


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