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).
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.