A River by A.K.Ramanujan
Bijay Kant Dubey
A River is one of those poems of A.K.Ramanujan which deal with hashya, vyangya and vakrokti, satire, laughter, irony, comment and the oblique approach an its application in poetry whose master is none, but the poet himself. An expatriate academician Ramanujan used to live and teach in the States and that too in the South Asian language and culture department. A poet, translator, polyglot, linguist, folklorist and a critic, Ramanujan was a linguistician. He has his own style of writing, the satirico-ironical vein of writing and he has written quite a few amazing and musing poems for that sort which not only entertains us, but regales us too. South Indian samskara he fails to discern and it becomes visible when he talks of the temples of Madurai, Sanskrit scholars and transmuting the horoscope-dealing pundits, soothsayers, oracle-hearers, fortune-tellers, palmists, gem-dealers and astrologers and presenting it in a muffled way to contradict the base. Apart from his sense of humour and double-speak, he is witty and critical too, intricate and coquettish. To take the fillip and to say is the chief quality of his poetry. To crack jokes not, but to twist and turn the thought and idea is the poetic property of his. His poetic circumference in addition to that of vakrokti and Ashtabakra’s statements is of Tamil, Kannada, Telegu and Malyalam periphery. If to see it otherwise, he too is a Tamil poet in an English garb as for Dravidian identity so prominent in him.
A poem about Dravidic town with an aura and circumference of historicity, mythology and scholarship where the poets and pundits resided, sang of the Vaigai river and the myths connected with it, contributing to Sangam literature, the poet Ramanujan has taken the humorous side to delve into the heart of the matter. Needless to add to it Sangam literature has paid many tributes to this river. Ramanujan just creates and re-creates the music of that in a contradictory, humorous way to give his anti-thesis and barring it there is nothing more in it. The legacy of the Pandya kings, the voices of the innumerable Tamil poets configuring as in the form of literary confluences, ancient and dating back to, hanging onto as impact and influence, he fails to discern, shake off. If this be the poetic load and contribution, how to contribute and add to fresh Ramanujan would have felt it? Though Ramanujan draws from folk literature, culture studies, sociology matters, historiography, heritage and legacy stuffs, but apart from that he has not risen high to endow something profound and full of sobriety and scholarship, barring hashya, vyangya and vakrokti.
The poet has released his emotions judging his worth and excellence under the weightage and pull of the Sangam literary meets, conferences and confluences hanging heavily over him and outdoing too. In addition to it, the temples, such as Meenakshi Amman Temple, Koodal Azhagar Temple and so on with their structures and antiquity of penetration cast a shadow over him and he opines under. His Tamil space hangs heavy jupon the readers who know nothing about his Indian humour and jokes; the jokes of a place and the mythic ice to be cut.
Ramanujan takes us along with him into the lanes, by lanes of Madurai, letting us not dodged by the pandas of the temples and getting it not trapped which but is the baffling part of classicism and piety. Sometimes it helps us when they enlighten upon, guide and take to the sanctum sanctorum, for a parikrama of the temple, but to charge heavily and to dodge is not at all good as the middle men and the brokers do it.
The poet says that it is usual to hear off the poets singing of Madurai, the temple town of Tamil Nadu, taking to the Vaigai river which flows through the town, describing it in the flood-time, but where are they, those singers and takers of poesy to describe when the water levels come to naught and the river dries down, showing the ribs of the body, the sands lying on the river-bed? The river dries in such a way that one can see the water-gates clogged with straw and women’s hair. The rusty bars of under the bridge with the repair works carried out seeming to be look-like sleepy crocodiles. The dry ones look like the shaven buffaloes lounging in the sun.
Is Ramanujan looking through the convex lens or with blurred eyesight or a poet poetical, so madly after poesy?
The poets so far have only sung of the rising flood waters submerging and drowning the low lands coming up to, taking inch by inch, the bathing ghats brimming with the steps down under and the water reaching onto the cobbled streets. Apart from glamorizing waters flowing, rising and the river in spate, making it scenic and landscapic against the backdrop of the temple, what have they? Have they ever tried to depict the villages swept away in the current of the floods, the villagers drowned and the swirling waters devouring it all?
What is more interesting is this that apart from the washing and wiping out of the three villages swept off, a pregnant woman along with the two cows named Gopi Brinda and have been washed away.
Is Ramanujan saying or he is going by rumours which do not come out true always? Or, maybe it that Ramanujan is colouring them to see? A humorist has no work to do rather than painting and denting, distorting the facts to re-present them for humour sake.
How can the unborn child do the frolics and gimmicks in the mother’s womb swept away by floods? Perhaps it is the gimmick of the poet himself trying to make us laugh, grin, chuckle and smile away. Many people try to maintain sobriety even though the clowns, jokers and buffoons try their best to make the passers-by laugh, burst into a laughter. Sometimes we must avoid them as may spill the beans. Comedians too are but the light and loose persons to handle it gravity. Life is serious too. Everything is not so light as Ramanujan is seeing here. He does not know the furies of waters rising, devouring, swirling and inundating. The poet has gone to excess in humoring. Even though he tries to make us laugh, the matter is not so light.
How can say about the would-be twins, project and guess about? Why did the poet not swim to her safety rather than watching her drowning? He could have to admit her to a nearby health centre.
Let us see how he keeps adding to the laughing stock that he has. The poet says that the poets generally quote from the old poets to write their stuffs rather than portraying the pregnant woman drowned, trying to have herself with the twins in her womb, keeping along with, probable, might-be.
To be poetical for once just during the flood time is not good marking the waters swirling and going, in surf and foam as the poet Auden sees it the island and Masefield with the ships sailing. Only waters, waters filling up, flowing and floating cannot be all that carries away poetically. There must be something within to see the things realistically. Only poetry and its romantic colours are not enough to carry, take us away. There must be the vision of coming down to earth as the skylark of Wordsworth rather than of Shelley flying high, above and beyond. We must be down to earth and earthly realities which but we cannot avoid them, avert our gaze from.
This is but one important thing that the poet speaks it here, draws our attention to even being a humorist, a satirist, a clown, a buffoon, a jester, as Jacques says it in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, extracted often to be re-presented, quoted and referenced as Seven Ages of Man or The World Is A Stage.
The last of all, not the least, the poem is very small and is not sufficient. The ending of the poem just is the repetition and representation of the earlier matter, repeated to create ripples of laughter and humour, making the listeners understand it again if missed.
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women's hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.
He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.
The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.
Keki N.Daruwalla too describes the flood scenes in different context choosing the Ghagra and others, but Ramanujan the Vaigai. Ramanujan’s reference to Madurai freshens the memories of Aldous Huxley’s Benares, Mahapatra’s Puri and that of Deoghar’s Baidyanathdham Temple. While going through Ramanujan’s Madurai, the temple town and its streets, the banks of the Vaigai river, the pictures conjure up automatically on the mind’s plane, the ghats of Benares resonant with the footsteps of Ramanand, Kabir and Trailanga Swami. But together with it, the poet should have described the lotus designing and patterning for the city by the Pandya kings whose capital was it, the jasmine flowers bedecking it and adorning with sweet fragrances coming from naturally rather than going satiric, ironical, turning and twisting it to present as the molten and mangled stuff of humour.