A never-taxing commitment to Muse

To those - that eat of my dirty flesh and drink of my sordid blood - to those flies of the house and mosquitoes I am Lord Jesus. -- Wayside Whispers.

HE IS the bard of the ancient city, seat of the Tamil Sangam of yore. But his pen speaks an alien language.

K. Venkataramani, Madurai Income Tax Commissioner, is one of the few senior bureaucrats of Tamil Nadu, who can boast of having gained legitimate glory as writers of English poetry. An affair with the English language, which began in his school days, seems to be a never-ending story for a person whose flair and felicity have attracted many a reader. After the `spirit of writing' gripped him in 1995, Mr. Venkataramani has published five poetry collections at the rate of one every year, starting with `Wayside Whispers'. His latest and well-acclaimed work, `I Gush', was released at the American College a few months ago.

For a person, who hails from an orthodox Tamil background, the spontaneous outpouring of powerful feelings comes naturally. His schooling in Tiruvaiyaru and the years of higher education at the St. Joseph's College, Tiruchi, developed in him a yearning to excel in English writing. Since his school days, Mr. Venkataramani has been a voracious reader. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi, S. Radhakrishnan and Rabindranath Tagore inspired him at a very early age. "I wanted to write in my college days. But I couldn't," he says.

Why did he choose poetry? "I admire the poetic mind. It is an analytical mind. I have been introspecting and meditating right from my formative years. To express the depth and sweep of the human mind and human life, I felt that poetry is the proper medium." His poems are known for the felicity of expression, striking metaphors and imagery. Lengthy poems are rare in his collections and he has been able to convey his feelings forcefully in a few lines. "What one conveys in volumes of print can be expressed in a few strokes, using effective imagery, symbols and other figures of speech. The superficialities and depths of the human mind can be expressed in a few lines of poetry."

The bureaucrat has a purpose in writing poetry. The urge to write was born out of a desire to share his experience with his contemporaries and the future generation. "I have experienced God's plenty. I want to recapture some of my experiences and situations through poetry." He is also concerned that there is no market for English poetry. "The books of poems remain in the bookshelves."

Then, what for are you writing? "What I want to demonstrate is that English should be restored to the status it enjoyed several years ago. I also want to underline that human existence has a purpose. I am searching for the purpose and I want to present the process of search, a quest for the truth, to my readers." At the same time, he gets a spiritual satisfaction, communicating in verses. "Poetry is something that gets you nearer to the God. All religious scriptures are poetic. The poet gets an insight into the divine trance." And this keeps him going.

For the Income Tax Commissioner, his priorities are office, home and writing, in that order. But he also has strong notions about poetry, especially in the context of commercialisation and liberalisation. "Now, people want everything to be simple. That does not mean that poetry should descend to that level. Commercialisation need not force the Muse to stoop down to hackneyed taste," he affirms.

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