Colour of India

Colour of India

Monday, April 26, 2010




A few years ago, I presented a programme called: 'Great Voices from History' at Cosmopolitan Club in Chennai where I presented the audio voices of great leaders and statesmen like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Woodrow Wilson and many others. Soon after that programme was over and as I was coming out, an old gentleman in his early eighties presented to me a small volume of his own poems titled 'The Wayside Piper'.


That was Srinivasa Rangaswami. Ever since then I have been under the spell of his great, elevating, exalting and even exhilarating poetry. Reading some of his poems again and again and allowing the beauty and the resonance of his poems to seep into my consciousness, I have felt the same way as the great Irish poet W B Yeats felt when he read for the first time the prose translations of Rabindranath Tagore in 1912.

W.B.YEATS (1865-1939)

I would allow W B Yeats to speak for myself in this context: 'But though these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveller will not tell me... I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics? which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention? display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long.'

I am no great poet like W.B.Yeats. And yet no one can challenge the fact that I am no less human than W B Yeats. I am under the continuing spell of the charm of Srinivasa Rangaswami's poetry even as WB Yeats was under the spell of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry in 1912.

Srinivasa Rangaswami was born on 20 February, 1924. He took his Masters Degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Madras. He had the good fortune of studying English Literature under the legendary Professor K Swaminathan who was Professor of English in Presidency College. He started writing poems in English from his boyhood days. Perhaps he lisped in numbers and the numbers came. He worked as a Parliamentary Official, for over three decades, retiring as Joint Director from the Research and Information Service of the Parliament of India, New Delhi in 1982. After his retirement he joined the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi as an Officer on Special Duty and served in that capacity for three years and later became the Director of that Institute.

Steeped in Indian music and Hindu religion and the Tamil classics, Srinivasa Rangaswami is a bilingual writer having contributed seminal articles in English and Tamil to leading periodicals and journals. A poet, critic and translator, his works have been widely published. He won the South Indian Tamil Academy Medal in 1938 and The Sir Mark Hunter Prize at Presidency College in 1944. He was awarded the Michael Madhusudan Academy award for poetry for the year 2000.

                            Shri Srinivasa Rangaswami addressing

World Poetry Festival 2005 at Kaohsiung in Taiwan.

To quote Srinivasa Rangaswami's WORDS about what is poetry: 'It is a question that has been asked again and again, and answered in different ways. In one sense, it is unnecessary to ask this question. Yet, in the present day context, it has become urgently necessary to ask the question to ourselves and explore an answer. A poem, to me, is a luminous drop... a splendorous jewel... that is for ever. It is cast in a permanent die in the white heat of a poet's creativity. When minted out, it acquires its sheen and durability for all time. A poem is a lyrical output. It has music in its soul. This may be a matter of expression, or of luminosity of thought, or of lived experience, or of a fresh perception of known truth.'

Rangaswami's poetry makes us see the world afresh or some new part of it. It makes us a little more aware of the deeper unnamed feelings to which we rarely penetrate. Poetry seems to come to him as naturally as the leaves to a tree. Rangaswami says in the preface to his volume of poems: "I am a wayside piper. I sing as songs come to me. I believe in the autonomy of the creative spirit and recognise no fetters to it... I should feel more than satisfied if some of my thoughts and feelings should strike a chord, find endorsement in the experience of someone, somewhere in the world. I do not look for anything beyond this."

I was deeply moved and touched by his beautiful poem - 'With you beside me... No longer' - which was written soon after the passing away of his wife.
                                              MRS.RAMAPRIYA RANGASWAMI

With you beside me

no longer,


a waterweed

I float ---

a flotsam


of a carnival

now all over,

bobbing up and down on the sluggish river


to the unknown

With you beside me

I strode the earth

a Titan---

secure, strong, sufficient---

anchored in you;


I was strong

With you beside me.

In the clang and din
Of the noonday bazar 
Of living, 
In the immanence
of the here and now,
I forgot
the gentle word,
to one so gentle and meek;
little thoughtful acts
a wish.

Oh! when shall we meet,

now again,

as you and me,

to tell you,

be assured you knew,

I held you dear,

however I was

with you beside me.

The yawning thought

it shall never be---

that I must bear the cross

of unatoned debt

that must ever

remain unatoned


an abiding pain---

the pang

the thought---

it was


a one-time encounter.

I can say this is masterpiece of a poem. In this context I cannot help quoting T S Eliot to pay my tribute to Srinivasa Rangaswami: 'Great simplicity is only won by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit, the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language.'

Here are a few lofty lines from his poem: THE ENIGMA, written soon after his wife passed away:

Memories of togetherness

thro' years we grew up together,

each to the other

in a golden bond a deep attachment,

Memories of the autumnal calm

aglow with moments shared and lived

serene, rich, in deep fulfilment.

All memories...

Are we but projectiles in lone trajectories

intersecting on this earth

in a brief encounter,

only to hurry on...

on paths our own,

leaving behind

just a heap of memories,

dearly held, fiercely held,

for a while,

to be washed away by the tide of TIME

and tossed into oblivion?

After reading these sublime and elemental lines of poetry, I could only ask this question: 'And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up?'

On the endless and eternal drama of transitory human life, let us hear Rangaswami in his poem: RELATIONSHIPS.

("What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba!" Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet)

All the world a stage and all of us
players, said the great Bard, words
of deep import!

Your lines spoken, script acted out,
role completed, as you retire
to the shadows of the side-wings...

the immediate question, and the ultimate, is:
What are you to the role
you had donned, now just shed? and
to the parts still passionately lived
in the blinding glare of the footlights?
 Curtains down, the play over,

attached identities untied.

what are you to one another?

Are we not all chance acquaintances

come together somehow, for a while, in the play,

to part and go our individual ways

in the ceaseless journey,

lone, unknown... ?

Srinivasa Rangaswami proclaims through his poem --- 'Nothing in Vain' --- that life is not an empty dream. It is real; it is earnest; and the grave is not its goal. Here are his resounding words of poetry:

There is verily a hidden purpose and a plan

in all of God's creation. Only we do not see.

Every end presages a new beginning

in a grand cycle of perpetual renewal

and evolution. So that this our earth

shall remain

forever new and young.

The mysteriously flashing METEOR of life is portrayed by Rangaswami as follows:

A speck, a spark,

A cosmic accident,

A meteorite hit...

Our life on this earth

is a glorious birth....

A carnival of blessings

A largess of happiness

of experience tingling

in every fibre of our being.

In some of Rangaswami's poems, we can see his sparkling puckishness. He seems to derive this capacity for poetic mischief from the famous observation of W.H.Auden (1907-1973): "We don't have enough writers who appreciate the basic frivolity of art. People do not understand that it is possible to believe in a thing and ridicule it at the same time!" Rangaswami's puckishness can be clearly seen in his hilarious poem The Internet.We live in an Age of Information Technology Revolution. Srinivasan Ranagaswami once referred to The Internet as the Bubonic Plague of our age. As an original poet he reacted to this raging epidemic in his poem 'THE INTERNET' as follows:

The muncipal cart moves on
around the global village, accepting
garbage bags of info-heaps---a mad medley
of wanted and unwanted things;
the unsunned artifacts of a caparisoned past,
art and architecture, linguistics and literature,
all about moons and mars and artificial sattelites,
scented incense sticks jostling with slimy sludge,
Cindrella's shoes with creamy chocolates,
broken beer bottles that can prick and hurt,
toxic wastes that can bruise and burn,
candy cartons and my lady's lingeries;
you ask for it, you have it;
a mind-boggling glut you stick around
to rag pick through a smouldering mound....

the municipal cart moves on...

We can see that the chief hallmark of Srinivasan Rangaswami's poetry is its startling ingenuity and self-divining philosophy. As a committed Wayside Piper, he seems to write for himself and his circle of friends. He is actually groping to find a way of externalizing and presenting to others and the outside world what are his ever-surging inward-seeking thoughts and seemingly tentative uncertain conclusions regarding the everlasting meaning of life and death on the one hand and fleeting transitory human exsistence on the other. What I like best about his poetry is his brave attempt to breakdown the new uppish snobbery of arid and soulless intellectualism today which always presents the deadly danger of creating a minority-poetry. He is one of the few great poets who is able to enlarge for younger writers the syntax, rhythm, and imagery of poetry.

I can clearly see when Rangaswami is deeply troubled or when he is merely exercising his donnishly witty, flashing, and attractivly--- even compellingly---raw unkempt diction. His intellectual clowning and his natural compassion, his irreverent irresponsibility and his tenderness all seem to go hand in hand in his great poems. There is nothing he cannot do with rhyme, half-rhyme,assonance, dissonance and suspension. He is so superb a technecian, so delighted with the play of a phrase, that it is almost immpossible to draw the line between a fluency that falls into garrulousness and a loquacity that rises into elequence. He has perfected, moreover, a method of offsetting shalowness of feeling and triviality of subject by reverting back to the "occassional" poem which makes a little demand in idea or form upon the reader but lures him with a celebration of the ordinary man in the street and everyday event. In his "occassional" poems there is a human touch and a human warmth laced with humility and marked by more observation and less abstraction, and above all a far deeper feeling. Reading many of his poems I am moved to inconsolable tears about the wretched human predicament today and this brings to my mind, the following evocative lines of W.H.Auden about the shabby state of distress of the modern IT World:

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye

In short, in his own way, quite definitely, Srivasa Rangaswami has endeavoured to enlarge the poetry-reading public.
I fully endorse the literary verdict of Dr Krishna Srinivas on Srinivasa Rangaswami; 'With Blakean simplicity and Pindaric excellence, Poet Srinivasa Rangaswami has carved his name in the monumental edifice of Parnassus. His poems are extensions of his experiences'.

Dr.Krishna Srinivas is right because the electrifying clarity of Rangaswami's poems remind me of the following lightning lines of William Blake:

"For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity, a human face;

And Love, the human form divine,

And Peace, the human dress."

Dr.Krishna Srinivas has appropriately likened the poems of Srinivasa Rangaswami to those of the ancient Greek poet Pindar (ca. 522–443 BC). Pindar was the first Greek poet whose works reflected extensively on the nature of poetry and on the poet's role in society.
Like other poets of the Archaic Age, Pindar revealed a deep sense of the vicissitudes of life and yet, unlike them, he also articulated a passionate faith in what men can achieve by the grace of the Gods which he most famously expressed in his conclusion to one of his Victory Odes. Many of the beautiful poems of Srinivasa Rangaswami  transport me to the poetic world of Pindar  whose immortal lines of  poetry are worth quoting:

Creatures of a day! What is a man?

What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days. (Pythian 8)

Rangaswami's poetry is a conversation with the World. It is a conversation with the words on the page in which he allows those words to speak back to you. Indeed, his poetry is a timeless conversation with himself and yourself.

When the great Irish poet W.B.Yeats died in 1939, W.H.Auden paid his tribute to him in this simple, definite, and significantly affirmative QUATRAIN:

"In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start;
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise".

I would love to use the same QUATRAIN in praising my departed poet-friend Srinivasa Rangaswami.

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