A Grief That Can’t Be Hidden (ಹುದುಗಲಾರದ ದುಃಖ)

Along with experiencing their fair share of ordinary troubles, Da Ra Bendre and his wife had to deal with the terrible grief of losing six of their nine children (including one when he was twenty and in his prime). Completely lost in his books, his poetry and his circle of friends (ಗೆಳೆಯರ ಗುಂಪು), Bendre left the responsibility of looking after the house entirely to his wife, a responsibility she bore with stoic fortitude. Never well-off, constitutionally frail, and constantly wounded by the deaths of her children, Shrimati Lakshmibai Bendre’s was an obviously difficult life. It is no wonder then if her smiles were often masks worn upon an inner grief. Not oblivious to her suffering, this is one the many (sympathetic) poems the poet has addressed to her – his wife and his sakhee.

A Grief That Can’t Be Hidden (ಹುದುಗಲಾರದ ದುಃಖ)

Hìding a grief that can’t be hid,
Behind the façade of a smile,
You came in laughter up to me;
Did you really think your love
Was such an àbsent-minded fool;
Tell me, who taught you such trickery?

You who tried in various ways –
By hugging and by nuzzling me –
To bring to me some happiness;
Is that really what you thought,
That I’m a lotus-eater of that sort;
That I am one who’s heartless?

Can by putting on a smile,
And by artful glances of the eyes,
An ùntrue happìness be made to play?
Can, àfter Mumtaz’s burial,
The building of the Taj Mahal
Make true sorrow go away?

O friend and partner of my life!
When ìn the temple of my heart
You move with such a secretness;
Hòw am I to think your laugh
The flower of a real joy;
When you are sùch an àctress?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗರಿ,” first published in 1932.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Basavaṇṇa’s Chronicles (ತುಂಬಿ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು)

This was written as a nātya-gītā (dramatic-song), and was to be sung (to the background of single-stringed lute, an ēkatāri) by a wandering ascetic when he came upon Basavaṇṇa’s samādhi. While its inherent musicality makes it almost impossible to translate, I have tried to approximate some of the rhythm and the rhymes of the original. However, the refrain of the original is: thum thum thumthum thumthum thumthum thumbi bandhitta thangi thumbi bandhittu. The same word thumbi is used in a different sense in each refrain, a conceit impossible to translate.

(Note: Basavaṇṇa was a 12th century “social-reformer” who was the doyen of the vacana-sāhitya movement in Kannada. Vacanas are free verse pieces in simple Kannada, and extol Shiva. Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahādēvi were two other famous vacanakāras. Basavaṇṇa was eventually killed by people who opposed his “radical” ideas. This poem metaphorically relates the story of his life, the krānti (revolution) he inspired and his death.)

As usual, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem.

Basavaṇṇa’s Chronicles (ತುಂಬಿ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು)

It was more bright than light,
And slighter too than air,
It sprang like Gangē did
From the locks of Hara’s hair.
It róse in every nook and
Còrner of the body’s frame;
It joined head and toe and centre
And flooded them each the same,
Sister, a-full-filled did it come.
A-full, a-full, a-full, a-full,
A-full-filled did it come, sister,
A-full-filled did it come.

It had the fragrance of the flower,
And the sweetness of the song,
Like words of déep affection,
Onto the heart it sprang.
It honed in on the secret
Like the wisdom of the wise;
The lotus to this light unfurled:
Once móre did the honey rise,
Sister, a-buzzing came the bee.
A-buzz, a-buzz, a-buzz, a-buzz,
A-buzzing came the bee, sister,
A-buzzing came the bee.

It was so dark as Time,
It was so pale as Death,
It pouncèd like a hawk upon
A snake upon the heath.
It was as though the light of day
Had melted in the night;
It was as though fixation’s vessel
Was full up to its height;
Now, it’d spilt all its contents,
Sister, the end had come at last.
The end, the end, the end, the end,
The end had come at last, sister,
The end had come at last.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಸಖೀಗೀತ,” first published in 1937.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

The Little Black Pup (ಕರಿ ಮರಿ ನಾಯಿ)

An obviously satirical poem. “Milord” is the translation of the original poem’s “ಭಟ್ಟ,” a most felicitous translation if I say so myself.

As usual, here is a my recording of the original Kannada poem.

The Little Black Pup (ಕರಿ ಮರಿ ನಾಯಿ)

The little black pup was whining away;
The voice of milord was shouting away.

Split-split splat-splat came down the rain;
Then rushed away along the drain.

The wind wailed like a stricken banshee;
The little black pup paddled furiously.

From the window of his cosy house,
Milord was looking out—curious;

The little black pup tried to get to the door;
A ‘thud!’ was the immediate answer.

O golly, O gosh, how brave of milord!
No house could have asked for a better guard.

‘I’d like to come in,’ said the little black pup;
‘You try, and I’ll kill you,’ replied his lordship.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗರಿ,” first published in 1932.

P.S: I have revised the second stanza of the poem to better reflect the original’s lines. My thanks to Sunaath Kaka for alerting me to the possibility of a better version and for offering his own couplet (which I have drawn from but not used).

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

New Year’s Day – Yugādi (ಯುಗಾದಿ)

Yugādi (ಯುಗಾದಿ) is a festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year (ಸಂವತ್ಸರ) according to the Hindu lunar calendar (ಪಂಚಾಂಗ). This tremendously popular poem by Da Ra Bendre – from his very first poetry collection, ಗರಿ – has become an inseparable part of the festival in Karnataka.

New Year’s Day – Yugādi (ಯುಗಾದಿ)

Though years and new years come and go,
New Year’s dáy is here again.
To the new year it’s bringing new cheer,
And things that are newer and newer.

Within the shrubs of hoṇgē flowers,
The bees begin their songs of play:
Their symphoníes are heard again.
The fragrance of the flower spills
Upon the bitter tree of neem;
And lo, the glow of life is seen.

Bewitched by kāma’s fragrant shafts,
The mango tree has flowered forth;
It now waits eagerly for him.
And festooning the mango tree,
The parrots sing elatedly:
‘The harvest’s come, the harvest’s come!’

The year itself’s been born anew;
The world’s joy has a resting place
Within the hearts of all that move!
But in this single lífe of ours,
A single youth, a single prime;
Is that all that we desérve?

A death with every sleep we sleep;
New life with every waking day;
Why haven’t we been blessèd so?
O god-of-youth-unending!
O wanderer-untiring!
Does such a gift not interest you?

Though years and new years come and go,
New Year’s dáy is here again.
To the new year it’s bringing new cheer,
And things that are newer and newer;
But not a single one’s for man!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗರಿ,” first published in 1932.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

A poem inspired by (and with shades of) the Upanishad mantra, “ಓಂ ಭದ್ರಂ ಕರ್ಣೇಭಿಃ ಶೃಣುಯಾಮ ದೇವಾ । ಭದ್ರಂ ಪಶ್ಯೇಮಾಕ್ಷಭಿರ್ಯಜತ್ರಾಃ …”

As usual, here is a recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem.

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

May only what is good be heard,
May only what is good be said,
May only what is good be seen,
May only what is good be spread.
May only what is good be done,
May good itself always pervade,
Feed on the good, breathe in the good,
May live among us good enfleshèd.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ,” first published in 1951.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

The Face of Spring (ವಸಂತಮುಖ)

Not for nothing was ಹಿಗ್ಗು (higgu: ~a spreading joy; a wholesome delight) one of Bendre’s favourite words. Here then is a poem of ಹಿಗ್ಗು, of joy, of delight.

As usual, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem.

The Face of Spring (ವಸಂತಮುಖ)

The day has bloomed, the forest’s gay,
The birds are singing songs of play;
Such is life, yes such is living:
As púre as the wind that’s blowing.

What variety, what balance!
The wind has broken the curse’s influence;
The spirit leaps, the spirit twirls
In joy that life’s a luminous whirl.

A hundred trees! A hundred throats
Each singing note upon exquisite note:
This scene of romance knows no bounds,
This beauty’s wanton and unbound.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಸಖೀಗೀತ,” first published in 1937.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Sorcerer (ಗಾರುಡಿಗ)

Da Ra Bendre shot to fame in 1929 at the Beḷagāvi Kannada Sahitya Sammelana when he read out his famous poem “ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಹಾರುತಿದೆ ನೋಡಿದಿರಾ” (The Bird’s On the Wing, Have You Seen It?) Enchanted by the bewitching (ಮರುಳುಗೊಳಿಸುವ) manner of his delivery and his charismatic stance, Māsti Venkatesha Iyengar – another giant of 20th-century Kannada literature and the father of the modern Kannada short story – was moved to call him a ಗಾರುಡಿಗ (precisely, a snake-charmer but more generally a sorcerer, an enchanter), a characterization that stuck to Bendre for the rest of his life.
In this poem – itself titled “ಗಾರುಡಿಗ” – Bendre dwells upon this epithet, the associated imagery, and his own poetic powers. The original poem is a free verse ಅಷ್ಟಷಟ್ಪದಿ (which is the Kannada adaptation of the Petrarchan sonnet).

Sorcerer (ಗಾರುಡಿಗ)

This is a mantra; a way with words
Defying meaning; its meter felicitous,
Spontaneous; totemic, enchanting;
Fashioned from the very quick of life;
The fletch upon the bowstring of the breath
Is on its focussed way; part of an effortless
Divine play; it swoops like Garuḍa himself:
Is this a delusion? A drunkenness? Poison?
Death? Slumber? Crazy passion? A waking
Shrouded in unmemory? The dream is now
Reality — and all is pure and white as milk.

You snake! You weaving-stomached
Creature! You have no ears, a pair
Of tongues; with venom in your tooth,
You feed on air; though you descend
To the nether world, you continue to irk;
Like a rasika you sway your head, but
All your praise is poisoned-spit! But keep
On, keep on — across my palm is the Garuḍa line!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ,” first published in 1938.