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;
Just 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.

The Dance of the Bear (ಕರಡಿ ಕುಣಿತ)

One of Da Ra Bendre’s more popular, accessible (and underappreciated) poems. My introduction to Bendre’s poetry was when I listened to the sung version of this poem, many years ago. In the intervening years, I have travelled the familiar yet unfamiliar terrain of the Kannada language in ways I had never anticipated. But that is a story for another day.
For now, I will only say that the memory and the rediscovery of this poem sparked my relationship with Bendre’s poetry. In particular, the first two lines of stanza 3 (which read “ತ್ರೇತಾಯುಗ ರಾಮನ್ನ, ದ್ವಾಪರದ ಕೃಷ್ಣನ್ನ|ಕಲಿಯುಗದ ಕಲ್ಕೀನ ಕಂಡಾನ” in the original) and the untranslatable onomatopoeic refrain (“ತನ್ನsನ ತಾsನನ ತಂದಾsನ”) from line 2 of stanza 5 continue to draw me into their eddy of feeling.
The poem itself was inspired by the poet waking up in a railway coach and “seeing” a large bear at the door. When he went out and looked, it had disappeared. He learned later that an accident had happened at the very station he had “seen” the bear, an accident in which a number of people had lost their lives. It was the poet’s belief that one of those people had appeared to him in the form of the bear seeking release for his átma (soul).

As usual, I’ve included my recording of the original Kannada poem. The sing-song rhythm is taken from B.R Chaya’s version, tuned by Gururaj Marpalli.

(The only reason I haven’t included only Marpalli’s version is because it is missing a stanza – the 6th stanza. Nonetheless, I urge you all to listen to it. It really is wonderfully tuned.)

The Dance of the Bear (ಕರಡಿ ಕುಣಿತ)

Wrapped in a coat of hair he came; his wrist
Held a metal wristlet; his hand held a stick of play;
He hummed as he came, and he tapped as he came;
Then he stood as the bear round him played.

From which wilds did he snatch this bear,
That lived contentedly on honey?
“Now dance before the rich man’s house,”
He said – “Dance for him and he shall pay.”

This bear in the Golden age had strode;
The Silver and the Kali ages it had seen.
As the Golden age drew to a close, it fed
On the jambu fruit by the river gleaned.

“O mothers come, your children bring;
Come ward off the evil eye.
Tie round their necks these hairs of his
That hold the strength of Bhima’s thigh.”

“Dance you rascal, dance,” he says:
A rhythm on his drum he plays;
Sniff-sniff snuff-snuff dances the bear;
“O what a lovely dance,” all say.

This dance is danced to feed the man;
For him the bear’s in chains and bands:
“O Lord,” he prays, “give the man his share,”
Looking to the heavens with joined hands.

The wily man makes dance and prance
This life: he hides behind and pulls the strings.
In the name of the bear he earns his bread;
As though such means will salvation bring.

Since man began to have dance for him
The ox, the monkey and the bear;
‘It is man’s mind that dances not the bear that
Prances,’ – so thinks the poet and his thinking shares.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Note: The Kannada explication (ವ್ಯಾಖ್ಯಾನ) of this poem on the website sallaap.blogspot.com was of great help during the translation.

The Pollen Calls (ಪರಾಗ)

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

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

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

The Pollen Calls (ಪರಾಗ)

Come, dear bee, O come,
Why wander so detachedly?
When the call of the fragrance is
Sweet, is an invitation necessary?

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

In the poem’s heart, in the lotus’s womb,
The pollen waits on tiptoe;
Your slightest kiss itself’s enough
Fór a new creation to show.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

The Peacock-Smile (ನಗೀನವಿಲು)

One of Bendre’s poems from the early period, with a wonderfully original conceit. The peacock and the koel serve as metaphors. The language of the original is folksy and abounds in end-rhymes, assonance and onomatopoeia (ಮಿನ ಮಿನ ಮಿನ ಮಿಂಚತಿತ್ತ). Though the onomatopoeia is untranslatable, I have looked to include a measure of assonance and end-rhyme in the translation. The unusual sentence-structure is a consequence of this attempt.

Also, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The tune, if one is discernible, is Mysore Ananthaswamy’s.

The Peacock-Smile (ನಗೀನವಿಲು)

O woman, upon your lips
Did play a peacock-smile;
Did play a smile, did flee a smile;
Did it look cloudward the while.

A-flash a-flash a-flashed the smile;
Did rise the smile, did fall the smile;
Did fall the smile, did glow the smile:
Did the land and waters gleam the while.

Within your eyes the coloured gaze
Did dance its rhythmic dance;
Did dance and prance; did droop and fade:
Did play coquette at every chance.

Upon the fruit-tree of the mind
Did sit a kóel all alone;
Did sit and never sing a note:
Did gaze on you with look forlorn.

A living life was suffering;
Did wail all through the day and night;
Did wail all through, did flail all through:
Did search for something with its might.

With a rain of tears too
Did it pour forth its woe;
Did pour its woe, did plead its case:
Did wilt when no response did show.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

O Come To Sádhanakéri (ಬಾರೊ ಸಾಧನಕೇರಿಗೆ)

One of Da Ra Bendre’s most popular song-poems (ಹಾಡುಗಬ್ಬ), he wrote it as a ಸ್ವಗತ (~soliloquy) when the unexpected loss of his job forced him to return to his home “ಶ್ರೀಮಾತಾ”in Sádhanakéri, Dharwad.

Here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The tune, if one is discernible, is Praveen Godkhindi’s.

O Come To Sádhanakéri (ಬಾರೊ ಸಾಧನಕೇರಿಗೆ)

O come to Sádhanakéri,
Back to this town where you were merry.

To the wagon pulled by the rains;
The green has risen up the plains;
The green into the town has grown;
The green along the paths has shown.
A very piece of heaven’s fallen here;
Is there anyone who is not cheered?
O come to Sádhanakéri,
Back to this town where you were merry.

The mountain’s face itself has turned;
The singing koel is sweet-throatèd;
The fences too are flower-fingered;
The land’s youth has returnèd.
And mother-earth has stretched and risen;
For Shrávana’s beauty it is the season.
O come to Sádhanakéri,
Back to this town where you were merry.

Look on the shadow-play of the clouds above;
The multitude of flowered groves;
The countless honey-bees that hover;
The spell within the yakshi’s bower.
Come watch the butterflies that play
In groups above the meadows gay.
O come to Sádhanakéri,
Back to this town where you were merry.

The trees have stretched toward the sky;
Within the shrubs are songs of play;
The wind itself wings all around;
All anxiousness has fled this ground.
O tell me, friend, where else is there
A sight like this, a sight so fair?
O come to Sádhanakéri,
Back to this town where you were merry.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

The Descent of the Ganga (ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ)

One of Da Ra Bendre’s most famous poems, revealed to the world when he recited it at the close of his President’s Speech at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in 1943. Per his own admission, the rapturous reception it received left him reeling.

Here is a recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem.

The Descent of the Ganga (ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ)

Come down, mother,
Come down;
From Hara’s locks,
From Hari’s feet,
From the rishi’s thighs,
                     Slide forth.
Quench the devás as you come,
Wet the regions as you come,
Feed every being as you come,
                      Come down, mother,
                                 Come down.

My salutations I offer you,
I shall wear and wrap you,
So do not hesitate, you,
                      Spill forth.
Leave the heavens behind and come,
Plummet through the skies and come,
Stream along the land and come,
Come down, O mother, come,
                      Come down, mother,
                                 Come down.

Within the regions of my head,
In front of and behind my back,
Up and down inside my blood,
                      Surge forth.
Washing each atom of the eye,
Tuning every fibre of each sigh,
Sprouting words inside the mouth that’s dry,
                      Swell forth.
Come, take your place within my breast,
Come, roll through the waters of my chest
Come, in my very quick do take your rest,
                      Come down, mother,
                                 Come down.

Come as the lightning flashed,
Come as the rolling waters splashed,
Come as the thunder smashed,
Come back.
Come calling on
           The abandoned wretched,
           The devitalised agèd,
           The waterless parchèd,
Come down, mother,
Come down.

O cow’s compassion for its calf,
O mother’s love on its child’s behalf
O grand benediction from high above,
                      Enfold us in your clasp.
Shiva’s compassion unblemishèd,
Tinged only by Shakti’s slightest red,
Incarnate maternal-love full-blooded,
                      Come, come down,
                      Come down, mother,
                                 Come down.

Come, none but you can wash us clean,
Come, every other power is mean,
Come, or we shall remain unclean;
Come, feed us in our very marrow,
Come, circle our land that’s lying fallow,
Come, breathe life into these deadened hollows.

O, beloved, into whose waters fell
Reflections from the gods’s dream-well,
That made your pool of consciousness swell.
O Gangé, with new-opened eyes;
O Gangé, who now do span the skies
Ready to descend upon Bhárati’s thighs
From the starry-flowers
Of the holy Párijáta’s bowers
That fed upon your showers.
Worshipped by the tulsi garland,
Perfumèd by mandára’s scent,
You alone are both parents.
Born of an ecstatic rasa flood,
You are none but the fluid
Fruit of SacchidánandaBrahma’s blood.
Come on down, mother, come to play;
Come júst this once, I pray:
For my tears of joy I cannot stay.
           Yes, mother, such a fall is what they meant
           When they talked of the avatára, the descent.

Like a boon to one who’s prayed,
Like one in compassion bathed,
Like river full-filled and flooded,
Bouncing and uninhibited,
                      Rush forth.
For your darling come a-searching,
Yes, come a-searching, mother,
                      Come a-rushing.

Come, renew the breath of life,
Come, swell; and illuminate this life,
Come, show yourself as flesh and blood,
Come, wash your hands of all the mud,
Come, alight upon this earth for good,
                      Come down, mother,
                                 Come down.

Come, O Shambu-Shiva-Hara’s thought-consummate
Come, O Datta-Narahari’s grandmother-great
Come, O come, to Datta, son of Ambiká late,
                      Come down, mother,
                                 Come down.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Note: The Kannada explication (ವ್ಯಾಖ್ಯಾನ) of this poem on the website sallaap.blogspot.com proved very helpful during the translation.

I (ನಾನು)

It seems fitting to start this blog with Bendre’s own estimation of himself as the poetic-power Ambikátanayadatta, who is the son of five mothers (ಐದು ಐದೆಯರು).

Here is perhaps the only video recording available of Bendre reading out his poetry.

(ನಾನು)

I am the indivisible pollinic-glory born of the cosmic-mother’s lotus-womb;
I am the upright idol fashioned from a fistful of the earth-mother’s clay;
I am the scintillating light found within the million deepawalis of mother-Bhárati;
I am the outspreading wind that has fed on the fragrance of Kannada’s mother-lotus;
I am the animate compassion that has drunk the milk and blood of mine own mother;
It is these mothers five who make up the five vital airs of this breathing frame;
The Nárayana within the lotus-heart has himself transformed into the mortal Datta;
As Ambikátanaya he sounds forth now in Kannada as the universe’s inner voice.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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