Who? (ಯಾರು?)

Bendre’s famous, much-discussed poem “ಭಾವಗೀತ (bhāvagīta)” is, by general critical consensus, understood to be a (self-reflexive) delineation of Bendre’s ‘poetic credo’; in other words, his poem about poetry. Translated directly, a bhāvagīta is a ‘heartful song’, a song that is an expression of feeling. To Bendre, who closely identified himself and his poetry with the rishis of the vedas and their riks, much of his poetry relied on shravaṇa or the ‘act of hearing’. The poem, then, was the shruti or ‘what is heard’. Like Bendre himself says in the poem “Sorcerer (ಗಾರುಡಿಗ)”, the nature of the poetry he wrote was mantra-like – which made it resonant while often putting it ‘beyond mere meaning’.
Furthermore, the fruit of such a temperament and poetic stance was a poetry brimful of nāda, i.e. euphony; which, in turn, made it eminently singable. (Indeed, Bendre is known to have sung his poems to himself, to his wife, to his children as well as to crowds of every possible size.) This credo of Bendre’s is also the likely reason the bhāvagīta of 20th-century Kannada literature is generally taken to correspond to the ‘lyric (poem)’ – itself a reference to a composition that was, originally at least, meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre (or some other musical instrument).
From a historical point of view, Bendre’s earliest poetry was written a decade of so before the creation of his ‘ಭಾವಗೀತ (bhāvagīta)’ poem. That same period saw the birth of a musical tradition within Karnataka that would come to be called the bhaavageete or sugama sangeetha. Starting at about the same time in two far-apart regions of the Kannada-speaking land (with P Kalinga Rao in the Old Mysore region and Hukkeri Balappa in the North Karnataka region), the bhaavageete saw classically-trained rasika musicians use their talents to musically transmit, to the Kannada masses, some of the best Kannada lyric poetry of the time. As the greatest modern exponent of the Kannada lyric, some of Bendre’s greatest lyrical triumphs — including “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ (gaṅgāvataraṇa)” and “ಹುಬ್ಬಳ್ಳಿಯಾಂವಾ (hubbaḷḷiyāvā: ~the fellow from hubbaḷḷi)” — became popular favourites on account of their being tuned and sung.

If I chose to offer this summary of the bhaavageete tradition (whose name’s connection with Bendre’s poem is not something I’m certain about), it is because this almost-hundred-years-old tradition is solely and directly responsible for acquainting me with the poem whose translation you see below. While I can’t remember when I first listened to the poem, I know that I liked it enough to want to listen to it again – and again – and again. Soon enough, I was smitten by it and it had become a constant companion of my evening runs; a pitstop (on my playlist) that I looked forward to with a particular keenness.
And as had happened several times before, this repeated listening made parts of the poem especially familiar – that kindled in me a desire to translate it – that got me thinking during my run of the possible translation or transcreation of this or that set of lines – that served, eventually, as a springboard to my making a concerted effort to translate the poem in its entirety.
So that is what you see here: a poem whose (lyrical) character inspired a musician to set it to music – which music attracted me and gave me access to the poem’s lyrics – which lyrics drew me inwards and tasked me with their translation.

The Kannada song:

Recitation of the Kannada poem:

Who? (ಯಾರು?)

Who is that who like the ground
spins silently beneath?
I stand here in my pridefulness –
stàmping it down with both my feet.

Gulping fire – spilling light
who is that there in the dark?
Fading – growing – illuminating,
its standing-ground cannot be marked.

A thousand million stars appear,
licking the figure of the night;
but what are they to the star-of-day;
here it comes – blinding the sight.

The dawn, the dusk, the light, the dim –
play and mix and mix and play;
spanning the ages they push on
towárds a sun-time somewhere.

I’m a tràveller on forever’s path,
my search is for the quintessence;
I’ll rush my search though it may mean
melting like sháde in this essence.

Recitation of the English translation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಹೃದಯ ಸಮುದ್ರ”, first published in 1956.

P.S: Those curious about the poem ‘ಭಾವಗೀತ (bhāvagīta)‘ should know the poem is nine stanzas long. Each stanza has three lines. And while the entire poem is virtually untranslatable on account of both its ನಾದ (nāda) and its many (cultural) allusions, I like to think I have done a reasonable job of transcreating the last stanza (with its extremely famous opening line).

The chúrn and churning of the word brought forth a euphony
It felt a joy – it spread a joy – in its own lòve it was happy
It did not mean – it did not want – it was just lyric poetry

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, góld – unsèeing góld.

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, góld – unsèeing góld.

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

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, góld – unsèeing góld.

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 K. 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 (kāṅcāṇā: 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‘ (Bhāgyada Lakshmi Bāramma: 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.

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 (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 (bhāva: ~ 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), 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 K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

This poem is the very first poem in the ‘ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ (kāmakastūri)’ 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, kāma too is a quarter intoxicant, three quarters earthy soil, but nonetheless a pulsing heady fragrance! kāma (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 “kāmakastūri” as “the musk-of-love”. Given Bendre’s explicit mention of the relationship (and difference) between kāma and prēma, translating “kāmakastūri” as “the musk-of-love” (and thereby drawing an equivalence between “kāma” 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, “kāmakastūri” 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).

 

The Bird is Flying – Have You Seen it? (ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಹಾರುತಿದೆ ನೋಡಿದಿರಾ?)

One of the most historically significant poems in Kannada literature. In this case, not (simply) for its “poetic worth” – which for once takes a backseat – but for its impact on the Kannada literary scene. I will let Shri Māsti* Venkatēsha Iyyangār explain (in his own words)…

“…a couple of years later I saw him [Bendre] again at the Beḷagāvi Sāhitya Sammelana or the Beḷagāvi (Kannada) Literary Conference [in 1929]. At that conference, Shri Bendre read out his poem, “ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಹಾರುತಿದೆ ನೋಡಿದಿರಾ? (The bird is flying – have you seen it?)”. It is impossible now to describe the ecstasy its listeners felt that day. [While] that one reading was hardly sufficient to understand the various meanings the poem suggested, it was enough to astonish the thousand-strong audience. It was clear to everyone of standing in the “poetry world” that here was a new poet whose poetic shakti (~power) was his very own.”

For a great many more piquant details (including Bendre’s story about the poem’s genesis and information about Masti), please read the afterword below.

And now, Bendre’s own recitation (!) of the first three stanzas of the poem. Not from 1929 but from around 1971-72. The high-pitched reediness of his voice has somehow always intrigued me. (For other audio recordings of Bendre singing his own poetry, go here.)

 

We are also fortunate to have a lovely song-recitation (in his very own style) of the whole poem by Shri Kanada Narahari. Per my “policy”, I have offered only the audio here, but those who wish to can watch the video here. You might also want to follow Shri Narahari’s page to listen to his solos and collaborations on the sitār.
P.S: Dear Narahari awaré, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve used your recording here.

 

Night after night and day on day
here-there, up-down, and everywhere
one furlong two and three away
before the eye blinks òn this play
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

Its feathered-tail’s a blackish grey
its body-colour’s like silvered rays
a pair of góld-and-russet wings
are by its side – flapflap flapping
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

A hue that’s òf dark-cloudy sphere

its wings beat hard against the air
it’s weaved a garland of the stars
and made the sun and moon its eyes
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

Threshing the sheaves of kingdom-states

gulping the limits of the earthly vasts
upping and downing the continents
pecking on crowned-heads glorious
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

Wìping the fáte òff of countless ages

showing hidden fortunes bètween the Mànu sages
vitalizing lífe by the flapping of its wings
cheering the newborns of the newborn spring
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

Outflying the boundary òf the silver town
drinking the water of the city-of-the-moon
and thèn to sing, to play, to fly, to soar
rising and alighting on the grounds of Mars
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

It’s reached the edges òf the spacely sphere

its beak’s outstretched to what’s past there
who knows what sort of plans it has
to find and crack more universes
the bird is flying – have you seen it?

Recitation of the English Translation:

 

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is Bendre recounting the circumstances of this poem’s birth.

“A poem is not the fruit of an experience but rather that of the moment’s inspiration. I can offer a few examples from my own experience: One night, I went to bed extremely late. When I woke in the early morning hours, I just did not feel like leaving the comfort of my bed. The clock by my side was pushing forward, making its usual tick-tock sound. All of a sudden – the similarity between time and a bird struck me and a poem was born. “Have You Seen the Flying Bird” was the phrase. While this experience was one I’d had a great many times before and the phrase itself was nothing new, a poem had never been born of it.”

*Masti Venkatesha Iyyangar (1891-1986) was a short story writer, novelist, essayist, and publisher-editor of ಜೀವನ (jīvana: ~ living), one of the most important cultural magazines in the 20th-century Kannada world. Masti is considered the “father of the modern Kannada short story” and his direct, unadorned style illustrates his natural talent for storytelling. Like Bendre, he too won the Jnanapitha, in 1983 for his novel “Chikkavīra Rājendra“. (The Jnanapitha is India’s highest literary honour.) And while his simple style would come to be criticized by Kannada’s “modernists” for its lack of “complexity”, it is worth noting that it greatly influenced Yashwant Chittal (1928–2014), acknowledged as one of 20th-century India’s foremost writers of fiction. In the Kannada context, just as important as Masti’s writing was his generous support of young(er) Kannada literary talent, including Bendre. (This support was often financial and given with as light a touch as possible.)

There is a great deal that can be said about the warm and respectful relationship between Masti and Bendre. While Masti’s wonderfully unselfish rasika instinct for Bendre’s poetic genius has rightly received much approbation — the well-known writer-intellectual U.R. Ananthamurthy called it one of the great examples in any language of “a critical evaluation of a writer by a fellow contemporary writer” — a particularly crucial aspect of Masti’s support has remained largely overlooked; namely, the fillip that the poetic shakti Ambikatanayadatta within Bendre received as a consequence of Masti’s patronage.
To elaborate, Bendre (1896–1981) was 33 years old when he recited this poem at the Literary Conference in Belagavi. In contrast to the widespread (western) notion of the exceptional poet as a meteor that blazes brightly but too briefly — think of Keats who died at 26, Shelley who died at 30, Rimbaud who died at 27, Garcia Lorca who died at 36 — Bendre was positively old when he first came to public attention. Yes, he’d published a short narrative poem called “ಕೃಷ್ಣಕುಮಾರಿ (Kṛsṇakumāri)” in 1922, but with its sober style, and its old, methodical meter, it is better considered a homage to one of Bendre’s favourite Kannada poets (Lakshmīsha) than a true representation of the poetic shakti of Ambikatanayadatta.
Like Masti goes on to say in his essay (from which the part above’s been excerpted), he and Bendre would spend a good part of the next year (1930) travelling through the old Mysore region and the countryside of southern Karnataka, stopping at the villages they passed so that the villagers there could savour Bendre’s ebulliently fresh (dēsi) poetry in the voice of its creator. And while these travels would give Ambikatanayadatta Bendre’s work (most of it written after 1922) the platform it needed, it is my guess that they were equally important in vitalizing, kindling, and nourishing Bendre’s poetic powers.
A couple of years later, in 1932, this platform would help send forth “ಗರಿ (Feather)”, the poetry collection that would catapult Bendre into the collective Kannada consciousness and earn him the title of varakavi or the heaven-touched poet-seer. The title’s wonderful felicity would grow more and more apparent and reach its fulfillment in the publication of 1951’s “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ (Gaṅgāvataraṇa: The Descent of the Gangā)”, very possibly the apotheosis of 20th-century lyric poetry (in any language).
To summarize, Masti’s greatness did not simply recognize Bendre’s genius but, more importantly, also provided for it the rasika matrix without which it may never have grown and flourished like it did. (For that alone, the Kannada people will always remain in Masti’s debt.)

P.S: Those of you who’ve got this far may have noticed that I myself haven’t expressed an opinion about the poem. The truth is…I’m not sure what to make of it (even after having translated it). Mostly, I am not fully convinced by the poem’s central metaphor — of time as a flying bird. I mean – of course it’s interesting, but I’m still trying to make sense of its…appropriateness (for lack of a better word). But I didn’t want that to hold up this translation – and I also wanted to give each of you a chance to make up your own mind about the poem – which is why I went ahead and published it. Like always, the translation tries its best to relay the poem’s ಭಾವ (bhāva: ~ spirit) even as it strives to hold on as tightly as possible to the original’s “literality“.

The Seasons’ Song (ಋತುಗಾನ)

I said once that “The Child-Widow” was my most facile translation. Well, the translation of this poem’s first stanza was almost as facile. While the rest of the translation took time – a fair amount of which was spent understanding the purport of stanzas 2 and 3 – I’m glad I got there in the end. There are a few things about the poem (and the translation) I’d like to share, but I’ll leave them for the Afterword (below). For now, here is the translated poem.

By the way, my father didn’t have a tune ready when I was ready to put this up, but one struck him later on and he sang it with gusto. It’s true that the rhythm of the translation follows the rhythm of the recited poem, but the song’s a lot nicer to listen to – as you’ll see (hear?) for yourselves. However, since there are people who I know prefer listening to a recitation, I’m letting that remain too. But it’ll have to take second billing to the song.

Appa’s singing of the Kannada poem:

Recitation of the Kannada poem:

The Seasons’ Song (ಋತುಗಾನ)

The harmony of the curtain-play of the night and day,
the richly ornamented and the divine starry way;
the flower-world upon the earth, the hills, and leafy trees;
the balance of the red of dawn and the evening’s húes.

The rise and falling of the sea within the earth’s embrace,
the graze of wind that wàters the east-and-west’s dark-waters-place,
the wonder of the ear-of-grain rising from the seed that falls,
ah look a death, ah look a birth, the breath of life rises and falls.

The enchantment of affection’s come from learning to unite,
a gentle-smile attained its place in a laughter of delight,
as a sweetness that was jaggery uprose on broken lips,
in wintertime came sprouting the essence of coupleness.

The stretching sky above us is new one mòment to the next,
each new day brings the rhythm-dánce of the spheres of the belt,
‘Turn, return, always be new’ is the song the seasons sing;
to the pitch-note of this song’s been túned the univèrse’s silence.

Recitation of the English Translation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

I first came across this poem in the form of its last two lines. ‘ತಿರುತಿರುಗಿಯು ಹೊಸತಾಗಿರಿ (‘Turn, return, always be new)’ was the title of a book of essays by G. Krishnappa; fondly known to his numerous admirers as ‘Bendre Krishnappa’. It was this encounter that piqued my interest and sent me in search of the poem.
I seem to remember being struck immediately by the felicity of the poem’s rhythm. Now that is not really surprising. After all, it is no secret that Bendre had a preternatural sense of ಲಯ (laya) or rhythm. Indeed, he had a preternatural sense of everything that was poetry. (Like he said himself in his later years, he was a ಹುಟ್ಟಾ ಕವಿ or a born poet.)
Anyway, it was this wonderfully attractive rhythm that made me want to do more than just read the poem out loud, that made me want to engage with it, that made me want to “borrow its beauty” – in short, that made me want to translate or transcreate it. It was in this state of ebullience that I translated the first stanza (which remains more or less unchanged). But I soon found that the second and third stanzas were nothing like the first. If the first stanza was a rhyming, rhythmic, direct and simple description of natural phenomena, the second and third stanzas were different. Not only did they not use not such simple language as the first stanza, they were – especially stanza 3 – also less direct, more complex, more allusive and, so, elusive. Finding them difficult to understand and stalled in my translation attempt, I set them aside with every intention to return to them. (It is worth noting that all through this I had been searching for the best translation for the last two lines of the poem. The penultimate line was not so hard but the pair of them together were proving a challenge.)
It was about three weeks ago that I returned to the poem (and the incomplete translation). The break proved itself a good idea. With a little help from the dictionary and some ಮನನ (manana: ~contemplation), it seemed to me that I had managed to understand what the second and third stanzas were trying to say. And what better way to check if I had than to try to translate the two stanzas?
(Like I say in the ‘About‘ section of the page, these translations are as much as for myself as they are for anyone else. What they do is give me a chance to engage both seriously and creatively with the poem. It is a fact that I now understand so many poems better simply because I have either translated or tried to translate them. An attempt at translation seems to me a sort of “creative close reading” of the poem. Untrained and uninterested as I am in the technique of “close reading” – which usually involves “taking the poem apart” – I find that translation allows me to actively engage with the poem as a rasika, an activity I find most worthwhile. What’s more, such close engagement with the poem also often ensures that it remains with me for a long time – which in turn means I often find myself returning to the translation to make a small change or two that’s occurred to me. ‘Jogi‘ is the best example: published some two and half years ago, I returned to it as recently as this September.)
To get back to the poem, I found myself able to make much more headway this time around. Their production might not have been as facile as the first stanza’s, but stanzas 2 and 3 were translated as stanza 4 too began to fall into place. An addition here, a cut there, a tweak somewhere else and the translation you just read was more or less ready.

Note: I often discuss (parts of) poems I don’t understand with my father. With this poem too, it was only after I’d read the translation out to him (as he listened while looking at the text of the original) that I thought to ask him what he thought the closing line of the poem meant – ಈ ಹಾಡಿಗೆ ಶ್ರುತಿ ಹಿಡಿದಿದೆ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮಾಂಡದ ಮೌನ (ee haaḍige shruti hiḍidide brahmaaṇḍada mouna). Particularly, what did it mean to say the “shruti” to the song was a (universal) silence? As we discussed what “shruti” itself meant – it is, loosely, a monotonic vibration of the stringed tamburi that plays continually in the background as it offers a pitch to a trained singer’s ears – my father talked about how the constant “drone” that is the shruti could be construed as a sort of silence – an idea I furthered by musing about how the monotone of the shruti could be thought as a “drone” that is subsumed by the surrounding silence. In any case, the discussion was very interesting and made me wonder further at the startling and original metaphors Bendre used so prolifically. It also occurred to me that this metaphor could be categorized under what Shankar Mokashi Punekar called Bendre’s “cosmic images”.

Let’s Not Tell a Single Soul (ಯಾರಿಗೂ ಹೇಳೋಣು ಬ್ಯಾಡಾ)

Let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul. |Refrain |

That climbing on a horse with wings,
perched side by side like little twins,
we’ll go swaying and awaying –
let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul.

That to a yard of yours we’re going,
its flowers all flowering, its fruits all flowing;
there we’ll have a merry feasting –
let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul.

That holding hands we’ll dance and dance,
we’ll bend and bow and spring and prance,
and, untíring, play-skip entranced –
let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul.

That in a field of malligē flowers,
we’ll sit with my cheek stroking yours
and softly sing some duet bars –
let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul.

That turning into little snakes,
we too’ll sway our hoods and shake;
amid the flowers, the green, the lake –
let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul.

That sleeping deeply, unbodied,
to a joyous magic land we’ve dreamed
we’ll steal away – unheard, unseen –
let’s not tell a single soul
no, not a single soul.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Note: Do read the Afterword.

I’ve taken a shot at singing both the original Kannada poem and the English translation. The tune of the Kannada song, if one may be discerned, is taken from this lovely recording by Shimoga Subbanna. (Of all the recordings made of the song, this is by far the most melodious and felicitous. I urge you all to listen to it. In fact, it is largely responsible for making me want to translate the poem. The only reason I haven’t offered that recording instead of my own is because it is missing one stanza of the poem. As it is, Mr. Subbanna has sung stanzas 1, 2, 3, 6, 5 in that order.)
The English translation’s recording, I confess, is of my own tuning. With the original poem having been tuned so wonderfully, I thought it would be somewhat of a letdown to simply recite the translation. I just hope the singing isn’t more of a letdown.

The Kannada poem as a song:

The English translation as a song:

Afterword:

Da Ra Bendre was among that tiny group of poets whose work becomes not just widely popular but also “required literary reading” in their own time. The foremost modern lyric poet of the ನವೋದಯ (navōdaya: ~ new dawn; renaissance) period in 20th-century Kannada literature, several of his (early) poems were included in textbooks. Naturally, this meant his poems were discussed in classrooms – often by teachers who were themselves hard put to make sense of (the nuances of) the poem! While it is likely that most of them just chose to gloss over the matter, they were a few souls brave enough to take the issue up with Bendre himself! (I say “brave” because of how quickly Bendre was known to fly into a temper. However, it is worth noting that he had great appreciation for the rasika, the sahrudaya, the invested reader – and was always willing to help them with their difficulties.)
Related to this poem is the story of one such (invested) teacher. It is a story I heard very recently (and “third hand” at that), but I reckon it is (mostly) true and, what is more, quite engaging. Of course, since it is a recounting of a retelling of a telling, I have taken the liberty to create a (plausible) narrative.
The story goes that a schoolteacher assigned this poem was hesitant about reading it out and explaining it to his students in the 8th grade (or thereabouts). His reason? The intimacy found throughout the poem – and especially apparent in lines like “ಗಲ್ಲ ಗಲ್ಲ ಹಚ್ಚಿ ಕೂತು (We’ll sit with my cheek stroking yours)”. Just how was he to talk to young children about such intimacy without himself feeling embarrassed or having to answer questions he’d rather not answer? Unsure, he decided to go to Bendre himself. “Maastra, how do I talk to such young children about such displays of affection?”, he asked, “I’m likely to begin to feel embarrassed and self-conscious myself”. Bendre is supposed to have smiled at this and simply said, “Is that so? Well, go back, read the poem again and come here.”
Baffled but unable to question the varakavi, the teacher went back and read the poem, wondering all along what he needed to read a (seemingly simple) love poem like for again. After all, it seemed straightforward enough, didn’t it? So it happened that he returned to Bendre the next day, no differently opinioned. “Did you read it again?” asked Bendre. “I did, maastra.” “And you didn’t see anything that answered your question about how you could teach it to your class?” “No, maastra, I didn’t.” “Okay then, read it again and come back tomorrow”, said Bendre.
Baffled but obliged to obey, the schoolteacher returned home to the poem and read it again; doing his best to find the key to Bendre’s (rather unhelpful!) suggestion. Try as he might, he was unable to find the answer to his question, a way that would allow him to speak about the poem without feeling self-conscious. So back to Bendre’s he went the next day, feeling rather foolish and wondering what lay in store.
“So you found your answer?” asked Bendre. “No, maastra, I didn’t,” replied the teacher, looking crestfallen.
“Okay then, tell me again why you think you’ll find it hard to teach your students this poem.” “Because of some of the details, maastra – of the cheeks of the lovers touching and all that.”
“And what made you think the two of them are lovers?” The teacher was taken aback. “But isn’t that obvious, maastra; it’s a love poem after all, isn’t it?” “Yes, yes, it is a love poem…but why did you think it was about a man and a woman?”
“Well, because…” the teacher’s voice trailed off. He’d said it was obvious, hadn’t he? But why was it obvious? He couldn’t quite say.
Smiling, Bendre said, “Look, tamma, you aren’t the first one to interpret the poem the way you did, but I actually wrote the poem for my son (when he was a little boy). I was imagining doing all these secret things with him; sailing away on a flying horse, playing like little snakes, nuzzling each other’s cheeks, holding hands and dancing…do you see now how you can teach your students this poem?”
The schoolteacher nodded. “What a lovely poem, maastra,” he said, his voice filled with emotion. “I’d be proud to read it out and teach it to my students.” Then joining his palms in a namaskaara, “And now, with your permission, maastra, I’ll take your leave. Thank you very much for all your help.”
“Go along and come back sometime, tamma,” said Bendre, as he took a teaspoon of sugar from his pocket and gave it to the teacher.

Glossary:

1. maastra – the (Dharwad) Kannada way of saying “Master” – which is how most older people addressed Bendre (the young ones called him “ajjaara” or grandpa)

2. tamma – the Kannada word for a younger brother

3. namaskaara – a gesture of reverence made by joining the palms of both hands (at around chest level)

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.

I cannot now recall the minutiae of the moment – but I believe I felt almost compelled to translate the poem, to possibly borrow some of its beauty for myself – acutely aware though I was of the near-futility of the attempt, of the vanity of attempting to distill something that was already sublime, of the trials of translating a poetic idiom inspired by a wonderfully rich folklore.

Nonetheless, I tried my hand at it – and you can imagine my happiness when I was able not to translate it exactly but transcreate it – without letting slip (too much of) its gossamer-fineness. The enthusiastic response of a couple of faithful readers only nourished this happy feeling.

But what then is the “feeling of loss” I spoke of? Well – it is the feeling that appears when I now read the poem and my transcreation; the recognition that that moment of ecstasy will likely never return. “It is so sad and beautiful|So tremulously like a dream”.

It is my fond hope, though, that every one of you who reads this transcreation is able to feel some of its magic – however momentarily.

Finally, in a break from tradition, it is my father who has sung this particular poem. The ಧಾಟಿ (dhaaṭi: ~ tune) is of his own making. I think he has done a wonderful job.


Lass with the Empty Waterpot (
ಬರಿಗೊಡದ ಬಾಲಿ)
                                 (Separation)

Lass with the empty waterpot, why is it still not filled,
you stand vácant on the banks, my dear;
you stand vacant, you stand worried,
how long since you were born, my dear?

How long since you stumbled and lisped,
how long since you suckléd, my dear;
how long since you suckléd at mama’s breast,
how long since you played in the dust, dear?

How long since your shy-chuckled-whispering-act,
how long since you ran with your friends, dear;
how long since you played and ran with your friends,
how lóng since you begàn to sashay?

How long since your hair fanned your back, dear,
how long since your locks kissed your cheeks;
how long since your locks kissed your cheeks, dear,
how long since you tied on these plaits?

How long since you chattered and stared, dear,
how long since the evil eye went;
how long since the evil eye went, dear,
come, swear on the lehnga you wear.

How long since you put your doll-daughter to sleep,
how long since she slept by your side, dear;
how long since she slept by your side with a kiss,
how long since this brought you your joy, dear?

How long since those eyes that twinkled and danced,
how long since they started to search, dear;
how long since they started to search and to tire,
how long’s this been going on, dear?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.


Additionally, here is a video recording of my singing the original poem and reciting the translation.

Two Dramatic Songs (ಎರಡು ನಾಟ್ಯಗೀತಗಳು)

A number of Bendre’s poems were actually ನಾಟ್ಯಗೀತs or “dramatic songs” – many of them composed for dramas that were never completed! The two song-poems featured here were both written for a drama called ಸತಿ (Sati); which too remained uncompleted. 

Here is the context Bendre offers regarding these song-poems.

A king of Pataliputra, having already wed three hundred princesses, invites to his palace the wife, Sati, of the celebrated ascetic Dhyanagupta of Vaishali. Cloistered in the queen’s quarters of the palace, these are the songs the three hundred princesses sing (in chorus) when they learn the news.

(If the first song is an expression of the disquietude the princesses feel upon hearing of Sati’s arrival, the second is a full-throated lamentation of the pathos of their situation since she came.)

It should be obvious to the reader that the two songs complement one another.

Note: Bendre was first and foremost a lyric poet. In other words, there are very few poems of his that cannot be sung. Indeed, some hundred or so poems of his have been set to song by a number of different composers.
In this case – where the poems themselves are songs – it would have been an injustice to not sing them. But to sing them, one needs a tune (of some sort) – and I wasn’t able to think of one (let alone two).
Enter Appa, my father. A long-time connoisseur of classical Indian music (with a predilection for the Hindustani style), his sense for rāga is uncanny; particularly for someone with no formal training in music. His wonderfully melodious singing – usually of old rāga-driven Kannada songs – has several times brought me the happiness one associates with music.
The recordings of the two original Kannada song-poems are by him – sung to melodies based on two classical rāgas he himself chose. I think his choices felicitous. It’s also my opinion that he’s sung both song-poems beautifully. But – you should listen to them to form your own opinion.

P.S: After I’d had Appa sing the Kannada versions, it seemed tame to simply recite the translations. However, that was precisely what I was ready to do up until about an hour ago – when a “tune” (to use the word very loosely) of sorts – for Poem 1 – came to me. Having an inkling of a “tune” (this word, again, being used very loosely) for Poem 2, I decided to record them.
While I don’t see either song entering the Top 100 (or Top 10,000 for that matter), I hope they’re not unpleasant to listen to.

Will You Remember, Will You Forget! (ಮರೆಯುವೆಯೋ, ಅರಿಯುವೆಯೋ!)

Original Kannada poem:
[Set and sung by Appa; based on the ಪಂತುವರಾಳಿ (pantuvarāḷi) rāga of the Carnatic classical tradition — ಪೂರಿಯ ಧನಶ್ರೀ (pūriya dhanashree) is the Hindustani classical equivalent]

Will you remember
or will you forget us – us all?
Sweetheart, darling, light-of-our-life,
will you come meet us – us all?

We said we were parrots
in the cage of your heart;
sweet, besotting, light-ring — king!
In this palace of pearls
in this wildly world
will you abandon us – us all?

Our memory still thrills
to that very first touch;
intoxicating beauty’s bard — lord!
Ages have passed,
will you come laughing again
to call upon us – us all?

We have gathered in shadows
as the night falls;
come in merciful show — hero!
By blowing love-breath
in these beautiful dolls
will you not save us – us all?

Song version of the English translation:

*****

O King, Beloved! (ಎಲ್ಲಿರುವೆ ರಾಜಗಂಭೀರಾ!)

Original Kannada poem:
[Set and sung by Appa; based on the ಹಿಂದೋಳ (hindōḷa) rāga of the Carnatic classical tradition — ಮಾಲ್ಕೌನ್ಸ್ (mālkauns) is the Hindustani classical equivalent]

Where are you O king, beloved!

This life-breath’s wailing like the wind
within a ruined house of god;
and even the walls of stone are calling;
where are you O king – beloved.

This life-breath’s vine’s seekìng the light;
for lack of air it’s withered;
this jasmine-heart’s a curled-up bud;
where are you O king – beloved.

This life-breath’s but a water-shade,
the heaven’s stars are saddened;
quavering they’re saying, “darkness has spread”:
where are you O king – beloved.

This life-breath’s wish to see the things it
can’t is no longer small or bounded;
ah love, it’s thirsty, (though the passion’s cooled);
where are you O king – beloved.

And now this life-breath is so lifeless,
its own existence seems borrowed;
your faithful beauties await your coming;
where are you O king – beloved.

Song version of the English translation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

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 the 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, uncertain 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,
ómkuhoo 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 K. 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.

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: https://www.facebook.com/notes/madhav-ajjampur/poetry-as-magic-magic-as-poetry/10156354681967291/

A Grief That Can’t Be Hidden (ಹುದುಗಲಾರದ ದುಃಖ)

Along with experiencing their fair share of ordinary troubles, Da Ra Bendre and his wife had to deal with the terrible grief of losing six of their nine children (including one when he was twenty and in his prime). Completely lost in his books, his poetry and his circle of friends (ಗೆಳೆಯರ ಗುಂಪು), Bendre left the responsibility of looking after the house entirely to his wife, a responsibility she bore with stoic fortitude. Never well-off, constitutionally frail, and constantly wounded by the deaths of her children, Shrimati Lakshmibai Bendre’s was an obviously difficult life. It is no wonder then if her smiles were often masks worn upon an inner grief. Not oblivious to her suffering, this is one the many (sympathetic) poems the poet has addressed to her – his wife and his sakhee.

Here is the original Kannada poem sung very nicely by Shri Puttur Narasimha Nayak:

 

And here is my recitation of the poem:

 

 

A Grief That Can’t Be Hidden (ಹುದುಗಲಾರದ ದುಃಖ)

Hìding a grief that can’t be hid,
behind the façade of a smile,
you came in laughter up to me;
did you really think your love
was such an àbsent-minded fool;
tell me, who taught you such trickery?

You who tried in various ways –
by hugging and by nuzzling me –
to offer me some happiness;
is that really what you thought,
that I’m a lotus-eater of that sort;
that I am one who’s heartless?

Can by putting on a smile,
and by artful glances of kohl-eyes,
an ùntrue happìness be made to play?
Can, àfter Mumtaz’s burial,
the building of the Taj Mahal
make true sorrow go away?

Friend and partner of my life!
when ìn the temple of my heart
you move with such a secretness;
hòw am I to think your laugh
the flower of a real joy;
when you are sùch an àctress?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Finally, here is my recitation of the English translation.