Unseeing Gold (ಕುರುಡು ಕಾಂಚಾಣಾ)

This is actually one of my early transcreations; more or less part of my “first set, as it were. (Note that I’m deliberately eschewing calling it a translation.) Chronologically, this should have been published a lot earlier, but there was something – I can’t exactly say what – that made me hesitate. I suppose the closest I can offer by way of explanation is my feeling that I had, in my quest to give the poem the ‘outward (rhythmic and metrical) structure’ of the original, ‘compressed’ it too much, robbed it of too many of its nuances, both linguistic and cultural. And while I still feel that way to an extent, I have come to see (on account of the appreciation of two or three discerning readers) that the retention of the original’s ‘rhythmic structure’ has given the transcreation a poetic quality that may have been impossible to achieve through a conscientious pursuit of the nuances I just mentioned. In other words, a more “literal” translation would find it difficult to retain the (very attractive) rhythm of the original – particularly its sung version. (Like it is with so many other poems by Bendre that I’ve translated or transcreated, I first came across this poem too as a song – and a very popular song at that!)

As for the transcreation itself – that is to say its content and its imagery – a great portion of the credit, if anyone sees fit to offer such, goes to Sunaath Kaka and his brilliant Kannada explication of this particular poem. Like I’ve said already, this transcreation happened in my early phrase as a translator (transcreator) of Bendre’s poems; a phase where I was still ‘wet behind the ears’ and often relied on Sunaath Kaka’s explication to help me understand the import of the original. (Not that I can claim any sort of mastery now. It’s just that I’m now more comfortable with both the Kannada language and the language of Bendre’s poetry; and consequently, more keen to understand the original on my own.) In this case, Sunaath Kaka’s extremely interesting (and original?) interpretation of the poem not only gave me the tools I needed to work on a transcreation but also suggested what route I should take – one I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have thought of even if I’d used the dictionary to look up all those words unfamiliar to me at the time. Very specifically, the transcreation of ಕುರುಡು (kuruḍu) as unseeing (rather than the usual ‘blind’) would never have happened. So, once again, I thank Sunaath Kaka and hope he finds this transcreation to his taste (since I don’t believe I’ve ever shared it with him). Those of you who’d like a little more detail about the poem or are curious about the choice of ‘unseeing’ should read the afterword.

Finally, do make sure to listen to both the Kannada and the English recitations below! You’ll see then what I mean when I said my transcreation was an attempt to approximate (if not replicate) the rhythmic metre of the original.

Recitation of the Kannada original:

Unseeing Gold (ಕುರುಡು ಕಾಂಚಾಣಾ)

Unseeing gold was dancing,
upon her supplicants was prancing;
yes, gold – unseeing gold.

Unseen, tied to her ankles were
anklets bleached as whitened soap;
like bones of half-dead nursing mams;
           while round her throat was hung
           a necklace strung from cowrie-shells;
           like eyes of dying infant girls.
Unseeing gold was dancing,
upon her supplicants was prancing;
yes, gold – unseeing gold.

Within her hands
she brandished brands
with flames lit by the poor’s gut;
           and from her mouth
           (full-fed on tears)
           came forth howling, half-crazed sounds.
Unseeing gold was dancing,
upon her supplicants was prancing;
yes, gold – unseeing gold.

Across her brow
was
kunkuma;
the skin-dust of the slaving poor;
           and in temples her bells resounded,
           and in penthouses she bounded,
           and in shops her echoes soúnded.
Unseeing gold was dancing,
upon her supplicants was prancing;
yes, gold – unseeing gold.

This frenzied dance of hers all done,
she fell at last upon the ground;
make haste, make haste, and truss her up.

Recitation of the English translation:

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

In the poem above, Kaka’s interpretation suggests – correctly, I believe – that the poem is  an (ironic) depiction of ಕಾಂಚಾಣಾ (kaaṅcaaṇaa: literally ‘gold’ but more broadly ‘wealth’) in the form of ಯೆಲ್ಲಮ್ಮ (Yellamma); a popular rural deity who is believed to “come upon” the body of a devotee and possess him or her. But while Yellamma is a benevolent goddess (or, at least, one who can be placated), the ‘Unseeing Gold’ of this poem seems unrelentingly maleficent. The choice to use ‘unseeing‘ derives from the image of the madly dancing possessed devotee – whose eyes are (technically) open but that are, in truth, unaware and unseeing.

Another very interesting explication contrasts this poem with one of Purandaradāsa’s most famous padas (~ hymns), ‘ಭಾಗ್ಯದ ಲಕ್ಷ್ಮಿ ಬಾರಮ್ಮ‘ (Bhaagyada Lakshmi Baaramma: Come, mother lakshmi, fortune-giver), where he calls – with almost childlike affection – on Lakshmi, his lord Vishṇu‘s consort (and popularly worshipped as ‘the goddess of wealth’) to come calling, in all her decked-up glamour and merciful benevolence, on her worshippers and bless them with wealth of every kind. This childlike call for ‘good fortune for all’ being the gist of the hymn, I will refrain from the (rather arduous) task of translating or transcreating the whole hymn. However, I will offer you an audio clip of the song, sung by one of the 20th century’s most-acclaimed Hindustani musicians, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. I hope you enjoy it.

Note: Incidentally, this poem, is written in the shaṭpadi metre or the sestet, a medieval Kannada metre that, as the name suggests, is made up of stanzas each six lines long and that possesses a ‘beginning rhyme’ – where the second syllable of every line is the same – rather than an end rhyme. This metre is similar to the metre of Purandaradasa’s pada – the primary difference is that the pada is a chaupadi (~ quatrain, quartet) rather than a shaṭpadi.

© Madhav Ajjampur

*****

NOTE:

Dear Reader,

If you have enjoyed this translation and the recitations, I hope you will consider buying my recently-released book (!) of English translations of selected Bendre poems. The book is titled The Pollen Waits On Tiptoe.

If you are living in India, you can buy the book on Amazon India at this link: https://lnkd.in/g98ATsQ4. However, if the book is unavailable at the Amazon link or you prefer not to patronize Amazon, please write directly to me (mk.ajjampur@gmail.com) or MUP (mup@manipal.edu) to order your copy of the book.

THREE IMPORTANT MATTERS:

1. If you are living abroad, you will, unfortunately, not be allowed to buy the book on Amazon India. Therefore, if you would like one or more copies of the book, please write directly to me (mk.ajjampur@gmail.com) with your details. I will do my best to arrange to send you a copy (or copies) of the book.

2. If you are in India and are looking to buy more than one copy of the book, please write directly to me (mk.ajjampur@gmail.com) or to MUP (mup@manipal.edu). Please also note that buying 10 or more books will entitle you an overall discount of 30%. To avail yourself of this discount, it is best to write directly to MUP.

3. The book is now also available as an ebook. The app hosting the ebook is called VIVIDLIPI and the book can be purchased at this link. (Since the publisher does not have an agreement with Amazon, I am afraid the book is not available on Kindle.)

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 mkajjampur.com). 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 mk.ajjampur@gmail.com. I'd be very happy to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “Unseeing Gold (ಕುರುಡು ಕಾಂಚಾಣಾ)”

  1. Thanks for doing this work! I’m a kannadiga but my Kannada has become quite rusty, and your interpretation is quite useful for someone like me trying to explore this rich and immense (I know these adjectives barely do justice) poetry. I’ve been trying to read and understand more of Bendre’s work. Kurudu Kanchana really tears through the facade of modern society, and the song still gives me goosebumps!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello SS! I’m glad you liked the translation and I’m grateful that you took the time to write to me. 🙂
      You know, I don’t know that I’d call my translations ‘interpretations’, though it’s true that, in this case (and some others), I used Sunaath Kaaka’s very-interesting explication of the poem to inform my translation. Generally though, it is my search for an equivalent naada + artha that is the basis for my translation-creation.
      As for Bendre’s poetry, you’re right that no adjectives can quite do it justice. It is truly a “ನ ಭೂತೋ ನ ಭವಿಷ್ಯತಿ” wonder of the world! 😀

      Like

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