Discuss the customs and traditions of the poem "Obituary" by A.K. Ramanujan.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem “Obituary” was written by A.K. Ramanujan. An obituary is usually a tribute to the person who has passed away, featuring the high points of his life.  Such is not the case in this poem. Written in first person, the son is the narrator of the poem. 

Seeming quite disgruntled with his father, the son points out all of the things his father left undone. His bills were unpaid, and he left unmarried daughters.  His grandson, a bed wetter, was named after the grandfather, but improperly.  The house in which the narrator grew up leaned against a tree.  Apparently, the father had a hot temper which may be part of the son's unhappiness:

Being the burning type,
he burned properly
at the cremation…

 When the father was cremated, coins were placed on the body’s eyes. In keeping with the Hindu custom of swift cremation, bodies are cremated within 24. After the cremation, the sons dug through the ashes to find hot coals to throw in an eastward fashion into the river. 

The father would have no headstone with the dates of his birth and death. To the son, the dates are parentheses encapsulating the time of the father’s life. From his birth to his death,  the son feels that his father did many things incorrectly or incompletely:

like his caesarean birth
in a Brahmin ghetto
and his death by heart-
failure in the fruit market…

He hears that his father’s obituary took two lines in a local newspaper four weeks after his cremation. The son often bought sugar cane placed in one of these newspapers shaped like a cone. In the beginning, the son says that he looks for the paper for fun, and then he says he would like to have the obituary.

in newspaper cones
that I usually read

for fun, and lately
in the hope of finding
these obituary lines.

Since the narrator is the oldest son, he will be responsible for any ancient rituals that the culture requires. There is little mourning when a Hindu dies because they believe that once a person is born he or she never dies. Often there is little crying. The son does not show any strong feelings for the father’s death which may be due to the Hindu custom or his irritation with his father.

Now, everything is different. Understandably, the mother is changed; her husband has died.  Despite the  displeasure with his father voiced by the narrator, he still respectfully  wants to have the paper with the father’s  obituary.