Reading the Small Print

The literary legacy of an Indian modernist

01 August 2013


IT SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THE TIMES that it took a dreary battle in one of India’s interminable ‘culture wars’ to make AK Ramanujan’s name familiar to readers of the broadsheet newspapers. Someone decided that it was a bad idea for a scholarly essay of Ramanujan’s from 1991 about the many tellings of the Ramayana story in South and Southeast Asia to be on the undergraduate syllabus for history students at Delhi University. The essay was removed from the syllabus in October 2011, and sure enough, the usual round of angry protests and smug op-eds followed.

Now, it is easy enough to see why the essay, with its narratives of Ramayana traditions that show a striking irreverence for the figure of Rama, could prove a source of controversy. But it is a shame how little was made of the teachable moment even by Ramanujan’s academic defenders.

Nakul Krishna is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Cambridge.

Keywords: tradition Tamil literature Indian English writing Hinduism modernism AK Ramanujan Indian Literature