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EXPLORING INDIAN LIFE, CULTURE, AND SENSIBILITIES THROUGH THE POETRY OF A.K. RAMANUJAN

By Kaumudi Singh

A towering figure in the realm of literature, Attippat Krishnaswami Ramanujan, known as A.K. Ramanujan, left an indelible mark on the world through his multidisciplinary expertise. Born in 1929 in Mysore, Ramanujan’s journey traversed the realms of linguistics, anthropology, translation, and poetry, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire generations.

Ramanujan’s academic pursuits led him from Pune to eventually become a distinguished professor in the University of Chicago’s South-Asia Programme. His global renown rests not only on his scholarly achievements but also on his profound depiction of Indian sensibilities, drawn from the rich tapestry of Indian life and culture, a passion deeply ingrained in his upbringing.

Unlike his contemporaries like Dom Moraes and Nissim Ezekiel, Ramanujan’s poetic style veered towards austerity, favouring a more intellectual, philosophical, and psychological exploration of personal experiences over spiritual abstraction. The emergence of universities during Colonial India’s era catalysed a creative outburst among writers in the 19th century, with voices like Toru Dutt and Henry Derozio heralding a new era of free-thinking and tolerance. Within the tapestry of Indian English Poetry, Ramanujan finds himself among a cohort of modernists alongside figures like R. Parthasarathy, Ezekiel, and P. Lal. Together, they form an Imagist Group characterized by their ironical and clear-cut writings, a departure from the grandiloquent rhetoric of figures like Aurobindo Ghose.

Bruce King encapsulates Ramanujan’s complexity, portraying him as a Brahmin deeply immersed in Southern India’s languages and literatures, yet cosmopolitan in his personal life and academic pursuits. Ramanujan’s culinary adventures, transitioning from vegetarianism to savouring gourmet delights in Paris, reflect his ethos of experiencing the world in all its diversity.

As an anthropologist, Ramanujan delved into language as a reflection of society and culture, producing seminal works on Indian folklore and translating ancient texts like the Vaishnava hymns of Tamil Nadu. His poetry, spanning works like ‘Striders,’ ‘Relations,’ ‘Second Sight,’ and ‘Collected Poems,’ embodies a fusion of Indian imagery and universal themes, capturing the essence of Indian life with global resonance.

Central to Ramanujan’s poetic exploration is the notion of sensibility, encompassing the emotional, moral, and aesthetic fabric of Indian culture. Through his verses, he encapsulates the composite awareness of India’s diverse facets – from race and religion to language and literature. As an Imagist, he skilfully intertwines inner and outer forms of expression, drawing from his multilingual background and interdisciplinary scholarship.

Ramanujan’s oeuvre brims with references to Indian mythology, folklore, and everyday life, serving as a prism through which readers can explore the intricacies of Indian sensibilities. Whether depicting the incarnations of gods as animals or the reverence for nature in rituals like Nagpanchami, his poetry unveils the layers of Indian society with both compassion and critique.

His keen observation of societal nuances, from the market scenes to the rituals of marriage, paint a vivid portrait of Indian life. Through his lens, he scrutinizes the tensions between tradition and modernity, the dichotomy of past glories and present realities, all while retaining a deep-rooted connection to his cultural heritage.

Ramanujan’s poetry becomes a bridge between worlds – the East and West, tradition and modernity. His verses resonate with a universal audience, offering insights into the human condition while preserving the essence of Indian ethos. In his exploration of Indian sensibilities, he not only enriches the tapestry of Indian English Poetry but also reaffirms the enduring relevance of Indian culture on the global stage.

Through meticulous craftsmanship and profound insight, Ramanujan’s poetry continues to inspire and provoke, inviting readers to embark on a journey of self-discovery and cultural introspection. As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, his words serve as a beacon, reminding us of the timeless truths embedded within the fabric of Indian life and culture.

In essence, A.K. Ramanujan emerges as a luminary whose work transcends borders and epochs, illuminating the human experience with the vibrant hues of Indian sensibilities. His legacy endures as a testament to the richness and complexity of Indian life, culture, and sensibilities, inviting us to delve deeper into the intricacies of our shared humanity.