Obituary by AK Ramanujan is on the death of the poet’s father, it is not an elegy, however. He explains how his father’s death has affected his family. Obituary means a death notice displayed on a News paper with a short biography written below it. Most of the stanzas in the poem run into the next stanza called enjambment.

Obituary by AK Ramanujan is one the poet’s most read poems. His other notable poems include Looking For A Cousin On A Swing, Love Poem for a Wife, A River, Of Mothers, among other things, Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House, Self-PortraitExtended FamilyStill Life and so on.


Father, when he passed on,
left dust
on a table of papers,
left debts and daughters,
a bed-wetting grandson
named by the toss
of a coin after him,

a house that leaned
slowly through our growing
years on a bent coconut
tree in the yard.
Being the burning type,
he burned properly
at the cremations before, easily
and at both ends,
left his eye coins
in the ashes that didn’t
look one bit different,
several spinal discs, rough,
some burned to coal, for sons

to pick gingerly
and throw as the priest
said, facing east
where three rivers met
near the railway station;
no longstanding headstone
with his full name and two dates

to holding their parentheses
everything he didn’t quite
manage to do himself,
like his Caesarian birth
in a Brahmin ghetto
and his death by heart-
failure in the fruit market.

But someone told me
he got two lines
in an inside column
of a Madras newspaper
sold by the kilo
exactly four weeks later
to street-hawkers

who sell it in turn
to the small groceries
where I buy salt,
and jaggery
in newspaper cones
that I usually read

for fun, and lately
in the hope of finding
these obituary lines.
And he left us
a changed mother
and more than
one annual ritual.

obituary by ak ramanujan summary obituary by ak ramanujan summary obituary by ak ramanujan summary obituary by ak ramanujan summary 



‘Obituary by AK Ramanujan’ worries not about his father’s death but about the problems his father’s death has brought up. His anxiety is about his growing responsibilities in his family. He has to pay off his father’s debts, marry off his sisters and needs to take care of a ‘bed-wetting young child’.

  • bed-wetting young child – a child who urinates in the bed.

It is typically an Indian convention that when a father dies, it is a duty of his son (elder son particularly) to carry out all his duties in his place. As he is the eldest son in his family, the poet has to carry out everything which his father would have. obituary by ak ramanujan poem obituary by ak ramanujan poem obituary by ak ramanujan poem obituary by ak ramanujan poem


The poet further informs that the house which his father had left to his family is worthless. It is leaning on a bent coconut tree. The poet says his father was a ‘burning type’ so that he was suitably burnt in the cremation. It sounds like the poet has avenged his father. Obituary by AK Ramanujan Obituary by AK Ramanujan Obituary by AK Ramanujan 

  • burning type – ill-tempered


He continues further that his father was burnt at both sides into ashes. The only leftovers in the ash are some spinal bones and eye coins. ‘Eye coins’ literally means that in Indian tradition (particularly South Indian) usually people would keep a coin each on the dead man’s eyes. obituary by ak ramanujan poem obituary by ak ramanujan poem obituary by ak ramanujan poem


This stanza is a continuation of the third stanza. The poet is forced by the priest to throw the leftovers into the river. It is again typically an Indianness, the Hindu religion in India follows such tradition. No long-withstanding headstone can be built with his name inscribed on it since he was burnt into ashes.

  • headstone – tombstone or gravestone


There are only two dates, according to the poet, to show that his father was there. One was his birth and then was his death. Though he was born into a Brahmin family, his birth was simple. He was born by a Cesarean section and his death was by heart failure. He never lived a life worthwhile. obituary by ak ramanujan poem obituary by ak ramanujan poem


The poet comes to know from someone that two lines were written for him inside the Madras Newspaper which is sold as waste or junk to street hawkers four weeks after his death.


The paper is sold reportedly by street hawkers to a grocery shop where the poet usually buys his grocery like salt, coriander and jaggery in a newspaper cone which he would usually read for fun.


Later the poet buys more of these paper cones in the hope that he would one day read those two lines i.e., the ‘Obituary‘ written for his father. His father did nothing notable for his family, yet his death has made a change of mind in his mother. She remains always very sorrowful. He achieved nothing noteworthy, instead he left an insufferable burden to him and family.

‘Obituary’ is a tribute to one who passed away. But this Obituary by AK Ramanujan is something different, reverse or ironical. The title reads Obituary. But the poem is about obituary and never is a tribute to his dead father. Ironically, it is a condemnation; the poet critically blames his father for his shortcomings.


Obituary by A.K. Ramanujan uses poetic devices such as enjambment, half-rhymes, consonance and so on.

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