Like with so many of Bendre’s poems, I listened to Jogi (ಜೋಗಿ) sung — in an abridged form — before I read it. Attracted almost immediately by its music, it was only later that I learnt of the poem’s special place in both Bendre’s poetry and Kannada literature. (It was hailed in 1999 as the “ಶತಮಾನದ ಕವಿತೆ” or the poem of the 20th century.)
In this translation, I have tried to recreate the rhyme and rhythm of the original. Consequently, the translation reads best when recited out loud.
As usual, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The rhythm is taken from the recording by B.R Chaya for the album Mayakinnari.
At the edge of town where the three-fork ends and where the caves begin,
Where the running stream ducks under and rogue cattle go grazing,
The way is lost and if, once lost, you énter unknowing,
A stricken pair of owls appear, hootíng through the mid-morning.
Past that place, and past the graves, and beyond to the left
Lies such a lush of thickened-moss it looks like kama’s vest’s
Been spread luxuriously across the surface of the pond;
The moss removed black waters cáll into the dark beyond.
Past all of this come caves and hills looming to the right,
Spreading here and spreading there, encróaching kálamma’s site;
And when we clímb the tamarind at the centre of this site
We see ten bushes in a clump upon a little height.
Within that clump cry mammal-bats in the middle of the day,
Flocks of pigeons fly in and out and in and out away;
Out there the nectar-vine has spread and climbed the tree of neem
The aala drips its drops of milk and the peepul shakes its stem.
To the bottom of the atthi-tree is stuck a fruit that’s red,
Full of sap, it drips and drips — all eyes are attracted;
And somehow in this very yard a mango-tree is seen;
Beneath the tree’s a den of snakes — a seven-hooded serpent’s in.
Upon this tree, within this lush has come a single koel,
It calls to me to come to it like I am its máte-of-soul;
On and on and on and on, it cries its siren-call;
One note it calls without a break — without tíring at all.
An unknown fragrance pulls the bees, playing with their heads,
Their minds abuzz they turn and turn, uncertain where to head;
The spring did come, the spring has come, the spring is set to come
Kuhoo it says kuhoo it says kuhookuhoo it hums.
Jogi, in the highest note, the koel makes its call,
Shall I go and look and see its eyes and colour and all?
The yard itself turns into flowers, the branches into sprays
And then they all begin to fruit in tune with what it says.
In dress-of-dawn, without a care, on and on it goes,
Hot-headedly, in sweet mango tree, it ensúres the summer flows;
Kuhoohoohoohoohoohoohoo — like a flute that’s playing on;
Shall I plùnge into some other work or sée what’s going on?
You’re coming, come, come, jogi, come, what have you brought this time,
As I chanted what you taught me arrived the harvest-time;
Inside a chord within my head began the harvest-cry
And as I heard it grew and spread and filled my whole body.
As I set out to the temple, kuhookuhoo it says,
Ómkuhoo it calls to me in the middle of my prayers;
I hear a call within my dreams and turn a mango-tree,
How spellbound I’ve become, jogi, that you are coming to me!
What is this call, what is this koel, what is this mango-tree?
What is it that bothers it, that makes it cáll unceasingly?
The hills around have shattered now in echoing its call
The sunshine’s danced and come to sweat — nów the rain must fall.
(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)
Poem Details: From the collection “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ,” first published in 1951.