The Musk-of-Love (ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ)

To understand Ambikatanayadatta Bendre’s genius, it is vital to appreciate what may be called his “folk poetry”. (Indeed, to people who have not read his poetry but have only heard a couple of songs, he remains ‘just a folk poet’.) By “folk poetry”, I refer here to the poetry Bendre wrote using the idiom peculiar to the Dharwad region, an idiom that he single-handedly raised to rarefied heights. His use of the Dharwad idiom – essentially a regional vulgate – may be contrasted with his equally felicitous use of “High Kannada” (which, broadly speaking, refers to the Sanskritized Kannada that had been used through the centuries by some of the language’s best-known poets).

Imbued to overflowing with the sounds and scents of Dharwad, Bendre’s “folk poetry” may be characterized as the poetry that Yeats wished to write but couldn’t; a poetry that, deriving its ಸತ್ತ್ವ (sattva: ~ quintessence, lifeblood) from the people’s everyday speech and catalyzed by the poet’s peculiar genius, emerges as the expressive apex of a people’s culture. The poet, in such a case, is simply the “chosen one”, the representative” of his/her people’s poetic expression. Bendre himself alludes to this phenomenon in the foreword to his first poetry collection ‘ಗರಿ (gari: Feather)’. He says, “I have talked so far of ‘my poems’. That is simply a manner of speaking. In truth, these are not my poems; they are Kannada’s poems. The Kannada-language’s incorporeal voice is actualizing itself through a thousand throats. That my throat is one among this thousand is itself my blessing. That I am one among the group of poets singing in the dawn of Kannada’s renaissance is itself my source of pride. For if it were not so, why should anybody care about my poems? To say ‘my poems or ‘his poems’ is fallacious; for Kannada to lay claim to these poems is the truth.”
He makes mention of it again in his poem ‘ನಾನು (I)‘ when he speaks of how “as Ambikatanaya he mirrors here in Kannada the universe’s inner voice”.

All this talk above happened because the poem in question is basically drenched in the Dharwad (folk) idiom. Unsurprisingly, this gives the poem a warmth, a cosiness, a tenderness that eludes other more ‘serious’ poems.

As for the poem’s English translation (or, more correctly, transcreation), it may be useful to read what I said previously about such an undertaking. A point I did not make then but that needs to be made concerns the sheer impossibility of translating a poem’s native sound – regardless of whether the poem uses the vulgate or the formal form. Since “poetry is the suggestive sound”, the best the translator or transcreator can do is try to find equivalent sounds in the language the poem is being transferred to. In the case of a lyric poem especially, this “equivalency of sound” is perhaps the most felicitous way to convey the ಭಾವ (bhaava: ~ feeling, mood, spirit) that the original evokes in the native reader or listener.

While I am not sure the poem I just linked to did that very capably (though a friend of mine did say that the translation brought forth tears she had to hide from those around her by bowing her head), it’s my opinion that I’ve done a little better with this effort.

And now, on to the poem! I’ve (tried to) sing and recite both the original and the translation. Please make allowance for the background noise (and, if necessary, my singing). Thanks.

Kannada original (sung):

Kannada original (recited):

The Musk-of-Love (ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ)
                 (By the Field)

                 Thick-plaited girl
                 I’ve brought for you
                 a scented sprig
                 of the musk-of-love

When worn beautifully
upon your crowny crown
a little swirl of wind
will come my way and touch
and I will feel –
delighted – light – delight

                 People who talk
                will talk and talk –
                 you are outside of them

English translation (sung):

English translation (recited):

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ”, first published in 1934.

Afterword:

This poem is the very first poem in the ‘ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ (kaamakastoori)’ collection. In his foreword, here is what Bendre had to say about the first “batch” of poems in the collection: “The first sixteen poems were not all written at the same time. [However], they all exist upon the same wave[length]. The rasika reader can use their imagination to weave a story or stories around the collection; each to their own taste. [After all,] like musk, kaama too is a quarter intoxicant, three quarters earthy soil, but nonetheless a pulsing heady fragrance! kaama (sensual desire) and prēma (love) are like the mud and the lotus. Or to use the ‘language of poetry’ – one is descriptive, the other suggestive.”

Note: On Jan 26, as part of my January picture series, I published the translation of this poem’s first stanza. In it, I chose to translate “kaamakastoori” as “the musk-of-love”. (Incidentally, ‘kaamakastoori” is also the quite lovely Kannada name of the fragrant “sweet basil” plant.) Given Bendre’s explicit mention of the relationship (and difference) between kaama and prēma, translating “kaamakastoori” as “the musk-of-love” (and thereby drawing an equivalence between “kaama” and “love”) complicates the translation of “prēma” – whose translation as “love” would be more accepted. However, since there is no mention of “prēma” in this particular poem, I have chosen to stick with “the musk-of-love”.

P.S: Strictly speaking, “kaamakastoori” translates to something like “the sensual musk” or “the musk-of-desire”; neither of which quite captures the tender feeling associated with the poem (like “musk-of-love” does).

© 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.)

Gumma (ಗುಮ್ಮ)

The literature of the Navōdaya period (that began in the early 1900s) in Kannada literature was inspired by the emergent literature of the Bengal Renaissance as well as by the Romantic tradition of English poetry. This inspiration extended to the verse forms of the Romantic tradition and included the sonnet.

As the foremost lyrical poet of Kannada’s Navōdaya period, and an inveterate seeker (and inventor) of new poetic forms, Bendre’s experiments with the sonnet began in the early 1920s. However, it was in his 1938 collection “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ (Uyyāle: The Swing)” that the sonnet-fruit swelled forth in all its fullness. Naming his avatāra of the sonnet the ಅಷ್ಟಷಟ್ಪದಿ or the oct-sestet (and, by doing so, choosing the Petrarchan form over the Shakespearean), Bendre says in his introduction that “the new qualities [of his sonnets] are their lack of rhyme, their unpredictable use of enjambment, and the strangeness of the twist imparted [when moving from the octet to the sestet]”.

*****

To read and listen to more (including the entire translation), please buy my book, 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.)

Lass with the Empty Waterpot (ಬರಿಗೊಡದ ಬಾಲಿ)

I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.”

(From Clown in the Moon by Dylan Thomas)

I first read these lines on a postcard almost ten years ago in a library room in Cambridge. What struck me immediately was their delicacy – a delicacy so wonderful as to be almost painful. While I have not forgotten the encounter, I cannot say that I have thought much about these lines in the years since.
           And yet, it was (the memory of) these very lines that came to mind as I mulled the “feeling of loss” I experienced when I returned to the translation offered below.

Allow me to explain. The Kannada poem (whose English translation may be found below) first came to my notice about a year ago. I came across it as I flicked through the pages of a richly-aged copy of Bendre’s ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ (Kamakasturi). Finding the poem’s first two lines vaguely familiar and drawn in by their quaint loveliness, I read the poem all the way through – when I finished, all I was left with was a most wonderful ache, an ache born of a beauty so ethereal as to almost surpass being.

*****

To read and listen to more (including the entire translation), please buy my book, 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.)

This Much Love, That Much Love (ಅಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರೀತಿ ಇಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರೀತಿ)

A charming little rumination on love. As the audio hopefully reveals, the original poem is notable for the “happy trot” (to coin a phrase) of its rhythm – a quality I have looked to retain in the translation.

*****

To read and listen to more (including the entire translation), please buy my book, 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.)

Sakheegeeta – Prelude (ಸಖೀಗೀತ – ನಾಂದಿ ಪದ್ಯ)

In 1937, Da Ra Bendre published his long lyric-narrative (ಖಂಡ-ಕಾವ್ಯ) titled Sakheegeeta (ಸಖೀಗೀತ), a poetic account of the poet and his wife’s (ಸಖೀ) married life up to that time. In his introduction, Bendre says that he has, in the poem, “let spread the happy-sad vine of the ordinary married life upon the trellis of my personal experience.”
Written in a metre that he himself devised, this lyric-narrative is one of his best-known works. From my own reading, what is most striking is his prolific and remarkable use of ಅಚ್ಚಗನ್ನಡ (non-Sanskritized Kannada) and its various poetic possibilities – most particularly those of assonance, compactness, rhyme, and alliteration.
This verse is the very first of the forty-something verses that make up the lyric-narrative. As can be seen, it remains a poem in its own right while serving the purpose of a prelude.

*****

To read and listen to more (including the entire translation), please buy my book, 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.)