Obituary by A.K. Ramanujan: Analysis and Text

Obituary is a beautiful poem by A. K. Ramanujan, a great poet in the world of Indian English literature. It is a very popular poem by him. It is the product of the poet’s memory. Here the poet remembers his father after his death. Here irony plays the pivotal role.

In Obituary Ramanujan beautifully expresses the after effect of his father’s death. He tells that his father left only problems for his family behind him. The poet presents the list of those problems like dust on a table of papers, debts, daughters and a bedwetting grandson. It seems that the poet is not happy with his father’s attitude and life style.

The poet continues that his ill-tempered father left a dilapidated house for his family to live in. Then the poet presents the picture of his cremation. The remains of his father’s pyre are left for sons to pick. They have to perform the Hindu rituals. Then the poet mentions the meaninglessness of his father’s life. He achieved nothing in this world. He was helpless.

The poet ironically says that someone told him that after his father’s death only two lines were published in an inside column of a cheap Madras newspaper. The poet tries a lot to get those lines of obituary.

In short, the poet is of the view that his father’s life was meaningless. He got nothing but an obituary of two lines.

Obituary by A.K. Ramanujan

Father, when he passed on,
left dust
on a table of papers,
left debts and daughters,
a bedwetting grandson
named by the toss
of a coin after him,

a house that leaned
slowly through our growing
years on a bent coconut
tree in the yard.
Being the burning type,
he burned properly
at the cremation

as before, easily
and at both ends,
left his eye coins
in the ashes that didn't
look one bit different,
several spinal discs, rough,
some burned to coal, for sons

to pick gingerly
and throw as the priest
said, facing east
where three rivers met
near the railway station;
no longstanding headstone
with his full name and two dates

to hold in their parentheses
everything he didn't quite
manage to do himself,
like his caesarian birth
in a brahmin ghetto
and his death by heart-
failure in the fruit market.

But someone told me
he got two lines
in an inside column
of a Madras newspaper
sold by the kilo
exactly four weeks later
to street hawkers

who sell it in turn
to the small groceries
where I buy salt,
and jaggery
in newspaper cones
that I usually read

for fun, and lately
in the hope of finding
these obituary lines.
And he left us
a changed mother
and more than
one annual ritual.
Sandal S Anshu, Satna


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