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A Tribute to a Poet

About two months ago, I presented a programme in Cosmopolitan Club called: 'Great Voices from History', where I presented the audio voices of great leaders and statesmen like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Woodrow Wilson and many others. Soon after that programme was over and as I was coming out, an old gentleman in his early eighties presented to me a small volume of his own poems titled The Wayside Piper. That was Srinivasa Rangaswami. Ever since then I have been under the spell of his great, elevating, exalting and even exhilarating poetry.

Reading some of his poems again and again and allowing the beauty and the resonance of his poems to seep into my consciousness, I have felt the same way as the great Irish poet W B Yeats felt when he read for the first time the prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore in 1912. I would allow W B Yeats to speak for myself in this context: 'But though these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveler will not tell me... I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics? which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of color, of metrical invention? display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long.' I am no great poet like W.B. Yeats. And yet no one can challenge the fact that I am no less human than W B Yeats. I am under the continuing spell of the charm of Srinivasa Rangaswami's poetry.

Srinivasa Rangaswami was born on 20 February, 1924. He took his Masters Degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Madras. He had the good fortune of studying English Literature under the legendary Professor K Swaminathan who was Professor of English in Presidency College. He started writing poems in English from his boyhood days. Perhaps he lisped in numbers and the numbers came. He worked as a Parliamentary Official, for over three decades, retiring as Joint Director from the Research and Information Service of the Parliament of India, New Delhi in 1982. After his retirement he joined the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi as an Officer on Special Duty and served in that capacity for three years and later became the Director of that Institute.

Steeped in Indian music and Hindu religion and the Tamil classics, Srinivasa Rangaswami is a bilingual writer ? having contributed seminal articles in English and Tamil to leading periodicals and journals. A poet, critic and translator, his works have been widely published. He won the South Indian Tamil Academy Medal in 1938 and The Sir Mark Hunter Prize at Presidency College in 1944. He was awarded the Michael Madhusudan Academy award for poetry for the year 2000.

To quote Srinivasa Rangaswami's words about what is poetry: 'It is a question that has been asked again and again, and answered in different ways. In one sense, it is unnecessary to ask this question. Yet, in the present day context, it has become urgently necessary to ask the question to ourselves and explore an answer. A poem, to me, is a luminous drop... a splendorous jewel... that is for ever. It is cast in a permanent die in the white heat of a poet's creativity. When minted out, it acquires its sheen and durability for all time. A poem is a lyrical output. It has music in its soul. This may be a matter of expression, or of luminosity of thought, or of lived experience, or of a fresh perception of known truth.'

Rangaswami's poetry makes us see the world afresh or some new part of it. It makes us a little more aware of the deeper unnamed feelings to which we rarely penetrate. Poetry seems to come to him as naturally as the leaves to a tree. Rangaswami says in the preface to his volume of poems: 'I am a wayside piper. I sing as songs come to me. I believe in the autonomy of the creative spirit and recognize no fetters to it... I should feel more than satisfied if some of my thoughts and feelings should strike a chord, find endorsement in the experience of someone, somewhere in the world. I do not look for anything beyond this.'

I was deeply moved and touched by his beautiful poem - With you beside me... No longer - which was written soon after the passing away of his life partner.

  With you beside me 
        no longer, 
        a waterweed 
        I float - 
        a flotsam 
        of a carnival 
        now all over, 
        bobbing up and down 
        on the sluggish river 
        to the unknown 
        With you beside me 
        I strode the earth 
        a Titan?- 
        secure, strong, sufficient?- 
        anchored in you; 
        I was strong 
        With you beside me... 
        . . . . . . . . . 
        Oh! when shall we meet, 
        now again, 
        as you and me, 
        to tell you, 
        be assured you knew, 
        I held you dear, 
        however I was 
        with you beside me. 
        The yawning thought 
        it shall never be?- 
        that I must bear the cross 
        of unatoned debt 
        that must ever 
        remain unatoned 

        an abiding pain?- 
        the pang 
        the thought?- 
        it was 
        a one-time encounter.

I can say this is masterpiece of a poem. In this context I cannot help quoting T S Eliot to pay my tribute to Srinivasa Rangaswami: 'Great simplicity is only won by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit, the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language.'

        Here are a few lofty lines from his poem: The Enigma 
        With you beside me no longer, now 
        slipped into a date and a thithi 
        Crouched I lie, with memories? 
        memories of yesteryears, of years before, 
        memories of us together... 
        . . . . . . 
        Memories of togetherness 
        thro' years we grew up together, 
        each to the other 
        in a golden bond a deep attachment, 
        Memories of the autumnal calm 
        aglow with moments shared and lived 
        serene, rich, in deep fulfillment. 
        All memories... 
        Are we but projectiles in lone trajectories 
        intersecting on this earth 
        in a brief encounter, 
        only to hurry on... 
        on paths our own, 
        leaving behind 
        just a heap of memories, 
        dearly held, fiercely held, 
        for a while, 
        to be washed away by the tide of TIME 
        and tossed into oblivion?

After reading these sublime and elemental lines of poetry, I could only ask this question: 'And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up?'

On the endless and eternal drama of transitory human life, let us hear Rangaswami in his poem: Relationships. Here are a few selected lines from this poem:

        Curtains down, the play over, 
        attached identities untied. 
        what are you to one another? 
        Are we not all chance acquaintances 
        come together somehow, for a while, in the play, 
        to part and go our individual ways 
        in the ceaseless journey, 
        lone, unknown... ?

Srinivasa Rangaswami proclaims through his poem - Nothing in Vain - that life is not an empty dream. It is real; it is earnest; and the grave is not its goal. Here are his resounding words of poetry:

        There is verily a hidden purpose and a plan 
        in all of God's creation. Only we do not see. 
        Every end presages a new beginning 
        in a grand cycle of perpetual renewal 
        and evolution. So that this our earth 
        shall remain 
        forever new and young.

The mysteriously flashing meteor of life is portrayed by Rangaswami as follows:

        A speck, a spark, 
        A cosmic accident, 
        A meteorite hit... 
        Our life on this earth 
        is a glorious birth.... 
        A carnival of blessings 
        A largess of happiness 
        of experience tingling 
        in every fiber of our being.

I fully endorse the magisterial verdict of Dr Krishna Srinivas on Srinivasa Rangaswami; 'With Blakean simplicity and Pindaric excellence, Poet Srinivasa Rangaswami has carved his name in the monumental edifice of Parnassus. His poems are extensions of his experiences'. The electrifying clarity of Rangaswami's poems reminded me of the following lightning lines of William Blake:

        For Mercy has a human heart, 
        Pity, a human face; 
        And Love, the human form divine, 
        And Peace, the human dress

Rangaswami's poetry is a conversation with the World. It is a conversation with the words on the page in which he allows those words to speak back to you. Indeed, his poetry is a timeless conversation with himself and yourself.


More by : V. Sundaram
Views: 4258      Comments: 1

Comments on this Poem Article

Comment i saw your tribute to srinivasa rangaswami only today
i know him - he was in delhi
we were honoured together but that was several years ago
my email id is vadapalli.ramarao
i would like to have yours
rama rao

vadapalli.rama rao
29-Mar-2014 00:00 AM


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