A.K. Ramanujan has a rare capacity for bringing to life the smallest details of his subject as is to be seen in the poem ‘Small Scale Reflections on a Great House’, a nostalgic poem about a great house that was the haunt of his childhood, as well as the people, things and events associated with it. Sometimes he thinks that nothing that ever comes into this house goes out. Things come in everyday to lose themselves just like among other things that got lost long ago. The lame wandering cows from nowhere have been given a name for they have been known to be tethered; encouraged to be pregnant in the broad daylight of the street under the elder’s supervision, the girls hiding behind windows with holes in them.
If the library books are not read for more than two weeks, the silver fish would begin to lay a row of eggs in the ledgers for fines just like it did in the old man’s office room where it bred dynasties of its own kind in the succulence in the Victorian parchment.
The neighbours brought up dishes of greasy sweets they made all night for the wedding anniversary of a deity. Like the servants they never leave the house they enter. The phonographs, the epilepsies in blood, the sons-in-law who quite often forget their mother, yet stayed back to check accounts or teach arithmetic to nieces. The women who come as wives from houses open one side to the rising sun then on another the setting sun. They are accustomed to wait and to yield to monsoons in the mountains’ calendar beating through the hanging banana leaves. Anything that goes out will come back , processed and often with long bills attached ; like the hoop bale cottons that are shipped to Manchester and brought back milled and folded for a price; cloth for the day’s middle class loins and muslins for the richer nights.
The letters that are mailed find their way back with many redirections to wrong addresses and red inked marks earned in Tiruvella and Sialkot. Their ideas, like rumours, once casually mentioned somewhere come back to the doors as prodigies born to prodigal fathers. Like what Uncle said that every Plotinus that we read is like what some Alexander looted between the malarial (polluted) rivers. A beggar once came in with a violin to play a prostitute song that their voiceless cook sang all the time in the backyard. Nothing stays out for good. Daughters get married to short-lived husbands. Sons who run away come back home. Grand children recite Sanskrit chants to old approving men. They also bring betel nut to visiting uncles who keep gaping with anecdotes of unseen fathers. They also bring Ganges water in a copper pot for the last of the dying ancestors rattle in the throat.
Though many times from everywhere, however only twice recently. One in 1943, from the Sahara Desert, where they were gnawed by desert foxes and for the second time from the north a nephew with stripes on his shoulder was called an incident on the border and was brought back in a plane, train and military truck even before the telegrams reached on a perfectly good chatty afternoon.