Home Literature Obituary by AK Ramanujan Summary

Obituary by AK Ramanujan Summary

by Litinbox

‘Obituary’ by AK Ramanujan is a poem written on the death of the speaker’s father, it cannot not an elegy however. He explains here how his father’s death has affected his family, particularly himself.

Obituary means a death notice displayed on a News paper with a short biography of the deceased written below it. Most of the lines and stanzas in the poem run into the next, a technique called enjambment. Obituary by AK Ramanujan published in the collection ‘Relations’ in 1971.

Obituary by AK Ramanujan Summary

Stanza 1

Father, when he passed on,

left dust

on a table of papers,

left debts and daughters,

a bedwetting grandson

named by the toss

of a coin after him,

In the first stanza of the poem ‘Obituary,’ the theme of the poem is introduced. The speaker worries not about his father’s death but about the problems his death has brought. His anxiety is about his growing responsibilities in his family. The father has left dust on the table covered with papers, which means his presence and work. The speaker has to pay off his father’s debts, marry off his sisters and needs to take care of a ‘bed-wetting young child’ (a child that urinates in bed), his grandson named after him by flipping a coin.

It is a typical Indian tradition 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 speaker has to fulfill everything which his father would have done.

Stanza 2

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 cremation

The speaker also informs that the house which his father had left to his family is worthless. It is leaning slowly on a bent coconut tree.

The speaker says his father was a ‘burning type’ (ill-tempered) so that he was suitably burnt in the cremation. It sounds like the speaker has avenged his father. It shows his anger and aversion towards his father.

Stanza 3

as 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

The speaker continues 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 and forehead.

Stanza 4

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

This stanza of ‘Obituary’ is a continuation of the third stanza. The speaker has to do some rituals usually done after the death of a person.

He is forced by the priest to throw the leftovers into the river, near the railway station where three rivers met. It is again typically an Indianness, the Hindu religion in India follows such tradition. No long-withstanding headstone (tombstone or gravestone) can be built with his name inscribed on it since he was burnt into ashes.

Stanza 5

to holdin 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.

In this stanza of the poem, the speaker suggests that the things left behind by his father after his death represent what he didn’t achieve during his lifetime, his unfulfilled desires and goals. It can be understood that the speaker blames his father for his inability to fulfill his desires. He was born by caesarian section in a Brahmin ghetto and died by heart failure in the fruit market.

The speaker insists that there are only two dates 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. In between these two unforgettable incidents (his birth and death) he did nothing rememberable.

Stanza 6

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

The speaker comes to know from someone that two lines were written for his father’s death (Obituary) inside the Madras Newspaper which is now sold as waste to street hawkers four weeks after his death.

The phrase “sold by the kilo” refers to newspapers being sold by weight in kilograms to hawkers who will in turn sell them to the shopkeepers. The shopkeepers will use them for packaging things.

Stanza 7

who sell it in turn

to the small groceries

where I buy salt,


and jaggery

in newspaper cones

that I usually read…

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

Stanza 8

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.

Later the speaker 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.

Poetic Devices in Obituary

Several poetic devices can be identified in this poem, ‘Obituary’. Enjambment is AK Ramanujan’s popular poetic device which is used in this poem too. Let’s see the important devices used in this poem:


Metaphor is an implicit comparison of two unrelated things that says something is something else. In this poem, the poet uses at least two metaphors:

  • left dust / on a table of papers” – these words metaphorically refers to the remnants or legacy left behind by the father.
  • a house that leaned / slowly through our growing / years” – these words metaphorically describes the aging and weakening of the family house over time.


Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of the adjacent words.

  • The repetition of the ‘d’ sound in the line 4 of the first stanza “left debts and daughters“.
  • In the second stanza, we can find the repetition of ‘b’ sound: ‘Being the burning type’.


Imagery is a visually descriptive language used in literature. Example for imagery in this poem include:

  • a bedwetting grandson / named by the toss / of a coin after him” – vivid imagery of a specific family situation using sensory details.
  • a house that leaned / slowly through our growing / years on a bent coconut / tree in the yard” – visual and tactile imagery that describes the family home and its surroundings.