Theme of Nostalgia in Ramanujan’s Poetry


Dr. Madhavi Sondkar


Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan was born in Mysore, India in 1929. He worked as a Professor of Dravidian studies and Linguistics at the University of Chicago. He remained in Chicago until his death on July 13, 1993. He was a transnational, transdisciplinary scholar working as a poet, translator, linguist and folklorist. He wrote in both kannada and Tamil. He added glory to the Indian English literature with his unique work. He is a thorough Indian poet in sensibility and imagination. A disciple of William Carlos Williams, his poetry is mainly concerned with experience. He deals with the themes of day-to-day life. He precisely writes about the family, history, problems of belonging, rootedness and many more touching subjects. He was conferred the coveted Padmashree award by the government of India.


Ramanujan is basically a poet of experience and memories. His major work includes his collection of poems, The Striders, Relations, Second Sight and Selected poems and his translations from ancient Tamil and medieval Kannada poems. Selected poems from The Striders are undertaken for analysis.


His poem from the collection, ‘Looking for a Cousin On a Swing’, is a lyric poem. The poem preserves the poet’s childhood memory of a cousin who was his play-fellow when they were children. They would sit together on a swing and move rapidly, experiencing the innocent physical touch. They also used to climb a tree with dense foliage. The girl, grown up and probably married is unable to forget the pleasure of the swing. She looks for the swing in the cities with fifteen suburbs where she has settled after marriage. She longs for the same physical touch, physical pleasure. The childhood innocence no doubt is lost and maturity has stepped in. It brings a lot of difference in the relationship. She desires for a relationship and yearns for her past days. The nostalgic longing for childhood days are expressed in this poem. The mood of nostalgia is evident throughout the poem.


Ramanujan’s ‘A River’ is a harsh criticism on the old and the new poets. The poem is a piece of cynical criticism aimed at poets who force themselves to look only at the beautiful things in life and involuntarily ape the same lines quoted by the poets for ages together. The poets write about the sensational themes but are not moved by the tragic and pathetic sights they see around. A river in the poem is Vaikai which flows through Madurai. The poet remembers the city and the river. The river is described in the first stanza. It is just like a trickle. The women’s hair and straw clog the flow of the water. The images of rusty bars of the bridges, stones looking like crocodiles, dry stones looking like the shaven water-buffaloes add vivid and pictorial quality to the poem.


The wet stones glistening like sleepy

Crocodiles, the dry ones

Shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun.


Contrasted to this picture is a flooded river in the rainy season. Nature has creating and destroying power. The flood carries away three village houses, two cows and a pregnant woman. Neither the new nor the old poets seem to be sensitive and responsive to suffering. The callousness of the modem poets to the suffering is irritating. The destruction caused by flood is not poetic at all. For the poets the river becomes subject of poetry only when it is flooded. The new poets were indifferent to the human suffering.


The next poem ‘Of Mothers, Among Other Things’, is a remarkable poem. The poet remembers his mother and recalls her youth, middle age and old age. He describes his mother in youth as beautiful and delicate like silk and white petals of a flower.


I smell upon this twisted

Backbone tree the silk and white

Petals of my mother’s youth.


He remembers his mother’s three diamond earrings which glittered like sunlight. In the middle age, his mother used to run to the cradles to calm the crying baby. The rain stands for the years of misfortunes she faced tackling and sewing. The burden of domestic work made the mother lose her youth and beauty too soon. She grew old and withered. Her hands became wrinkled like an eagle’s feet. In her old age, her sari hung loose around her like broken feathers of a wounded bird. Thus, the poet becomes nostalgic about his mother’s memory.


Another poem which reflects the mood of nostalgia is ‘Love poem for a Wife’. The poem is about the unhappy married life, its conflicts and problems. The poet is in a nostalgic mood. He did not find emotional fulfillment in his relationship with his wife. The emotional detachment, alienation has resulted from the fact that they have not been able to share each other’s childhood experiences. There is no spiritual and emotional unity. Physically they are one but emotionally they are not. The poet seeks to find the emotional fulfillment in the relationship.


Ramanujan’s “Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House”, is a poem of the nostalgic memory of his childhood. The poet gives a long list of things that enter the great house but never leave the house. Things such as cows, books, sweet dishes, daughters-in-law and even the song of a beggar enter the house. Ramanujan went to America. His nostalgic memories of the ancestral house and the joint-families are revived in this poem. The things lost long ago revive in the speaker’s memory. The poet intermingles comic, tragic touches together. The widowed daughters, the dead soldiers, the sons-in-law are a part of the poem. The poet makes an exposure of the great house. The poet remembers some of the events of his life in this great house.


Ramanujan’s poetry is a recollection of emotions. Memory unfolds itself in his mind. He has the memories of the south Indian family life. Indian sensibility is present in almost all images.