AT the time of his death in 1993, A.K. Ramanujan left behind 148 poems on three
computer disks. Many of these were finished poems, some were fragments, exercises.
According to his daughter Krittika, the earliest were written in 1989, in Michigan, and
the latest in March or April 1993, just weeks before his death. This by any standards is a
lot of poetry over a relatively short period. Birth takes a long time,
Ramanujan says in one of these late poems, though death can be sudden,/and
multiple, like pregnant deer/shot on the run. Ramanujans death was
sudden, multiple. He was, among other things, putting the finishing touches to a new
collection of poems when it happened. This new collection, The Black Hen, was never
published as an independent volume but appeared as part of Collected Poems in 1995. There
are 60 poems in The Black Hen and the selection was made by an eight-member committee, two
of whom are the editors of the present volume. Uncollected Poems and Prose adds a further
32 poems to the corpus.
Does this mean that we now have all of Ramanujans poems, everything that he
wished to preserve? I am not so sure. There is at least one poem I am aware of, Stranger,
published in the Winter 1990/91 issue of the Poetry Review (London), which doesnt
find a place in either The Black Hen or Uncollected Poems and Prose. It must have slipped
through the net, as poems tend to do. The poem is about a man who returns home every
evening punctually at five fifteen. One day, as he routinely slides the brass
key in a keyhole, he discovers he has been transformed into another person, into someone
who has a falcon tattoo on his right hand, whose left hand middle finger is missing, and
who swears in Spanish. The poem is about the many nasty selves we carry inside us and
which seize us when we least expect them to. Its a subject Ramanujan wrote about
often, but each time coming at it with undiminished keenness and from a new direction.
Apart from 32 poems, many of them, like Invisible Bodies, Lying, Becoming, and Oranges
as good as any he wrote, Uncollected Poems and Prose also contains an essay, The Ring of
Memory, a eulogy to the Sanskritist Barbara Stoler Miller, and two interviews. The first
is by Chirantan Kulshrestha and was done in 1970; the second is by A.L. Becker and Keith
Taylor and was done in 1989. They are not the least of the books surprises, though
not if one has read Ramanujan carefully before.
Ramanujans father was a mathematician, but he knew Sanskrit well and, though not
very religious, recited the Gita and read the Ramayana in the morning. He was also an
astrologer. Which part of this life did you share? Was it the religion? The prayers?
The astrology? Becker asks him. And the reply is: No, I was very much against
astrology. I said astronomy was good, but astrologythrow it away. Ramanujan
then describes the arguments they would have. Asked if his reaction was a reaction
against India, he says: Against Hinduism. And, of course, I had the notion
that only a kind of modern rationalism was the answer to all the problems that we
My unconscious agenda, he says in answer to another question, has
been to diversify our notions of Indian civilisation.... If you look at something like
Speaking of Siva, you find it more democratic. It is fiercely critical of Hindu positions
of ritual and priests, the privilege of temples, and the rich men who support the
templesof the whole caste system.
This outspokenness is to be found also in the early poems, where it is hidden behind
what looks like innocent wordplay. In them, Ramanujan makes a distinction between a Hindu
like himself, and he was perhaps the greatest 20th century interpreter of Hinduism to the
world, and the Hindoo. The Hindoos are one of us, except that the
colonial spelling signifies that they are not quite. Long before it happened, Ramanujan
saw them dancing on top of mosques with iron implements, like savages. This is how The
Hindoo: The Only Risk, published in Relations (1971), ends: At the bottom of all
this bottomless/enterprise to keep simple the hearts given beat,/the only risk is
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT