Som Prakash Ranchan
Biography of Som Prakash Ranchan
Som Prakash Ranchan (also known as Som Ranchan) is an Indian poet writing in English, a scholar, a literary critic, a revisionist of Indian culture, literary and secular personalities, and a novelist born in Lahore Cantt (now in Pakistan). He has often been described as a “Poet of Many Voices” with the note of mythical / mystical themes noticeable in his writings. His psycho-analytical studies have the influence of the depth psychology of Carl Jung, Adler and Freud; the mythological studies of Joseph Campbell; the spiritual endeavors of Aurobindo, Otto Rank, Rudolfe, Vedanta and Tantra, and the philosophical notions that of Schopenhauer.
Som Ranchan was born in Lahore, British India. His father was an employee of the Accountant General’s Office at Lahore which was shifted to Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) following India-Pakistan partition in 1947. He had to migrate to India along with his mother, father, three brothers and a sister. This displacement ruined the family fortunes; the siblings had misgivings about career and education which made them anxious and restless. One of the brothers, Vijay Ranchan, qualified Civil Services and retired as an Additional Chief Secretary, Gujarat. Som Ranchan absented from college and worked in Delhi picking up some odd jobs like insurance, marketing and reporting for an English magazine Delhi Mirror (although a very short lived magazine). He himself describes the year 1951-1954 as the “Struggle Period” of his life. During the struggling years, Ranchan completed his MA (Eng) as a private candidate. If one has to know more about Ranchan one needs to read and understand his works better, as he proclaims: “All my poetry is autobiographical”(Journal of Indian Writing in English,1980) The author however, feels that the above quote doesn't truly represent him as it is decontexualized. The critical consensus is that Ranchan's poetry is many-layered, it is personal, experiential of life and times and truly archetypal. The consensus further is that he is an epic poet and specially an inventor of dialogue epics on secular and spiritual Wisdom Figures.
Career in Teaching
In 1954, Ranchan started teaching and established himself as a teacher. One after the other Ranchan taught in four different colleges (including Vaish College, Bhiwani, Hisar; Malerkotla, Erstwhile Princely State, PEPSU). Finally, he taught in Govt. Mahindra College, Patiala from where he went to United States of America on Fulbright Fellowship (1960–1964). His first four year stay in USA as a fellow for 3 years and an instructor for a year on California State University, Northridge resulted in a prose book sojourn in America. Later on the California State University, Fullerton he gave courses in American and English literature in addition to Group Process, Dream Work, Basic Principles of Jungian Psychology, team taught with a certified Jungian Psychologist, Pan Coucoulis. He created many new courses in literature and interdisciplinary studies such as, "Search for Self: East and West", "Yoga", "Graduate Seminar in Walt Whitman", "Senior Seminar in J. D. Salinger", and "Seminar in R. K. Narayan and Raja Rao" to name only a few. He was an immensely popular teacher who classes where always packed and who was known for his care for and attention to students. During this period, he wrote much outstanding poetry including "Me and Columbia" (later called America with Love), "Christ and I", "Mother Sarada and I" and many other brilliant poems.
His most quoted poem “Blind Beggar” is also a part of curriculum in India as also more than hundred research papers have been published centering his works.
He guided Doctoral Research of 25 students at HP University in addition to M.Phil. guidance to scores of students.In his post-Retirement since 1992 he extended his research mentorship to anther 26 students belonging to different universities.
The interest in writing poetry generated in Ranchan when he had just started his studies at college, as a student of graduation. During his sojourn in America he stayed with Raja Rao in Austin, Texas, (for almost a week) with whom he shared a lot of spiritual experiences which he had described in one of his lectures delivered in Himachal Pradesh University. On Walt Whitman, he did his PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Thereafter, the passion for writing had taken a path never trod by anyone as the impact of Walt Whitman and his writings, somehow, still prevails in a latent form. As Kirpal Singh describes it : “the libidinous nature of touch in Whitman…equally pronounced in Ranchan”. The impact of such stylistics could be seen in his “America with Love.” Ranchan's Ph.D. dissertation substantially advanced the understanding of Whitman as the pre-eminent poet of the soul. He brought to his work on Whitman an insight and understanding only an Indian steeped in Tantra could reveal. Ranchan defends these claims with a note of relative vitality: “I am not a clone of Walt Whitman but do use chant, catalogue style.” It need be noted that Ranchan's poetry has a lyricism rarely felt in Whitman.
He came back from America and taught for three years as an Associate Professor of English in the Punjabi University, Patiala (1964–66). Soon after, he went back to United States of America and taught there for almost six years at California State University, Fullerton where he held many administrative responsibilities:“The Executive Council” (1970–71), “Comparative Literature Committee” (1972–1974), “Asian Studies Committee” (1974–75), “Interdisciplinary Studies” where he worked as a Professor (1968–77), “Membership of C.G. Jung Club of Southern California, U.S.A.”. Ranchan’s diaspora was full of joy, cheers, and a learning experience for him. It was in California that his interest in comparative literature developed Ranchan as a writer. The experience of which, he claims: “shows in my [his] writings.” He became, as he quotes: “an Indo-American, mediating, relating across the board.” More than anything, Ranchan's range in poetry displays a remarkable mind with both profound curiosity and a nature with the deepest desire to explore the spiritual. The range of his poetry and its multiple voices is likewise quite rare. His oetry displays mastery of both Indian esoteric traditions of Vedanta and Tantra and, Western depth psychology and religious figures. More than anything, Ranchan's perceives and reveals the myth that operates in all of our lives.
His experience of teaching diverse courses, exposure to American people from all walks of life, his pastoral counselling for the Church of Antioch, Order of Missionary Ministers, become the tap root of his creativity and inter-diciplnary rangings in subjects as diverse as political theory, folklore, myth, psychology, therapy etc.
Fulbright Fellowship, 1960
Smith-Mundt Fellowship, 1961
University of Wisconsin Fellowship, 1962
Hazen Foundation Fellowship, 1962–63
Govt of India (HRD Award) for a project on the Hero Folktale of Shima district, 1993
Himachal Academy Award for a folklore project, 1993
Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995–98
Som Ranchan is known for his elaborate style, mythical, mystical allusions, burrowing the deep layers of culture and personalities. His voice in his poetry is neither of an extrovert or an introvert but consists of the polyphonic echoes, predominantly of a centrovert. Ranchan claims that obscure poetry discourages “common reader” but is essential to sustain variety of “multi-culturism, mythical and archetypal reverberations and metaphysical experiences” (Kirpal Singh). Orrington Ramsay, Professor of English, California State University (USA), opines: “Som P. Ranchan’s lyrical tongue is the ultimate universal love of earth, of man, and of the gods…he incorporates the lush cadences of our own English verse and the mystic vision of India” (“Back Cover” Som P. Ranchan: A Poet of Many Voices, 1994). For the readers of Ranchan, a collection of papers by the most prominent scholars of India, Ved Sharma’s A Profile in Creativity(1992) is an ever illuminating endeavor. Usha Bande opines that” Som P. Ranchan’s ‘Blind Beggar’, sitting astride a Shimla road is perceptive enough to know the passers-by. He[the beggar] as the narrator, is quite intelligent and far from being a pathetic, stinking presence.” Citing some rhetorical questions, Kirpal Singh opines: “Is Ranchan’s poetry derivative or idiosyncratically original? Does it belong to any tradition?”
Som Prakash Ranchan's Works:
The Splintered Mirror (1960)
Loose Ends (1986)
In the Labyrinth of the Self (1988)
Long Dialogue Poems
Christ and i (1982)
Mother Sharda and I
To Vivek Then I Came (1984)
Soul-Making with Sri Aurbindo (1986)
To Krishna with Love (1986)
Manjushri: Tibetan Buddha (1993)
The Man Said (1998)
Friendship Sahridya (1992)
Epics and Epic Cycle
Me and Columbia (1960)
rechristened as America with Love (1987)
Shirdi Sai Criticism, Religion, Psychology etc.
Walt Whitman (1967)
Salinger’s Glass Family (1989)
Sri Aurbindo, A Myriad-Minded Genius (1989)
India that is Bharat (1998)
Dobe Kit: Self Therapy (1998)
Swami Vivekananda, Insan-e-Kamal (1998)
Passage to Punjab
Folk Tales of Himachal (1982)
Sojourn in America (1985)
Durga Saptashati: Transcreation (1986)
An Anatomy of Indian Psyche (1988)
Sri Aurobindo as a Political Thinker (1998)
New Insights on Gita
Salinger’s Glass Family : An Adventure with Vedanta (1989)
Aurbindonion Yoga Revisioned (1992)
Jawaharlal Nehru: Puer Aeternus (1991)
Bonding with Bond (2007)
Mantra Manual (2008)
Dalai Lama: A Talkathon Scroll (2008)
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