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A River

- A.K. Ramanujan
A River appeared in Ramanujans first volume of poems titled The Striders. It is a poem on the river Vaikai which flows through the ancient city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. Baring the sand-ribs: the river is so dry that one can see clearly the columns of the dry sand lying exposed on the river banks, as one can see the chest ribs of a very thin person. Straw and womens hair: shows the poets keen eye for very small and specific details; the collection of rubbish dumped by people into the river, a very common sight in India. Clogging the Watergates: the flow of water from the dams is obstructed by the pile of rubbish that has accumulated as a result of the river drying up. This seems like an image that describes the obstruction to the free flow of the imagination among the city poets. The river has water enough refers to the ironical dig at the poets whose poetic feelings are not aroused by the dryness of the river. Different-coloured diapers is an example of irony and humour for the two drowned unborn babies are so alike that they can be distinguished from each other only by the different colours of their diapers. Identical twins with no mole are the two unborn babies which are without any spot or blemish, and so they can be acceptable to the gods as sacrifices.

This poem is the poets recollections of his visit to Madurai one day during the summer. He found that a flood in the river was imminent. The rapidity and force of the Vaikai in flood is seen and felt when its fury is unleashed within the very first half hour of the flood. A couple of cows named: as cows are individualized like human beings who are given personal names and this lends a comical touch to an otherwise tragic description. The new poets still quoted the old romantic tradition and literary conventions being imitated blindly in poetry by the new poets who praises the Vaikai only when it is flooded. The poet-visitor was deeply shocked by this grim spectacle of utter destruction caused by the Vaikai to life and property all around. He is even more shocked by the callous attitude and the total indifference of the city poets, both old and new, towards this tragic situation of human suffering and death. He was dismayed that they sang only of the floods when they should have rather tried to relieve the people of their dangerous plight. Thus, himself being a realist, he cannot help taking a dig at these city poets for evading reality and trying to escape into a make-believe world of self-delusion and fantasy. A River is one of Ramanujans finest poems. It features some very important characteristics of his poetry, such as his use of memory to link the past and the present history of Tamilian culture in order to present the idea of continuity, his eloquent portrayal of the typical Indian milieu, which reflects upon his being essential Indian in his roots and consciousness, in spite of the fact that he had lived abroad for many years. There is also the use of wit, irony and humour, and vivid imagery which is quite typical of his style. Written in a detached, impersonal manner, A River is marked by an irregularity of form, with lines of varying length, as well as the absence of rhyme. In this poem, the poet has compared and contrasted the attitudes of the old poets and those of the new poets to human suffering. He has come to the conclusion that both the groups of the poets are indifferent to human sorrow and suffering. Their poetry dose not reflects the miseries of the human beings. He has proved this point in the present poem. The river Vaikai on whose bank the historic city of Madurai stands has been mentioned in the poems of many poets, both past and present. The river is intimately associated with the life and culture of the Tamil people. The peculiar thing, which appeals to the poets, is that the river presents two different spectacles in two different season. It is completely dry in summer and flooded in full in the rainy season.

In this poem, the poet refers to the river Vaikai which flows through the city of Madurai. The word Madurai means a sweet city. It is a Tamil word. As a matter of fact, this city is the center of Tamil culture and learning. It is also a holy city full of temples including the famous Minakshee temple. The poets have written many poems on the temples and the river. In the present poem, A.K. Ramanujan deals with the river. In the poem A River, we get two pictures based upon two different kinds of description. In the summer, the river is almost empty. Only a very thin stream of water flows. So the sand ribs on the bed of the river are visible. The stones that lie on the bed of the river also exposed to view. The portion of the river under the bridge has also been described. We get a vivid picture of the river in the summer season. There is also the picture of the river in the rainy season. Generally, all kinds of poets have written about it in their poems. During the rainy season when the floods crone the people observe it very anxiously. They remember the rising of the river inch by inch from time to time. They remember how the stone steps of the bathing place are submerged one by one. They see how three village houses were damaged and carried off by the floods. They now how two cows named Brinda and Gopi were carried away. They also know how a pregnant woman was also drowned in the river during the flood. Both the old and new poets have mentioned these things in their poems. But the way they have described these things in their poems shows that they were not much alive to or sympathetic with human suffering. They did not mention the name of the woman who was carrying twins. Before their birth, she was drowned in the flooded river. At the time of drowning, most probably the twins must have kicked the sides of her womb. She must have got much pain out of this. But both the new poets and old poets did not refer to all these miseries of the woman in their poetic creations. This becomes ultimately clear that they are not sympathetic with suffering human beings. They are totally callous and indifferent. This kind of attitude makes their poetry weak and unappealing, dry and cheerless. The tone of the poem is based on sarcasm and irony. The structure of the poem has been in paragraphs and single lines. There are four longer verse paragraphs and a shorter one in the beginning. There are only two single isolated lines. This kind of structural arrangement contributes to the effect of irony. It also helps to grasp the main points clearly. Secondly, a word can be said about the language used in the poem. It is very simple on account of which the thought sequence of the poem is presented unmistakably and clearly.