Waterfalls in a Bank
Waterfalls in a Bank
A. K. RAMANUJAN
"Waterfalls in a Bank" is a poem by A. K. Ramanujan, a twentieth-century Indian poet who lived in the United States for most of his adult life. The poem was first published in Ramanujan's collection of poems Second Sight (1986), which is currently out of print. It is also available in The Oxford India Ramanujan and The Collected Poems of A. K. Ramanujan. The poem is set in a bank in Chicago, where the poet's attention is caught by a man-made waterfall. As he gazes at the waterfall, it stimulates his memory, and much of the poem consists of a stream of varied imagery, including some scenes from his past in India. "Waterfalls in a Bank" is typical of Ramanujan's work in the sense that as an Indian immigrant living in Chicago, Illinois, he lived in two cultural worlds, East and West, which for him also represented the past and the present, respectively. His poetry considers the tensions involved in this situation, and as such, his work is part of the contribution made to American literature over the last twenty years or so by immigrants from South Asia who have endeavored in their writing to come to terms with their experience in the United States.
Indian poet, translator and philologist, A(ttipat) K(rishnaswami) Ramanujan was born March 16, 1929, in Mysore, India, the son of Attipat Asuri (a professor of mathematics) and Seshamal Krishnaswami. Ramanujan's mother instilled in him at an early age a love of literature and mythology. Ramanujan started writing poetry in his native language, Kannada, when he was fifteen or sixteen. He attained a B.A. degree, with honors, from Mysore University in 1949, and the following year was awarded an M.A. in English from the same university.
During the 1950s, Ramanujan was a lecturer at various colleges in India, and he also earned graduate diplomas in Dravidian linguistics from Deccan College, Poona, in 1958 and 1959. He then received a Fulbright travel fellowship and a Smith-Mundt fellowship that enabled him to come to the United States and study at Indiana University in Bloomington for his Ph.D. in linguistics, which he was awarded in 1963. In the early 1960s, Ramanujan moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he lived for the remainder of his life. From 1962 to 1965, he was assistant professor of linguistics (Tamil and Dravidian languages) at the University of Chicago, then associate professor from 1966 to 1968, and finally professor of linguistics and Dravidian studies, from 1968 until his death in 1993. He was also professor on the committee on social thought, 1972-1993, and the chair of the department of South Asian languages and civilizations from 1980 to 1985. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was a visiting professor at other universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Carleton College in Minnesota.
In addition to his academic work, which ranged across four Indian languages, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit, Ramanujan published several volumes of poetry in English, including translations and original work. Fifteen Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1965) was a translation from classical Tamil literature. This was followed a year later by his first collection of original poetry, The Striders (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1966), in which he recalls the India of his childhood. Speaking of Siva (1973), Ramanujan's translation of ancient Indian devotional poems, received a National Book Award nomination in 1974. His second volume of original poetry, Relations, was published in 1971; Second Sight followed in 1986. This volume included the poem, "Waterfalls in a Bank." In August of 1983, Ramanujan was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship Grant.
Ramanujan married Molly Daniels, a Syrian Christian from India, in 1962. Daniels was a journalist and novelist. They had a daughter and a son; they also married and divorced twice. The second divorce took place a few years before Ramanujan's death of a heart attack on July 13, 1993, in Chicago at the age of sixty-four.
After his death, another collection of Ramanujan's poetry, The Black Hen, was published with The Collected Poems of A. K. Ramanujan (1995). The volume won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Best Poems in English; a further volume, Uncollected Poems and Prose, was published in 2001.
"Waterfalls in a Bank" is set in a bank in Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois. The poet has been in the bank a while before the poem begins, and the first line, "And then one sometimes sees waterfalls," suggests that his glance has just fallen on some kind of decorative waterfall that has been installed in the lobby. As he looks at the waterfall, he starts to see it metaphorically, influenced by his knowledge of Tamil poetry (Tamil is an ancient language in India), as "wavering snakeskins" and "cascades of muslin." Muslin is a fine, thin cotton cloth, also called India muslin. For centuries, muslin was made by hand in India, but during British colonial rule, the muslin industry was deliberately destroyed by the British in order to supplant it with imported British goods. In other words, the poet is here allowing images from the culture of his native India to flood into his mind as he observes the waterfall. This creates an immediate contrast, not only between present and past but also between cultures, East and West.
More images follow as the poet continues to gaze at the waterfall. Perhaps produced by the downward flow of the water, the images that come into his mind now are of "living and dying children" who "tumble towards old age." Then, further, the waterfall creates contradictory impressions in his mind of love ("lovesongs") and war ("Biafra"). Biafra is a region in southeast Nigeria, in Africa, that was the scene of war and famine in the 1960s. In 1967, Biafra declared itself an independent state, and a three-year civil war followed. Up to a million people, including many children, died as a result of famine.
These two words, "lovesongs" and "Biafra," with their opposite connotations, seem to combine to produce the image that immediately follows, which unifies music and war: "orchestras in bombsites." It appears that the poet's mind, stimulated by the sight of the waterfall, is now engaged in a kind of free association of images. The next image is of "hunger's saints in the glasshouse alley," which could suggest both the sadhu, the begging saint in Indian tradition, seeking alms from passers-by, perhaps the Biafran children who starved during the civil war, and perhaps also, the homeless people in Chicago, begging in the "glasshouse alley" of Chicago's massive skyscrapers.
After the image of the children reappears, it is followed by a more extensive image, taking up six lines, which will conclude the first section of the poem. The image appears to go back to the poet's native India, perhaps to his own family. It is of an old woman ("grandmother") acting as midwife as her daughter—perhaps the poet's mother—who is in childbirth. The scene appears to be a home rather than a hospital, perhaps in a village rather than a city, where old folk beliefs still linger, as evidenced by the four lemons that are placed there to provide "good omens"; in other words, to produce good luck at a birth.
The stream of images stimulated by the waterfall now ended, the poet reflects, using images that suggest the financial institution in which he finds himself. Using the language of commerce, he speaks of himself "transact[ing] with the past," and he is aware of the wide gap, both in time and culture, between the present and the past. The past is like "another / country with its own customs, currency, / stock exchange." Continuing the financial metaphor, he states that he is always "at a loss when I count my change." At a loss can mean that he does not understand what is happening; it can also mean that in the transaction between past and present, which includes an interchange between two extremely different cultures, he has come off the loser in the deal. Perhaps change in this instance is a pun, referring to both coin and the cultural changes wrought over time to the poet's country. Perhaps he means that what he possesses in the present is less than he had in the past, or that the attempt to bridge two cultures is in some sense unsatisfactory or confusing.
The poet then returns to more images from the past, including one that had earlier been stimulated by the waterfall ("dying children") and two new ones: "Assam politics" (Assam is a northeastern state of India, south of the eastern Himalayas), and "downtown Nairobi." Since Nairobi is the capital of Nigeria, this reference recalls the mention of Biafra in the previous section.
These images "fall through" the poet as he "rise[s]" among them, and they leave him with "mud on my nose," an earthy image that seems to summon in the poet's mind a flurry of apparently unrelated images of earth, growth, regeneration, and death in plant, animal and human kingdoms:
a rhododendron rising from a compost
of rhododendrons, chicken bones,
silk of girlish hair,
and the nitrogen of earthworms.
The final image in these lines is a reference to the fact that the secretions of earthworms contain nitrogen, a nutrient essential for plant growth.
The poet returns once again to the waterfall, this time hearing rather than seeing the water fall. He also hears the "papers rustle"—perhaps some activity going on near him in the bank—and then he is transported once again by the waterfall, this time back to an incident he remembers from his childhood in India. An old, almost paralytic "sadhu" (a wandering ascetic holy man), is hobbling along the pebbled sidestreet near the poet's childhood home. Then with one finger he lifts his loincloth and urinates, aiming the stream of urine at two red flowers on an oleander bush. At that moment, a car turns the corner, and caught in the beam of the headlights, the arc of the urine stream appears, in three successive metaphors, transformed into "yellow diamonds," "instant rainbows" (which for some reason are "scared") and "spurts of crystal." This effect is produced, paradoxically, by the "commonplace cruelty of headlights," which illuminate in a stark but transformative way an act which should be private.
The final section of the poem moves further afield in its setting. Instead of a waterfall inside a Chicago bank, it considers Chicago itself. Whereas much of the poem up to this point has been looking backwards, to the past in a different culture, this section takes place in the present. There has been a "seven-day snowfall" in Chicago, which has produced chaos, clogging traffic and grounding planes as well as sundry other effects; it "muffles screams, garbage cans, pianos." This is a reference to the blizzard that hit Chicago in January 1979. The storm did not actually last seven days. It started on Friday night, January 12, and lasted until 2 a.m. Sunday January 14. On top of 7-10 inches of snow that remained on the ground following a New Year's Eve blizzard, 20.3 inches of new snow fell. This set a record in Chicago for total snow on the ground. It did indeed cause the chaos the poem describes. Transportation, including buses, trains, and cars, came to a halt for several days. Garbage piled up in the streets.
The poet states that the storm "topples a mayor and elects another / who promises clearance / of debts and snowfalls." This is a reference to the dissatisfaction among Chicago residents about the perceived slowness of Mayor Anthony Bilandic and the city in dealing with the blizzard. This dissatisfaction played a large role in the defeat of the mayor in the mayoral election on February 27, 1979. The victorious candidate, Jane Byrne, who previously had been given little chance of winning, made up much ground by exploiting the perceived ineffectiveness of Bilandic.
The reference to recent events in Chicago is followed by two images suggestive of the "silent / white effects" of falling snow: "tickertape on astronauts" (a reference to the practice in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s of giving tickertape parades for returning astronauts) and "white flower on black thorn."
The last line of the poem, "And my watchers watch, from their nowhere perches," is enigmatic and perhaps can be explained only with reference to other poems by Ramanujan. It suggests that, in spite of all the activity of his mind that he has recorded in the poem, another part of himself (his "watchers")—perhaps a deeper level of his own mind that is not so localized in time and space ("nowhere perches")—simply observes the scene, undisturbed by the musings that have both stimulated and troubled him.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Write a poem in the style of "Waterfalls in a Bank," beginning with some object you see that stimulates images or memories of the past. At some point in the poem, evaluate whether what you have gained in life is equal to what has been lost to the past.
- Research the history of immigration to the United States from India and other South Asian countries over the last twenty years. Write an essay in which you discuss what the experience of Indian Americans has been. Are they generally a prosperous or an impoverished group? Are they concentrated in specific geographical areas? What problems have they faced in adapting to life in the United States? How do they compare to other immigrant groups?
- Make a class presentation in which you discuss at least three important differences between American culture and Indian culture. You could choose to discuss religion, family, sports, movies, the arts, government, health care, or any other aspect of the two cultures. What kind of cultural misunderstandings might arise when Americans visit India?
- Locate and interview several immigrants in your school or community. Talk to them about why they came to the United States and how they have adjusted to life in America. What have been their challenges? How have they coped with language and other cultural differences? Record the interview, then write an article about the people you interviewed that could be sent to your local newspaper.
Contrast of Opposites
"Waterfalls in a Bank" achieves its effects by contrasting several sets of opposites: inner and outer, past and present, West and East. The poem takes place in a quintessential Western setting, inside a bank in Chicago. The setting suggests modernity, commerce, the objective world of business. But the poet, as he observes the waterfall that has been constructed in the bank, is taken back in time, through a stream of mental images, to India, his country of origin. This occurs particularly in sections 1 and 3, with its respective images of the woman in childbirth being assisted by her own mother, and the aged, crippled holy man in a street that the poet remembers from his childhood home. The poet comments cryptically about this interaction between past and present, which also involves a contrast between the Western culture in which he now lives and the Eastern culture in which he grew up, in the words:
As I transact with the past as with another
country with its own customs, currency,
stock exchange, always
at a loss when I count my change …
This suggests a certain regret on the part of the poet at what he has lost in leaving his own country to come and live in the United States, with its completely different ways.
East and West, as well as past and present, are starkly juxtaposed at the end of section 3. The old sadhu, a representative of an ancient, spiritual culture, is starkly illuminated, in his act of urination, in the headlights of an oncoming car, the product of the industrial civilization of the West.
Following this excursion into an Indian past, the poem returns to the firm reality of the present and the outer world of day-to-day life rather than the inner world of memory. January in Chicago, with its snowstorms, snarled traffic, and failing city services, presents another sharp contrast with the "dark sidestreet" of the poet's childhood home in India.
Transformation of the Ordinary
Much of the poem consists of a stream of images stimulated by the poet's contemplation of the waterfall in the bank. The images may at first seem somewhat random, but they do lead to a climactic moment in section 3, in which the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary. This is hinted at in the first lines of the poem, which suggest the possibility of transformation. The poet sees the waterfalls "as the ancient Tamils saw them, / wavering snakeskins, / cascades of muslin." This suggests not simply poetic metaphor, but a different way of seeing ordinary phenomena. The suggestion that mundane, everyday perception might be transcended is taken up again and made more dramatic and explicit in the vignette about the sadhu who urinates on the street and whose act is suddenly illuminated in the headlights of the car. The excretion of a waste product from the body, an act common to all humans and almost always performed in private, is here transformed into something precious. The stream of urine is seen as "a trajectory of yellow diamonds, / scared instant rainbows, ejecting spurts / of crystal." Infusing this most basic of bodily functions with imagery of precious stones, crystals and a beautiful natural phenomenon like the rainbow, is indeed an unexpected illumination, ironically produced by "the commonplace cruelty" of the glare of the headlights. It suggests that beauty, if it can be found in the stream of an old man's urine, might be found anywhere in creation.
The poem is written in free verse. Unlike traditional verse, free verse does not employ poetic techniques such as regular meter and rhyme, and line lengths may be variable. Free verse also employs a much looser structure than traditional poetry. However, "Waterfalls in a Bank" does follow a clear structure, although the poet invents it for himself rather than following any traditional form. The poem is divided into four unnumbered sections, each consisting of between three and five verses. Each unrhymed verse consists of two and a half lines. After sections 2, 3, and 4, an extra line is added, standing alone. The first two of these extra lines are grammatically linked to the previous verse; the final extra line, "And my watchers watch, from their nowhere perches," is independent, grammatically and thematically, from what has preceded it, and acts as a kind of coda to the poem. (Coda is a term used in music to describe a few measures added to the end of a piece.)
Although many of the images seem random (as might be expected since they are part of the stream of the poet's memory), there are some unifying elements. The reference to children who "tumble towards old age" foreshadows the images of the "bentover grandmother" and the old sadhu later in the poem; the image of "living and dying children" may suggest the childbirth scene which concludes the first section. The main unifying image in the poem, however, is that of falling water, in its different forms. The waterfall in the bank, the primary image that in a sense produces all the others, is related both to the stream of urine emitted by the sadhu, and the falling snow in Chicago (snow being water in another form).
Ramanujan's work is generally classified as postcolonial literature. The term refers to the literature produced in nations, mostly African and Asian, that were formerly under European colonial rule, in most cases until after World War II. Postcolonial literature also includes work by citizens of formerly colonized countries, such as Ramanujan, who live and work in the West. Since India was under British rule until 1947, the literature of that country since its independence is considered to be postcolonial.
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1980s: In the late 1980s, postcolonial criticism begins to emerge as a distinct category in literary criticism. Postcolonial critics question long-held assumptions made by liberal humanist critics about the universality of Western literature, arguing that such "universalist" views undervalue the literature of other cultures and regions.
Today: Postcolonial criticism is a well established and burgeoning field of critical inquiry. Postcolonial critics show the limitations of the Western literary canon partly because of its failure to empathize with other cultures and ethnicities. Postcolonialism examines cultural differences and how they are represented in literary texts; it seeks to reevaluate aspects of other cultures that have been marginalized and devalued by Western writers.
- 1980s: In 1983, Harold Washington becomes Chicago's first African-American Mayor. A popular mayor, he is known for his efforts to build coalitions between neighborhood groups, community development, the creation of the Ethics Commission and the creating of more minority business contracts. Mayor Washington wins reelection in 1987, but dies in office later that year.
Today: Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has been in office since 1989. He is the first Chicago mayor to be elected for five consecutive terms. Under his tenure, Chicago sees a growth in tourism, the modernization of the Chicago Transit Authority, the building of Millennium Park and the development of Chicago's North Side.
- 1980s: Beginning with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, the 1980s witness a rapid increase in Indian literature written in English. Writers such as Anita Desai and Bharati Mukherjee achieve popular success through mainstream publishers.
Today: Indian authors writing in English continue to attain critical and commercial success, winning national and international literary awards and attracting the attention of the mass media. In 2002, Arundhati Roy publishes a collection of essays, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002); in 2005, Salman Rushdie publishes the novel, Shalimar the Clown, set in a fictional small town in Kashmir.
Postcolonial writing considers the interactions between the indigenous culture and the colonizing power. It is a reaction against negative stereotyping of non-European cultures by the colonizing West. This topic was first examined in depth by Edward Said in his
book Orientalism (1978), in which he showed how the West had constructed an image of non-Western cultures (the Orient or the East) that took for granted the superiority of the West. This viewpoint defined the colonialized culture only through Western eyes and was completely unable to understand and evaluate it from a morally and culturally neutral perspective.
Postcolonial writers examine how the subjugated society has been affected by colonial rule, and they find themselves occupying two cultural worlds. The legacy of the colonizing power, with its influence on such things as language, culture, ways of knowing, and self-identity, coexists with the need to rediscover an authentic form of expression, free of that dominating Euro-centered perspective. Postcolonial literature therefore subverts the European, outsider view and replaces it with narratives that assert the value of indigenous culture. An example of this is contained in Things Fall Apart (1958), a novel by the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. Nigeria, like India, is a former British colony. Achebe's novel is about a late nineteenth-century community leader who opposes colonialism. Achebe employs traditional proverbs and other stylistic devices to present the indigenous Igbo culture (that predates the Western-created nation of Nigeria), in a positive light, reclaiming it from the negative portrayals of Africa that had dominated European writing.
Other well-known postcolonial writers include the Nigerian, Buchi Emecheta, whose work, notably In the Ditch (1972), deals with the role of women in African societies; Frantz Fanon, who was born in the French colony of Martinique and examined the effects of racism and colonization in Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961); and Jamaica Kincaid, born on the island of Antigua when it was still under British rule (Antigua became self-governing in 1967 but did not gain full independence until 1981). Kincaid's novel A Small Place (1988) expresses anger at the effects of colonization, which attempted to turn Antigua into a small version of England, without regard to its native culture.
Indian Literature in English
Indian literature in English is considered as a subgenre of postcolonial literature, since English was the language used by the colonizing power in India. It has a relatively short history. The first literature in English by an Indian was a travel narrative by Sake Dean Mahomet, The Travels of Dean Mahomet, published in England in 1793. During the early part of the twentieth century, the best known Indian writers in English were probably Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who wrote poetry in Bengali as well as English, and R. K. Narayan (1906-2001), whose novels were set in the fictional south Indian town of Malgudi.
More recently, an increasing number of Indian writers, including those who live in English-speaking countries, have chosen to write in English rather than any of the many languages of their native India. The advantage of this to the writer is that he or she can potentially reach a much larger audience, but some critics have questioned whether postcolonial literature written in the language of the colonizer is the most relevant or best choice for the culture of the former colony.
Ramanujan, whose native tongues were the Indian languages Tamil and Kannada, but who wrote his poetry in English, noted some of the problems that a writer faces in using a second language, one not usually learned in childhood. In an interview with Chiranton Kulshrestha, published in The Oxford India Ramanujan, Ramanujan stated, "A great deal of Indian writing is upstairs English, platform English, idiom-book English, newspaper English. With no slang available, they are stuck in a ‘register’, a formality, a learned posture." He comments further that Indian poetry written in English is bound to be limited. Commenting on those Indians who, like himself, write in English, he said, "[we] have probably written ourselves into the margin, because of such splits in our persons and our language. … [we] also get separated from the great community of people in India."
Be that as it may, the amount of literature written by Indians in English continues to grow rapidly. The most famous such writer is Salman Rushdie, who was born in India but now lives in the United States. His most acclaimed novel is Midnight's Children (1981). Other prominent works written in English by Indians include Jasmine (1988) by Bharati Mukherjee, who like Rushdie lives in the United States; A Suitable Boy (1994) by Vikram Seth; The Great Indian Novel (1989) by Shashi Tharoor; A Clear Light of Day (1980), by Anita Desai; The God of Small Things (1997) by Arundhati Roy; and Such a Long Journey (1991) by Rohinton Mistry.
Among Indian poets writing in English, the most prominent in the second part of the twentieth century were Dom Moraes (1938-2004), who lived much of his life in Mumbai, India, and Nissam Ezekiel, who came from India's Jewish community.
Over the years, Ramanujan's poetry has won considerable praise from critics. Writing in Contemporary Literature, Jahan Ramazani notes that as early as the 1960s, Indian contemporaries have hailed Ramanujan as the best Indian English poet. R. Parthasarathy, a fellow Indian poet, declares, in a comment that might well apply to "Waterfalls in a Bank": "What sets Ramanujan apart from other poets is his unique tone of voice, a feature that accounts for the characteristic style of his poetry" (quoted by Sukhbir Singh in Dictionary of Literary Biography). "Waterfalls in a Bank" has attracted specific attention from Bruce King in Three Indian Poets. King writes that the poem "really does seem to get everything past and present into an amazing tumble of images." He argues that the poem is about "living in a world of confusion" but the final line reveals that "inside us there is another, calm self, unrooted in a particular environment, unaffected by the flux of reality, which watches, calmly, knowingly, and judges simply by being uncommitted, objective." Ramazani discusses the "climactic scene" of the poem, featuring the old sadhu, as a coming together of East and West which characterizes Ramanujan's poetry as a whole:
A humble world lit up by poetic form, an ancient sensibility startled by its encounter with modernity, a traditional Brahman past metamorphosed by the onset of the Western present—in short, a metaphor-making poesis that hybridizes and transfigures its cultural sources.
Aubrey holds a Ph.D. in English. In this essay, he analyzes how Ramanujan's experience of living in two distinct cultural worlds is reflected in "Waterfalls in a Bank" and other poems from Ramanujan's collection Second Sight.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Speaking of Siva (1973) is a collection of translations by Ramanujan of short free verse lyrics written to the Hindu god Siva by four wandering Indian saints who lived from the ninth to the twelfth centuries c.e.
- Selected Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (2004) brings together new translations of nearly 150 poems by Tagore, many of which have been translated into English for the first time. They provide a representative range of Tagore's poetry. There is also an introduction, by Sankha Ghose, and detailed notes.
- Collected Poems: 1954-2004 (2004), by Dom Moraes, contains the work of one of the greatest of India's poets who write in English. Moraes published ten volumes of poetry during his long career, and readers have always responded to the beauty and technical skill of his verse as well as its wide-ranging themes.
- The Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry (1998), edited by Vinay Dharwadker, contains the work of 125 poets in English and English translation from fourteen Indian languages. It gives an overview of the major poets and movements in Indian poetry in the last one hundred years. Poets represented include Tagore, Subramania Bharati, Nirala, G. Shankara Kurup, Kaifi Azmi, Anuradha Mahapatra, Saleem Peeradina, and Vikram Seth.
- Early Indian Poetry in English: An Anthology: 1829-1947, edited by Eunice de Souza (2005), is a selection of Indian poetry written in English in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Poets represented include Manmohan Ghose, Kasiprsad Ghose, Joseph Furtado, Henry Derozio, Toru Dutt and her father Govin Chunder Dutt, Annaji, B. M. Malabari, Sarojini Naidu, Beram Saklatvala, Samuel Solomon, and Raman Vakil. In her introduction, de Souza argues that previous anthologists have underplayed the large role played by Indian writers in English in shaping nineteenth century Indian literature.
- In Modern Indian Poetry in English, revised edition (2004), Bruce King brings his classic work up to date. King examines changes in direction in Indian poetry, adding five chapters to the original edition which discuss the work of newer poets such as Menka Shivdasani, Tara Patel, Imtiaz Dharker, Charmayne D'Souza, Mukta Sambrani, Meena Alexander, Sujata Bhatt, Chitra Banerjee Divakurni, Ranjit Hoskote, Jeet Thayil, C. P. Surendran, Vijay Nambisan, R. Raj Rao, Bibhu Padhi, Tabish Khair, and G. J. V. Prasad.
As a poet of the Indian diaspora, one of Ramanujan's concerns in "Waterfalls in a Bank" and in other poems he published in the collection Second Sight is to evaluate his experience as an Indian living in the United States. Like many immigrants, he lives in two distinct cultural and linguistic worlds, and as he remembers his homeland he must also learn how to respond authentically to the very different culture in which he has chosen to live. This is not an easy thing to do, and much in the poet's work suggests an unresolved tension between his Indian heritage and the day-to-day reality of living in Chicago, a large city so utterly unlike the environment in which he spent his childhood, youth, and early manhood.
"Waterfalls in a Bank" presents a picture of the poet arrested in a moment of contemplation of a waterfall that has been set up in a Chicago bank. The setting represents the epitome of Western financial power, prestige and materialism—the objective world of economics and business. But the sight of the waterfall is the stimulus that takes the poet to an inner world far removed from the bank in which he stands. A flurry of images and metaphors arise in his mind, some of which go back to his memories of his childhood in India. The key image in this respect is of the crippled old sadhu, the wandering ascetic, who embodies a nonmaterial, impoverished but spiritual way of being in the world that is the opposite of everything implied by the prosperous bank in Chicago's Hyde Park.
There would seem to be little doubt, on the evidence of this poem, that in the "transaction" between two cultures that the poet enacts in his life, he believes that the loss is greater than the gain. Using the language of financial exchange, he is, he says, "always / at a loss when I count my change." And as if to verify that statement, in contrast to the rich, variegated stream of images in which he recalls India, the last section of the poem registers only the coldness and the chaos of Chicago during a winter snowstorm.
This dual perspective, in which the present-day West interacts in the poet's mind with his past in the East, is apparent in a number of poems in Ramanujan's collection Second Sight. The title itself suggests the double perspective of a man living in two cultures, present and past, West and East, and bridging the gap between them as best he can. For example, in the poem "Extended Family," the poet describes bathing before dawn in his home:
the dry chlorine water
my only Ganges
the naked Chicago bulb
a cousin of the Vedic sun
The chlorinated water is what comes through the faucets in a modern American city, whereas the Ganges is the holy river in India to which pilgrims travel many miles in order to bathe in it to purify their souls. Likewise, the harsh light emitted by an electric bulb—a product of human ingenuity and technology—is a far cry (the word "cousin" in the poem is to be read ironically) from the fiery god that was the Vedic sun. The Vedas are ancient religious texts from India, dating back, in all probability, to the second millennium b.c.e.. The sun was associated with Agni, the god of fire, who was greeted in poetic fashion by the ancient seers who wrote the Rig Veda: "The great fire at the beginning of the dawn has sprung aloft, and issuing forth from the darkness has come with radiance. AGNI, the bright-bodied, as soon as born, fills all dwellings with shining light."
In "Chicago Zen," the poet expresses a similar kind of double vision. Like "Waterfalls in a Bank," this poem is set in Chicago, and also like the other poem, it has verses in which the immediate city scene is dissolved in the poet's mind in favor of a rich vein of images drawn from an exotic culture:
The traffic light turns orange
on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,
you fall into a vision of forest fires,
enter a frothing Himalayan river
Thus, "Chicago Zen" gives expression to the kind of disorientation experienced by the immigrant in the big American city. The new environment is, it would seem, the "country [that] cannot be reached" except by religiously following all its small rules, and even then, for the immigrant, there is always something that does not feel quite right. To use the image with which the poem ends, it is like descending a flight of stairs with a sense of unease, waiting "for the last / step that's never there." This is the frequent experience of the immigrant, never to feel entirely at home, however hard he or she tries to adjust to the alien land. It applies particularly to first-generation immigrants who make the transition, as Ramanujan did, as adults. Nothing can ever really replace the culture in which they grew up and which shaped their outlook on the world.
Indeed, it is Ramanujan's Indian spiritual and philosophical heritage that provides a clue to that final enigmatic line in "Waterfalls in a Bank": "And my watchers watch, from their nowhere perches." After all the kinetic imagery in the poem that tumbles out from the poet's memory comes this final cryptic, stationary image of mysterious "watchers" on their "nowhere perches." What does the poet mean by this unusual image, which seems unrelated to the rest of the poem?
Interestingly, a reading of the other poems in Second Sight provides a number of examples of these "watchers." "Looking for the Centre" is yet another poem set in Chicago. Playing on the idea of searching in the city for a Center for Missing Children that has recently changed location, the poem becomes something of a metaphysical quest, through Ramanujan's characteristically exotic imagery, for the elusive center of the poet's being. The poem ends:
And my watchers
watch, cool as fires
in a mirror.
As in "Waterfalls in a Bank," the watchers observe but do not act. The fires of desire do not move them. The same is true in the poem "The Watchers," which is devoted entirely to this notion of silent, detached observers who watch over events and happenings in the life of the poet without making any judgment: "They impose nothing, take no positions."
It would seem that the poet is referring not to some entity outside himself, but to a deeper aspect of his own being, a part of himself that remains calm, undisturbed, and uninvolved even as the active part of his being thinks and acts and goes about his day-to-day business. This non-active part of the poet's self is not located within the boundaries of time and space that normally define a person's sense of identity, which is why the "watchers" occupy "nowhere perches"; they are not confined within a body, or a mind, or a personality; they stand apart.
Ramanujan is clearly fascinated by this notion of some larger aspect of the self that stands apart from the constant busyness of the mind. He puzzles over the nature of the watchers in his poem "Questions," wondering if they were present at the moment of his birth, when his "head's soft crown bathed in mother's blood." In other words, are the watchers part of some eternal continuum of life that predates his personal existence?
As an epigraph to this poem he quotes a passage from the Mundaka Upanishad, an ancient Indian religious text:
Two birds on the selfsame tree:
one of them eats the fruit of the tree,
the other watches without eating.
This is a reference to the notion, fundamental to ancient Indian spirituality, that there are two aspects of the human self. The first bird represents the individual self, that involves itself in the experience of the world of the senses; the second bird is the universal Self (the word is usually capitalized when used in this sense) that is the silent witness to everything, an eternal, omnipresent reality that is the individual's higher, unchanging self, identical with Brahman, the universal divine consciousness.
Drawn to this idea, Ramanujan translates it into the image of the silent, nonjudgmental watchers on their "nowhere perches" (the image is suggestive of the birds in that passage from the Mundaka Upanishad) but as the poem "Questions," which ends with an unanswered question, suggests, he is not prepared to embrace it without reservations. Ramanujan is no orthodox Hindu; on the contrary, he identifies himself as something of a skeptic. In his poem "Middle Age" he confesses his "belief in unbelief"; he is "wedded to doubt." This suggests yet another pull of opposites within the mind of the poet, between Western rationalism—which he claims consciously to embrace—and the Eastern spirituality of his heritage, which is also deeply embedded within him and is what allows "Waterfalls in a Bank," a poem made up of a series of helter-skelter, tumbling images, to end on a note of quiet, detached contemplation. As this immigrant poet, caught uncomfortably between two worlds, scurries around the streets of Chicago, busy as all Westerners are and doing what Westerners do, his Eastern roots pull at him still from their nowhere perches and will not quite let him go.
Source: Bryan Aubrey, Critical Essay on "Waterfalls in a Bank," in Poetry for Students, Gale, 2008.
In the following essay, Singh gives a critical analysis of Ramanujan's work.
A. K. Ramanujan started writing poetry in his mother tongue, Kannada, at the early age of fifteen or sixteen. He later became a trilingual Anglophile writer who wrote poetry, fiction, and prose in Kannada, Tamil, and English. His poetry and fiction are deeply rooted in Indian culture, and his subjects are widely spread over the Indian social landscape. He believed throughout his artistic career that "creativity does not come from cosmopolitanism. Creativity comes out of sustained attention to one's own experience, one's own landscape," as he told Rama Jha in the January-June 1981 issue of Humanities Review. He therefore portrayed in his poems a realistic picture of Indian society in a variety of aspects—sometimes sacred, sometimes sunny, and sometimes somber. His work offers an elaborate collage of everyday Indian life, reflecting the emotional ups and downs experienced by the people because of prevalent social contradictions and persistent cultural compulsions in Indian society. As a poet, Ramanujan highlighted the existing hypocrisies of Indian society—especially in such key areas as religious taboos, marital relations, cultural conventions, family ties, and caste consciousness. In his poetry he treated many of these issues with mild sarcasm, because most Indian social institutions depend on conventional beliefs that often prove detrimental to the natural growth of one's body, mind, and soul. In satirizing some of these beliefs, Ramanujan operated out of the rationalist and reformist convictions of an artist. As he put it in conversation with A. L. Becker and Keith Taylor, included in Uncollected Poems and Prose (2001), "And, of course, I had the notion that only a kind of modern rationalism was the answer to all the problems that we had: the caste system, the problems of a hierarchy by birth. It seemed to me then, it still does, as unfair. That's true of many modern Indians." His avowed aim was to diversify the notions of Indian civilization, since he considered the Brahminical view of Hindu upper-class society as a hierarchical one.
Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan was born on 16 March 1929 in Mysore, India, to Attipat Asuri and Seshamal Krishnaswami. His father was a professor of mathematics who fostered in him a rationalistic bent of mind and fired his imagination with creative zeal. His mother was a housewife who induced in him a taste for culture, literature, mythology, and folklore. Tales in south India are not bedtime stories but food-time tales. And the local folks taught him native wisdom and turned him to native literature in Kannada. Hence, some of his poetic concerns characterizing his ironic view of Indian society reflect certain early influences on him of classical Kannada and Tamil literature and the life of people in the state of Karnataka. To attack the oppressive conventions of conservative Indian society, Ramanujan makes use of the native myths, legends, folklore, and folktales in his poetry. In his talk with Becker and Taylor, Ramanujan affirmed: "My interest has always been in the mother tongues … because I have always felt that mother tongues represent a democratic, anti-hierarchic, from-the-ground-up view of India. And my interest in folklore has also been shaped by that. I see in these counter-systems, anti-structures, a protest against official systems."
Ramanujan obtained his B.A. (Honors) degree in 1949 and an M.A. in English in 1950 from the University of Mysore, and he earned graduate diplomas in Dravidian linguistics from Deccan College, Poona, in 1958 and 1959. Following the completion of his master's degree, Ramanujan worked as a lecturer in different colleges in India from 1950 until 1957 and at the University of Baroda in 1957-1958. He then went to the United States in 1959, having received a Smith-Mundt Fellowship that enabled him to work for his Ph.D. in linguistics from Indiana University in Bloomington, which he received in 1963. While in the United States, he married Molly Daniels, a Syrian Christian from India, in 1962. Daniels-Ramanujan did her Ph.D. on Saul Bellow with Bellow himself and later became a journalist and a writer of fiction. Her novel The Salt Doll (1978) was given the Illinois Arts Council Award for fiction. Ramanujan and Daniels-Ramanujan were married and divorced twice in their long life together.
Despite the many years he spent in the United States, his interest in the native languages and the people of his native land never diminished. As a nonresident Indian in the United States, Ramanujan refused to see himself as an exile or an expatriate. In his opinion, a writer who is forced like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to live in another country may be an exile or an expatriate, but he denied that someone like Bharati Mukherjee can consider herself to be so since she had willingly chosen to live abroad. He said in conversation with Jha, "I think it's sentimental to call oneself an exile because this is voluntary and one is fulfilling oneself in various ways by living in this country. So to sentimentalize it and say that oh I am an expatriate, I am an exile … these are words which I would not use about myself." With his easy sense of settlement to the nonnative environment, Ramanujan shows even in his poetry how a poet can adapt the English language for the expression of a native Indian sensibility. He imbues his English prosody with his native spirit and exploits his knowledge of Kannada poetics to enhance the sonority of the English verse. "My knowledge of English has been deeply affected by my knowledge of Indian literature and poetics," he told Jha. "If English cuts us from our culture it won't get us very far. … Indian English when it is good, does get its nourishment … from each individual's knowledge of Indian culture and Indian languages. It certainly does for me. That is what binds us back to our childhood and early years."
Because he supplemented his English verse with the knowledge of his mother tongue and its poetics, Ramanujan avoided the common predicament of most Indo-Anglian poets who invariably feel divided because they have to express a native sensibility in an alien dialect. He negotiates this schism between his Indian sensibility and English idiom by artistically synchronizing the "inner" form of his thought with the "outer" form of the English language. As R. Parthasarathy quotes Ramanujan, "English and my disciplines (linguistics, anthropology) … give me my ‘outer’ forms—linguistic, metrical, logical and other such ways of shaping experience: and my first thirty years in India, my frequent visits and field trips, my personal and professional preoccupations with Kannada, Tamil, the classics and folklore give me my substance, my ‘inner’ forms, images and symbols. They are continuous with each other, and I can no longer tell what comes from where." Ramanujan thus formulates an artistically viable idiom to synchronize freely his experiences, beliefs, social issues, and cultural diversity with his poetry.
With his belief in cultural plurality, Ramanujan used his work to address certain fundamental cultural, social, and religious issues that he encountered in both India and the United States. These issues appeared to him appropriate for the language he chose for them. To him a poem comes in a language suitable to the idea it expresses. As he told Jha, "You cannot choose the language. I don't think there is a choice. If there is a choice, it is not a poem. I would even define the poem as that where the line between language and thought is not there, or between form and content, which is what the etymology of the Sanskrit word sahitya implies." He wrote in whichever language the poem came to him spontaneously—Kannada, Tamil, or English. If he chose any one of these languages for his verse, his expression was enriched by his knowledge of the other two. As he told Becker and Taylor, "In the three languages I know well, whichever one I am working in, the other two are present. I am not a tabula rasa. I always think of my languages as certain kinds of musical instruments. If you pluck one string there are other strings that resonate. Like the Indian sitar, there are strings that the musician never touches. They are resonating strings. It is like that for all of us. Everything we know is resonating with what we talk about in the foreground." The creative path he pursued was also part of his efforts at advancing multiculturalism in the world, for he did so by writing in two native languages and one international language. His poetry and translations acquainted people in the East and the West with what they did not know about the Indian culture.
While completing his doctorate, Ramanujan worked with the University of Chicago as a research associate in 1961 and thereafter as an assistant professor of linguistics, specializing in Tamil and Dravidian languages, until 1965. During this period, in 1963, he received the American Institute of Indian Studies and the Indian School of Letters Fellowship. He also translated poems from classical Tamil literature and published them as his first collection, Fifteen Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1965). The collection includes translations of love poems from the earliest of the eight anthologies of classical Tamil. These poems are in the form of dramatic monologues of the lover or the beloved in a figurative language. They evoke a vast panorama of picturesque landscapes before the eyes of the reader. In an interview with Chirantan Kulshrestha, republished in Uncollected Poems and Prose, he recalled that "These classical Tamil poems attracted me by their attitude to experience, to human passion, and to the external world; their trust in the bareness, the lean line with no need to jazz it up or ornament it. They seemed to me Classical, anti-Romantic, using the words loosely as we know them in European literature." Ramanujan's promotion as associate professor at the University of Chicago in 1966 coincided with the publication of The Striders, his first collection of original poetry, which clearly evidences in themes, techniques, and symbolism the impact of classical Tamil poetry on his sensibility. The themes in The Striders are connected to his native place and the people with whom he interacted in early life. His subjects include family members, local festivals, ceremonies, rituals, forests, birds, beasts, rivers, and reptiles. As he affirms, "I have tried [in The Striders] to keep the human scene central. … The more I pay attention to the human world, for me the line between the poem and the novel, the lyric and the story, begins to blur; and anyway in Indian poetry there's never been a clear line. Any single poem implies a persona, a voice, and a specific scene, a whole dramatic situation." For that reason, in these poems the personal emotions dominate over technical concerns.
Ramanujan simultaneously worked on his next volume of translations, The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology, which he published a year later, in 1967. Under the influence of the classical Tamil poetry included in The Interior Landscape, Ramanujan reveals in The Striders a nostalgia for landscapes of places he had visited in early life. His love of the landscape frequently surfaces in the images of moonlit and starlit nights, noontime sun, evenings, lakes, flowers, marketplaces, birds, and beautiful women. He perceives in them the primal energy that propels humans through life. In "I Could Have Rested," Ramanujan measures the motion of time and the movement of life in terms of nesting birds: […]. In "On a Delhi Sundial," he astutely mingles the temporal and the transcendental: […]. In this context, Vinay Dharwadker observes that "the clock that clicks inside the natural mechanism of any living body is also the clock ticking away in the natural world outside, and it is the nature of this universal clock to tick inexorably towards the terminal irony of death."
Ramanujan worked as professor of Dravidian studies and linguistics at the University of Chicago from 1968 until 1972. He also lectured as guest faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968 and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1971. By now he was an established translator and was given the Tamil Writers' Association Award in 1969. With respect to his own poetry, he attained considerable technical and thematic maturity with his second collection, Relations (1971), which is written in the classical Tamil and medieval style of bhakti poetry. In this collection Ramanujan depicts human bondage through family affiliations that deny freedom. Such social trappings create disharmonies at different levels of life. In his opinion, the social network of relationships is a necessity as well as a snare. […]. After he divorced Daniels-Ramanujan the first time, he wrote a poem titled "Love Poem for a Wife, 1." The poem reveals how the unshared past before marriage with the wife becomes a source of agony and estrangement: […].
In these poems, the nostalgia of The Striders volume for homeland is replaced by an objective assessment of the past. This detachment is amply evident from the ironic humor ingrained in his projections of family members such as his parents, aunts, wife, and father-in-law. He achieves such objectivity after a long stay in the United States, where his engagement with an alien culture led him to look at people and places from his early life more dispassionately. Treating humorously his parents and other relatives helps him overcome his earlier absorption in his childhood and attachment to his people. In "Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House," Ramanujan portrays an ironic picture of his childhood home, saying that nothing that comes into this house goes out: […]. Similarly, in "Obituary," his reaction to the death of his father verges on cynicism: […]. In "Love Poem for a Wife, 2," he pacifies himself after undergoing the agony of his remarriage with Molly through the poetic description of a dream: […].
With his dispassion, Ramanujan even looks mockingly at Hinduism and Indian history. Some aspects of Hindu culture and Indian history have become remote for him. He declares that he was "anti-hierarchic"—that is to say, against the Hindu caste system—right from his youth. He therefore makes use of the ancient Tamil and Kannada myths, legends, and folktales in his poetry because they are more secular, democratic, and egalitarian. They give due recognition to women and the downtrodden of Indian hierarchical society.
Between 1971 and 1986, Ramanujan did not publish any collection of poetry. From 1972 he was associated with the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and lectured as visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1973 and Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1978. During this period Ramanujan did a good amount of translation work from the ancient Tamil and Kannada into English; he translated Speaking of Siva (1973), U. R. Anantha Murthy's Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man (1976), Nammalvar's Hymns for the Drowning: Poems for Visnu (1981), and Poems of Love and War: From the Eight Anthologies and the Ten Long Poems of Classical Tamil (1985). These translations project a rare poetic achievement of the Dravidian culture in the south of India, and they portray a complete picture of the ancient Indian civilization in the subcontinent. Taken together, they show how the poetry and culture complemented and supplemented each other in ancient India. Ramanujan always supplied his translations with prefaces, notes, afterwords, and commentaries to offer models of genuine translations. It helped him produce a coherent theory of translation from Indian languages into English. For him the art of translation is immensely useful but never original and perfect. It involves merely turning one language into another for the convenience of a target audience. A work in translation never carries the full fragrance and absolute originality of the actual text, since the author never wrote his work for translation into another language. He was catering precisely to a particular group of people at a certain time. So the time, people, and place are extremely important in the life of a text. As Ramanujan told Becker and Taylor, "Literatures are so deeply grounded in their cultures and in the cultures they carry…. To cross from one language to another—which is, after all, what translation means—is a very imperfect business. And there is much damage in translating. But there it has to be pointed to [as notes], and in pointing itself some of the damage is undone. In showing what can be done, the reader can make the leaps that are necessary." Ramanujan turned the ideas of Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida about translation to his own favor, and his skills as a translator exceeded those of many established translators in the subcontinent. In Ramanujan's view, the translator cannot escape the shadow of the original, and his task is to develop a relevant supplement. How well the text can be translated does not depend upon the inherent treasure in the poem but on certain crucial outside factors. With the efforts of the translator the text is reborn.
In Ramanujan's later years he published Second Sight (1986), Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India (1986), which he coedited with Stuart Blackburn, and Folktales from India: A Selection of Oral Tales from Twenty-Two Languages (1991). This period climaxes his creative life in terms of aesthetic assessment and acceptance of certain earlier ideas and issues. His perceptions, preferences, and projections of the two societies he had lived in and their social dichotomies are now presented far more coherently and convincingly than earlier. His preoccupation with the mysteries of life evidences an acceptance of change over fixed specificity. Also, in this collection he reveals a more complex understanding of Indian myths, legends, history, rituals, customs, and conventions. A. N. Dwivedi observes that "taken together, these poems tend to reinforce the thought that the poet is heavily inclined towards all that is India, including his Indian associations and Hindu gods and goddesses." This propensity intensified in him as a result of his translations from the classical Kannada and Tamil literatures and his continued contact with India over the years. He visited India regularly and collected new materials, met old friends, delivered lectures, and read from his latest poems to poetry lovers.
In this phase, Ramanujan frequently entertains the thoughts of birth and death in his poems. His references to fire, water, darkness, and death in many poems point to a subliminal awareness of the approaching end of his life. "Fire," "Birthdays," "Shadows," "One More on a Deathless Theme," "Elegy," "Death and the Good Citizen," and "Death in Search of a Comfortable Metaphor" are some examples of poems in which he displays his apprehension of death. Images of death and ruin, the passing of time, and darkness point to his reconcilement to the idea of the transience of life and the temporariness of the world. This mood further results in a transcendence of earthly bonds and boundaries. Many poems in Second Sight reflect his penchant for meditation and philosophy, and, in Dharwadker's opinion, these preoccupations appear "interspersed with passages reflecting on certain ‘epiphanic’ moments in his life."
Ramanujan's death anxiety in Second Sight could as well be a part of his increasing age and the maturing influence of the modernist British and American writers on him. This influence is evident from his poems, which are concrete embodiments of his ideas. He synchronizes his technique of writing poetry with his experience, education, erudition, and vision of life. His language is simple, his rhythms musical, and his imagery suggestive. In "Snakes," one of his more popular poems, the poet uses the language of daily conversation to articulate his childhood apprehensions. His choice of words, however, their placement in a rhythmical pattern, and the play of sounds and colors bring the picture alive with relevant suggestions and sensations. Similarly, in another short but suggestive poem, "Still Life," Ramanujan conveys his response to a woman who has left him feeling like a half-eaten salami sandwich. The half-eaten sandwich […] offers a visually comic image of incompleteness and disconnection, simultaneously evoking a picture of the woman as a biting animal.
Like the modernists to European culture, Ramanujan's attitude to Indian culture in some of his poems can often be satirical. His satire tended to be mild, however. For instance, in "The Last of the Princes" he gently mocks the poor financial condition of the erstwhile rulers of India: […]. Similarly, in "History" he makes fun of greedy relatives: […]. A few poems even verge on being caricatures. In "At Forty," he mimics Jatti, the gym teacher, […]. In "Pleasure," he lampoons a Jain monk craving the female body after a long spell of celibacy: […].
As a Hindu Brahmin living in Chicago from the early 1960s, Ramanujan at times resorts to a jocular style to overcome his nostalgia for the world he left behind, as in "Conventions of Despair": […]. Withdrawal into his Hindu mind brings him equanimity and enables him to have an objective and detached view of a mundane world. Ramanujan's grandmother, parents, wife, aunts, and their children surface frequently in his poetry. They inhabit his poetic world as living entities and impart an autobiographical hue to his art, as in "Love Poem for a Wife, 2": […]. They all inspire his imagination and ignite the creative spark in him. At the thought of his family members and other acquaintances Ramanujan plunges into a world of odds and oddities, fun and frivolities, and greed and grief. His relatives acquire symbolic forms, and they quite often appear as the embodiments of abstract ideas in his poetry: […].
Ramanujan also makes abundant use of figures, images, and symbols to convey his poetic thoughts in a distinctive manner. His study of anthropology, William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Sanskrit poetics, and haiku poetry of Japan had given him a figurative and symbolic bent of mind. From the French symbolists he had learned to concretize the delicate nuances of his deep emotions and observations. Because of his mathematician father, he also made frequent use of Euclidian figures that were familiar from childhood—geometrical and astronomical shapes such as lines, circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, quadrangles, oblongs, and parabolas.[…] Because of Ramanujan's geometric perfection and figurative delineation, Nissim Ezekiel, a fellow poet, remarked in the 18 June 1972 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India that "A. K. Ramanujan is the precision instrument of Indian English poetry."
Similarly, Ramanujan employs trees, flowers, fruits, and leaves as symbols of unity, beauty, and fertility in his poems.[…] In "Birthdays," the poet subtly brings out the oneness of nature with humans both dead and alive: […]. In "The Day Went Dark," he combines the colors of flowers and leaves to infuse erotic energy into the patterns of his newly acquired carpet:[…]
Allusions also play a significant role in Ramanujan's poetry. He alludes to ancient myths, stories, legends, literary figures, folklore, artists, scientists, and gods and goddesses of several countries and cultures. These allusions broaden the horizons of his thoughts and themes; they often give his poetry a universal dimension. Weaving together the folk with the canonical, the mythical with the mundane, and the national with the international, Ramanujan uses the technique of allusion to ballast his poetry with humanist values. The poet was not sure whether this aspect of his creativity was something his readers were aware of, however. He told Becker and Taylor, "I actually put in quotes. Very few people have noticed those quotes. But that's part of my expressive means. I've read Pound, and I've read Indian things. I think with them. Why shouldn't I use what I have?" Thus, in "The Opposable Thumb," Ramanujan identifies three types of hands to show the importance of the thumb by obliquely alluding to Swami Vivekananda's description of the Purusha[…]. In "Love Poem for a Wife, 2," the "half-woman half- / man" […] alludes to the Hindu god Shiva and goddess Shakti—together in one form as ardhanareshwar (half-man and half-woman). Similarly, in "Entries for a Catalogue of Fears," the poet evokes William Shakespeare's Hamlet (circa 1600-1601) […] or John Keats's Ode to a Nightingale (1819)[….] Ramanujan's allusions to sources past and present often juxtapose antiquity and modernity, thereby making both European and Indian traditions relevant to the contemporary Indian poet writing in English.
Ramanujan died suddenly of a heart attack on 13 July 1993 in Chicago at the age of sixty-four. He was survived by a daughter, Krittika, and a son, Krishnaswami, and left behind a substantial body of unpublished poetry, essays, and translations. At the time of his death he did not enjoy good relations with his former wife, Daniels-Ramanujan; they were divorced a few years earlier. Writing in the Times of India on 25 July 1993, Ramanujan's colleagues and friends of old standing, Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, paid him a rich tribute: "Raman's distinguishing characteristics were his humanity and modesty. He spoke softly but deftly. He picked friendships, not fights. … He preferred irony and humor to scoring points. A polymath; a demanding scholar with demanding standards; a teller of tales." Much of the material Ramanujan left behind has been published posthumously by Daniels-Ramanujan, Krittika Ramanujan, and Ramanujan's friend Dharwadker. Volumes they have published include When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others (1994); which Ramanujan had compiled with Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman; The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan (1994); The Collected Poems of A. K. Ramanujan (1995); A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India (1997), and Uncollected Poems and Prose. One therefore does not find a note of finality in his poetic career, unlike in the cases of his literary gurus such as Yeats, Pound, and Eliot. As one moves from the earlier poems in The Striders to the later pieces in The Black Hen (2000), however, it becomes evident that Ramanujan was moving toward a more conclusive and concrete phase. His early poems are more personal—they speak about the poet's youthful anger, anxiety, anguish, and apathy toward social, cultural, and religious anomalies around him. In them he derides the inhuman and the unjust and chides the guilty vociferously. In Relations and Second Sight, he seems to have come out of the early phase of excitement and experimentation. In those collections the poet exhibits more clarity of thought and better control over his language. As Bruce King observes, "Relations is somewhat different from the earlier book in that the style is less imagistic, the movement of lines more supple, the narrator more present as speaker. There is intelligence and personality. The poetry is more discursive, more conversational as well as more reflective. There is less flatness of tone, more humor, wit, irony, comedy." In Second Sight, Ramanujan further improves his control over his subject matter and speaks more freely about personal, spiritual, and sexual matters.
In The Black Hen, Ramanujan establishes himself among the well-known Indian poets writing in English because of his mature vision, variety of themes, felicity of expression, and metaphysical subtlety. The titles of the poems in The Striders ("The Striders," "Self-Portrait," "Sometimes," "Conventions of Despair," "Anxiety," "Images," and "The Fall"), compared to the poems in The Black Hen ("Shadows," "Fire," "Fog," "Fizzle," "Difficulty," "Elegy," "Pain," and "Fear No Fall"), testify to his range of movement and mature preoccupations in this phase. In Krittika Ramanujan's assessment, the poems in this posthumous collection are "in some ways different from their predecessors. At first reading, they seem light, easy, some almost like exercises. After a few readings, a complete reversal takes place. When the poems are read in sequence, they seem entirely different. The ear begins to hear the voice as full, rhythmic, passionate, complex, changeable, and in variety of voices, styles and forms." The poems in the early collections are replete with details and documentation. In contrast, the later volumes are characterized by precision and coherence and aimed at the evocation of the spiritual. For instance, in "The Fall," the falling man fears he is "a mere body" […]. In "Fear No Fall," the fallen man does not fear as he hears a spiritual calling from both within and without: […].
Critics have, on the whole, received Ramanujan's work favorably. In "How It Strikes a Contemporary: The Poetry of A. K. Ramanujan" (1976), an appreciation written for the Literary Criterion, R. Parthasarathy, a fellow poet, declares: "What sets Ramanujan apart from other poets is his unique tone of voice, a feature that accounts for the characteristic style of his poetry." In "The Self in A.K. Ramanujan's Poetry," an essay included in Contemporary Indian Verse in English: An Evaluation (1980), Kulshrestha praises Ramanujan for making unconventional use of the English language. He believes that for Ramanujan "the cultivation and enrichment of a unique personal idiom is not a process that takes place in a vacuum, but is symptomatic of a poet's active concern with the dynamics of his sensibility, the precious tones, movements, and distinctions of his own being as an individual and artist." G. N. Devy, in "Alienation as a Means of Self-Exploration: A Study of A. K. Ramanujan's Poetry" (Chandrabhaga, Winter 1981), observes that the sense of alienation implicit in some of Ramanujan's significant poems "seems to be the inevitable outcome of the nature of his life-pattern—an Indian Brahmin married to a Syrian Christian, living in Chicago, teaching Dravidian languages and linguistics, twice removed from his natural linguistic context, first from Tamil to Kannada and then from Kannada to English."
S. G. Jainapur, in the chapter on Ramanujan for his book Poetry, Culture, and Language: Indo-Anglian Poets from Karnataka (1987), hails him as "a distinguished poet, with an individual voice of his own, both in English and Kannada" and highlights such distinct qualities of his poetry as "nostalgia and memory, family relationships, self-search as a Hindu, and love." Emmanuel Narendra Lall, in an essay about Ramanujan for his 1983 book The Poetry of Encounter: Three Indo-Anglian Poets, Dom Moraes, A. K. Ramanujan, and Nissim Ezekiel (1983), praises the poet for his deft use of irony, images, control over language, and the synthesis of the Eastern and Western traditions in his poetry: "His poems take their origin in a mind that is simultaneously Indian and Western; therefore they succeed in opening more passages to India." S. K. Desai, in an essay for the 1984 collection Perspectives on Indian Poetry in English, compares Ramanujan with Eliot and Pound in terms of prosody and expatriate sensibility: "For Ramanujan, memories, which are perceptions that live through time, are a means to explore the nature of Time. Through memories he is not seeking his roots in the area of darkness, nor is he exploring the wounded or healthy Hindu civilization. He is using them simply to explore the existential problems of time and what it does to life." P. K. J. Kurup, in a chapter on the poet for the anthology Contemporary Indian Poetry in English (1991), commends him for having "cultivated and enriched a unique personal idiom, that shows the poet's concern with the dynamics of his sensibility in terms of concrete images." King, in his Three Indian Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A. K. Ramanujan, Dom Moraes (1991), admires Ramanujan's erudition, which is reflected in his poems in the variety of his allusions and range of his references, from Sigmund Freud to the Upanishads.
Longer studies of Ramanujan's poetry are equally appreciative of his poetic art and liberal humanism. S. N. Pandey, in "Feminist Concerns in Ramanujan's Poetry" (1998), applauds the poet for supporting the cause of women in his poetry: "Ramanujan strives to express his solidarity with women's cause whatever be the genre, poetry or folktales." Among full-length studies of Ramanujan's poetry, Dwivedi's A. K. Ramanujan and His Poetry (1983) focuses on the Indian themes, and his The Poetic Art of A. K. Ramanujan (1995) notes gratifyingly that Ramanujan "has not naturalized the Western themes and traditions so much as the Indian ones, and that he has stood his ground and proved his mettle, without shifting his allegiance."
Ramanujan steadily achieved ripeness by evolving an idiom well suited to deeper explorations of the innermost areas of his poetic psyche. According to Jainapur, "There are very few poets in the Indo-Anglian milieu today who equal him." He lived a life of diverse experiences that lent variety, richness, and depth to his poetry. There is hardly any aspect of life, whether sacred or profane, material or spiritual, that he has left untouched in his poems. As an Indian he found his culture and religion full of possibilities for poetic treatment; as a resident of the United States he informed Indian people about the need to review some of their traditions in the wake of Western ideas of progress; and as a humanist he stressed the need for social equality and universal peace. The publication of his uncollected poems posthumously has allowed readers to view the extent of his achievement even more readily.
Source: Sukhbir Singh, "A. K. Ramanujan," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 323, South Asian Writers in English, edited by Fakrul Alam, Thomson Gale, 2006, pp. 285-95.
In the following excerpt, Ramazani examines the metaphors present in Ramanujan's poetry and in his translation work. Of "Waterfalls in a Bank," Ramazani argues that it reflects the poet's "understanding of the parallels between metaphor, intercultural translation, and intertemporal connection." The critic also contends that in this poem Ramanujan "metaphorically bridges the distances between past and present, East and West."
… Long underestimated and therefore perhaps still in need of introduction, Ramanujan's poetry now seems poised on the brink of worldwide recognition. In 1995 Oxford University Press published The Collected Poems of A. K. Ramanujan, gathering together The Striders (1966), Relations (1971), and Second Sight (1986), as well as material for an incomplete fourth volume, The Black Hen. Since the sixties, Indian contemporaries like Nissim Ezekiel and R. Parthasarathy have hailed Ramanujan as the best Indian English poet. If Ramanujan's earlier poetry is sometimes overwhelmed by the satiric ferocities of Pound and Eliot, Anglomodernist influences nevertheless helped Ramanujan to fend off the sentimentality and abstraction that often clouded Indian English verse after independence. His later volumes, above all Second Sight, ever more successfully absorb and remake the forms, tonalities, and tropes inherited from English-language poets like William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and William Butler Yeats, brilliantly fusing them with the traditions of ancient and medieval Dravidian poetry. A MacArthur Award-winning professor of linguistics at the University of Chicago, Ramanujan translated and studied South Indian literatures, garnering Western and Eastern recognition for these and other neglected, non-Sanskrit traditions of India. Resisting the "monism" and even "cultural imperialism" of proponents of a single "pan-Indian Sanskritic Great Tradition," Ramanujan reaffirmed that "cultural traditions in India are indissolubly plural and often conflicting" ("Where Mirrors Are Windows" 188-89). "India does not have one past," he emphasized, "but many pasts" ("Classics" 135). Best known in the West for his crystalline translations of classical and medieval Tamil and Kannada verse, Ramanujan draws on many features of these older literatures in his own Anglophone poetry: the strikingly vivid and structural use of metaphor, the intensification of one image by another, "montage" and "dissolve" effects, streams of association, flowing syntax, spare diction, avoidance of heavily stressed rhythms, delight in irony and paradox, precise observation of both interior (puram) and exterior (akam) worlds, and reliance not on metaphysical abstraction but physical detail for complex thinking (Afterword 246, 287).
As translator of classical Dravidian poetry, Ramanujan renders its forceful metaphors into contemporary English, using them in turn as models for his own Anglophone poetics. His indigenous models complement Anglomodernist principles of concision, economy, and nondecorative use of metaphor, as seen in an example of ancient Tamil poetry that almost seems proto-imagist:
The bare root of the bean is pink
like the leg of a jungle hen,
and herds of deer attack its overripe pods.
In Ramanujan's translation, the metaphor of the exposed root—emphatically visible and vulnerable—superimposes hen leg on bean root, hybridizing vegetable and animal, color and taste, autochthony and mobility. Considering the broad contours of Ramanujan's career, one might speculate that this Tamil metaphor of a root that mutates into a mode of transportation may have held his interest for other reasons as well. Though rooted in South Indian Brahman culture since his birth in Mysore in 1929, Ramanujan lived from 1959 in the United States, wrote primarily in English, drew on modern Anglo-American poetry, and criticized Sanskrit-based Indology, Hindu zealotry, and Indian revivalism. Conversely, though an English-language poet in the United States, he devoted his life to South Asian studies, wrote primarily about India, drew inspiration from Dravidian literatures, and often seemed clinically detached from the English language he worked in. On this last point, R. Parthasarathy notes that Ramanujan's use of English "has a cold, glass-like quality," as if "to turn language into an artifact" ("How It Strikes" 196). Ramanujan writes from within English yet as if outside it—a recognizably postcolonial practice that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have famously if unfortunately labeled "minor literature." Ramanujan even describes himself as split between his "‘outer’ forms"—"English and my disciplines (linguistics, anthropology)"—and his "‘inner’ forms"—his lived Indian experience and lifelong study of its cultures (qtd. in Parthasarathy, "How It Strikes" 197). Poet and translator, Ramanujan relies on both metaphor and translation to interweave his outer and inner worlds while exploring the gaps between them. Describing the translator's "several double allegiances," Ramanujan suggests that metaphor and translation function for him as closely related forms of mediation between languages, cultures, perhaps even halves of the brain (Afterword 297).
"The word translate, as you know," Ramanujan once commented, "is only Latin for the Greek word metaphor. Both mean ‘carry across’" ("Classics" 136-37). As translator and scholar, Ramanujan labored to carry poetry across differences of language, time, and culture, all the while reflecting in his own English-language poetry on what is lost in translation. At the heart of Ramanujan's poetry are ironic, if plangent, meditations on transfer and loss between East and West, on survivals and disappearances between past and present. As a switchboard through which spatiotemporal differences migrate and meet, metaphor discursively locates and animates this in-betweenness. Close analysis of passages from Ramanujan's finest lyrics may help to probe in detail these and other connections between metaphor and the postcolonial. Specifically, I tease out of Ramanujan's poetry the many forms that metaphor takes in mediating postcoloniality: as contact point between one culture and another; as connective tissue of postcolonial memory; as agent of cultural reproduction; as conduit between the postcolonial subject and its origins or endings; and as discursive incarnation of resemblances between the postcolonial self and its private, national, or transnational family.
The opening of "Waterfalls in a Bank" in Second Sight reflects Ramanujan's immersion in the work of translation and, more broadly, his understanding of the parallels between metaphor, intercultural translation, and intertemporal connection:
And then one sometimes sees waterfalls
as the ancient Tamils saw them,
cascades of muslin.
From Tamil into English, from ancient to contemporary, Ramanujan translates metaphors of snakeskins and muslin, which in turn "translate" waterfalls. His eye a "rainbow bubble," Ramanujan would, as he rhymes in a later poem, "see all things double"—or perhaps even quadruple, as with this waterfall ("Mythologies 2," Collected Poems 226). Beholding stereoscopically a man-made waterfall in a Chicago bank, Ramanujan's vision is split metaphorically between waterfall and snakeskin/muslin. This metaphorical juncture straddles, in turn, the "postcolonial" junctures of India and the United States, old Tamil texts and his own emergent writing. To see through the prism of postcoloniality, with its fusion of alien perspectives, is already to possess something akin to the double vision of metaphor. Ramanujan decommodifies and Indianizes the confined waterfall in an American bank, putting metaphor to work in a kind of reverse colonization. The ancient Indian vehicles of snakeskin and muslin paradoxically enliven with danger and wonder an image hackneyed in Western poetry.
Summoning the multiple relations of resemblance in nature (American and Tamil waterfalls), culture (the U.S. and India), and time (ancient and contemporary), Ramanujan compares such metaphorical "transactions between contexts" to money exchanged in a bank:
As I transact with the past as with another
country with its own customs, currency,
stock exchange, always
at a loss when I count my change …
In exchanges between past and present as well as one culture and another, one is transformed by the transaction; here, the poet is punningly "at a loss" to understand his profound "change," both impoverished and enriched by his submission to an alien economy. In a later essay, Ramanujan again compares the mutually transformative experience of cross-temporal encounter with the anthropological experience of cross-cultural encounter: "The past is another country, as the saying goes. With the past, too, one adds oneself to it as one studies it. One is changed by it and the past itself is changed by one's study of it" ("Classics" 132). Postcolonial quester after origins, Ramanujan nevertheless represents the cultural past as irrecuperable and unknowable in and of itself, unlike the static past of the revivalist. In "Waterfalls in a Bank," as in other poems by Ramanujan and indeed other postcolonial writers, metaphor is a primary conceptual and linguistic site of both intercultural and intertemporal exchange. As in Ramanujan's not-just-financial bank, it is a place where diverse perspectives, cultures, and temporalities come together to be transacted, transposed, compared, and defamiliarized.
In the climactic scene of "Waterfalls in a Bank," Ramanujan again metaphorically bridges the distances between past and present, East and West. Standing in a Western financial institution, the Brahman poet remembers from his childhood the mirror image of what he might have become—a Brahman mendicant ascetic. Rheumatoid, diseased, spasmodic, the sadhu lifts his loincloth with one finger and "pisses" on two flowers beside the street. The modern West commingles with the ancient East in the metaphorical blending of the bank's waterfall with the sadhu's "stream" of urine. But the most remarkable transfusion of cultural opposites occurs when "a car turns the corner," illuminating the sadhu's urination:
Headlights make his arc
a trajectory of yellow diamonds,
scared instant rainbows, ejecting spurts
of crystal, shocked
by the commonplace cruelty of headlights.
This startling confluence of Western modernity and an ancient Eastern way of life produces an epiphanic moment, when—to speak a little grandly of an old man's urination—both liquid and light seem transfigured into something beyond themselves, beyond either East or West, precolonial or postcolonial. A luminous "exchange of contexts," this climactic image figures in part Ramanujan's own poetry: a humble world lit up by poetic form, an ancient sensibility startled by its encounter with modernity, a traditional Brahman past metamorphosed by the onset of the Western present—in short, a metaphor-making poesis that hybridizes and transfigures its cultural sources. Having begun in metaphoric transactions between old Tamil metaphors and a waterfall in a Chicago bank, Ramanujan's poem culminates in the creation of a new metaphor for the postcolonial experience of living in twin temporalities, seemingly unrelated, surely unintegrated, yet suddenly bridged, breached, and transfused by unpredictable moments of resemblance …
The imaginative relations between oneself and one's ending, oneself and one's beginning are, as we have seen in Ramanujan's poetry, crucially dependent on metaphor—on linguistic bridges that both traverse and mark the gaps between past, present, and future. As indicated by Ramanujan's metaphoric crossings between different tenses of his existence, the dislocation and relationality that metaphor metaphorizes as spatial are also temporal. The lyric subject constructs itself partly out of the resemblances between itself and the otherness of its bodily, psychic, and cultural pasts, partly out of the resemblances between itself and the otherness of its possible destinies—its imaginary afterlives in the bodies, works, and minds of the future. Crossings between now and then, here and there, one body and another are in turn isomorphic, as Ramanujan's poetic metaphors have shown, with passages between one's own culture and others …
Thus his use of metaphor benefits from being understood within the context of the doubleness and displacement, the hybridity and interstitiality usually associated with postcoloniality. So too, his postcoloniality is best explored through the prism of metaphor, the complex rhetorical site of resemblance and "double vision" in his poetry. While vigorously practicing a metaphoric poetics, Ramanujan also shines a light throughout his poetry on what metaphor leaps across—gaps in time and place, differences of culture and history. The post-colonial experience helps to explain not only Ramanujan's exuberant use of metaphor but also his ironic awareness of the edges and differences crossed by metaphor, as we have seen in his poignant fingering of the fissures that separate him from his origins and endings—from other times, other places, other traditions, even other members of his extended family. Ramanujan's agility in fusing passionate attachment to metaphor with trenchant skepticism, rainbow-eyed postcolonialism with postcolonial irony, positions him to be read in coming decades as one of the leading poets of the postcolonial world. As the field of postcolonial studies attends to the significant interrelations between metaphor and postcoloniality, perhaps it will begin to grant Ramanujan and other Anglophone poets like Goodison, p'Bitek, and Brathwaite, Wole Soyinka and Agha Shahid Ali the close literary analysis that their work richly rewards.
Source: Jahan Ramazani, "Metaphor and Postcoloniality: The Poetry of A. K. Ramanujan," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 27-53.
King, Bruce, Three Indian Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A. K. Ramanujan, Dom Moraes, Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 101-02.
Kulshrestha, Chirantan, "Interview," in The Oxford India Ramanujan, edited by Molly Daniels-Ramanujan, Oxford University Press, 2004, unpaginated.
Ramanujan, A. K., "Waterfalls in a Bank," in The Oxford India Ramanujan, edited by Molly Daniels-Ramanujan, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 189-91.
Ramazani, Jahan, "Metaphor and Postcoloniality: The Poetry of A. K. Ramanujan," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 1998, p. 36.
Singh, Sukhbir, "A. K. Ramanujan," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 323, South Asian Writers in English, edited by Fakrul Alam, Thomson Gale, 2006. pp. 285-95.
Webster, W. F., ed., Rig-Veda Sanhita: A Collection of Hindu Hymns of the Rig-Veda, Vol. VII, translated from the original Sanskrit by H.H.Wilson, Cosmo Publications, 1977, p. 1.
Dwivedi, A. N., A. K. Ramanujan and His Poetry, Doaba House, 1983.
Dwivedi analyzes Ramanujan's poetry in terms of theme, form, imagery, versification, the Indian-ness of his work, his modernity, and his place in contemporary Indo-English poetry. This book was published before the appearance of "Waterfalls in a Bank."
Kurup, P. K. J., Contemporary Indian Poetry in English: With Special Reference to the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, A. K. Ramanujan, and R. Parthasarathy, Atlantic, 1991.
In his chapter on Ramanujan, Kurup praises the poet for having cultivated a unique personal idiom.
Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna, A History of Indian Literature in English, Columbia University Press, 2003.
This is essential reading for anyone who requires a comprehensive history of Indian writing in English. Covering a period from 1800 to the present, this collection of essays examines the work of the canonical Indian poets, novelists, and dramatists writing in English—such as Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore, R. K. Narayan, and Salman Rushdie—as well as lesser-known literary figures who have made significant contributions to the evolution of Indian literature in English. One essay is devoted to the work of Ramanujan. The book includes 150 rare photographs and sketches of writers and their contexts.
Pandey, Birendram, ed., Indian Poetry in English, Atlantic, 2001.
This book contains twenty essays on the most significant works of the leading contemporary Indian poets writing in English. The poets discussed include Ramanujan, Daruwalla, K. R. S. Iyengar, Niranjan Mohanty, S. N. Tripathi, P. Raja, Vikram Seth, R. N. Sinha, D. H. Kabadi, Aurobindo, T. Basudeo Reddy and O. P. Bhatnagar.
Ramazani, Jahan, The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English, University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Ramazani argues that postcolonial poets from Africa, India and the Caribbean have expanded the range of literature in English, infusing modern and contemporary poetry with indigenous metaphors. He also considers postcolonial poets of Ireland. Ramanujan is among the poets discussed, as well as W. B. Yeats, Derek Walcott, Louise Bennett, and Okot p'Bitek.