Benediction (ಹರಕೆ)

Kannada Poem’s Recitation:

Benediction (ಹರಕೆ)

The slow-paced step is slower now, within doe-
Eyes’s about to sprout an anxiousness;
(The fresh-greenness of the body’s faded now.)
Its youth undone, the blood’s red-freshness’
Quickly turning old. Coquette who wished to
Count the feathers of the flying bird! Your
Heart’s as desolate as an empty temple’s show;
Sweet murmurs can be born no more;
Now grown, you stand past outstretched hand.

Sister, let the day’s fatigue just fade away;
May the soaring hawk not swoop this way
Or boy-wind tie you up in impish play.
Don’t visit here, you bee who steals the flower’s
Scent; let come spring’s desired-success-shower;
Above, may your moon-star give you cover.

English Translation’s Recitation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

I remember being at the 2016 Ranga Ugadi organized by Ranga Shankara, Bengaluru’s best-known theatre space. The year’s theme was Bendre and the centerpiece of the second day’s festivities was a reading session of his poems by various well-known Kannada cultural figures. One of them, I recall, prefaced her reading – of the poem ‘ದಶಾವತಾರ’ – with her description of Bendre as a man with a “ಮಹಾ ಹೆಂಗರುಳು” (mahā heṅgaruḷu), or in other words, “a great woman-like sympathy”.
The poem “ದಶಾವತಾರ” – the ten avatāras – is part of a series of poems called “ಕರುಳಿನ ವಚನಗಳು” – or “words [born] of the gut” – written from the point of view of a mother that relate her various happy and spontaneous exclamations at her beloved infant’s ways and plays.  To those who know about Bendre’s growth as a poet, the influence of Rabindranath Tagore’s “The Crescent Moon” on these poems is obvious. (Speaking for myself, the poems in “The Crescent Moon” are some of the most exquisite poems I’ve ever read.)
If the incident mentioned above is relevant, it is because this poem too exemplifies the ಹೆಂಗರುಳು Bendre possessed. While a deep sensitivity characterizes all great poets, Bendre’s sensitivity was (for a male poet) unusually “female directed”. A number of his early lyric poems are either written from a woman’s point of view or are sympathetic responses to a woman’s various life experiences.
It is notable that this is another oct-sestet – one that rhymes this time. You’ll notice that the translation has, in spite of my trying, 15 lines rather than 14. Its rhyme scheme too is different from the original’s. Then again, that’s the reason I prefer to think these poems are as much transcreations as they are translations.
P.S: I think it worth reading this poem in conjuction with this one.

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]”.

As a translator, I will admit that the sonnets of “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ” have provided respite of a sort. In particular, Bendre’s (deliberate?) eschewal of his famous, near-ubiquitous (end) rhyme has allowed the translation – or transcreation – to stretch its limbs a little bit more, to spread itself with a little more freedom in its attempt to emulate the various ways and plays of a Bendre poem. Conversely, this eschewal has often been (more than) compensated for by a denseness of thought and language! In any case, I have looked to approximate the technical dexterity of these poems using what may be called a rhythmic “free verse”. (Bendre may have chosen to forego rhyme but his preternatural sense for rhythm and aurality remained.)

Here is a sonnet from the collection that illustrates some of what was said above. While the English word bugbear works as a translation for gumma, I have retained the original for its flavour.

Kannada Recitation:

Gumma (ಗುಮ್ಮ)

Keep quiet, kanda, the gumma’s come; oh my, what
Are those eyes of his! How red his tongue – like embers
In the darkness black! Faking slowness, he comes (and
comes); keep quiet, kanda, don’t you cry! He might just
Come here if he hears your wail; Oh my oh my!
Shut your eyes tight, just fall asleep, don’t ever see
His misbegotten face; here he comes, oomph-hmmphing,
Stay calm, kanda, don’t even peep, the gumma nears.

Don’t come, gumma, he’s gone to sleep; this is mira–
Culous! Like fish gulped in to a water-whirl,
His mind’s at rest; his breath is like a baby-breeze
Swirling through the leaves; it’s acting crazy now –
With what dream-girlfriend’s breathing is it twinned;
There too, gumma, make sure that kanda is not scared.

English Recitation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Hothot Sky (ನಿಗಿ ನಿಗಿ ಮುಗಿಲು)

Original Kannada Poem:

Hothot Sky (ನಿಗಿ ನಿಗಿ ಮುಗಿಲು)

Hothot sky
Hothot day
Pours forth an emberous heat;
Strips all cover
Steals all power
The life-breath’s fully beat;

Dries the throat
Drops the fruit
The hot breath of the air –
Full-flaming
Sky-swimming
Is arriving in fine flair.

Showers the rain
Uplooks the grain
The dark clouds break and burst;
Cheep-cheep the birds,
Their laughter-words;
Here’s mercy for the cursed!

Transcreated English Poem:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

ಹಾಡೆ ಹಾದಿಯ ತೋರಿತು (haaḍē haadiya tōritu: ~ the song itself showed the way) said Bendre of (his) poetry. The variousness of his poetry’s metre, rhythm, rhyme, prosody, and syllablism testify to the truth of this statement: the song really did show him the way. All too often, all he did was follow its lead.

In this particular poem, it may be argued that the short (staccato-ish) syllabic lines lend the poem an urgency – alluding, at first, to the withering heat and, later, to the wet relief of the rain. In any case, the poem is a wonderful example of the famous ನಾದ (nāda: ~ euphony) inherent to Bendre’s poetry. Just listen to that assonance, that rhythm, that rhyme, that onomatopoeia!

In this transcreation, a particular concern was to mirror the (short) syllablism of the original poem’s lines. Trying to work the English language to achieve such effects is an especially satisfying aspect of translating Bendre’s poetry.

The Child-Widow (ಪುಟ್ಟ ವಿಧವೆ)

Begun almost two years ago, this translation is perhaps my most facile one – in the best sense of the word. I remember how I began it in my room, sitting at my desk underneath the skylight as the setting sun’s colours filtered in through the window to my right. By the time I was done translating the first ten stanzas of the poem, the dark had filled the room and my mother had switched on the lights downstairs. I remember my own astonishment at the “beautifully smooth procession” (as I told my mother) of the translation and the satisfaction the effort brought me.

The translation, however, remained incomplete – for want of my understanding the last stanza.  I kept the piece aside, revisiting it on occasion but never quite getting around to understanding the last stanza. It was only some two months ago that I finally got around to writing to Sunaath Kaka, a much older internet-friend and Kannada blogger who has been publishing his wonderful (occasionally idiosyncratic) explications of many of Bendre’s famous and less-famous poems. His beautifully detailed reply completed the puzzle and helped me translate the last stanza of the poem – without doing injury to the poem’s rhythm. I thank Sunaath Kaka for his help and his friendship.

Otherwise, I will let the poem speak for itself.

As usual, I have added the audios of my reciting the poem.

Kannada Recitation:

English Recitation:

(Note: This is the 25th translation I’ve put up on this website; published to coincide with Da Ra Bendre Ambikatanatyadatta’s 123rd birth anniversary.)

The Child-Widow (ಪುಟ್ಟ ವಿಧವೆ)

She was just a little child, he just a growing boy;
But for their parents – oh what joy!
To marry them off in the name of what’s right
Gave those parents a féstival’s delight!

A necklace, cheek-powder and a nose-ring;
Followed by kunkuma — how winning!
But the play and the frolic of that small little wife
Seemed to the eyes to hold so much more life!

The little girl grew up, the boy was not much older;
The nuptials were such a treat for the elders!
(As though the dullness on the bridegroom’s face
Could take away from the marriage-feast’s taste?)

Not even a year before a child was born!
“This must be god’s handiwork,” said everyone.
But as the child came in, the father moved on;
The sea of milk turned into a salt ocean.

In a couple of days, in the manner of his father,
The child too moved on; what now for the mother?
Her body turned sepulchre of breath; life a bee,
Full of sting — devoid of honey.

Ayyo! I have died,” the child-mother said,
And she wailed and pounded her fists on her head;
And swore crazily and loudly and gnashed her teeth
And cursed at herself until she was out of breath.

In ten days, she had lost the wretched status of wife
And had gained, instead, the title of widow-for-life;
Her family was learned, the village had a long tradition;
When the shāstras were there, what need for discussion?

Her headdress was lost, her brow charcoal-smeared
A red-coloured saree became her daily wear;
But oh, how sad, she was still just a baby
With no jewels or dresses; but that’s a different story.

The little girl wore out the rest of her life as
Though she’d been born to pestle parched rice;
She threaded and pulled coloured flowers over thorns
As though that was the reason for which she’d been born.

And when the child-widow went to the temple
To hear the purānas being told, the decorated idol
Lost its shine; and the reciting priest’s throat grew dry
When he saw the thread-of-tears on her necklace-of-sighs.

Overwhelmed, she stood – a memorial to
A dharma turned blind; an owl-cry came through;
The blessing-hand’s eyes looked full in her face –
The capers of Krishṇa would soon gather pace!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

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 (daaṭi: ~ 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.

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

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.

Also – while it is worth mentioning that the notes accompanying the poem say it is “incomplete”, it seems to me that there is enough in the poem to make that claim both true and false.

Original Kannada Poem:

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

Do not, counting, frown and say
This much love and that much love;
Love, be loved and stay happy.
What you have, that is your lot,
The light you have is your own day
All other light’s just needless grey.
Your house is simply where you are,
Your playground where you play;
The rest’s the backyard, so to say.

Does a string of pearly pearls
Add lustre to a kiss?
Does kissing eyelids that are moist
Undo the kiss’s swell?
Can a fragrance not be found
In tears that boil and well?
Gems and jewels, gold and all
Are glories of the mud and sand,
So, listen to me, foolish man
They’re all just fake – all just a joke
Just a vanity of life,
Love’s the real real of life.

The seven heavens, the seven hells
Are the light and dark of love;
The ages and the union’s reaches
Are its fortressed moat and tower.
I climbed upon a throne and sat
My thigh sat on its thigh;
All right, I thought, but what is here
Not there in love’s embrace?
I closed the eye within my heart
For this or that I praised;
Let there be a little hut
Beneath a spreading tree,
Can love not play and frolic there,
Can merriness not find its share?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here’s my recitation of the translation.

ಸಮಸ್ಯೆ (Question)

There is almost always, in a great poem, that line that stands out, that so impresses itself on the reader that it serves as the focus for the reader’s every feeling about the poem (and poet even).
     It could be a metaphor so completely new as to astonish, a delicacy of feeling so exquisite as to overwhelm, a play of language so buoyant as to delight, a commonplace presented so novelly as to rarify.
     Bendre’s remarkably prolific poetry is full of such lines. Often written as Ambikatanayadatta – the Kannada-speaking daimon within – his greatest poetry is a melodic melding of, in Shankar Mokashi’s words, “the intellect and the heart.”
     In this particular poem – Bendre’s Kannada adaptation of the Petrarchan sonnet – the last line of the octave is what struck me immediately (“ಬೆಳಕೆ ಬೆಳಕಿದ್ದು ಕತ್ತಲೆಯು ತುಂಬಿತು ಹೇಗೆ?”) – I even think I tried right away to translate it. The rest of the translation came later – and not without some effort. (The sestet was particularly difficult – given its cultural references and its original character as an almost “single-breath” denouement.)
     Like I often do, I have, in some places, eschewed a literal translation for a more fluid transcreation.

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

Question (ಸಮಸ್ಯೆ)

My mother would tell me of the way
I played all day with the other boys;
Played from when the morning rose
To when the twilight came; the summer’s
Heat to me was just a moonlight game.
(I had not yet learnt what hunger meant.)
So engrossed in games of play, I’d forget
To eat all day; then eating in the darkness
Of the shed, I’d hear the elders talk and say:
“With light on light outside, how did the darkness fill?”

From deep within the divine heart of the
Man of the vaidic age; upon each one
Of the trembling tongues that crumbled as they
Lost-and-won in search of happiness;
Within the throats of man and wife grasping for
Their share of love beneath a flood of tears –
Is rising the very question that those elders asked.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

Here’s my recitation of the translation.