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A.K. Ramanujan as A Poet (1929-1993)

Of all the poets whom we discuss into the realm of so-called modern Indian English poetry, P. Lal, Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Mahapatra, Kamala Das, Keki N. Daruwalla and a host of others, A.K. Ramanujan is one who is so rooted in genealogy, family traditions and societal things.

A poet of Dravidic entity, teaching in the Dept. of Linguistics in America, the South Asian and Dravidian languages, he is but a professor of folklore, linguistics, oral versions and Indian studies. Just like R. Parthasarathy, he hinges upon memory and recollection and ethnic identities, home, exile and alienation, migration, Diaspora and so many things connected with that, but in the case of the former it is different as returns back to India, but the latter recreates from there with his cliques and jibes. To read Ramanujan is to read the history of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, to read the history of Madurai and so on, to read him is to read astrology and astronomy as his father was a professor of mathematics and we cannot Ramanujan and his poetic base if we know it not his family matters and academic interests.

To understand him is to understand his rites and rituals, the rites and rituals of South India and that too Dravidic culture and tradition, society and nomenclature.

A folklorist, a linguist, a philologist, a translator and an academic, he is but a linguist and barring linguistics his mind cannot go anywhere. A poet from Mysore, he has not described the kings of Mysore and the Dussehra of it.

There is very much of an astrologer and an astronomer in him and into   the hands of his palmistry and jyotishvidya may turn into Jyotirvigyan as Murali Manohar Joshi once thought it about. To contradict him is to read R.K. Narayan’s An Astrologer’s Day. How can a thug too be an astrologer, a palmist reading the hand of his friend in disguise whom he left for being dead in drunkenness and fled away to be never back home? Folk traditions are good, but these cannot be for so long.

We doubt if he was a professor of English, English studies, American or British English or a professor of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. What did he teach in the States and to whom what? Did he English or South Asian languages to the foreigners?

But his heart remained it not in America and American literature, but in the things of his home as he indulged in family matters and stuffs to dwell and derive from. Humor had been his forte, humor was not exactly, but irony in the form of the oblique approach. The father’s name still haunted him as ever possessed of, he added to recreate. The load of Vedic math. already was thereupon him coming in terms of panjika, astrology and cosmology and he dwelt upon. Something of Tamil Nadu, something of Karnataka engaged the space of his and vented for an expression.

This too is a reality that South Asia is not from his space, the Ram Setu  and the Ramayana which the artistes and theatres dealt with and enacted, stood up  taking to Ceylon and its beyond, acting as a bridge with, connecting India with the outside, taking the myths far away to. But the credit goes to the NASA scientists in relocating the Ram Setu and the Saraswati River and from this sphere his vyangya is alright as he goes regaling from America.

If to see it otherwise, his is a stock of humor, a laughingstock one of wit, irony, humor and joke. His dance is like the ‘Hanuman’ in the Ramlila and humor adds to our laughter when we see in the rustic theatre the tail separating, slipping it from as for want of resources, arrangements and stocks.

Ramanujan cannot think outside his family and family matters form the crux of the matter. Mysore is the place of his birth and education and from here he moved to Pune and America. There is also something to know with regard to the languages spoken at home. Apart from Kannada, Tamil too went its way. Classical Sangama poets he cannot forget. But the south Indian kings and dynasties, he takes to not in full.

Vyanagya, vakrokti, hashya, these are the poetic ingredients, the salient  features of his poetry. To taunt and comment, to poke and pat, all that the body of his poetry as and when we sit to discuss it.

Sometimes we search for sobriety and meaning which is not in his verses, we look forward to getting them, but to read with a view to obtaining them is but to be disheartened. Though he talks about culture, the talk vanishes it in rites and rituals. Can one vyangyakar, be a satirist all the time? Sometimes irony pokes and pinches us if the mood is not fine. All the time, comments and taunts cannot regale us. We need some good words to find solace in. We need to be comforted. We also look forward to getting sober things so that lessons in life can be drawn from. His stock is Brahminical caste stuff, not Brahminical, pertaining to Brahmagyan stuffs, that is, one who knows Brahma is a Brahmin. Cultural astrology, astronomy he has not forgotten it, still moves with that familial load. Though Indian culture is alike, he is but one of the South rather than the North.

His position is one of tribal studies, rural studies and the folks the spokesmen, mouthpieces of his poetry as read we about the mystic drum of Africa beaten and so keeping it in view his is a South Indian drum which he is beating.

Had he been alive, he would have extolled Modi’s visit to Mamallapuram and the poem written as an eulogy to the sea.

Born on 16 March 1929 at Mysore under the then time of British India of Mysore Kingdom, he studied at University of Mysore, Deccan College,  Indiana University and taught at different colleges before moving to the States to hold the position of Professor in Linguistics at Chicago University and had been also on the visiting faculty of different univs., as such, Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of Berkeley at California and Carlton College. A Fulbright scholar, he had finished his Ph.D. in Linguistics. From 1962 he continued with his teaching assignment unto the end. A recipient of MacArthur Prize, Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi posthumously, he was a distinguished fellow. He lived in Chicago until his last.

The Striders appeared in Oxford University Press, London in 1966, Relations in 1971, Selected Poems in 1971, Collected Poems in 1997. His poems were included in Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets edited by R. Parthasarathy in 1976.  Second Sight also saw the light of the day in 1986. The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets was edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and brought out by Oxford University Press, New Delhi in 1992. Apart from it, his essays have appeared.

The title poem The Striders is a look back on the water bugs and their representation which is but horoscopic and astrological too as because the zodiac signs are like that. Whatever the reason, the striders seem to have engaged in his inner-scapes. A River as a poem is about the Vaikai river which flows through Madurai in addition to the joke, caricature, humor and irony. In another poem The Last of The Princes he tells about the deshi kings as well as the Moguls trying to modernize themselves in order to be friends with the Europeans. Pratalksto Lord  Murugan as a poem reminds us of Fire Hymn of Daruwalla as well as Nissim Ezekiel’s Hymns in Darkness.

In the poem entitled Obituary, he discusses the prospects of obituaries published in newspapers and the futility of them in the aftermath of his father’s death and the leaving of his legacy in the form of the younger, newer descendants and debts to be paid off and the daughters to be married.  On Naga-Panchami, what do we do? This also draws his attention and he cannot go without.

His essay on the Ramayana had been the point of discussion, argument among the Delhi academics and readers, people putting forward their arguments against so that the committee had to withdraw it finally the matter from the syllabus meant for the students as the take on mythology refuting the classical base suited it not the readers’ taste and the writer too had tricked in his way as for the handling of the stuff, as because vakrokti, hashya and vyangya thrill us not all the times and we too  misunderstand it sometimes and take it not in the right perspective so is the case here with this write-up confuting the general notion. There are different renditions of Ramayana and so are the folk theatres and versions no doubt, but who has taken a note of that, who has scripted the history of the folk versions and their enactment and the variations from? There was a time when people used to recite the verses from daily, where are those readers now-a-days? The writer seems to be under the influence of Dr. Camille Bulcke’s Ramkatha Ka Itihaas.

Derek Walcott too talks of the Ramlila in his poem The Saddhu of Couva and it fails the local and folk interpretations and versions as for India seen from far. Ramlila is a matter of folk theatres. We do not know the Ramlila artistes of foreign. We need to know them how the tradition has been carried on in the absence of the mainstay adjusting with the locale.

His poems are a box of the charmer or may be the cages of a fortune-teller, a palmist coming to see the hands or a pundit to see the birthday-relating religious papers. A different type of Khana and his folk stock proverbs and sayings, what truth will he spell it out none can say it. An Ashtabakra, he has his speeches of own foreboding good or evil at the click of the tongue and those seemingly to be true. To read him is to be reminded of fortune-tellers, palmists, pundits, ritualistic shraddha-doers and some peculiar Indian folks and motleys of crowds making for his space. To talk of him is to talk of generation gap, the gap in convention and modernity. How are our samsakaras and what we need to follow and what to discard in coming of age and times!

As an academician he worked on Indian literature and languages, classical and modern renderings, translation studies, taking Tamil,  Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit and English.

It is a trend with the Indian English poets to carry on the tradition, as Tagore translates the dohas of Kabir, Chitre St. Tukaram, Kolatkar Chaitanya, Mehrotra Gathasaptasati, Parthasarathy Tamil epic, Ramanujan but classical Sangam poetry. An expatriate academician, Ramanujan regales and caricatures with his same stock of wit and humor, irony and satire. Samsakaras revisited can be the thesis while writing on him or picking for research.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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