A. K. Ramanujan

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

A River - Poem by A. K. Ramanujan

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women's hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.


Comments about A River by A. K. Ramanujan

  • Bijay Kant Dubey (12/2/2016 12:00:00 PM)


    A River is one of those poems of A.K.Ramanujan which remind us of hashya, vyangya and vakrokti, satire, irony and doublespeak and the oblique approach as the chief forte of the poet which he handled so deftly and excelled in too as the master artist of the genre. Ramanujan as a poet is one of the satirico-ironical trend of writing and he loved to play with words and wits. An expatriate academician, he used to teach in the States and that too in the South Asian language and culture department dealing with the Dravidic languages and language patterns. A poet, translator, linguist, folklorist and a critic, Ramanujan had been not only amusing and entertaining, but critical too. To criticize and comment had been his job. Just like Birbal and Gopal Bhand he tried to regale us, but not in a laughing manner, but by being ironical and critical enough. Ashtabakra’s statements matched those of his or of Khana’s vachans.
    To him, poetry is in ironies, witty handlngs and intrigues. The present poem A River is not exactly a romantic picture of the river Vaikai which flows through Madurai, the temple town, but a real picture of it when it dries duing the summer.
    The present poem is but a Tamil poem by a Tamilian as it recreates the ancinetness of Madurai and the classical poetry written by the Sangam literary meets and confluences dating back to centuries gone by. But here classicism of the Tamil poets and texts is no the matter of discussion. Just by referring to Madurai, the temple town, he tells the tales of the Vaigai river, more specially during the floodtime when the water levels cross over the danger level and the villages get swept. But there is none to tell the pains caused by the excessive waters swirling, devouring and inundating.
    The poet pictures the dry bridge during the dry season with the gates visible to anyone and clogged with the straw and woman hair. One can see the bridge repaired. But the patch works carried out seem to be like the sleepy crocodiles.
    But during the flood time water levels rise up to and the people start talking about the waters rising, taking on the bathing ghats and the cobbled steps. The new poets too like to visualize in such a way the older ones have gone by.
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  • Bijay Kant Dubey (12/1/2016 11:17:00 PM)

    Hashya, vyangya and vakrokti
    A River as a poem turns him into a hashya-vyankar using vakrokti as his poetical stuff; a master craftsman of the oblique approach, wit, humour and irony and he knows how to handle and improvise doublespeak, taunt and jibe to suit his creative purposes, but is ironical, crafty and coquettish too, sarcastic and sardonic..Through the river, he expresses his love of Tamil culture and tradition ad commemorates it through his verse. Under the blessing of Murugan he starts the poem referring to Madurai, the Vaigai river and its banks standing in evidence of the great Tamil literary conferences and confluences, he thinks of his stature dwarfed under the shadow of the great ancient Tamil poets. Whatever be that, A River is poem of Madurai, the temple town, the Vaigai river, the Sangam literature and the Pandya kings apart from other dynastic contributions. (Report) Reply

  • (7/17/2013 1:31:00 AM)


    Superb. A very Indian poem. The Indianness is exuding from each line, each stanza. The images are unforgetable. Very simple but powerful diction. Ramanujan at his very best. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, June 16, 2012



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