A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

A poem inspired by (and with shades of) the Upanishad mantra, “ಓಂ ಭದ್ರಂ ಕರ್ಣೇಭಿಃ ಶೃಣುಯಾಮ ದೇವಾ । ಭದ್ರಂ ಪಶ್ಯೇಮಾಕ್ಷಭಿರ್ಯಜತ್ರಾಃ …”

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

A Prayer (ಪ್ರಾರ್ಥನೆ)

May only what is good be heard,
May only what is good be said,
May only what is good be seen,
May only what is good be spread.
May only what is good be done,
May good itself always pervade,
Feed on the good, breathe in the good,
May live among us good enfleshèd.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ,” first published in 1951.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

The Face of Spring (ವಸಂತಮುಖ)

Not for nothing was ಹಿಗ್ಗು (higgu: ~a spreading joy; a wholesome delight) one of Bendre’s favourite words. Here then is a poem of ಹಿಗ್ಗು, of joy, of delight.

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

The Face of Spring (ವಸಂತಮುಖ)

The day has bloomed, the forest’s gay,
The birds are singing songs of play;
Such is life, yes such is living:
As púre as the wind that’s blowing.

What variety, what balance!
The wind has broken the curse’s influence;
The spirit leaps, the spirit twirls
In joy that life’s a luminous whirl.

A hundred trees! A hundred throats
Each singing note upon exquisite note:
This scene of romance knows no bounds,
This beauty’s wanton and unbound.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Sorcerer (ಗಾರುಡಿಗ)

Da Ra Bendre shot to fame in 1929 at the Beḷagāvi Kannada Sahitya Sammelana when he read out his famous poem “ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಹಾರುತಿದೆ ನೋಡಿದಿರಾ” (The Bird’s On the Wing, Have You Seen It?) Enchanted by the bewitching (ಮರುಳುಗೊಳಿಸುವ) manner of his delivery and his charismatic stance, Māsti Venkatesha Iyengar – another giant of 20th-century Kannada literature and the father of the modern Kannada short story – was moved to call him a ಗಾರುಡಿಗ (precisely, 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” – Bendre dwells upon this epithet, the associated imagery, and his own poetic powers. The original poem is a free verse ಅಷ್ಟಷಟ್ಪದಿ (which is the Kannada adaptation of the Petrarchan sonnet).

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!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Sakheegeeta – Prologue (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 prologue.

(Note: The word sakhee hasn’t an exact English equivalent, which is why I have left it as it is. However, I have used the word ‘friendship’ to translate sakhya (ಸಖ್ಯ), the adjectival form of the word. Though not exact, I think it a fair approximation.)

As usual, here is my recording of the Kannada original. The tune, if one is discrernible, is my own.

Sakheegeeta – Prologue (ಸಖೀಗೀತ – ನಾಂದಿ ಪದ್ಯ)

Sakhee! Shall I in detail tell
The sweet and sour of our friendship’s course;
Shall I, unknotting the tangled heart,
Embroider the tangles into a dress?

For now when I recall those sorrows past,
The glow of a night-star comes to sight;
What once was trouble’s now turned to song
That flows like a stream both fresh and bright.

They say that when Gangé and the sea
Embrace, the mingled waters earn sanctity;
So too, I say, is the heart turned pure
When it hosts both joy and misery.

So come out to the sea on its breaking waves,
To wet where the waters froth and foam;
Let us ride on the cradling lap of the waves
In a raft or a boat or a catamaran.

And since all brine trumps a sapless life,
Let our unfurled memories be the sail;
Let us glide, let us swim, let us float, let us drown,
And drowning, sink to the home of pearls.

For when we’re but anklets on a cosmic wind
That dances its terrible cosmic dance;
Who can know, O kámákshi,
The span of this bond that is binding us!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

Not Ever Looking Back (Concerning an Old Painting) [ಹಿಂದs ನೋಡದs]

A number of Da Ra Bendre’s poems are from the perspective of a woman. This particular poem expresses the despair of one such “heroine.” The poet has indicated that the poem sprung from looking at an old painting (of a gōpi who entranced by Krishna’s presence is oblivious to her surroundings and her gōpi-friends).

As usual, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The tune, if one is discernible, is C. Ashwath’s.

Not Ever Looking Back (Concerning an Old Painting) [ಹಿಂದs ನೋಡದs]

Not ever looking back, my dear,
Not ever looking back.

He looked but once upon me,
And smiled a friendly smile;
Then he turned and on he went,
Not ever looking back, my dear,
Not ever looking back.

The scent that rides upon the air,
It said to me – ‘go there, go there’;
My mind followed without a care,
Not ever looking back, my dear,
Not ever looking back.

My heart itself’s no longer mine,
What care I for the rain or shine;
My mind follows its destined line,
Not ever looking back, my dear,
Not ever looking back.

Like the thread within the needle’s eye,
Like the foot caught in the míre,
Like the wheel of time upon its way,
Not ever looking back, my dear,
Not ever looking back.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ,” first published in 1951.

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.

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 are sometimes strewn
The feathers of its flying wings.

Let these fallen feathers play
Just as much as they would like
Within 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,
Pick them up and blow them forth
Up to the heights from where they came.

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.

Yes, pick them up and blow them forth,
Let them fly as much they will;
For that’s the only reason why
They were put 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.

Do Not Look At Me So (ನೀ ಹೀಂಗ ನೋಡಬ್ಯಾಡ ನನ್ನ)

Da Ra Bendre’s life was not an easy one. Born in Dharwad into a family of Vedic Marathi-speaking Brahmins, he lost his father at an early age and grew up in poverty (albeit under the loving guardianship of his mother and maternal grandmother). Married at the age of 23 to Lakshmibai (nee Rangubai), he and his wife were to experience the death of six of their nine children (five in infancy, and one tragically when he was 20). This poem – about the death of an infant daughter, Lalitha – details the mute grief of his wife and the poet’s despairing response.
Contrary to the popular narrative, this song was not one that sprung spontaneously from the poet’s lips upon seeing his wife. Rather, it came to him as a “sight” as he travelled in the railway carriage that was taking him home to his wife and infant daughter. In other words, it was the (wrenching) vision of a future that was very near.
As far as Hindu poetics is concerned, it is the stream of the rasa of grief (ಶೋಕ ರಸ) that flows here. I have had my father tell me that this lament (as sung by Rajkumar Bharathi) never fails to bring a lump to his throat.

However, since Mr. Bharathi’s version contains only the last three stanzas of the poem, I have ventured to sing the whole poem in the same tune as the original. I hope the result is palatable.

Do Not Look At Me So (ನೀ ಹೀಂಗ ನೋಡಬ್ಯಾಡ ನನ್ನ)

Do not look at me so;
For if you look at me so,
How then am I to look at you? || Refrain ||

This worldly-ocean, I know, is filled with countless obstacles of woe,
Still I can say, though I don’t know where, that on the other side’s a shore.
So let the sleeping infant lie, what’s next is god’s refrain;
His will I cannot change; so why look and look at me again?

Those lips of yours that were as red as parrot’s beak fruit-dipped;
Where did their colour go? By which ill-wind were they stripped?
Looking at those cheeks, that brow, those eyes, it seems as if death’s
Hand itself had stroked your face; a nameless fear enters my breath.

My wedding-watered hands you took, thinking them cool and tender;
And still you clutch at them; though now they glow like ashen cinder.
“But if the sky should topple, what fate awaits the ground?”, they said:
Did you believe the sky would never fall; that I myself was god?

Woman! whose eyes once glittered like milk-bedewed kavaḷi fruit;
Tell me – are these eyes I see now yours in truth?
For looking on your face my life itself exclaims in fright:
‘Here comes the full moon’s corpse, sailing in the morning light!’

A rain has filled within your eyes; why then this crazy laughter –
As though a gust of wind can stop a raincloud set to scatter?
So go on, cry, let loose the flood, don’t laugh away such hardship;
Blink and let the tears flow; don’t block your sobs with bitten lips.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here is my recitation of the translation.