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Saturday, 9 February 2013

Poetry Study Aid: A River: A.K.Ramanujan


A River 
 A.K. Ramanujan
The poem A River by A.K. Ramanujan is a tour de force of impressive potency and insightful philosophy and yet a poem characterised by its graceful lucidity and finely honed criticism. Through the poem A River, the poet raises the question of an artist’s commitment to the society.
In this poem, the poet has compared and contrasted the mind-set of the old poets and those of the new poets to human misery. Both the poets are apathetic to human sorrow and suffering. Their poetry does not mirror the miseries of the human beings; on the other hand they are concerned with the themes that are far away from the stark reality before them. They write about the beauty of the river in full flood completely ignoring the devastation and human tragedy wreaked by this beastly force.
In this poem, the poet refers to the river Vaikai which flows through the city of Madurai. Madurai, reputed for its rich cultural and spiritual heritage, is a well known city in Tamil Nadu. In the poem A River the poet presents two strikingly contrasting pictures of the river: a vivid picture of the river in the summer season and the river in its full flow when the floods arrive with devastating fury.
In the summer, the river is almost barren and arid. Only a very thin stream of water flows revealing the sand ribs on the bed of the river. There is also the picture of the river in the monsoon season, flooded and with its immense destructive power yet startlingly beautiful in its majestic flow.
Both the old and the new poets have celebrated the beauty of the flooded river but they were not alive to or sympathetic with human suffering caused by the monstrous flood.
The poet-visitor, a modern poet probably Ramanujan himself, visits Madurai when the Vaikai is in flood. He was extremely shaken by the dismal scene of utter destruction caused by the river to life and property all around. He is even more stunned by the insensitive attitude and the complete unconcern of the city poets, both old and new, towards this tragic situation of human suffering and fatality. He was distraught that they ‘sang only of the floods’ when they should have rather tried to alleviate the people of their miserable state. Being a realist himself, he takes a dig at these city poets for dodging reality and attempting to flee into a made-up world of fantasy and fancy.
The poem A River illustrates many significant features of Ramanujan’s poetry, such as his adept linking of the past and the present so as to introduce the idea of continuity, his effortless depiction of the typical Indian surroundings. The use of wit, irony and humour, and dramatic imagery is distinctive of his style.

Question 1
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
1.     Which river is mentioned in the extract? What is Madurai reputed for? What was the subject of the poets of Madurai?
The river Vaikai which flows through the ancient city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu is mentioned in the extract. Madurai is famous for its spiritual, literary and cultural heritage; its magnificent city with its numerous impressive temples built by the kings that ruled Madurai in the past.
The poets of Madurai, its minstrels, wrote and sang eulogies of its marvelous temples and its magnificent cites. In a way these eulogies can be deemed as eulogies of the kings who built these temples and cities and patronized the literati. 
2.     What do the images of the river drying to a trickle and the sand ribs suggest?
The river drying to a trickle conveys the scorching heat of summer that dries up everything and makes life unbearably miserable with the accompanying famine and starvation.
The dried river exposes the sand dunes at the bottom of the river and they bring to our mind the skeletal rib cages of a starved human being.
Both the images bring out the ugly aspect of the dried up river that brings drought, which in turn causes gruesome misery and starvation.  Human suffering caused by the drought is suggested by the river drying to a trickle exposing the bone-dry expanse of the sand dunes.
3.     What do the straw and women's hair do? What do they signify?
The straw and women's hair choke or block the watergates under the bridges which have patches of repair all over them.
The three images -of the straw and women's hair and the bridges in disrepair -together create a scenario of filth and wretchedness which the flowing river has masked. However, the dry river bares and exposes the ugliness that lies underneath.
The poet may be suggesting the attempt of the poets to hide or callously ignore the stark and harsh social reality by writing poems of cities and temples.
Question 2
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.
1.     How does the poet describe the stones or boulders at the bottom of the river? To what does he compare them? Why?
Using the figure of speech simile, the poet compares the wet stones to sleepy crocodiles and the dry boulders to shaved buffalos.
The sleepy  voracious crocodiles  hint at the impending disaster because of the unhygienic and polluted environment. Probably, the disaster has already occurred because the poet evokes the image of shaven buffalos. In all probability, the buffalos have lost all their hair because of some fatal disease caused by the contaminated water and the environment.
2.     Bring out the irony in the last line of the extract: The poets only sang of the floods.
The poet paints a picture of disaster and ruin by presenting the dried river in summer and the likely consequence of the unhealthy environment on man and beast. However, both the old and the new poets are apathetic to the bleak and harsh reality around them. Ironically these poets totally ignore the misery around them and write about the romance of the river in flood.
Question 3
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.

1.     Who is referred to as ‘He’ here? Where is he now” Why?
He is a visitor to the city of Madurai who has gone there to see the river Vaikai in flood. He can be a modern poet, probably the poet Ramanujan himself.
Poets have romanticized the beauty of the river Vaikai in flood and he had gone there to observe the beauty of the flooded river.
2.     What were the destructions caused by the river? What was the reaction of the people towards this tragic occurrence?
The poet says that the monstrous flood had carried away three village houses, a pregnant woman and a pair of cows. These images signify the terrible loss of property (three village houses], enormous loss of human life (a pregnant woman) as well as the loss of villagers’ livelihood (a pair of cows).
The people were apathetic toward the tragic destruction caused by the flood; they talked about superfluous matters like the exact number of cobbled steps run over by the flood or about the gradual rising of water in the river. The use of phrase ‘as usual’ suggests the familiarity of the villagers with the havoc caused by the flood. The flood has become a usual annual event and the villagers have become immune to its destructive fury.
3.     Comment on the lines: a couple of cows/   named Gopi and Brinda as usual
The poet had nowhere mentioned the name of any human individual but he gives the cows names of divine figures. This is to convey the importance of the cows to the villagers; the cows are sacred to the villagers and also their main source of livelihood.
Question 4
Read the following extract and answer the questions that follow:
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.
1.     Explain:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
Both the old and the new poets thought that the river can be the subject of poetry only when it is in flood.
2.     How do you react to the poet’s description of the unborn twins kicking at blank walls of the womb?
The poet here depicts a harrowing picture of human struggle and its futility. The twins are frantically kicking at the wall of the womb of the pregnant women to escape from their awful condition. However, the struggle is futile. They also drown along with their mother. The scene is too deep for tears.
In a way, the poet implies that for the common man the struggle starts even before his birth and there is no escape from the bleak and dreary life he has to face in the world.
3.     What do you infer from the following lines:
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.
The pregnant woman might have dreamt about the unborn children and might have had great hopes and aspiration of them. The drowning of the pregnant women signifies the drowning of the hopes and aspiration about the ordinary people which are shattered by the tragic flood.
4.     Comment on the theme of the poem.
The theme of the poem is the insensitive attitude and the complete unconcern of the city poets, both the old and the new, towards the tragic situation of human suffering and fatality. We are distraught that they ‘sang only of the floods’ when they should have rather tried to alleviate the people of their miserable state.
The poem also raises the question of the commitment of a poet or artist towards the society.


15 comments:

  1. Thanks alot sir..... these things are really helpful... now the students will definitely feel confident enough and will face the exams confidently!!!! :)

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  2. THANK YOU !!! =D

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  3. The main theme of the poem is human suffering and its criminal neglect by one and all, especially by poets, old and new. the river, is described in the poem, is a source o f much human suffering and pain in the monsoon seasons. the poets old and new, become eloquent in singing in its praise. they only continue a set poetic tradition. they ignore how many lives are lost in floods. the drowning of a pregnant woman in the flood is a bitter reality, which no poet takes notice of.

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  4. Thanku, sir.
    In most cheesy manner i must say, please have all the poems of golden lyre done......because for us each and every one is of the same difficulty level, and ur explanation and question and answers are just commendable.

    Thank u. :)

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  5. the name of the river is vaigai and not vaikai.....

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  6. thanks a lot ,sir, for ur service

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  7. thanks a lot...
    1. How does the poet describe the stones or boulders at the bottom of the river? To what does he compare them? Why?
    Using the figure of speech simile, the poet compares the wet stones to sleepy crocodiles and the dry boulders to shaved buffalo.
    its said that the wet stones were sparkling and glistening like the crocodile in water and the dry ones were shining like the black hair shaved buffalo which due to sun shines due to reflection.

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  8. thank u so much# . this is really a gr8 help

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  9. my god, who wrote this? you are saving my board marks!! i am thus eternally indebted to thy generous brow, O savior!

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  10. very much useful..at the same time creates some confusion by giving similar answers fr various types of questions!..

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  11. verymuch useful.but creates some queries by giving similar answer fr vrious types of questions!.
    thankyou.

    ReplyDelete
  12. very much useful..at the same time creates some queries by giving similar answers fr various types of questions!..
    thank you!

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  13. thank you so much. this will be useful for my literature assignment.

    ReplyDelete