Or listen to the clocktowers
Of any old well-managed city
beating their gongs round the clock, each slightly
off the others’ time, deeper or lighter
in its bronze, beating out a different
sequence each half-hour, out of the accidents
of alloy, a maker’s shaking hand
in Switzerland, or the mutual distances
commemorating a donor’s whim,
the perennial feuds and seasonal alliance
of Hindu, Christian, and Muslim -
cut off sometimes by a change of wind,
a change of mind, or a siren
between the pieces of a backstreet quarrel.
One day you look up and see one of them
eyeless, silent, a zigzag sky showing
through the knocked-out clockwork, after a riot,
a peace-march time bomb, or a precise act
Of nature in a night of lightnings.
Time and Time Again by A.K. Ramanujan is a complex poem with a hidden meaning lying under the poetic coating of time and its reflection upon mechanical time and the time of men and the world and in them lies it the psychic framework of communities of different faiths, ethnic groups and races. How their fracas and frictions and fusions, how the things tearing them apart and rejoining them thereafter? What is it in essence? It is really difficult to say it. An outer reading of it will tell it that this is a poem of the tower clock, but it is neither a Shakespearean tower nor a Hazlittian sundial. It is also neither Bergsonian mechanical nor cosmic time. It is more about human relationships, making and unmaking in the course of time, tangible human relations, forging alliances, different communities at strife and bonding. Had it been about the time, the clock tower, it would have been better, but it is about men and their relationships, communities at peace or strife. How do the narrow mentalities clash and it is time that rejoins them, makes them come to a compromise?
Ramanujan often distorts thoughts and ideas with his clichés. To say ironically all the times with a forked tongue plunges us into a duality of meaning. To read him is to feel meaning at the crossroads of words. To him, poetry is but a puzzle, crossword. To twist and turn is the poetic job of Ramanujan. To use fun, pun and irony is his forte as for a double meaning which he entertains in plenty. His poetry is replete with doublespeak. Does the poet mean to say it that the bells may be different, but the time is the same? Does he mean to say that alloys too make a difference in sounds? But what it strikes us most is the heaviness of engulfing situations, circumstances entangling. While the tower clocks keep tolling, striking, times fleeting away, even during that time the communities seem to be at strife oblivious of the short span, duration of life.
What the poem is exactly we do not know. Is it about the time of the world? Is it about disharmony? What is it about? Will after the riot and the chaos, things will be created afresh? If the city is well-managed going by the strike of the clock tower, why does the tumult take in by surprise sometimes? In Time and Time Again, Ramanujan has seen the people joining and rejoining, disintegrating and integrating. What is more baffling to feel is that he is complicated and intriguing. But after the time of chaos, commotion and tumult, the people again return to normalcy in due course of time, trying to patch up it all, hush up the matter. The tower clock goes on striking, denoting time, maintaining and keeping so is human relationship. Even during the times of any change, the winds reshuffle relationships. Time and Time Again as a poem is one of intricate human relationship and human society always at cross irrespective of the striking tower clock.
How does the tower of the heart respond? How is the heartbeat of society? How the pulse of it, the nerve of? Everyone beats the gongs of its own. If the communities keep clashing, what about the skies above the towers? Societies deal with tensions and troubles, quarrels and altercations. None cares about peace of mind, peace of soul. Does the poet mean to write about the tower clocks of different communities and their psychic spaces? Should the clocks go striking or their hearts too must change in time with the winds of change? None knows it that some clockmaker from Switzerland has made it. The donor’s whims too it carries with.