S.G.Vasudev S. Krishnan
Tribute to Ramanujan

I first met Ramanujan in the mid-sixties, when I was studying at the College of Arts in Madras/Chennai. Girish Karnad introduced us. He asked me if I would design the book jacket for his first collection of poems, Hokkulalli Hoovilla (No Flower in the Navel). I did a cover design using letters from the Kannada alphabet in white on a dark gray background. I also reproduced a hand-written version of one of his poems on the back cover, in the process in a way illustrating it. He asked me: ‘Don’t you want to use any more colour?’ I said,‘No. I can only conceive of your poems in black and white.’

The next book cover I did for him was in 1990, for another collection of Kannada poems, Kunto Bille or Hopscotch. This time I used brown against yellow ochre. When I met him in the U.S. in 1991, after he had received a copy of the book, he said, ‘I wish you’d made it a little more colourful, Vasudev, like those glossy books you get nowadays.’ I replied: ‘Ramanujan, your poetry does not need that!’

Besides the drawing based on the title poem, Hopscotch, for the cover, I happened to do a few more drawings at that time, based on some of the other poems in the book. When Ramanujan saw them he asked me if I could do a series of drawings, suggesting that we could have an exhibition at which he could read the poems. I had done just seven or eight drawings by the time he passed away in 1993, and after that I could not go back to his poetry for two years. But later I worked on a series of drawings based on 40 or 50 of his poems which had inspired me. I chose the poems from his books, Hokkulalli Hoovilla, Mattu Ithara Padyagalu, Kunto Bille, Hymns for the Drowning, and Striders, selecting those I felt I could relate to or those through which I felt I could bring out something of Ramanujan.

His poetry appears spontaneous but he would rewrite and edit them. He once told me, “I go on editing. I just keep chiseling it.” He believed in using words very carefully, and never more than necessary. That’s what I have also done in my drawings, with minimal lines to capture the essence of the poems. Ramanujan’s poems look easy when you first read them. But, even though he is a very visual poet, the imagery he creates is not so easy to bring out. I find poetry is very close to drawing. In drawing and painting, we bring in some images, and at the same time we break them up. Isn’t it the same in poetry?

The drawings are really my reaction to Ramanujan. Now they have become a tribute to a person who did so much in his life and who was important in my life: very good friend, who indirectly guided me in many ways. Perhaps I would have called this series something else if Ramanujan were alive. Now, I call it ‘Tribute to A.K. Ramanujan‘.

Besides the drawings based on his own and translated poems the exhibition includes some drawings that reflect my interpretation of Ramanujan as a man. Maybe if Ramanujan had seen them he would have written some poems on these!