To understand Ambikatanayadatta Bendre’s genius, it is vital to appreciate what may be called his “folk poetry”. (Indeed, to people who have not read his poetry but have only heard a couple of songs, he remains ‘just a folk poet’.) By “folk poetry”, I refer here to the poetry Bendre wrote using the idiom peculiar to the Dharwad region, an idiom that he single-handedly raised to rarefied heights. His use of the Dharwad idiom – essentially a regional vulgate – may be contrasted with his equally felicitous use of “High Kannada” (which, broadly speaking, refers to the Sanskritized Kannada that had been used through the centuries by some of the language’s best-known poets).
Imbued to overflowing with the sounds and scents of Dharwad, Bendre’s “folk poetry” may be characterized as the poetry that Yeats wished to write but couldn’t; a poetry that, deriving its ಸತ್ತ್ವ (sattva: ~ quintessence, lifeblood) from the people’s everyday speech and catalyzed by the poet’s peculiar genius, emerges as the expressive apex of a people’s culture. The poet, in such a case, is simply the “chosen one”, the representative” of his/her people’s poetic expression. Bendre himself alludes to this phenomenon in the foreword to his first poetry collection ‘ಗರಿ (gari: Feather)’. He says, “I have talked so far of ‘my poems’. That is simply a manner of speaking. In truth, these are not my poems; they are Kannada’s poems. The Kannada-language’s incorporeal voice is actualizing itself through a thousand throats. That my throat is one among this thousand is itself my blessing. That I am one among the group of poets singing in the dawn of Kannada’s renaissance is itself my source of pride. For if it were not so, why should anybody care about my poems? To say ‘my poems or ‘his poems’ is fallacious; for Kannada to lay claim to these poems is the truth.”
He makes mention of it again in his poem ‘ನಾನು (I)‘ when he speaks of how “as Ambikatanaya he mirrors here in Kannada the universe’s inner voice”.
All this talk above happened because the poem in question is basically drenched in the Dharwad (folk) idiom. Unsurprisingly, this gives the poem a warmth, a cosiness, a tenderness that eludes other more ‘serious’ poems.
As for the poem’s English translation (or, more correctly, transcreation), it may be useful to read what I said previously about such an undertaking. A point I did not make then but that needs to be made concerns the sheer impossibility of translating a poem’s native sound – regardless of whether the poem uses the vulgate or the formal form. Since “poetry is the suggestive sound”, the best the translator or transcreator can do is try to find equivalent sounds in the language the poem is being transferred to. In the case of a lyric poem especially, this “equivalency of sound” is perhaps the most felicitous way to convey the ಭಾವ (bhaava: ~ feeling, mood, spirit) that the original evokes in the native reader or listener.
While I am not sure the poem I just linked to did that very capably (though a friend of mine did say that the translation brought forth tears she had to hide from those around her by bowing her head), it’s my opinion that I’ve done a little better with this effort.
And now, on to the poem! I’ve (tried to) sing and recite both the original and the translation. Please make allowance for the background noise (and, if necessary, my singing). Thanks.
Kannada original (sung):
Kannada original (recited):
The Musk-of-Love (ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ)
(By the Field)
I’ve brought for you
a scented sprig
of the musk-of-love
When worn beautifully
upon your crowny crown
a little swirl of wind
will come my way and touch
and I will feel –
delighted – light – delight
People who talk
will talk and talk –
you are outside of them
English translation (sung):
English translation (recited):
(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)
Poem Details: From the collection “ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ”, first published in 1934.
This poem is the very first poem in the ‘ಕಾಮಕಸ್ತೂರಿ (kaamakastoori)’ collection. In his foreword, here is what Bendre had to say about the first “batch” of poems in the collection: “The first sixteen poems were not all written at the same time. [However], they all exist upon the same wave[length]. The rasika reader can use their imagination to weave a story or stories around the collection; each to their own taste. [After all,] like musk, kaama too is a quarter intoxicant, three quarters earthy soil, but nonetheless a pulsing heady fragrance! kaama (sensual desire) and prēma (love) are like the mud and the lotus. Or to use the ‘language of poetry’ – one is descriptive, the other suggestive.”
Note: On Jan 26, as part of my January picture series, I published the translation of this poem’s first stanza. In it, I chose to translate “kaamakastoori” as “the musk-of-love”. (Incidentally, ‘kaamakastoori” is also the quite lovely Kannada name of the fragrant “sweet basil” plant.) Given Bendre’s explicit mention of the relationship (and difference) between kaama and prēma, translating “kaamakastoori” as “the musk-of-love” (and thereby drawing an equivalence between “kaama” and “love”) complicates the translation of “prēma” – whose translation as “love” would be more accepted. However, since there is no mention of “prēma” in this particular poem, I have chosen to stick with “the musk-of-love”.
P.S: Strictly speaking, “kaamakastoori” translates to something like “the sensual musk” or “the musk-of-desire”; neither of which quite captures the tender feeling associated with the poem (like “musk-of-love” does). Speaking even more strictly, “kaamakastoori” is actually the Kannada name for the sweet basil and sweet violet plants. In the light of this information, it would perhaps be accurate for me to change the phrase “musk-of-love” to “sweet basil” or “sweet violet”. It is a rather happy circumstance that doing so would not significantly alter the metre of the translated poem. However, such a change would alter the suggestive nature of the phrase “musk-of-love”. It is keeping this is mind that I have chosen to retain “musk-of-love”.
If you have enjoyed this translation and the recitations, I hope you will consider buying my recently-released book (!) of English translations of selected Bendre poems. The book is titled The Pollen Waits On Tiptoe. If you are living in India, you can buy the book by going to this page.
THREE IMPORTANT MATTERS:
1. If you are living abroad, you will, unfortunately, not be allowed to buy the book on Amazon India. Therefore, if you would like one or more copies of the book, please write directly to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your details.
2. Buying 10 or more books will entitle you an overall discount of 30%. To avail yourself of this discount, contact MUP directly at email@example.com.
3. The book is also available as an ebook. The app hosting the ebook is called VIVIDLIPI and the book can be purchased at this link. (Since the publisher does not have an agreement with Amazon, I am afraid the book is not available on Kindle.)