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The poem “Obituary” written by AK Ramanujan is about quite ironical. The word Obituary means a notice of death in a newspaper including a brief biography. The poem is written on the death of his father. The poet explains how his death has affected his family and what he (his father) has achieved in his life.
The poet says that when his father died he left nothing for the family but problems like dust on a table of papers, debts, unmarried daughters & a bedwetting grandson whose name is a little bit similar to his father’s name.
The lines show the poet’s dissatisfaction with his father. He does not seem to be sorrowful because of death. The poet is more concerned about the duties (of his family) which he has to perform. He has to pay the debts of his father, he has to marry off his sister and also has to take care of a young child who urinates in the bed.
These lines also show the culture of a typical Indian family which is patriarchal in nature. Neither the mother of the poet nor his sisters are earning. As the poet is now the eldest male in the family, all the duties are bestowed on him.
The poet continues that his father has left a house that leaned slowly through our growing years on a bent coconut tree in the yard. The line means that they have inherited a house from his father which is leaning on a coconut tree and thus in bad condition.
The poet calls his father as the burning type. indicating that he was a bad-tempered man and would never have behaved properly with him or the other family members. Being hot-tempered he burned properly at the cremation. The phrase gives the message of tit for tat.
The line continues from the previous one (enjambment). He is burnt very easily from both the sides. except his eye coins (coin either signifies his anger or his greed for money) which didn’t look one bit different even after burning and also several spinal discs though some of them burnt to coal.
This stanza continues from the previous one. According to the poet, the remains of his father’s pyre are left for sons to pick as the priest said, facing east where three rivers met near the railway station.
The lines show that the priest forces the sons to perform the Hindu Rituals. The poet is in no way ready to do it. His father has no grave (as his ashes and remains are thrown in the river) with his full name.
In addition, there also no two dates (his birth and death dates) to show throw light on his life. The poet calls him incapable as he didn’t do anything on his own. His birth was Caesarian in a brahmin ghetto and his death by heart failure in the fruit market.
The lines, in my views and as quoted in this article question the genius of Brahman. In Hinduism, the Brahmans or the Upper Casts are worshipped as Avatars of Gods.
However, the poet shows that his father took birth as a Brahman yet his birth was ordinary and even his death could not be controlled by him. In spite of being educated, he died in the market of heart failure and he couldn’t save himself.
These lines, in other sense, mark that he has achieved nothing in this world. His birth was ordinary, his death was ordinary and what he did in life showed his incapability.
However, the poet comes to know that two lines were written for him in an inside column of a Madras newspaper which is sold by the kilo (as junk) after four weeks of his death to street hawkers.
These street hawkers sell it in turn to the small groceries. From these groceries, the poet buys salt, coriander, and jaggery in newspaper cones which he reads for fun.
The poet says that he began to buy more of these things in the hope of finding these obituary lines which were written for his father.
In the end, he says that his father left with them with a changed mother (she remains sorrowful) and more than one annual ritual. The poet is showing his dislike for the ritual which is celebrated in the memory of his father for his peace.
Thus the poet says that his father achieved nothing in this world except those two lines (obituary) which were written in the newspaper he could never find out. On the other hand, he left an unbearable burden on the poet. The poem is hence a critique of the poet’s father and his incapabilities.