“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
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.
©Rukhaya MK 2010
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