A. K. Ramanujan, 1929-1993: Scholar,
Poet, and Writer
foremost scholars, critics, poets, and translators of his day, Attipat
Krishnaswami Ramanujan was
he was known to his friends and colleagues, was a man of unusual intellectual
perspicacity, poetic sensitivity, immense erudition., and prolific output.
Though he published poetry in English, Kannada, and Tamil, he became
rather more renowned for his translations from Kannada and Tamil. Ramanujan was not only a practitioner of the
art of translation, but also one of its few theorists among contemporary
Indian writers and scholars; and, as perforce must be the case with
every good translator, he also read ‘translation’ in its multiple idioms,
concerned not merely with rendering words from one language into another,
but with such larger concerns as the translatibility or portability
of categories, concepts, and even cultures.
Ramanujan was, in other words, acutely aware of what is both
said and left unsaid in every act of translation, and his own life,
which he in some ways conceived as mediating between
Speaking of Siva (Penguin Books, 1973), which is perhaps the most widely read of Ramanujan’s works, introduced readers to Virasaiva literature, while Hymns for the Drowning (Princeton UP, 1981) offered brilliant translations of poems to Vishnu by the ninth-century poet, Nammalvar. The Collected Essays, published posthumously in 2000 (Oxford UP, Delhi), are nothing short of a dazzling demonstration of Ramanujan’s wide reading in Indian and European literature, his ease with structuralism, psychoanalysis, hermeneutics, and semiotics, and the nuanced understanding that he brought to bear upon texts. Among the most celebrated essays included in that collection is one entitled, “Is There An Indian Way of Thinking?” Folklore had been Raman’s first love, and in a score of essays and two collections -- Folktales from India: A Selection of Oral Tales from Twenty-two Languages (Pantheon Books, 1991) and A Flowering Tree and Other Tales from India (U. of California Press, 1997) -- he breathed new life into the study of folktales. The ‘same’ story told by a man and a woman, to take only one of the many arguments advanced by Ramanujan, could appear to be anything but same.
not widely known outside academic, intellectual, and literary circles,
Ramanujan became a legend to those who had the good fortune to know
him, as well as a mentor to countless students and scholars. He was, arguably, the most influential scholar
of South Asian humanistic studies in the
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