Monday, August 29, 2011

Nuggets of Genius | The poetry of A K Ramanujan

Come lightly, love, let us wait – to be found, to be

A.K Ramanujan came to me as a gift, literally. His Book of collected poems was the first birthday gift from my boyfriend, along with a book on Thai cooking. I got the hint! I had never read Ramanujan before and all of a sudden it was as if I had found a poetic mentor. He wrote in staccato and yet it was like a melody. Every word alternated between a punch in my face and a balm to sooth my bloody nose. You can tell why I did so terribly at literary criticism at my A Levels. I struggled with Allegory and Alliteration or to tell the Meter from the Cadence. When asked for what the The Flea by John Donne meant to me, I answered: “ Madame, it reminds me of that movie, Demolition man!” Rest assured, I did terribly. You couldn’t ask me to explain e e cummings- I carry you in my heart to save my life, but the following lines:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

-are to me, like a prayer. The perfect love letter that encompasses everything I want to say. And sometimes I read it because my mind wants to be entertained and poetry is by far the most momentary of all reading pleasures. Which is why I have never understood why so few people partake in it.

A K Ramanuja’s poems can be compared to e e cummings in that they are little nuggets of genius. (Comparative literature PhD's are creating voodoo dolls of me as I write this) Like a box of Nehaus chocolates, tiny and decadent, each bite bursts in your mouth and coats it with concentrated pleasure that stays with you a lot longer than a mediocre bar of milk chocolate. Take for instance this:

The Striders

And search
For certain thin-
Stemmed, bubble-eyed water bugs.
See them perch
On dry capillary legs
On the ripple skin
Of a stream.

No, not only prophets
Walk on water. This bug sits
On a landslide of lights
And drowns eye-
Into its tiny strip
Of sky.

Reading this always makes me smile. I envision a little bug on a lotus leaf looking up at its sky as if from a disney novel. The reference to Christ is something I am yet to decipher. As I mentioned earlier- terrible at literary criticism.

Another from the same collection “The Striders” perfect for reading aloud. It is called Self Portrait.

I resemble everyone
But myself, and sometimes see
in shop-windows,
despite the well-known laws
of optics,
the portrait of a stranger,
date unknown,
often signed in a corner
by my father.

I think it captures so succinctly how we change ourselves to fit the people we meet, not unlike sympathetic hearing. Until we do it so much that we forget what we are really about and have to go back home to where it all started so find the little bits of the original personality.

My cleaning lady often walks in on me sitting on my sofa reading his poetry aloud. She smiles and scowls simultaneously, possibly getting ready to ask for her wages and get the hell away from this mad woman who speaks to herself.

I know very little about the man, apart from the fact he was a native of Mysore and wrote in both English and Kanada. He won the Padma Shri and at the time of his death was the Professor at Linguistics at the University of Chicago. He left behind one hundred and forty eight poems on three computer disks, some of which were published posthumously, along with this book of Collected Poems. He joked that his poems were like his babies, they dirtied themselves and he had to clean them up. He took ten years to complete a collection.

I struggled to choose my favorite for today since there are so many I love. Very little is available online and I have had to type them out and have tried my best to place words correctly. It is a shame that no one has catalogued his entire collection, as it is a fantastic example of contemporary Indian poetry that straddles eastern and westerns views with no apologies. The following site lists about ten, along with his most critically famous-The River, that takes him back to Mysore.

For now , I leave you with the last two paragraphs of Two Styles of Love

Love is no hurry, love is no burning;
It is no fairytale of bitter and sweet.
Moons may turn at the full; we return without turning.
And no mouth shall have shadow for meat.

No, no love is sudden.
Coupling hands take time to kill the frost.
Even leaping Beast shall wait to be bidden
By Beauty. Come lightly, love, let us wait – to be found, to be

Sigh…had I paid more attention in literary criticism class, I would have been able to do this exquisite poetry so much more justice.


  1. I would comment, but no point :)

  2. Meaning that..since there is no way to be notified of any follow on comments, it becomes pointless to leave one!

  3. You can still comment Fido. We will let you know especially!



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