Obituary by A K Ramanujan – Summary & Analysis

Obituary by A K Ramanujan

Summary & Analysis

Obituary” written by A.K. Ramanujan reminiscences his father‟s death, and the merit and
meaning in the speaker‟s family-life. The opening lines enumerate the list of things the father
left behind as legacy: his table heaped with newspapers full of dust, debts and daughters. The
speaker carps that the father left them only with trials and tribulations. The newspapers are
just stale pieces of past-news, and the father of his own has not contributed much in terms of
creativity or productivity. Daughters are considered to be a source of burden in India, not
lesser than debts. Parents are entrusted with the responsibility of “marrying them off” with
adequate dowry to suit their status. In a conversational tone, reminiscent of Philip Larkin, he
talks about the Grandson named after the father, who had the incorrigible habit of urinating in
bed. This highlights that the poet‟s father left behind nothing but only memories in the form
of debris. He claims that the Grandson was named after his father “by chance” literally
meaning „luckily’; however, signifying the opposite.

Added to the legacy is a dilapidated house. The poet mentions that the decrepit house leant on
the coconut tree through their growing years. The deterioration in their quality of life is
apparent, from the metaphor of the house. Futhermore, it may also signify that the family had
to live a parasitic life borrowing from others (the way the house leans on the coconut
tree).The poet utters that his father being „the burning type‟ burnt properly at the cremation.
The phrase may connote the features of the father, his physicality being dried and parched. It
may also refer to his wry temperament. Further, it verges on the meaning that the person was
a chain smoker, if we observe the following lines:

he burned properly
at the cremation
as before,easily
and at both ends,

His eyes appeared as coins in the funeral pyre, and were not any different and came across as
they always did. This amounts to the fact that they did not have any feeling in them even
while he was alive. They are coin-like in their metallic stare. Again,a person‟s eye balls
reflect whatever he looks at. Perhaps the speaker indicated that his father‟s eyes were always
on money. He also left some half-burnt spinal discs that were half-burnt that the priest
advised the children to pick „gingerly‟ or carefully and immerse in the Thriveni, the
confluence of the three rivers where the bones of the dead are immersed as per the Hindu
rites. No conspicuous or insignificant tombstone was erected for the dead person bearing
dates of his birth and death. Therefore, neither was his birth of much consequence nor was his
death. He is deemed so incapable, that even his birth is a Caesarean one for which, he did not
have to put in much effort. His death also came easily to him in the form of heart failure at
the fruit market.

All he gained in his life worth mentioning, is that he managed to get two lines of obituary
inserted in some newspaper in Madras. The paper was sold to hawker, who in turn sold it to a
grocer from whom the poet occasionally bought provisions. This underlines the triviality of
whatever the father has achieved. The poet states that earlier on, he used to read the papers
which had groceries like salt and jaggery wrapped up in it. However, nowadays he does it for
the reason that some day he may succeed in finding those lines relating to his father‟s
obituary. Thus the poet attempts to discover some meaning of his father‟s existence in his life
: this is the significance of the quest in the end.

Analysis of the poem

The poem “Obituary” was written by A.K. Ramanujan. An obituary is usually a tribute to the
person who has passed away, featuring the high points of his life. Such is not the case in this
poem. Written in first person, the son is the narrator of the poem. Seeming quite disgruntled
with his father, the son points out all of the things his father left undone. His bills were
unpaid, and he left unmarried daughters. His grandson, a bed wetter, was named after the
grandfather, but improperly. The house in which the narrator grew up leaned against a tree.
Apparently, the father had a hot temper which may be part of the son’s unhappiness:

Being the
burning type he burned properly
at the cremation…

When the father was cremated, coins were placed on the body‟s eyes In keeping with the
Hindu custom of swift cremation, bodies are cremated within 24.After the cremation, the sons
dug through the ashes to find hot coals to throw in an eastward fashion into the river. The
father would have no headstone with the dates of his birth and death. To the son, the dates are
parentheses encapsulating the time of the father‟s life. From his birth to his death, the son
feels that his father did many things incorrectly or incompletely:

like his caesarean birth
in a Brahmin ghetto
and his death by heart
failure in the fruit market…

He hears that his father‟s obituary took two lines in a local newspaper four weeks after his
cremation. The son often bought sugar cane placed in one of these newspapers shaped like a
cone. In the beginning, the son says that he looks for the paper for fun, and then he says he
would like to have the obituary.

in newspaper cones
that I usually read
for fun, and lately
in the hope of finding
these obituary lines.

Since the narrator is the oldest son, he will be responsible for any ancient rituals that the
culture requires. There is little mourning when a Hindu dies because they believe that once a
person is born he or she never dies. Often there is little crying. The son does not show any
strong feelings for the father‟s death which may be due to the Hindu custom or his irritation
with his father. Now, everything is different. Understandably, the mother is changed; her
husband has died. Despite the displeasure with his father voiced by the narrator, he still
respectfully wants to have the paper with the father‟s obituary.

The poem “Obituary” by A.K. Ramanujan is a literary work that has the author, in the poem,
waxing nostalgic about a father’s life and death. It is a vivid, emotional, and intense poem that
looks back on the life and times of a dear loved family member. The author relates that the
father left behind a legacy that will live on for him:

left debts and daughters,

a bedwetting grandson
named by the toss
of a coin after him,

The author reflects that this man was cremated and disappeared all too easily from this
physical existence. He alludes to the transience of life and the pain those left behind
experience in a patriarch’s absence. The author muses about the physical remnants left
behind from the father’s cremation: eye coins in the ashes and several spinal discs.
This is the only tangible evidence of the man left behind and this is painful to the
family. Essentially the poem deals withour brief time on this planet and what we
accomplish and ultimately leave to posterity. The poem also reflects on the dignified
way the family is encouraged to honor the deceased family member as they are to
throw his remains to the east where there are three rivers that congregate by a railroad
station.

The poem is vivid as it reflects on the father’s past life in a Brahmin ghetto and his
death due to heart failure. The reader learns that the man died suddenly while at a fruit
market. The author reflects on how the father’s life has been reduced to a two line
snippet in an obituary and how the death of the man changed the mother significantly
and how each year they have the ritual of honoring and remembering this beloved
man.

The poem „Obituary‟, in this regard is a significant example of Ramanujan‟s poetry.
This poem is a comic serious evaluation of a dead father. The central irony in the poem
stems not only from its overall ironic tone but also from the fact that there are two
obituaries in the poem: The one published in the newspaper as a routine matter of
personal history and the other, the aesthetic recreation. The poet estimates in this
poem what his father meant when he was alive and what he adds up to now that he is
dead. The poem is, of an intensely personal emotion that the death of the father is
neutralized by the continuing link with the father the changed mother:

And he left us
a changed mother
and move than
One annual ritual (53-56)

Point out the irony in this poem?

An obituary is usually a tribute to the person who has passed away, featuring the high
points of his life. Such is not the case in this poem. Written in first person, the son is
the narrator of the poem. However the poet appears to be disgruntled with his father,
the son points out all of the things his father left undone. His bills were unpaid, and he
left unmarried daughters. His grandson, a bed wetter, was named after the grandfather,
but improperly. The house in which the narrator grew up leaned against a tree.
Apparently, the father had a hot temper which may be part of the son’s unhappiness
How does the poet neutralize the emotions that is caused by his father’s death?
The poem is, of an intensely personal emotion that the death of the father is
neutralized by the continuing link with the father the changed mother.
Bring out the nature of the poet’s father in this poem.

The poem is vivid as it reflects on the father’s past life in a Brahmin ghetto and his
death due to heart failure. The reader learns that the man died suddenly while at a fruit
market. The author reflects on how the father’s life has been reduced to a two line
snippet in an obituary and how the death of the man changed the mother significantly
and how each year they have the ritual of honoring and remembering this beloved
man.

What does the poet tells about the eternal truth of life?
The author reflects that his father was cremated and disappeared all too easily from
this physical existence. He alludes to the transience of life and the pain those left behind
experience in a patriarch’s absence. The author muses about the physical remnants left
behind from the father’s cremation: eye coins in the ashes and several spinal discs.
This is the only tangible evidence of the man left behind and this is painful to the
family.

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