Jogi (ಜೋಗಿ)

Like with so many of Bendre’s poems, I listened to Jogi (ಜೋಗಿ) sung — in an abridged form — before I read it. Attracted almost immediately by its music, it was only later that I learnt of the poem’s special place in both Bendre’s poetry and Kannada literature. (It was hailed in 1999 as the “ಶತಮಾನದ ಕವಿತೆ” or the poem of the 20th century.)
In this translation, I have tried to recreate the rhyme and rhythm of the original. Consequently, the translation reads best when recited out loud.

In Bendre’s own words, “The poem ‘ಜೋಗಿ (Jogi)’ has sprung from the enchantment of Dharwad’s environs as well as from the terrible, doubt-ridden turmoil that comes from experiencing a dark night of the soul.”

Below are two audio pieces. One is of my reciting (singing) the Kannada poem. The other is of my reciting the English translation. The rhythm of the Kannada version is taken from the recording by B.R Chaya for the album Mayakinnari. I think it would be best if you listened to both recitations.

Nota Bene: Please don’t miss reading the “Afterword”. It can be found below the translation.

Kannada Recitation:

English Recitation:

Jogi (ಜೋಗಿ)

At the edge of town where the three-fork ends and where the slope begins,
where the running stream ducks under and rogue cattle go grazing,
the way is lost and if, once lost, you énter unknowing,
a stricken pair of owls appear, hootíng through the mid-morning.

Past that place, and past the graves, and beyond to the left
lies such a lush of thickened-moss it seems like kama’s vest’s
been spread luxuriously across the surface of the pond;
the moss removed black waters cáll into the dark beyond.

Past all of this come caves and hills rising to the right,
spreading here and spreading there, encróaching kāḷamma’s site;
and when we clímb the tamarind at the centre of this site
we see ten bushes in a clump upon a little height.

Within that clump cry mammal-bats in the middle of the day,
flocks of pigeons fly in and out and in and out away;
out there the nectar-vine has spread and climbed the tree of neem,
the aala drips its drops of milk and the peepul shakes its stem.

Jackfruit-like, to the atthi‘s base, is stuck a fruit that’s red,
honey-filled, it drips and drips — all eyes desire it;
and somehow in this very yard a mango tree is seen;
beneath the tree’s a den of snakes — a seven-hooded serpent’s in.

Upon that tree, within this lush has come a single koel,
it calls to me to come to it like I am its máte-of-soul;
on and on and on and on, it cries its siren-call;
one note it calls without a break — without tíring at all.

An unknown fragrance pulls the bees, playing with their heads,
their minds abuzz they turn and turn, not knowing where to head;
the spring did come, the spring has come, the spring is set to come
kuhoo it says kuhoo it says kuhukuhoo it hums.

Jogi, in the highest note, the koel makes its call,
shall I go and look and see its eyes and colour and all?
The yard itself turns into flowers, the branches into sprays
and then they all begin to fruit in tune with what it says.

In dress-of-dawn, without a care, on and on it goes,
hot-headedly, in sweet mango tree, it ensúres the summer flows;
kuhoohoohoohoohoohoohoo — like a flute that’s playing on;
no wòrk can occupy my mind; shall I sée what’s going on?

You’re coming, come, come, jogi, come, what have you brought this time,
as I chanted what you taught me arrived the harvest-time;
inside a chord within my head began the harvest-cry
and as I heard it grew and spread and filled my whole body.

As I set out to the temple, kuhukuhoo it says,
Omkuhoo it calls to me in the middle of my prayers;
that in my dream I’ll hear a call and túrn a mango-tree
is the fàncy of my mind, jogi, have you really come to me!

What is this call, what is this koel, what is this mango tree?
What is it that bothers it, that makes it cáll unceasingly?
The hills around have shattered now in echoing its call,
the sunshine’s danced and come to sweat — it’s sét for the rain to fall.

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)

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

Note: It would be remiss if I did not mention Sunaath Kaka‘s help with this translation. In particular, the “rogue cattle” of the first stanza are entirely his – replacing the more tame, less eerie “stray cows” I had originally. In addition, the word “stricken” of the first stanza was a result of his hint that “confused” (the word I’d used first) did not quite capture the essence of “ಕಕ್ಕಾವಿಕ್ಕಿ”. Given how wonderfully felicitous “stricken” now feels, I can only thank Kaka for his deep and appreciative reading of my translation.

I’d also like to thank Appa, my father, for his (unusually) serious involvement with this particular poem – which, incidentally, he too now knows by heart from having heard me sing it so often! Not only have his insights and commentary helped me better understand several portions of the poem, they have also given me the chance to correct some missteps I took when I first tackled the translation. (It goes without saying that the translation has benefitted from these corrections.) And, of course, his lively interest in the poem and my translation has allowed for several long talks about Bendre, his poetry, my poetry, my translations, the Kannada language, and a host of other things.

Finally, here are links to video recordings of my singing the original Kannada poem and reciting the transcreated English poem.

Addendum: Here is a more recent (September 2020) effort. In this recording, I have looked to sing the English poem in almost exactly the same ಧಾಟಿ (~ rhythm, tune) as I’ve sung the original Kannada. It was at about this time that I (belatedly) recognized that such a rendition of the English translation-creation too was possible! It feels like a new breakthrough!

Afterword: (Published on May 2, 2019)

Here is an email I sent my aunt (on August 15, 2017), relating how the translation came to be. I trust it will interest at least some of you.

“hello anjana,

here’s a recent translation i made of a bendre poem — a poem acknowledged by critical consent as the ಶತಮಾನದ ಕವಿತೆ, or the poem of the 20th century. it may not be bendre’s greatest triumph, but it most definitely is poetry of the highest order.

like with so many others of bendre’s poems, i first listened to this sung (only a part of it, as is the norm) — and liked it for its music, without going much further. when i came across it next, it was within the context of its fame — at which time, i looked to understand it (its word-meanings at least) with the help of a dictionary and a couple of explications. if i did think of translating it then, i swiftly did away with the idea – for it seemed to me to be indubitably untranslatable. it didn’t help that it was 12 stanzas long!

anyhow, with no thought of translating it in mind, i continued to listen to its musical version (sometimes on loop) and came around to enjoying it enough to wish to sing it myself! and if i was going to do that, why not learn the entire poem (12 stanzas) by heart and sing it to that same musical rhythm? so that’s what i did. it took me a week perhaps, but i got it down and began to sing it – in the bath, in the office (softly), when i was walking back home, upstairs in my room, etc. in short, about five times a day at least.

but even as i continued to do this, continued to get so familiar with it that it became as natural as speech itself, continued to enjoy the wonderfully facile motion of the poem, it seemed to me to[o] complex to translate; too intricate and involved; too reliant on the rhythms of a phonetic language like kannada to lend itself to being morphed or translated into a non-phonetic language like english.

to cut to the chase, my pocket-book tells me that a day came when i tried my hand at translating the very last line of the poem (i think it was in the bus that i jotted it down) before naturally moving backwards to finish the whole last stanza. however, while this is a recorded event, i remember more vividly the day — i was at the office, done for the day and relaxing before setting off — i decided to pick up stanza 10 to translate: it may have been on a whim, but perhaps it was also because that place is a juncture of sorts in the poem, where the poem picks up a certain rapidity, a more intense motion (without any outward change in the metre or rhythm).

well, i typed out what occured to me, put down several possiblities for a couple of lines – and then left it at that, not satisfied but reasonably happy at the attempt. it is worth noting that when i did this, it had not occured to me to replicate the original; in particular, its beautifully simple and euphonic rhyme scheme. having done this, i left for the day. i’m not sure when, but i think it may have been somewhere around this time that i read out my translation of that last line to amma — who seemed to enjoy it. you will see when you get round to reading it that it contains a conceit of such beautiful novelty, it continues to astound.

now, as i write this, i can’t quite remember what happened next: whether my several separately-done translations of the three stanzas (i had worked on stanza 6 in the meantime) moved similarly enough to allow me to fix upon an ad-hoc rhythm; or whether i just decided to take the plunge and begin with the beginning. in any case, i think the rest of the translation progressed in the right order.

when i look back now on the first and second attempt of the translation (of the whole poem), i reckon that it must have seemed like a bridge too far to try to both translate the content of the poem and its rhyme. for as i look at it, the first attempt seems to be content to get at what the poem is about — without worrying too much about a rhyme but focussing quite seriously on the metrical motion i had mapped out. the result was a metre that was so close to the original it even now astonishes me.

the second attempt, which is for all purposes what you will see below, seems like an attempt at rhyming the rhythm. with a rhythm in place that seemed so very felicitous, i looked to smooth what rough edges the rhyme had to create an almost perfect approximation of the original, both in rhythm and in rhyme.

to conclude — what i ended up with seems to me no less than astounding! (if i say so myself.) indeed, i can hardly believe that i created a translation of this sort — one in which a non-phonetic language adapts itself to the phonetic rhythms of the original language! naturally, this means that the translation is best read aloud.

i hope you enjoy it, anjana! i look forward to hearing from you.”

a last word:

© Madhav Ajjampur

Author: MKA

I'm Madhav, from Bangalore. I write my own poetry in English and translate Da Ra Bendre's poetry from Kannada into English. (You can read my poetry at I also translate sundry other Kannada writings into English. My favourite poets include Yeats, Tagore, Bendre, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. If you'd like to get in touch, do write to me at I'd be very happy to hear from you!

6 thoughts on “Jogi (ಜೋಗಿ)”

  1. Absolutely brilliant translation! And an unbelievable feat because, even after your success, Bendre remains an untranslatable poet!

    As your afterword says, you have truly recreated the magic of the last stanza.

    May I suggest the following: “single koel” sounds a little off key. “A lone koel” or some similar thing might be a better option. “Lonely koel” may introduce a shade of meaning not in the original, although not out of sync with the intention of the poem.

    Similarly, “one note it calls without a break” may sound better if the “one” is changed. “The same note it calls” or, here, “a single note it calls..”.

    But beyond these details, what an absolute treat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ashwin,

      Thank you very much for your very complimentary comment. It was very gratifying to read and I’m very glad you enjoyed the translation so. Thank you too for actually taking the time not simply to carefully read the translation but to actually write to me about it. Though the translation has got some “950 hits” so far (by, say, 500 unique people at the very least), you are the VERY FIRST ONE to write to me — and for that I am very grateful. So thank you very much again. 🙂

      About your suggestions — they’re interesting and I believe I see where you’re coming from, but I must note that both choices had as much to do with retaining the rhythm (ಲಯ) I had “created” as they did with capturing the ಭಾವ of the original poem.

      1. In the case of “single”, a two-syllabled word was required to keep the rhythm. That would make “lone” unfeasible. “Lonely”, on the other hand, is a feasible option…but it, like you say yourself, imbues the line with a ಧ್ವನಿ (suggestion) that is not part of the original. Also – I’m not sure I agree that “lonely koel” is in sync with the poem’s intention. We know that the koel calling for its “mate of soul” parallels the meeting of the narrator and the jogi, but to call the koel “lonely” right at the outset seems to be both overstretching and a “giveaway” of sorts.

      2. In the case of “one note”, I suppose I chose the “one” to go with the ‘ಒಂದು” of “ಒಂದಳತಿ”. Once again, rhythm demanded a single syllable (which makes ‘single’ unfeasible). As for “same”, it’s definitely a possibily — but fitting it into the line’s rhythm is rather tricky, especially since it demands the use of “the”. In any case, considering it gives us four possibilities – of which I’ve chosen the third. I still stand by it…though I could make decent arguments for nos. 1 and 4 too. 🙂 What do you think?

      I. “The same note it calls with a break — without tiring at all”
      II. “It calls the same note without a break — without tiring at all”
      III. “One note it calls without a break — without tiring at all”
      IV. “It calls one note without a break — without tiring at all”

      In any case, thank you again for your response, Ashwin. I hope you find the time to look through the other translations (and videos and audios and excerpts) on the website and find something to please you among them. Please also feel free to write to me again offering your opinion (or anything else) about what you’ve read – or even about a poem you think deserves to be translated.




  2. Dear Madhav,

    Thank you very much for translating the untranslatable.
    I was introduced to this poem by Prof Ashwin Kumar (I assume it is the same Ashwin who wrote the earlier comment). I spent three years in Dharwad and have passed by this road on many Sundays to visit the temple. Dharwad and particularly the area around Someshwara temple and Nuggikere are very special to me. Reading your translation just added to the richness of my memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Mr. Rajeeva,

      Thank you very much for your message. It was very gratifying to hear that you enjoyed the translation and that it brought back happy memories.

      Can I ask what “road” you passed “on many Sundays”? I myself have been to Dharwad only twice; once in early 2016 and once in late 2017. The first was a pilgrimage of sorts to Bendre’s house, where I was lucky enough to meet and talk to the late Mr. Vamana Bendre. The second time was an incidental visit, though I did use it to once again visit Bendre’s house and the museum next door to it. I also got a chance to go to the “atta” of Manohara Granthamala and recite my English translation of ‘Jogi’ to the group assembled there (which included the late Giraddi Govindraj).

      Also, I too got to visit the Someshwara temple! It was the afternoon and I seem to remember that it was closed, but I sat on the “jaguli” outside and spent some time in a temple I had first seen in the 1972 documentary on Bendre. I cannot say I was particularly impressed (I don’t like the “modernization” of temples through the use of gaudy paint), but I did like the relative quiet of the place. On the other hand, I did not get to see Nuggikere. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is no longer there! Do you know if it is or isn’t?

      Finally, I’d be happy to hear more about your time in Dharwad and your memories of it. When were you there? And did you get a chance to meet Bendre himself?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: