A. K. Ramanujan Poems

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A. K. Ramanujan
Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan (1929-1993) was a scholar of Indian literature who wrote in both English and Kannada. Ramanujan wore many hats as a scholar and author, those of a philologist, folklorist, translator, poet and playwright. His academic research ranged across five languages: Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit, and English. He published works on both classical and modern variants of these literatures and also argued strongly for giving local, non-standard dialects their due. He was born into a Tamil-speaking family living in Kannada-speaking Mysore City in 1929. He was educated in English at the Mysore University and at Indiana University. In 1962, he joined the University of Chicago and later taught there in several departments. In 1983, he was appointed the William E. Colvin Professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, of Linguistics, and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and, the same year, he received a MacArthur Fellowship. A. K. Ramanujan died in 1993 as result of adverse reaction to anesthesia during preparation for surgery. Ramanujan wrote poetry almost entirely in English. Reviewer Bruce King called Ramanujan, along with two other transcultural poets, "Indo-Anglian harbingers of literary modernism" (cited in Patel, 1992: 960). This description highlights several characteristics of Ramanujan's poetry, perhaps less common in other transcultural poetry. Characteristics of his modernist style include an almost jarring realism and hints at a kind of confessional style. While Reviewer Geeta Patel agrees with King's description of Ramanujan's work, she faults King for failing "to plumb the ramifications of exilic writing and the reconstruction or retrieval of the fantasies of tradition...that are characteristic of writing in a postcolonial transnational world" (Patel, 1992:961). Themes of hybridity and transculturation are highlighted in the following two poems, both from Second Sight (1986). Ramanujan discusses the first poem, "Astronomer," in "Is There an Indian Way of Thinking?" (1990). He says that this poem is about his father, who was a mathematics professor at the University of Mysore. He describes his father: He was a mathematician, an astronomer. But he was also a Sanskrit scholar, an expert astrologer. He had two kinds of visitors: American and English mathematicians who called on him when they were on a visit to India, and local astrologers, orthodox pundits who wore splendid gold-embroidered shawls dowered by the Maharaja. I had just been converted by Russell to the 'scientific attitude'. I (and my generation) was troubled by his holding together in one brain both astronomy and astrology; I looked for consistency in him, a consistency he didn't seem to care about, or even think about. (4)"Astronomer" is an attempt to make sense of his father's seemingly contradictory image. The following poem "Chicago Zen," exemplifies the theme of transnationalism, and might be an attempt to imagine himself as another hybrid image.

excerpts from a father's wisdom
Do not worry about Despair
Just comb your hair
Despair is a strange disease
I think it even happens to trees.

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