Time and Time Again
A K Ramanujan
Or listen to the clocktowers
Of any old well-managed city
Beating their gongs round the clock, each slightly
Off the other’s time, deeper or lighter
In its bronze, beating out a different
Sequence each half-hour, out of the accidents
Of alloy, a maker’s shaking hand
In Switzerland, or the mutual distances
Commemorating a donor’s whims,
This poem is written by A. K. Ramanujan, who was famous for translating many great works from Tamil into English language. In this poem, the poet talks about communal strifes which often take place between different communities.
In this stanza, the poet talks about clocktowers of any old well-managed city. During old days, almost every city had a clocktower, sometimes it could be more than one. In some parts of the country, the locals simply called them tower. In other parts of the country, people called them Ghanta Ghar. Ghanta Ghar or Tower used to be the landmark and the major hub of people’s activities of the town.
Even today, these towers exist although most of them are not functional for the purpose they were built for, that is showing the right time.
The poet says that gongs of different towers chimed at different times, i.e. most of them were faulty in showing the right time. Some of them sounded loud, while some others sounded like a whimper. The difference could be because of various reasons. It could be difference in alloys being used, or watchmaker’s faulty workmanship, or the place of manufacture. People say that the Swiss make the most accurate clocks. There could be quality issue as well, and many patrons often opted for lower quality while donating a clock for the clocktower.
The perennial feuds and seasonal alliance
Of Hindu, Christian, and Muslim
Cut off sometimes by a change of wind
A change of mind, or a siren
Between the pieces of a backstreet quarrel.
One day you look up and see one of them
Eyeless, silent, a zigzag sky showing
Through the knocked-out clockwork, after a riot
A peace-march time bomb, or a precise act
Of nature in a night of lightnings
The poem starts with description of faults of clock-towers, and switches to the main subject in the second stanza. Communal strife has a long history and such quarrels have been perennial affairs, i.e. they happen almost every year. In between, people go about their business as usual.
The normal bonhomie between two communities can break due to a change of mind, or a change of wind. Here, wind means mood of people. It could also break because of a quarrel over some trivial issue.
In the aftermath of a communal strife the ambience becomes lifeless, as if the clock has been knocked out by some lightning. The whole neighbourhood starts looking like a blank sky which could be seen through a knocked out clock.
Local leadership often goes for an impromptu peace-march. According to the poet, such peace march could act like a time bomb with a ticking clock. It could also act as the much required balm to calm the soothing nerves.
Responding to the Poem
Question 1: What did you think the poem was about when you read the first few lines?
Answer: The first few lines give an impression that the poem is about some quality issue of clocks in clock-towers. That is what the poet discusses in the first few lines. He talks about difference in time of chiming, different alloys, faulty workmanship, place of manufacture, etc.
Question 2: From which line does the import of the title strike the reader?
Answer: The real meaning of title strikes the reader from following line:
The perennial feuds and seasonal alliance
Question 3: What makes for the differences between the timekeeping of the various clocks? What is the implicit comparison?
Answer: The difference between the timekeeping of various clocks could be because of various reasons. It could be difference in alloys being used, or watchmaker’s faulty workmanship, or the place of manufacture. People say that the Swiss make the most accurate clocks. There could be quality issue as well, and many patrons often opted for lower quality while donating a clock for the clocktower.
We can imply that people of different commuinities may have different mindsets. Some people can be like a bomb on short fuse. Some people are less tolerant and can easily get angry.
Question 4: Why is the act of nature described as ‘precise’?
Answer: Lighting and thunder are often accompanied by rain. Rain helps in calming our nerves. This has been compared with peace-march which is generally organized after a communal riot. Timely rain helps in cooling down the things which may have been hit by lightning. As it comes at the right moment, so poet has termed this natural act as precise.
Question 5: Which of the following reflects the poet’s attitude towards communal disharmony
- Critical condemnation
- Helpless acceptance
- Wishful lament
Answer: (a) Critical condemnation
Explanation: The poet has condemned communal disharmony. He has also given various reasons which may lead to communal strife. The poet has also criticized peace-march.
Question 6: Is the poet’s attitude a representation of how the average Indian feels both towards human violence and nature’s fury?
Answer: Most of the people hate communal violence. Common never indulge in communal violence. Evidences show that such violence is the handiwork of a few who have criminal mindset. The poet has taken the same view which the common people have. So, it can be safely said that the poet’s attitude is a representation of average Indian’s attitude towards human violence and nature’s fury.