Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A. K. Ramanujan : "Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House"

It has been rightly said that A.K .Ramanujan is not obvious as a poet ; the poet in him has to be gradually discovered. His poems may not impress the readers on the first reading , but a closer reading of his poems will definitely reveal their myriad hidden beauties!

Ramanujan has his own personal views on the poetic process . I think we should be on our guard while making comments on his poetry in the light of the poet's own views on what poetry should be like . A poet's own views on poetry are often the will-o' -the-wisps which mislead the unwary critics . If Wordsworth found it necessary to append a preface to the Lyrical Ballads , it only shows the poet's lack of confidence . T.S.Eliot, on the contrary, set a fine example in this respect . He did not find it necessary to add any preface to his landmark poem The Waste Land In making this short commentary on Ramanujan's poem "Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House" I have tried my best not to be influenced by the poet's own critical theories .

On the surface , the poem is a quaint catalogue of things that come into the Great House but do not go out and and also an equally bizarre list of things that go out but soon come back . Even on the first reading, the reader may feel a bit uneasy and he may find the poem a deeply disturbing one in an inexplicable manner . A closer reading of the poem will convince the reader that the poem is a fine piece of social criticism. The poem will assume a universal significance when the reader ponders on this enigmatic poem .He will then recognize that the poem is an elegy on the death of human dignity and identity .

It is interesting to compare "Small-Scale Reflections" with V.S Naipaul's masterpiece "A House for Mr Biswas" The hero of Naipaul's romance detests what Ramanujan euphemistically calls a Great House. Actually the Great House is an over-crowded house like the Hanuman House in Naipaul's novel . Both the houses are graveyards of human dignity and identity . Mrs Tulsi does not allow her sons- in law to leave the house .In Ramanujan's Great House sons- in law share the same fate :

"Sons- in law who quite forget
their mothers but stay to check
Accounts or teach arithmetic to nieces "

Great House is different from Hanuman House in one way . Here there is no Mr Biswas to start a rebellion . .We are , however, informed that sons and nephews "ran away " to join the army , but , unlike Biswas, they do not stay and fight like rebels . In the Great House things and humans are all clubbed together. :

They come in every day
to lose themselves among other things
lost long ago among
other things lost long ago "

Ramanujan has no compunction to club together things and human beings in the list of things that come into the Great House but do not go out . Look at this bizarre list : straying cows, library books , dishes, servants, phonographs, epilepsies , sons- in law and women who come as brides ! Among the things that go out but soon return are daughters who come back as widows and sons and nephews who come back as corpses slain in distant battlefields . Why do daughters soon return as widows? Ramanujan gives the cryptic answer : they were married to "short-lived idiots" !

This poem is more than a piece of criticism of an over-crowded Brahmin household . of South India . It has a universal significance . When human beings lose their dignity and identity they are little better than cows , dishes. bales of cotton and gadgets like phonographs . This vision of Ramanujan conveyed through this poem exalts it to the niche reserved for the greatest poetry in world literature .

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  1. nice ... liked your critique of ramanujan's work ...! i cannot understand all of his works, but the ones I do are quite quite astonishing ...
    imho, among the more cryptic of the great indian poets between 1950-2000, i am told he was deeply influenced by classical tamil poetry and that as a professor he was fantastic ...

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  2. I was searching for a proper critical appriciation of the Poem. and this is the one. now I can write much better in my exam. Thank you Sir

    Siri Iyengar

  3. K. Satyanarayan Achary.
    Analysis has been completely new. It has been inter-textual, inter-cultural. Very much of help to the students. Thanks for such a brilliant analysis.