A River

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

A.K.Ramanujan takes a jibe at poets of Madurai or those poets who visited Madurai and were limited in their thinking and imaginative capacity. The poet starts off by saying Madurai is a city of temples and poets who sang only of cities and temples. The poets missed the river which dried to a trickle in the sand and bare sand ribs, straw and women’s hair. These clogged the watergates at the rusty bars under the bridges with patches of repair marks all over them.  The poet uses two metaphors to describe the wet stones like sleepy crocodiles and the dry ones like shaven water buffaloes lounging in the Sun. Yet all the poets sang only of floods missing out on so many details.



He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The poet was there for just a day and noticed so many things that all poets generally miss out on. He was there the day the floods took place and people everywhere only spoke of the rising flood and the precise number of cobbled steps run over by water. The water rose to the bathing places and disaster struck. The flood carried off three village houses, one pregnant woman, a couple of cows named Gopi and Brinda as usual. The use of the phrase, “as usual” suggests that it was a regular and helpless occurrence for the people.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

The poet says that the new poets still quoted what the old poets had said but everyone failed to express or talk about the pregnant woman who had drowned and maybe with twins still inside her, kicking at blank walls. The cruel reality is vividly painted by the poet in the description of the unborn babies still kicking their mother’s walls while she had drowned.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

The poet says ironically and sarcastically taking a dig at the other poets that the water has enough water to be poetic just once a year when the flood occurs. In the first hour of the flood itself, tragedy strikes when every year a couple of cows, a pregnant woman expecting twins died. The poet imagines the unborn twins to be so identical that they have no moles on their bodies to tell them apart and only different coloured diapers tell one from the other. Here the drowned cows, pregnant woman are symbolic of the lives lost to the fury of nature which is often ignored by other poets who glorify and talk only about the flood.