Rasika (ರಸಿಕ)

When he lived, Da Ra Bendre was known for his temper and his enthusiasm to engage in a quarrel. He himself attributed this temperament, with no little pride, to the ಮಣ್ಣಿನ ಗುಣ (maṇṇina guṇa: ~ quality of the soil) of his beloved Dharwad. He was, to use a felicitous Kannada word, a ಜಗಳಗಂಟ (jagaḷagaṇṭa: ~a quarrelsome fellow). It is said that when asked once why he’d chosen not to spend time abroad as a poet-in-residence, he answered with, “What am I going to go and do there when I haven’t even finished with all my quarrels in Dharwad!” As he grew in stature as a poet, so did criticism of his work – often poorly informed and occasionally malicious. Never one to take an insult lying down, Bendre confronted these critics both in his poetry and in person.

Contrariwise, Bendre held a particular affection for the rasika**, the sahrudaya. Indeed, one could go as far as to say the rasika-sahrudaya, no matter their rank or qualification, was Bendre’s “favourite person”, the raison d’etre of his poetry. This is borne out not only by Bendre’s poems but by the many generous things he had to say about them in his prose writings. Here are a few excerpts.

Poetry is the rest-home built to bring the joy of happiness to the rasika, the kindred spirit.”

“Like the poet, the rasika too has the “illuminating eye”. He too has the facility to “get the eyes to open”.

“But the sahrudaya is not slave to his nature. His words are not those of praise or criticism. It is his nectarine-sight that serves as a poem’s touchstone. To be exposed to that sight is a grace, to be removed from it a curse.”

To all those sahrudayas who have continued to welcome the poems of ‘Ambikatanayadatta,’ ‘Bendre’ conveys his gratitude: that his scribesmanship is not simply a waste, that his happy, wanton singing is not completely fruitless.”

**The ರಸಿಕ (rasika: ~ one sensitive enough to appreciate the rasa) or the ಸಹೃದಯ (sahrudaya: lit. a person of the same heart) is a major figure in classical Sanskrit poetics. Indeed, it is he or she – with their capacity to grasp the essence, to appreciate the nuances, to experience the joy felicitously-written words can offer – who drives the creation of poetry. Yes, there would be no poetry without the poet – but (perhaps) there would be no poet without the rasika.

The poem below is one of several Bendre-poems about the rasika.

Kannada Poem’s Recitation:

Rasika (ರಸಿಕ)

My heart and your heart – a salt-ocean apart;
All song is like a forest-cry!
If everyone’s drowned in their own tears,
Which heart’s companion to friendship’s plea?

When will it come that wit that lifts
And strings the pearls within the soul’s recess?
More sharp than pin, more fine than thread;
Can such words bear the tongue’s impress?

Like a fragrant flower-garland’s sent,
Like melodies set out on flight,
I’ll send, rasika, with a happy sigh
These heartfelt words for your heart’s delight.

English Translation’s Recitation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ”, first published in 1938.

 

Paper Boat (ಹಾಳಿ ಹಡಗ)

Long before Jagjit Singh was singing a soulful ghazal about the lost childhood of paper boats and even longer before paper boat was a quirky, new-age brand with attractive packaging, Da Ra Bendre was writing a sonnet about the paper boat. Not a run-of-the-mill sonnet, mind you, that merely romanticized the innocence of his childhood days – but rather an image-rich oct-sestet (ಅಷ್ಟಷತ್ಪದಿ) that even now stands out for what Bendre himself described as “the strangeness of the twist imparted [when moving from the octet to the sestet]”.

Given the strangeness of this twist – its ಚಮತ್ಕಾರ (chamatkāra (n): ~ wonder) – and the various interpretations it allows for, I think this a good time to say something about what it means to translate poetry like Bendre’s — poetry that is not just remarkably euphonic but frequently rich in meaning, in suggestion, in allusion, in metaphor, in native imagery.

Like I say in the About section, my translation (or transcreation) has always looked to avoid the trap of “literalness” and offer, instead, the spirit of the original poem. But what if that spirit itself is one of mystery or elusiveness or ambiguity or complexity or all these things at the same time? Does “literalness” gain importance then?
Well, in such a case, I’d say the duty of the translation or transcreation becomes to retain, to the extent possible, the poem’s qualities, with the caveat that it never (deliberately) stretches past the original’s own reach. (An example of stretching past the original’s reach to create a kind of “fusion” is Fitzgerald’s rendering of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. He is said to have taken so many liberties with the original that his immensely-popular work is often referred to as the Omar-Fitzgerald Rubaiyat. Fitzgerald apparently called his work a “transmogrification”.)
The retention can be effected in different ways: by seeking to understand the poem’s nuances of meaning and suggestion and using that learning to create a translation that is itself nuanced, though perhaps in a different way; or, in the case of a poem that challenges the translator’s understanding, by offering a translation that challenges its reader in equivalent fashion.

This particular poem is one whose “strangeness of twist” I cannot claim to have “fully understood”. Consequently, I have tried to present a translation that retains – as literally as possible – the imagery of the original. After all, like I have said before, my reason for translating a Bendre poem is often my own desire to better understand the poem.

Kannada Poem Recitation:

Paper Boat (ಹಾಳಿ ಹಡಗ)

I will set sail these paper boats,
Like one would do in boyish play,
Until the cloud-hid sun shines forth again;
(The scrap of home will be its load.)
Within this mud-watered-unity
That marries the culvert and the lake,
Let the current chart its destiny:
What is a flimsy boat against a crazy rain-and-breeze?
Let the books account the profit and the loss;
What I praised in wonder-dance is here.

The heart, like cloth, crumples and fades,
The breath is dimmed by hunger and by thirst;
Building varied fairied lands, making channels
Flood happily, cutting and sniff-scattering
The jasmine-of-the-skies, and breathing life
Into the pictures of the mind, 
comes forth
A heaven that has birthed itself.

English Translation’s Recitation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection, “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ”, first published in 1938.

Gumma (ಗುಮ್ಮ)

The literature of the Navōdaya period (that began in the early 1900s) in Kannada literature was inspired by the emergent literature of the Bengal Renaissance as well as by the Romantic tradition of English poetry. This inspiration extended to the verse forms of the Romantic tradition and included the sonnet.

As the foremost lyrical poet of Kannada’s Navōdaya period, and an inveterate seeker (and inventor) of new poetic forms, Bendre’s experiments with the sonnet began in the early 1920s. However, it was in his 1938 collection “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ (Uyyāle: The Swing)” that the sonnet-fruit swelled forth in all its fullness. Naming his avatāra of the sonnet the ಅಷ್ಟಷಟ್ಪದಿ or the oct-sestet (and, by doing so, choosing the Petrarchan form over the Shakespearean), Bendre says in his introduction that “the new qualities [of his sonnets] are their lack of rhyme, their unpredictable use of enjambment, and the strangeness of the twist imparted [when moving from the octet to the sestet]”.

As a translator, I will admit that the sonnets of “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ” have provided respite of a sort. In particular, Bendre’s (deliberate?) eschewal of his famous, near-ubiquitous (end) rhyme has allowed the translation – or transcreation – to stretch its limbs a little bit more, to spread itself with a little more freedom in its attempt to emulate the various ways and plays of a Bendre poem. Conversely, this eschewal has often been (more than) compensated for by a denseness of thought and language! In any case, I have looked to approximate the technical dexterity of these poems using what may be called a rhythmic “free verse”. (Bendre may have chosen to forego rhyme but his preternatural sense for rhythm and aurality remained.)

Here is a sonnet from the collection that illustrates some of what was said above. While the English word bugbear works as a translation for gumma, I have retained the original for its flavour.

Kannada Recitation:

Gumma (ಗುಮ್ಮ)

Keep quiet, kanda, the gumma’s come; oh my, what
Are those eyes of his! How red his tongue – like embers
In the darkness black! Faking slowness, he comes (and
comes); keep quiet, kanda, don’t you cry! He might just
Come here if he hears your wail; Oh my oh my!
Shut your eyes tight, just fall asleep, don’t ever see
His misbegotten face; here he comes, oomph-hmmphing,
Stay calm, kanda, don’t even peep, the gumma nears.

Don’t come, gumma, he’s gone to sleep; this is mira–
Culous! Like fish gulped in to a water-whirl,
His mind’s at rest; his breath is like a baby-breeze
Swirling through the leaves; it’s acting crazy now –
With what dream-girlfriend’s breathing is it twinned;
There too, gumma, make sure that kanda is not scared.

English Recitation:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection, “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ”, first published in 1938.

Beyond the Mind (ಅಚಿಂತ್ಯ)

Among Shankar Mokashi Punekar’s many affectionate and insightful quotes about Bendre’s poetic genius is his description of Bendre’s poetry as “a poetic essence born of the constant embrace of the heart (ಭಾವ) and the intellect (ಬುದ್ಧಿ)”.

Interpreted judiciously, one may understand this to mean that every poem of Bendre’s holds within it, in varying degrees, elements that appeal to both the heart and the mind; that both stir the heart and stimulate the mind. Given the exquisite romanticism of Bendre’s lyric poems and the intellectual inquisitiveness of his early sonnets and later poems, Punekar’s assertion seems very reasonable.

This particular poem seems a good example of the “intellect” of Bendre’s poetry. Like Bendre says himself in his foreword to “ಮೂರ್ತಿ  (mūrti: ~ idol)” – a set of connected poems that, through their exploration of the birth, life, and death of a stone, allegorically describe the human experience – this “first part of the [longer] narrativepoem is the philosophical face of a metaphoric symbolism”.

It is worth noting that the fifth stanza with its several Hindu philosophical references was particularly challenging to transcreate leave alone translate. Once again, it is the liberties the English language allows me to take with it that makes translations like these that much easier.

Kannada Recitation:

Beyond the Mind (ಅಚಿಂತ್ಯ)

No one has seen the truth,
The truth cannot be seen;
Is it smaller than a grain of sand?
The prideful man who says
That he has seen the truth;
Are the secrets of a grain of sand
Mórsels for men’s eyes?

You silver-tongue who thinks
You’ve caught within your net of words
That truth that goes beyond the sight!
He alone knows who knows
The truth of truth is beyond truth;
And you say that you have caught its breath!

Pick up a grain of sand,
Enclose it in your fist;
What does it say? What is
Its goal? Its life? Tell us from which
Despoilèd golden age emerged this
Debrised gleam that you now hold!

Hari’s the greater, Hara’s the greater
Are just lines that’ve been written down;
Must life be wasted arguing them?
What is dual is not dual,
The dual is always undual:
No dance of numbers need tell us this.

O unknowable, unseeable, unknowandseeable
That opens with a new magnificence at every sight!
O limitless, peaceful light-of-life seeking immortality!
O unthinkable, ineffable, unapprehendable!
Let everything be well.

English Recitation:

Note: Hari and Hara are the different names for Vishṇu and Shiva respectively – two of the three gods that make up the ತ್ರಿಮೂರ್ತಿ (~trinity) of the classical, Sanskritized Hindu tradition. From the early centuries AD, devotees of each god (in his myriad forms) have argued, debated, quarrelled, and written poetry describing their god as the greater and the other as the lesser.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the episodic narrative-poem, “ಮೂರ್ತಿ”, first published in 1934.

Hothot Sky (ನಿಗಿ ನಿಗಿ ಮುಗಿಲು)

Original Kannada Poem:

Hothot Sky (ನಿಗಿ ನಿಗಿ ಮುಗಿಲು)

Hothot sky
Hothot day
Pours forth an emberous heat;
Strips all cover
Steals all power
The life-breath’s fully beat;

Dries the throat
Drops the fruit
The hot breath of the air –
Full-flaming
Sky-swimming
Is arriving in fine flair.

Showers the rain
Uplooks the grain
The dark clouds break and burst;
Cheep-cheep the birds,
Their laughter-words;
Here’s mercy for the cursed!

Transcreated English Poem:

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ನಾದಲೀಲೆ”, first published in 1938.

Afterword:

ಹಾಡೆ ಹಾದಿಯ ತೋರಿತು (haaḍē haadiya tōritu: ~ the song itself showed the way) said Bendre of (his) poetry. The variousness of his poetry’s metre, rhythm, rhyme, prosody, and syllablism testify to the truth of this statement: the song really did show him the way. All too often, all he did was follow its lead.

In this particular poem, it may be argued that the short (staccato-ish) syllabic lines lend the poem an urgency – alluding, at first, to the withering heat and, later, to the wet relief of the rain. In any case, the poem is a wonderful example of the famous ನಾದ (nāda: ~ euphony) inherent to Bendre’s poetry. Just listen to that assonance, that rhythm, that rhyme, that onomatopoeia!

In this transcreation, a particular concern was to mirror the (short) syllablism of the original poem’s lines. Trying to work the English language to achieve such effects is an especially satisfying aspect of translating Bendre’s poetry.

The Child-Widow (ಪುಟ್ಟ ವಿಧವೆ)

Begun almost two years ago, this translation is perhaps my most facile one – in the best sense of the word. I remember how I began it in my room, sitting at my desk underneath the skylight as the setting sun’s colours filtered in through the window to my right. By the time I was done translating the first ten stanzas of the poem, the dark had filled the room and my mother had switched on the lights downstairs. I remember my own astonishment at the “beautifully smooth procession” (as I told my mother) of the translation and the satisfaction the effort brought me.

The translation, however, remained incomplete – for want of my understanding the last stanza.  I kept the piece aside, revisiting it on occasion but never quite getting around to understanding the last stanza. It was only some two months ago that I finally got around to writing to Sunaath Kaka, a much older internet-friend and Kannada blogger who has been publishing his wonderful (occasionally idiosyncratic) explications of many of Bendre’s famous and less-famous poems. His beautifully detailed reply completed the puzzle and helped me translate the last stanza of the poem – without doing injury to the poem’s rhythm. I thank Sunaath Kaka for his help and his friendship.

Otherwise, I will let the poem speak for itself.

As usual, I have added the audios of my reciting the poem.

Kannada Recitation:

English Recitation:

(Note: This is the 25th translation I’ve put up on this website; published to coincide with Da Ra Bendre Ambikatanatyadatta’s 123rd birth anniversary.)

The Child-Widow (ಪುಟ್ಟ ವಿಧವೆ)

She was just a little child, he just a growing boy;
But for their parents – oh what joy!
To marry them off in the name of what’s right
Gave those parents a féstival’s delight!

A necklace, cheek-powder and a nose-ring;
Followed by kunkuma — how winning!
But the play and the frolic of that small little wife
Seemed to the eyes to hold so much more life!

The little girl grew up, the boy was not much older;
The nuptials were such a treat for the elders!
(As though the dullness on the bridegroom’s face
Could take away from the marriage-feast’s taste?)

Not even a year before a child was born!
“This must be god’s handiwork,” said everyone.
But as the child came in, the father moved on;
The sea of milk turned into a salt ocean.

In a couple of days, in the manner of his father,
The child too moved on; what now for the mother?
Her body turned sepulchre of breath; life a bee,
Full of sting — devoid of honey.

Ayyo! I have died,” the child-mother said,
And she wailed and pounded her fists on her head;
And swore crazily and loudly and gnashed her teeth
And cursed at herself until she was out of breath.

In ten days, she had lost the wretched status of wife
And had gained, instead, the title of widow-for-life;
Her family was learned, the village had a long tradition;
When the shāstras were there, what need for discussion?

Her headdress was lost, her brow charcoal-smeared
A red-coloured saree became her daily wear;
But oh, how sad, she was still just a baby
With no jewels or dresses; but that’s a different story.

The little girl wore out the rest of her life as
Though she’d been born to pestle parched rice;
She threaded and pulled coloured flowers over thorns
As though that was the reason for which she’d been born.

And when the child-widow went to the temple
To hear the purānas being told, the decorated idol
Lost its shine; and the reciting priest’s throat grew dry
When he saw the thread-of-tears on her necklace-of-sighs.

Overwhelmed, she stood – a memorial to
A dharma turned blind; an owl-cry came through;
The blessing-hand’s eyes looked full in her face –
The capers of Krishṇa would soon gather pace!

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಸಖೀಗೀತ”, first published in 1938.

ಅಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರೀತಿ ಇಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರೀತಿ (This Much Love, That Much Love)

A charming little rumination on love. As the audio hopefully reveals, the original poem is notable for the “happy trot” (to coin a phrase) of its rhythm – a quality I have looked to retain in the translation.

Also – while it is worth mentioning that the notes accompanying the poem say it is “incomplete”, it seems to me that there is enough in the poem to make that claim both true and false.

Original Kannada Poem:

This Much Love, That Much Love (ಅಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರೀತಿ ಇಷ್ಟು ಪ್ರೀತಿ)

Do not, counting, frown and say
This much love and that much love;
Love, be loved and stay happy.
What you have, that is your lot,
The light you have is your own day
All other light’s just needless grey.
Your house is simply where you are,
Your playground where you play;
The rest’s the backyard, so to say.

Does a string of pearly pearls
Add lustre to a kiss?
Does kissing eyelids that are moist
Undo the kiss’s swell?
Can a fragrance not be found
In tears that boil and well?
Gems and jewels, gold and all
Are glories of the mud and sand,
So, listen to me, foolish man
They’re all just fake – all just a joke
Just a vanity of life,
Love’s the real real of life.

The seven heavens, the seven hells
Are the light and dark of love;
The ages and the union’s reaches
Are its fortressed moat and tower.
I climbed upon a throne and sat
My thigh sat on its thigh;
All right, I thought, but what is here
Not there in love’s embrace?
I closed the eye within my heart
For this or that I praised;
Let there be a little hut
Beneath a spreading tree,
Can love not play and frolic there,
Can merriness not find its share?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ನಾದಲೀಲೆ”, first published in 1938.

Afterword:

Here’s my recitation of the translation.