Song–Essence (ಹಾಡ–ಹುರುಳು)

I am fairly certain no other “major poet” in world history has written as many poems concerning the rasika, the sahrudaya, the kindred-spirit as Bendre has. Indeed, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Bendre’s raison d’etre for writing and publishing his poetry — especially in his later years, after people had begun to call his poems complicated and incomprehensible and obfuscatory — was his belief that the best (kind of) poetry was a ‘give and take’ between the kavi (poet) and the sahrudaya (the appreciative kindred spirit). This sentiment is supported by Bendre’s many ‘statements’ on the subject in his prose writings as well as by the several poems he wrote about it.  Indeed, I myself have published two of those poems on this very website. They are The Pollen Calls and Rasika. (In both poems, we see Bendre speaking to the rasika: in allusive fashion in the former and more directly in the latter.)
What’s more, please note that in the introduction to Rasika, I have offered some samples from Bendre’s prose that express his views about the relationship between the poet and the rasika.

Now with this poem, it seems to me that Bendre “goes a step further” in expressing his relationship with the rasika. To see what I mean, please read the afterword. But first — here are the poem and its translation.

Note: I am very pleased to say that I have finally managed to collaborate with both Amma and Appa on the same poem. Specifically, Appa has played the part of the rasika in our Kannada ‘duet’ and Amma has played the same part in our English ‘duet’. I’ve played the part of the poet (kavi) in both. I hope you enjoy both recitations!

Recitation of the Kannada poem:


Song–Essence (ಹಾಡ–ಹುರುಳು)

Poet:
You sat listening to my songs,
I sat to listen to you sing;
As though in echo of the joy I felt,
I saw that your éyes were dancing.

Rasika:
You’ve created your new poetry to
the rhythmed-beat of my dancing eyes;
does the koel not sing in the burgeoning spring?
That song you sing’s not yours – it’s mine!

Poet:
The essence of a peeled sad-happiness is joy;
the same reflection’s found in every heart!
The song-essence was forgotten in your gaze,
my throat has now become your flute.

Recitation of the English translation:


(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

It seems to me that this poem is more intimate than the two other (translated) poems concerning the rasika. To elaborate, in Rasika, we see the poet speaking not simply of the every heart’s need for ‘a kindred spirit’, but his own specific need for the rasika, for ‘the kindred heart’ ready to accept the ‘song offering’ he wishes to send forth. The poem ends in the suggestion that the poet’s final happiness lies in the rasika‘s wholehearted embracing of the poem that has been sent forth. Or, looked at another way, while the poem showcases the rasika as a figure essential to the poet (and, consequently, his poetry), it also positions him as the ‘taker’, as someone who is ‘on the outside looking in’ and accepting the ‘gifts’ that come his way.

In this poem, however, we see the rasika ‘coming in’ from the outside. He is now an integral part of the poem and inseparably involved with its creation. Indeed, the poem can be understood as a symbiotic “dialectic” of sorts — where neither the poet nor the rasika is the single creator of the poem but, instead, engage in a ‘give and take’ (through a mirrored partnership) that is ultimately responsible for the creation of the poem. Indeed, the “action-reaction” nature of the exchange allows us to think of the poem’s creation as the result of a (continuous) back and forth: poet — rasika — poet — rasika — poet and so on. Or, looked at another way, the poem is indicative of Bendre’s stance about poetry and its creation as a collaboration between the kavi and the rasika in such a inextricable manner as to allow them to exchange positions. In other words — their give-and-take partnership brings forth a poetry that neither of them could singly create.

Rasika (ರಸಿಕ)

When he lived, Da Ra Bendre was known for his temper and his enthusiasm to engage in a quarrel. He himself attributed this temperament, with no little pride, to the ಮಣ್ಣಿನ ಗುಣ (maṇṇina guṇa: ~ quality of the soil) of his beloved Dharwad. He was, to use a felicitous Kannada word, a ಜಗಳಗಂಟ (jagaḷagaṇṭa: ~a quarrelsome fellow). It is said that when asked once why he’d chosen not to spend time abroad as a poet-in-residence, he answered with, “What am I going to go and do there when I haven’t even finished with all my quarrels in Dharwad!” As he grew in stature as a poet, so did criticism of his work – often poorly informed and occasionally malicious. Never one to take an insult lying down, Bendre confronted these critics both in his poetry and in person.

Contrariwise, Bendre held a particular affection for the rasika**, the sahrudaya. Indeed, one could go as far as to say the rasika-sahrudaya, no matter their rank or qualification, was Bendre’s “favourite person”, the raison d’etre of his poetry. This is borne out not only by Bendre’s poems but by the many generous things he had to say about them in his prose writings. Here are a few excerpts.

Poetry is the rest-home built to bring the joy of happiness to the rasika, the kindred spirit.”

“Like the poet, the rasika too has the “illuminating eye”. He too has the facility to “get the eyes to open”.

“But the sahrudaya is not slave to his nature. His words are not those of praise or criticism. It is his nectarine-sight that serves as a poem’s touchstone. To be exposed to that sight is a grace, to be removed from it a curse.”

To all those sahrudayas who have continued to welcome the poems of ‘Ambikatanayadatta,’ ‘Bendre’ conveys his gratitude: that his scribesmanship is not simply a waste, that his happy, wanton singing is not completely fruitless.”

**The ರಸಿಕ (rasika: ~ one sensitive enough to appreciate the rasa) or the ಸಹೃದಯ (sahrudaya: lit. a person of the same heart) is a major figure in classical Sanskrit poetics. Indeed, it is he or she – with their capacity to grasp the essence, to appreciate the nuances, to experience the joy felicitously-written words can offer – who drives the creation of poetry. Yes, there would be no poetry without the poet – but (perhaps) there would be no poet without the rasika.

The poem below is one of several Bendre-poems about the rasika.

Kannada Poem’s Recitation:

Rasika (ರಸಿಕ)

My heart and your heart – a salt-ocean apart;
all song is like a forest-cry!
If everyone’s drowned in their own tears,
which heart’s companion to friendship’s plea?

When will it come that wit that lifts
and strings the pearls within the soul’s recess?
More sharp than pin, more fine than thread;
can such words bear the tongue’s impress?

Like a fragrant flower-garland’s sent,
like melodies set out on flight,
I’ll send, rasika, with a happy sigh
these heartfelt words for your heart’s delight.

English Translation’s Recitation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Sorcerer (ಗಾರುಡಿಗ)

Da Ra Bendre shot to fame in 1929 at the Beḷagāvi Kannada Sāhitya Sammēḷana when he read out his famous poem “ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಹಾರುತಿದೆ ನೋಡಿದಿರಾ” (“The Bird is Flying – Have You Seen It?”) Enchanted by the ಮರುಳುಗೊಳಿಸುವ (maruḷugoḷisuva: ~ bewitching) manner of his delivery and his charismatic stance, Māsti Venkatesha Iyyangar – another giant of 20th-century Kannada literature and the father of the modern Kannada short story – was moved to call him a ಗಾರುಡಿಗ (gāruḍiga: mostly used to describe 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” (“Gāruḍiga”) – Bendre dwells upon this epithet, the associated imagery, and his own poetic powers. The original poem is a free verse ಅಷ್ಟಷಟ್ಪದಿ (ashṭashaṭpadi: oct-sestet) – a Kannada adaptation of the Petrarchan sonnet.

Recitation of the Kannada Poem:

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!

Recitation of the English translation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Feather (ಗರಿ)

The very last poem in Da Ra Bendre’s first poetry collection, itself titled Gari (ಗರಿ) and first published in 1932. The feather here serves as a wonderful metaphor for a poem (each, at its finest, an exquisite and ethereal creation). Given the luminous poetry Shri Bendre was to create (and “strew”) over the next five decades, this poem seems nothing less than prophetic.

Feather (ಗರಿ)

Upon this cloth of stretching sky
that has nèither start nor end,
is forever and forever flying
the ever-moving bird of wind.

And flying like this bird of wind
is the many-feathered bird,
in whose wake áre following
feathers stréwn from its wings.

Let these fallen feathers play
just as much as they would like
in the wind that blows and swirls
and rubs and sprays and spurts and whirls.

And, if by chance or accident,
these feathers light upon the ground,
push them, blow them, make them fly
up again within the sky.

Do not, smitten by their colours, keep
them hidden safely in your palm;
do not, though they seem a little off,
pluck some hairs and comb some lines.

Push them, blow them, make them fly,
let them fly as much they will;
these feathers that were born to fly,
these feathers on a bird’s body.

And, ìf, as you watch their play,
you feel within a surge of joy,
then, you too swell and peacock-like
dance your way up to the sky.

Yet ìf you do not feel that way,
then simply send the feather forth;
for èver blows the able wind
that takes it far, and out of sight.

But if, by chance, the wind does not;
if, perhaps, they tòo lack strength,
then do your bit and make them soar
for that is all the life they know.

Upon this cloth of stretching sky
that has nèither start nor end
is forever and forever flying
the ever-moving bird of wind
.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

The Pollen Calls (ಪರಾಗ)

Sanskrit poetics gives great significance to the rasika (ರಸಿಕ) or the sahrudaya (ಸಹೃದಯ), both words that mean ‘an appreciative spirit’, ‘(one) of the same heart.’ Steeped deeply in Hindu culture and poetics, Da Ra Bendre held similar beliefs and several of his poems speak directly to the rasika (ರಸಿಕ), even inviting him to take part (through his appreciative understanding) in the poem’s creation.
In this poem, the pollen (ಪರಾಗ) is the poet (and his poem) who call earnestly on the bee (ಭೃಂಗ) to come and partake of their (poetic) juice.

(The destructive-creative aspect of this exchange between the bee and the flower is captured by Bendre himself in another of his poems where he says: ಅಯ್ಯೊ ನೋವೆ! ಅಹಹ ಸಾವೆ! ವಿಫಲ ಸಫಲ ಜೀವಾ).

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

The Pollen Calls (ಪರಾಗ)

Come, dear bee, come,
why wander so detachedly?
When the call of the fragrance is
sweet, is an invitation necessary?

This fragrance holds within itself
the song-juice of the unripe fruit;
and within the honey of the flower
is hid the rasa of tomorrow’s fruit.

In the poem’s heart, in the lotus’s womb,
the pollen waits on tiptoe;
your slightest kiss itself’s enough
for a néw creation to show.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Afterword:

“In the poem’s heart, in the lotus’s womb,
the pollen waits on tiptoe;
your slightest kiss itself’s enough
for a néw creation to show.”

What do these lines mean? What have they set out to say? For the bee to travel from flower to flower drinking their nectar is part of the natural order. Here, the poet has made a metaphor of this extremely natural action (of the bee’s). To the poet, the poem is the nectar-filled ‘[lotus] flower’ that is calling the rasika ‘bee’ towards itself. It appears that the poet himself is curious and excited about the ‘new creation’ that will result from the bee’s drinking of the nectar.

Speaking for myself, I am more interested in the (idea of a) ‘new creation’ than I am in the ‘bee-pollen-flower’ metaphor … [because] every kiss given me by a Bendre poem has resulted in a ‘new creation’ that is my English translation (or transcreation). Although, like every creation, it is likely to have its faults and rough edges, I can affirm the act of creation has made me happy. In some particular instances, the joy I have experienced has almost overwhelmed me.

Note: This afterword is an excerpted English translation (done by me) of the Kannada essay I wrote for ಋತುಮಾನ (Ruthumana) on the occasion of Jan 31, 2020, Bendre’s 124th birth anniversary.

P.S: Here is another poem where Bendre directly addresses the rasika.