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:
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 in 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.
© Madhav K. Ajjampur