AK Ramanujan
Caravan Magazine has an astoundingly (IMO) well written profile of AK Ramanujan.


To those who don't know who AK Ramanujan was:

- Linguistics Professor at University of Chicago from the 1960s till his death in 1993
- Poet
- Foremost translator of Kannada and Tamil literature
- Especially well known for archiving and translating folklore and other secular literature scorned by the upper castes.

What does he have to do with freethought?
Answer: A part of the answer is above: he paid attention to the secular aspects of the literary corpus of India, especially Tamil and Kannada. Another data point is his excellent essay 'Three Hundred Ramayanas'. He has also translated UR Ananthamurthy's Kannada novel Samskara. I've read Samskara in Kannada, and it is a devastating critique (IMO) of Brahminism in India.

Quotes from the Nakul Krishna's profile of Ramanujan:

Quote:The corpus of ‘Sangam’ poetry had not always been well known, even to Tamils in India. “They were,” Ramanujan wrote, “dramatically rediscovered in the later decades of the nineteenth century … Eighteenth-century Hindu scholars, devout worshipers of Siva or Visnu, had tabooed as irreligious all secular and non-Hindu texts, which included the classical Tamil anthologies.” The rediscovery was owed to the efforts of a zealous generation of Tamil scholars—Swaminatha Aiyar, Damodaram Pillai and others—who spent years “roaming the villages, rummaging in private attics and the storerooms of monasteries” to unearth, edit, and print these classical Tamil texts. It was another stroke of good fortune in the precarious history of the poems, having escaped the wrath of sectarians, termites and the elements, to find in Ramanujan the perfect champion.

Contrary to what modern religious adherents will tell you,

Quote:The worldview of the Sangam and vacana literature, as they come across in his translations, had nothing of the shallow mysticism shrouded in cannabis smoke, set to a tawdry sitar soundtrack, that was coming to be America’s primary sense of India’s past. For all the elaborateness of the Tamil and Kannada poems’ symbolic vocabulary, the poems could be read without a glossary to explain the more recondite allusions. Their worldview was intelligible in a secular world. The achievement of the poets was to have looked at, and really seen, the world around them.

Now, there may be inconsistencies in characterizing him under 'freethought', if so, please discuss in his thread.

I'll close the opening post with this lovely poem by Ramanujan,

"Another View of Grace"

I burned and burned. But one day I turned
and caught that thought
by the screams of her hair and said ' Beware .
Do not follow a gentleman's morals

with that absurd determined air.
Find a priest. Find any beast in the wind
for a husband. He will give you a houseful
of legitimate sons. It is too late for sin,

even for treason. And I have no reason to know your kind
Bred Brahmin among singers of shivering hymns
I shudder to the bone at hungers that roam the streets
Beyond the constable's beat. 'But there She stood

upon that dusty road on a night lit April mind
and gave me a look. Commandments crumbled
in my father's past. Her tumbled hair suddenly known
as silk in my hand, I shook a little
and took her behind the laws of my land.
[+] 3 users Like karatalaamalaka's post
Thanks karatalaamalaka for pointing to the Caravan profile of AK Ramanujan. For one, this thread supplied motivation to revisit the panoramic and pearl-laden essay "Is there an Indian way of thinking?" that was earlier referenced here.

A K Ramanujan's work can appeal to Indian freethinkers given its character that is modernist rather than postmodernist, pluralist rather than submitting to homogenizing globalization, and celebrating the numinous rather than the mystical. This quote from the article seems sufficient to show that those fine distinctions were unmistakable to those who were familiar with Ramanujan's work.
Quote:The American critic Stephen Burt puts the point sharply: “Ramanujan does not celebrate exactly what Akka celebrates. She cherishes the experience of the god; he, the human imaginative powers that (from a more or less secular point of view) allow her to see what she sees and to feel as she feels.”

The work seems to be shorn of any pretensions of initiating a 'dialogue between civilizations' or heralding any sort of 'New Age', nor was it accompanied by the claim of being one of the 'other ways of knowing' that is ubiquitous in contemporary postmodernist cultural critiques. There seems to have been no self-consciousness of initiating some sort of 'literary movement' and like the work of that other great translator of Indian lore into English, the transcreator P. Lal, the literary endeavors were apolitical. Like Ramanujan who claimed a 'thoroughgoing lack of religious belief', P Lal's skeptical and humanist leanings are evident in his introduction to his masterly translation of the Bhagavad Gita.

At a time when the culture wars are about whose version myth to treat as history, scholarship of the A K Ramanujan or P Lal variety maybe more relevant than ever both to bring a measure of sanity back to the discourse and to do justice to the lost literature beneath the latter-day literalism. Both the poet-translators seem to belong to another time when mythology was a subject of scholarship and real-life deprivation prompted activism, unlike today's topsy-turvy priorities in public discourse, where mythology supplies the causes of activism and poverty is a subject of scholarship.
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