Sunday, February 1, 2009


UGC SAP DRS-I of the Department of English, Faculty of Arts, The M S University of Baroda organized an AK RAMANUNAJAN NATIONAL PAPER READING COMPETITION in the memory of one of its most illustrious faculties for the students of the Master of Arts in English course in the various university departments on 30-31 January 2009. Why did we organize such an event? This is what I said on 30th Jan 2009 regarding AK Ramanujan.

Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan (1929-1993) is one of the foremost Indian poets in English, translators, cultural theorists and linguists. He belongs to the galaxy of first generation modernist Indian English poets which included internationally renowned names like Nissim Ezekiel, Jayant Mahapatra, Kamala Das, Keki Daruwala, AK Mehrotra, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, and R Parathasarty.

The quest for an authentic cultural identity and negotiation of multiple cultural heritages were prominent preoccupations in his writings. This theme is typical of the postcolonial generation of modernist poets. This quest was different from the quest for national identity of their precursors, the poets of colonial period like Sri Aurobindo, the Dutts and Sarojini Naidu in the sense that these post colonial poets looked beyond the high-textual Sanskritic traditions. They sought to identify and enter into a dialogue with the rebellious spirit of the Bhakti poetry and the marginal oral traditions which they saw as more authentic and true. In a sense they sought to discover or rather invent a native modernity which was non-colonial and non-Brahminical at the same time. In this process of identification and negotiation they sought to decolonize and debrahmanize themselves and the culture in which they wrote. Translation became a very important tool in their hands to achieve this purpose.

Today however, there are two reasons for remembering AKR:

First is that he was one of the faculties in this Department. Before leaving for the United States in 1959, he worked in many Indian Universities, including the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara. In 1962, he became an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, where he was affiliated throughout the rest of his career

The second reason for remembering AKR is that the very idea of memory seems to be getting obsolete in contemporary times. The meaning of memory today seems to have changed. The injunction of ` improve your memory’ seems to imply upgrading your RAM or cache memory of your motherboard. The whole idea of `quest for identity’ appears quaint and distanced. The idea of search for identity is replaced by the idea ofsurfing for identity. We seem to be living in a perpetual present where the breaking news of this moment is forgotten with the next. History is what is telecast live and reality means reality show. In such a state of affairs, it is necessary to reread and rewrite figures like Ramanujan in much the same way they reread and rewrote the Bhaki poets. There is a need to translate these writers into a contemporary language. It is important to tell the younger generation that these poets were the ` breaking news’ once and that they were ` brand names’ in their times and they `hacked’ into multiple cultural codes and languages.

GN Devy, another prominent faculties of this Dept, uses the phrase ` after amnesia’ to describe the post-colonial generation’s awakening to true identity. Amnesia is not exactly the term one can use today. It seems to be Alzheimer’s that we seem to be up against and in such a situation, re-membering Ramanujan, his legacy and his work is one way of remedying the premature memory loss.

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