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.
In Bendre’s own words, “The poem ‘ಜೋಗಿ (Jogi)’ has sprung from the enchantment of Dharwad’s environs as well as from the terrible, doubt-ridden turmoil that comes from experiencing a dark night of the soul.”
Below are two audio pieces. One is of my reciting (singing) the Kannada poem. The other is of my reciting the English translation. The rhythm of the Kannada version is taken from the recording by B.R Chaya for the album Mayakinnari. I think it would be best if you listened to both recitations.
Nota Bene: Please don’t miss reading the “Afterword”. It can be found below the translation.
At the edge of town where the three-fork ends and where the slope begins,
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 rising to the right,
Spreading here and spreading there, encróaching kāḷamma’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,
Honey-filled, 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 kuhukuhoo 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;
No wòrk can occupy my mind; shall I 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, kuhukuhoo it says,
Ómkuhoo it calls to me in the middle of my prayers;
That in my dream I’ll hear a call and túrn a mango-tree,
Is the fàncy of my mind, jogi, have you really come 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.
Note: It would be remiss if I did not mention Sunaath Kaka‘s help with this translation. In particular, the “rogue cattle” of the first stanza are entirely his – replacing the more tame, less eerie “stray cows” I had originally. In addition, the word “stricken” of the first stanza was a result of his hint that “confused” (the word I’d used first) did not quite capture the essence of “ಕಕ್ಕಾವಿಕ್ಕಿ”. Given how wonderfully felicitous “stricken” now feels, I can only thank Kaka for his deep and appreciative reading of my translation.
I’d also like to thank Appa (my father) for his (unusually) serious involvement with this particular poem – which, incidentally, he too now knows by heart for having heard me sing it so often! Not only have his insights and commentary helped me better understand several portions of the poem, they have also given me the chance to correct some missteps I took when I first tackled the translation. (It goes with saying that the translation has benefitted from these corrections.) And, of course, his lively interest in the poem and my translation has allowed for several long talks about Bendre, his poetry, my poetry, my translations, and a host of other things.
Afterword: (Published on May 2, 2019)
Here is an email I sent my aunt, relating how the translation came to be. I trust it will interest at least some of you.
i hope you enjoy it, anjana! i look forward to hearing from you.”