Selfing the Home: Quest for Indigenous Entity, Metaphors of the Self and the Other in A. K. Ramanujan’s Poetry

Kankana Bhowmick

Bongaigaon College, Assam

Vol. 1, No. 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/bp.v1n1.13


This paper intends to analyze the celebrated poems of A. K. Ramanujan in the light of the figurative approach taken by the poet to represent the Self and the Other from a multidimensional point of view. The poems are skillful observations and perceptions of Indian milieu by him as an Indian expatriate in America. His poems bear the idea that physical separation from his motherland with its precious familial, cultural and traditional values kept him tied to his indigenous roots. His unforgettable poems throw light on his beliefs and philosophies which were influenced by the native air that brought to him all ideologies, morals, myths, legends and even superstitions. Regarded as works of unequal genius, the poems reverberate in the minds of the readers. To be brief, the achieved sense of the Other as an expatriate and the inborn identity of the Self deeply rooted in the soil of his motherland inspire the poet to form refined expressions and a poetic vision which generate the idea how self and society can be related to each other through the networks of home and family.

 Keywords:  Self-Other, Expatriate, Myths, Alienation, National allegory, Collective unconscious, Archetypes

The poems of A. K. Ramanujan identify him as a distinguished Indian English poet in whom the inevitable bond with the motherland, legacy to the home and family, its culture are intermingled to inspire the fusion of philosophical and ethical values of his native culture and the detached outlook of Western thoughts. His poetry is born out of the dialectical interplay between his experience both in America and India on the one hand, and that between his sense of own self and its vitality on the other. As a citizen confronting an alien culture when working and living in U.S, he had imbibed many of its attributes as well. He was exposed to a lifestyle which was urbane, to a mindset which was liberal and to a culture which was not only alien but radical and unconventional unlike its traditional Indian counterpart. The tenets of diverse cultures enabled Ramanujan to rise above and appreciate each. As he looks back staying away from his own land, he remembers and shares personal experiences of family life and home. Most of his poems published in the volumes “The Striders” (1966), “Relations” (1971) and “Second Sight” (1986) echo the sense of belongingness as he reminisces his experience with family as a metaphor for the varied but influential ties between past, present and future.

Ramanujan was drawn to the home, and the family it consists of, as he strongly believed in the family that helps a person to imbibe values and culture. The bond of love and familial ties, as portrayed in his poems, do not merely reveal his inner self through a nostalgic journey down memory lane carrying an awareness of the typical Indian family with its huge web of relationships but also bring a sense of alienation. This realization makes him to turn back to his childhood experiences, relate anecdotes and consequently it becomes a source of continuity with an older idea. The reality of being away pulls him back to the present from where his view of the distant past becomes more vivid, more transparent relating to the values like morality, religion and ethics taught in the premises of a Hindu Brahmin family. The poem “Extended Family” in “Second Sight” expresses how the poet can stretch his lineage backward to grandfather and forward to no specific point in future. His identification of the self includes not merely the family past and timeless memory that offers an insight backward in time or into an origin that has no appropriate moment of beginning, but at the same time, it engages a speculation of an unknown future, awaiting unmoulded in its time. Like his unborn grandson, he says, he ‘looks up at himself’. The poet’s idea of family and the rooted self in it derive from the conception of a vastly extended and nebulously curled web that he enjoins on an indefinite, indefinable time stretch. His quest for the Self submerged in the traditional and cultural values rousing from Indian legacy helps him in purging the uncanny feeling of alienation that gives him the transcended entity as the Other.

Ramanujan’s “Hindoo Poems” are remarkable representations to study how the poet deals with the themes of Hindu culture. His three renown Hindu poems: “The Hindoo: He reads his GITA and is calm at all events”, “The Hindoo: he doesn’t Hurt a Fly or a Spider either” and “The HINDOO: the only risk” are the reflections of his Hindu consciousness. The impossible ideal of accepting both good and evil, joy and sorrow in an equal spirit is well expressed in the poem “The Hindoo: He reads his GITA and is calm at all events”. In this poem, the poet’s attitude is not to satirize Hinduism or the sacred scriptures but rather those Hindus who know the content of the scriptures, as Ramanujan’s early domestic culture taught him, but miss its spirit. The religious values he has imbibed through the introduction to the holy scriptures and rituals, stir a rational mind in him rather than a typical orthodox conception of a Hindu Brahmin mindset. He finds his objective correlative in the family and it’s religious and traditional practices around him and then shapes his experiences into poems that become neat vignettes on family relationships, transmitted values of religious or traditional practices as well as the well-knitted frame of Indian society. An important fact put to the forth by his poems is the comprehensive knowledge of Indian mythology and folklore. His other self consisting of experiences as an expatriate did not paralyze his native instinct. His native self finds expression when he describes the worship and reverence of the animals including serpents in Indian culture, as they are considered to be the symbol and ornament of lord Shiva..Full Text PDF