A. K. Ramanujan

(16 March 1929 - 13 July 1993 / Mysore / India)

Biography of A. K. Ramanujan

A. K. Ramanujan poet

Attipate Krishnaswami Ramanujan (Kannada: ಅತ್ತಿಪೇಟೆ ಕೃಷ್ಣಸ್ವಾಮಿ ರಾಮಾನುಜನ್) (Tamil: அத்திப்பட்டு கிருஷ்ணசுவாமி ராமானுஜன்) also known as A. K. Ramanujan, was a scholar of Indian literature who wrote in both English and Kannada. Ramanujan was a Indian poet, scholar and author, a philologist, folklorist, translator, poet and playwright. His academic research ranged across five languages: Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit, and English. He published works on both classical and modern variants of these literature and also argued strongly for giving local, non-standard dialects their due.

Childhood

He was born into an Iyengar(Brahmin) family in Mysore City on 16 March 1929. His father, Attipat Asuri Krishnaswami, a professor of mathematics at Mysore University and an astronomer, had a study crammed with books in English, Kannada. and Sanskrit. The house was alive with ideas. On summer nights, the children gathered on the third floor terrace while their father pointed out and explained the constellations. Sometimes at dinner, the children listened intently as their father translated for their mother the stories of Shakespeare and other Western classics into Tamil.

Ramanujan's mother was an orthodox Brahmin woman of her time, limited by custom in the scope of her movement and control, in this way a typical housewife. Though she was no intellectual practitioner, she was neither typical nor limited in her learning and imagination. She was widely read in Tamil and Kannada, and comfortable in the world of ideas.

These were the parents who gave Ramanujan the telling metaphor of father language and mother tongue that enlightens much of the analysis found in the essays of this book. By the time his father died, when Ramanujan was only twenty, the older man had already helped shape his son's devotion to an intellectual life.

As a youth, Ramanujan was perplexed by his father's seemingly paradoxical belief in both astrology and astronomy: how could one man blend the rational and irrational in this way? Curiously, Ramanujan chose magic as his first artistic endeavor. While in his teens, he had the neighborhood tailor fashion him a coat fitted with hidden pockets and elastic bands in which he concealed rabbits and bouquets of flowers. With added accoutrements of top-hat and wand he performed for local schools, women's groups. and social clubs. The desire to be a magician was perhaps a strange use of the insight he gained from his father's quirky belief in the irrational.

Education

He was educated at Marimallappa's High School and Maharaja College of Mysore. In college, Ramanujan majored in science in his first year, but his father, who thought him 'not mathematically minded', literally took him by the hand to the Registrar's office and changed his major from science to English.He was a Fellow of Deccan College, Pune in 1958 - 59 and Fulbright Scholar at Indiana University in 1959 - 62. He was educated in English at the Mysore University and received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Indiana University.

Career

Having been a lecturer in English at Quilon and Belgaum, he taught at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda for about eight years. In 1962, he joined the University of Chicago as an assistant professor, where he was affiliated throughout the rest of his career, teaching in several departments. However, he did teach at several other U.S. universities at times, including Harvard, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and Carleton College. At the University of Chicago, Ramanujan was instrumental in shaping the South Asian Studies program. He worked in the departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Linguistics, and with the Committee on Social Thought.

In 1976, the government of India awarded him the honorific title Padma Shri, and in 1983, he was given the MacArthur Prize Fellowship (Shulman, 1994). In 1983, he was appointed the William E. Colvin Professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, of Linguistics, and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and, the same year, he received a MacArthur Fellowship.

As an Indo-American writer Ramanujan had the experience of the native milieu as well as of the foreign milieu. His poems like the "Conventions of Despair" reflected his views on the cultures and conventions of the east and the west.

A. K. Ramanujan died in Chicago, on July 13, 1993 as result of adverse reaction to anesthesia during preparation for surgery.

Contributions to South Asian Studies

A. K. Ramanujan's theoretical and aesthetic contributions span several disciplinary areas. In his cultural essays such as "Is There an Indian Way of Thinking?" (1990) he explains cultural ideologies and behavioral manifestations thereof in terms of an Indian psychology he calls "context-sensitive" thinking. In his work in folklore studies, Ramanujan highlights the intertextuality of the Indian oral and written literary tradition. His essay "Where Mirrors Are Windows: Toward an Anthology of Reflections" (1989), and his commentaries in The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1967) and Folktales from India, Oral Tales from Twenty Indian Languages (1991) are good examples of his work in Indian folklore studies.

Controversy Regarding His Essay

His 1991 essay "Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations" courted controversy over its inclusion in B.A., History syllabus of Delhi University. It was included in 2006. In this essay, he had written about existence of many versions of Ramayana and a few versions portrayed Rama and Sita as siblings, which contradicts the popular versions of the Ramayana, such as those by Valmiki and Tulsidas.

ABVP a student wing of BJP opposed its inclusion in the syllabus, saying it hurt the majority Hindus' sentiments, who viewed Rama and Sita as Gods and were husband and wife. They demanded the essay be scrapped from the syllabus. In 2008 Delhi High Court directed the Delhi University to convene a committee to decide on the essay's inclusion. A 4-member committee was formed, which subsequently gave its verdict 3-1 in favour of inclusion in the syllabus.

The academic council however, ignored the committee's recommendation and voted to scrap the essay from its syllabus in Oct 2011. This led to protest by many historians and intellectuals, and accused the Delhi University of succumbing to non-historians' diktat.

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Self-Portrait

I resemble everyone
but myself, and sometimes see
in shop-windows
despite the well-knownlaws
of optics,
the portrait of a stranger,
date unknown,
often signed in a corner
by my father.

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