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27 Jun

How Simple by PP Ramachandran (Pearls from the Deep)

"How Simple" by P P Ramachandran

"How Simple" is the English translation of the Malayalam poem "Lalitham" penned by poet PP Ramachandran. The subtlety and minimalism that characterise much of his poetry find ample articulation in this short and beautiful poem. Multiple English translations of the poem exist, some of which are included here for the reader's perusal. The original Malayalam version is appended at the beginning.

 

Summary and Analysis

Apparently, the poem “How Simple!” by PP Ramachandran is a modest attempt by the poet to juxtapose the complexity and artificiality of human life vis-à-vis the simplicity and spontaneity of avian life. Man may boast to be the crown of creation, but he has a lot to learn from the birds and animals around him.

Birds go about their business quietly, without ever unsettling the harmony of the natural environment they live in. Man, on the other hand, meddles with everything, raises a hue and cry when he achieves something of ‘everyday insignificance’, and disturbs the beauty and serenity of the world he lives in. He messes things up, expecting the future generations to mend and repair on his behalf. Greedy, and over-ambitious, man leaves no stones unturned to have the posterity remember him. Tombs and monuments are erected, memorial ceremonies are conducted, statues and portraits are installed everywhere, just to make the world remember.

Birds don’t have the persuasive power of rhetoric; nor do they erect epitaphs and statues; nor do they create masterpieces to make their presence felt. Rather, they have a simpler, and more natural way of getting things done. Living in harmony with nature, birds articulate the simplicity of existence through simple deeds like chirping or dropping a feather. Evidently, these are actions natural to a bird. There is neither sophistication nor monotonous artificiality in what the bird does.

The first three stanzas of the poem has the bird as the speaker, articulating its simple life-philosophy in the first person singular. A sweet chirp is all that the bird needs to proclaim to the world of its existence in the present. The bird affirms its presence in the past merely reminding us of the feather it once dropped. The bird asserts its immortality, its future existence, through its progeny – it leaves behind the warmth of hatching young ones to assure its immortality in time. The fourth and final stanza of the poem witnesses a change in the speaker. Evidently, the bird isn’t speaking anymore; apparently it is the poet who takes over, to drive home the message of the poem. Nonchalantly, the poet asks whether birds have a better way to articulate the simplicity of life. The rhetorical question obviously demands an answer in the negative, for, the simplicity and spontaneity of avian life is simply unattainable for mankind. However, the poem also points to the need for emulating the birds on how to simplify things, enjoy life as it comes and find purpose and meaning in the very act of living.

The beauty of the poem lies in its ability to communicate to the heart of the reader, asking her/him poignant questions on life and time. The poem uses simple diction to communicate the complex idea that beauty lies in simplicity. Time too isn’t complex provided one has the eye of a bird to perceive it. The consummate ease with which the bird proclaims the simultaneity of its existence in the past, the present and the future offers an important lesson that mankind can ill-afford to forget.

ലളിതം 

പി പി രാമചന്ദ്രൻ 

ഇവിടെയുണ്ടുഞാൻ 
എന്നറിയിക്കുവാൻ 
മധുരമാമൊരു 
കൂവൽ മാത്രം മതി

ഇവിടെയുണ്ടായി- 
രുന്നു ഞാനെന്നതി-
ന്നൊരു വെറും തൂവൽ 
താഴെയിട്ടാൽ മതി 

ഇനിയുമുണ്ടാകു-
മെന്നതിൻ സാക്ഷ്യമായ് 
അടയിരുന്നതിൻ 
ചൂടുമാത്രം മതി

ഇതിലുമേറെ 
ലളിതമായ് എങ്ങനെ 
കിളികളാവി-
ഷ്‌കരിക്കുന്നു ജീവനെ?

 

Simple

(Translated by Manu Mangattu)

 

A sweet chirp would suffice

To let it be known

That I am here

 

A dropped feather would suffice

To let the world know

That I was here

 

The warmth of brooding would suffice

To testify

That I will be here

 

How else do birds

Articulate life

With greater simplicity?

(The comprehension answers below use the translation by Dr B Keralavarma titled “How Simple!”)

 

A1. What does the bird do to let the world know that it exists?

 The bird gives out a sweet little cry to let the world know that it exists. Living in concord with nature, the bird articulates the simplicity of existence through simple deeds like chirping. The bird is the speaker here, proclaiming to the world its simple life-philosophy in the first person singular.

 

A2. How does the bird wish to prove that it was here?

 The bird wishes to prove its existence in the past by merely dropping a feather. Unlike man, who erects busts and monuments to be remembered, the bird affirms its past existence by doing something that comes naturally to it. There is neither complexity nor artificiality in what the bird does.

 

A3. How will the bird testify that it will be here?

 The warmth of brooding is all that the bird needs to testify that it will be here. The bird asserts its immortality, its future existence, through its offspring – it leaves behind the warmth of hatching to assure its immortality in time.

 

A4. What is the conclusion of the poet? 

The poem concludes with a rhetorical question that asks whether birds have a better way to articulate the simplicity of life. The answer will certainly be in the negative. The poet thus concludes that man has got a lot to learn from birds on brevity and simplicity.

 

A5. What are the words or phrases in the poem associated with a bird? 

In simple terms, the poem “How Simple” is about the simple life of a bird. Hence, naturally the poem abounds in avian words and phrases. In fact, the poem revolves around three such phrases: the “sweet little cry” of the bird, “a mere feather” that the bird drops” and “the warmth of broodings. The last stanza makes an explicit and, in fact the only reference, to “birds”.

 

A6. What does dropping a mere feather imply? 

Dropping a mere feather implies the simplicity with which a bird can prove that it was there in a particular place at a certain point in time. It is also an affirmation that the bird once existed. The bird affirms its past existence by dropping a feather which comes naturally to all birds. There is neither complexity nor artificiality in what the bird does.

 

A7.What is the contrast that runs with us? 

The poem contrasts the complexity and artificiality of human life with the simplicity and spontaneity of avian life. Birds go about their business quietly, without ever unsettling the harmony of the natural environment they live in. Man, on the other hand, meddles with everything, raises a hue and cry when he achieves something, and in the process disturbs the beauty and serenity of the world.

 

B1. How does the bird suggest ideas about its existence for all times? 

In the poem “How Simple!” by PP Ramachandran, the bird proclaims its existence in the past, the present and the future. In the first three stanzas of the poem the bird articulates its simple life-philosophy in first person singular. A sweet chirp is all that the bird needs to proclaim to the world of its existence in the present. The bird affirms its presence in the past merely by merely dropping a feather. The bird asserts its immortality, its future existence, through its progeny – it leaves behind the warmth of hatching young ones to assure its immortality in time. What is striking about these three events is the fact that there is neither sophistication nor monotonous artificiality in what the bird does. The consummate ease with which the bird proclaims the simultaneity of its existence in the past, the present and the future offers an important lesson that mankind can ill-afford to forget.

 

B2. “It takes only a sweet little cry …” Explain. 

The poem “How Simple!” by PP Ramachandran opens in the first person with the bird as the speaker. The bird affirms that “It takes/ only a sweet little cry/ to let the world know/ that I am here”. Evidently, the bird is describing the effortless simplicity with which it articulates its existence in the present. The bird gives out a sweet little cry to let the world know that it exists. Living in harmony with nature, the bird articulates the simplicity of existence through simple deeds like chirping. Birds may not possess the persuasive power of rhetoric. Rather, they have a simpler, and more natural way of getting things done. The cry alone would suffice to make their presence felt in the world.

 

B3. Discuss the key aspects of art and romance in the poem. 

Apparently a simple tale regarding the evolution of the life of a bird, “How Simple!” is a poem that yields to multiple readings. Elements of art and romance become vivid and tangible on closer reading. Literally, the poem is about the romance, mating, brooding and perpetuation of the species of birds. The sweet cry becomes the mating call, the dropped feather signifies the act of mating and the warmth of brooding implies having offspring.

Art here concerns itself with the simple and the beautiful. Art is about being creative and being beautiful. There is art in the way the bird announces its existence – it is simple, creative and beautiful. Whether it be the sweet chirp or dropping the feather or even brooding, each is an act of creativity and simplicity. The poet seems to suggest that the simple and the creative contribute enormously to the harmony of the natural world.

 

B4. How does the bird express its creativity of life?

 For the bird, creativity goes hand-in-hand with simplicity. It is the simple and the mundane things of life that attain a creative significance when life itself is understood as a work of art. The poem itself is a case in point. Apparently a very simple poem on the evolution of a bird’s life, the poem resounds with creative and artistic implications far beyond avian life. In the poem art concerns itself with the lighter and trivial incidents of life which rarely receive artistic attention. Art is about being creative and being beautiful. There is art in the way the bird announces its existence – it is simple, creative and beautiful. Whether it be the sweet chirp or dropping the feather or even brooding, each is an act of creativity and simplicity. The effortlessness with which the bird proclaims the simultaneity of its existence in the past, the present and the future is an astonishing affirmation of its creativity of life.

 

B5. What ecological reading can we gain from this poem? 

The poem “How Simple!” by PP Ramachandran can be read as an ecological piece. Ostensibly a very simple poem on the life philosophy of a bird, the poem reverberates with ecological implications too viable to be ignored. The poem contrasts the complexity and artificiality of human life with the simplicity and spontaneity of avian life. In his quest for dominance over the Earth, man blindly exploits nature, adversely upsetting ecological balance. He abuses natural resources, polluting and exhausting everything without ever considering the impact his deeds shall have on future generations. Birds on the other hand go about their business quietly, without ever unsettling the balance of the natural environment they live in. Living in harmony with nature, birds express the simplicity of existence through simple deeds like chirping or dropping a feather. Evidently, these are actions natural to a bird. There is neither sophistication nor monotonous artificiality in what the bird does. Man has got a lot to learn from birds.

 

B6. What are the central concerns of creativity expressed in the poem? 

The poem “How Simple!” by PP Ramachandran raises certain very pertinent questions regarding creativity and art. Birds don’t have the persuasive power of rhetoric; nor do they erect epitaphs and statues; nor do they create masterpieces to make their presence felt. Still, in spite of these shortcomings birds teach man a valuable lesson regarding creativity. They remind us that creativity can go hand-in-hand with simplicity. There is art in the way the bird announces its existence – it is simple, creative and beautiful. The poem looks at a sweet little cry, a dropped feather and the warmth of brooding as different levels of creativity expressed during different phases of life. Creativity requires spontaneity and simplicity, both of which birds have in abundance. At times all that creativity requires is a clear mind, dynamic and staying in the present. At other times, creativity can be all about nostalgia and remembrance of things past. Giving birth to offspring is perhaps the finest and the original form of creativity. 

Other Translations

Simple

(Translated by the poet himself)

A pleasant chirping
Is enough to say
Here I am.

A dropped feather says
I was here.

The warmth of hatching
States I will be here.

The way the birds
Manifest themselves
Can anything
Be simpler?

 

 

Lalitham

A sweet chirp is enough
to let it be known
`I am here.'
Just feather drop is enough
to prove `I was here'.
Simply the warmth of hatching is enough
to say
`I will be here.'
Birds! How could they articulate life
much simpler!


(Translated by  T.P. Rajeevan)

 

 

"How Simple it is"

Nothing more than a sweet cry
To say, I am here.

A dropped feather is all that 
Says, I was here.

The warmth of brooding
Says, I will be here.

How do birds tell
Their lives with such brevity?

(Translated by EV Ramakrishnan, 2009)

Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, SGC Aruvithura

Provide your Feedback/Suggestion/Requests for notes to manumangattu@gmail.com

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