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.