The sublime poetry of Ambikaatanayadatta (Dattātrēya Rāmachandra Bēndre, better known as Da Rā Bendre) may be the best-kept secret in world literature. Written in Kannada — an over-2000-years-old language with an extremely rich folk and literary history but with almost no expansionist tendencies and little political mileage — and so intensely native and idiomatic as to be virtually untranslatable, Da Ra Bendre‘s poetry has both delighted and mystified his own people. Lyrical and passionate, personal and universal, whimsical and profound, probing and revealing, constructed and inspired, worldly and otherworldly and with an overwhelming ನಾದ (naada: euphony) of its own, his poetry used the Kannada language’s resources in ways that had previously not been considered much less explored. Indeed, to be lost in the assonance, elaborate conceits, imagery, and music of Bendre’s poetry is to be convinced that he is one of the greatest lyric poets to have lived.
I have just called Ambikaatanayadatta’s poetry untranslatable. And yet, I have looked to translate it into English – both to better understand it myself and attempt to capture some of its magic in the language I know best. I consider it my good fortune that I have, in these attempts, found myself creating metres and rhythms in the English language to mirror the phonetic rhythms of the original Kannada; acts of creation that have brought me much joy and satisfaction.
Note: The translations are not wholly literal. To begin with, English being a non-phonetic language finds it hard to approach the (rhythmic) musicality of a phonetic language like Kannada. As though that was not enough, Bendre’s magical feeling for ನಾದ (naada: euphony) made his poetry abound in both alliteration and rhyme, two essentially intangible untranslatables. Consequently, there are times when I have eschewed a literal translation (of a line or stanza even) for a transcreation that gets closer to the music of the original – without doing violence to the spirit of the original.