A simple, sensitive, beautiful little poem. I don’t know that I’d have paid as much attention to it if I’d only been reading Bendre rather than looking for poems of his to translate and transcreate. Indeed, I’d venture that nothing allows for a more active, wide-ranging creative engagement with a poem as translating it. I suppose it’s why I continue to do it.
Recitation of the Kannada poem:
Happiness – Sadness (ಸುಖ–ದುಃಖ)
In the shimmer of the shimmering dawn the flowers begin to show; they show their beauty, spread their scent – in the evening leave and go.
In the same way when youth is fresh desire sends out its shoot; flowering ripening fruiting passing, it grows old and is lost.
In the blowing of the wind no sadness can be found; when children laugh their pealing laugh there is always happiness around.
Recitation of the English translation:
(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)
Poem Details: From the collection “ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ”, first published in 1938.
The first line of the original Kannada poem — ಚುಮು ಚುಮು ನಸುಕಿನಲಿ (chumu chumu nasukinali) — is a good example of the sonic difference between the onomatopoeia a phonetic language (like Kannada) and a non-phonetic language (like English) can deploy. It is obvious that a phonetic language has a much greater onomatopoeic range and can create sounds that a non-phonetic language cannot replicate. Examples include ಕುಲುಕುಲು (kulukulu) for light laughter, ಪಿಸಿಪಿಸಿ (pisipisi) for whispering, and ಪಳಪಳ (paḷapaḷa) for something that glitters and dazzles.
In the case of this poem, you might have noticed that I’ve tried to compensate for this “lacuna” with a combination of alliteration and repetition, viz. “in the shimmer of the shimmering dawn”.
However, note that shimmer itself can be considered onomatopoeic (though the dictionary doesn’t say so explicitly). So too can the words whisper (the dictionary bears me out here) and glitter and dazzle. It’s just that, being non-phonetic, English finds it difficult to create, without compromising its peculiar temperament, the syllabic imitative words that phonetic languages can. (For instance, I chose “the shimmer of the shimmering dawn” over “the shim-shimmer of the early dawn” because the former seemed to better fit the English language’s natural temperament while the latter seemed a less-than-felicitous borrowing of a phonetic language’s tendencies. However, further consideration makes me see how the latter may be an equally good if not better choice.)
P.S: When I showed the translation to my mother, she observed (not critically but matter-of-factly) that the poem’s theme was rather “well-worn”. That’s true. However, the sensitive handling afforded the theme, the unusual third stanza, the understated presentation, and all-around assonance give the poem a singular flavour – not all of which could be captured in the translation.
One of Bendre’s poems from the early period, with a wonderfully original conceit. The peacock and the koel serve as metaphors. The language of the original is folksy Dharwad, and abounds in end-rhyme, assonance, and onomatopoeia (mina mina mina minchatitta: ಮಿನ ಮಿನ ಮಿನ ಮಿಂಚತಿತ್ತ). Though the onomatopoeia is untranslatable, I have looked to include a measure of assonance and end-rhyme in the translation. The unusual sentence-structure is a consequence of this attempt.
Also, here is a recording of my reciting (singing) the original Kannada poem. The tune, if one is discernible, is Mysore Ananthaswamy’s.
The Peacock-Smile (ನಗೀನವಿಲು)
Woman, upon your lips did play a peacock-smile; did play a smile, did flee a smile; did it look cloudward the while.
A-flash a-flash a-flashed the smile; did rise the smile, did fall the smile; did fall the smile, did glow the smile; did the land and waters gleam the while.
Within your eyes the coloured gaze did dance thakadimi dance; did dance and prance, did droop and fade; did play coquette at every chance.
On the tip of the mango-tree-of-the-mind did sit a kōel all alone; did sit and never sing a note; did gaze on you with look forlorn.
A living life was suffering; did wail all through the day and night; did wail all through, did flail all through: did search for something with its might.
With a rain of tears too did it pour forth its woe; did pour its woe, did plead its case: did wilt when no response did show.
(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)
Poem Details: From the collection “ಗರಿ,” first published in 1932.
One of Da Ra Bendre’s most famous poems, revealed to the world when he recited it at the close of his President’s Speech at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in 1943. Per his own admission, the rapturous reception it received left him reeling.
Here is a recording of my reciting the original Kannada poem.
Come down, mother, come down; from Hara’s locks, from Hari’s feet, from the rishi’s thighs, slide forth. Quench the devās as you come, wet the regions as you come, feed every being as you come, come down, mother, come down.
My salutations I offer you, I shall wear and wrap you, so do not hesitate, you, spill forth. Leave the heavens behind and come, plummet through the skies and come, stream along the land and come, come down, yes mother, come, come down, mother, come down.
Within the regions of my head, in front of and behind my back, up and down inside my blood, surge forth. Washing each atom of the eye, tuning every fibre of each sigh, sprouting words inside the mouth that’s dry, swell forth. Come, take your place within my breast, come, roll through the waters of my chest come, in my very quick do take your rest, come down, mother, come down.
Come as the lightning flashed, come as the whirling waters splashed, come – return – as the thunder smashed, come calling on the abandoned wretched, the devitalised aged, the waterless parched, come down, mother, come down.
Oh cow’s compassion for its calf, oh mother’s love on her child’s behalf oh grand benediction from high above, enfold us in your clasp. Shiva’s compassion unblemished, tinged only by Shakti’s slightest red, incarnate maternal-love full-blooded, come, come down, come down, mother, come down.
Come, none but you can wash us clean, come, every other power is mean, come, or we shall remain unclean; come, feed us in our very marrow, come, circle our land that’s lying fallow, come, breathe life into these deadened hollows.
Beloved, into whose waters fell reflections from the gods’s dream-well that made your pool of consciousness swell. Gangē, with new-opened eyes; Gangē, who now does span the skies ready to descend upon Bhāratī’s thighs from the starry-flowers of the holy pārijāta’s bowers that fed upon your showers. Worshipped by the tulsi garland, perfumed by mandāra’s scent, you alone are both parents. Born of an ecstatic rasa flood, you are none but the fluid fruit of Sacchidānanda–Brahma’s blood. Come on down, mother, come to play; come júst this once, I pray: for my tears of joy I cannot stay. Yes, mother, such a fall is what they meant when they talked of the avatāra, the descent.
Like a boon to one who’s prayed, like one in compassion bathed, like river full-filled and flooded, bouncing and uninhibited, rush forth. For your darling come a-searching, come a-searching, mother, come a-rushing.
Come, renew the breath of life, come, swell; and illuminate this life, come, show yourself as flesh and blood, come, wash your hands of all the mud, come, alight upon this earth for good, come down, mother, come down.
Come, Shambu-Shiva-Hara’s thought-consummate come, Datta-Narahari’s grandmother-great come, come, to Datta, son of Ambikā late, come down, mother, come down.
(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)
Poem Details: From the collection “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ,” first published in 1951.
Here is my recitation of the Kannada translation.
Note: I was only able to approach this translation thanks to the wonderfully thorough and fascinating Kannada explication provided by Sunaath Kaka on his blog. To receive his praise for this translation (when I shared it with him two years later) was particularly gratifying. My thanks to him.
The story of the Gangā’s descent – the gangāvataraṇa – is, along with the churning of the ocean, one of the magnificent triumphs of the Hindu mythological imagination.
Wildly and wilfully aswirl in the heavens, the beautiful (and arrogant) goddess Gangā is asked by Brahma to descend to the earth in answer to King Bhageeratha’s intense meditation. It is Bhageeratha’s wish that Gangā’s waters wet his forefathers’s ashes and relieve them of the terrible curse that has kept their souls from gaining release.
But prima donna that she is, Gangā (who is displeased by Brahma’s command) begins her descent by plummeting through the skies with a speed clearly too much for the earth-mother to bear. The consequence of her haughtiness is that she is caught firmly by Shiva in his thickly matted locks from where she tries, in vain, to escape. The unflagging meditation of Bhageeratha moves Shiva into releasing her earthward, in a controlled manner. Gangā, however, is not going to let anybody boss her and no sooner does she reach the earth than she charges forth in a joyous recklessness and disrupts sage Jahnu’s yagna.
Incensed, Jahnu swallows her whole – which forces Bhageeratha to once more begin his beseeching prayers, this time to Jahnu. In course of time, Jahnu too is moved to release Gangā who, finally chastened by her experiences, flows gracefully to where Bhageeratha is waiting with his forefather’s ashes. And having wet those ashes with her sacred waters and having helped Bhageeratha pay off his dues, she continues on her course – sanctifying every piece of earth she touches and making her home in the Hindu imagination as ತಾಯಿ ಗಂಗೆ, गंगा मैया, Mother Gangā, Gangā Ma, Gangā Dēvi.
The sublime Kannada poet, Da Ra Bendre, read out his prayer-poem “Gangāvataraṇa (ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ)” at the end of his presidential address to the Kannada Literary Congress in 1943. What followed, naturally enough, was a rhapsodic, rapturous reception that left him reeling. Moved to write the prayer by the Bengal famine of 1942, he calls like a present-day Bhageeratha upon Mother Gangā to descend again, metaphorically, and relieve the people of his land of their suffering.
Brimming with ನಾದ (nāda: ~euphony), ಪ್ರಾಸ (prāsa: ~rhyme) and ಲಯ (laya: ~ rhythm); flowing effortlessly like the Gangā herself; full of Hindu mythological references; and containing a devotion comprehensible only to the true devotee, no translation can do the poem adequate justice.
Nonetheless, I have attempted in this translation (which is more correctly a ಭಾವಾನುವಾದ or a transcreation) to convey some of the grandness of the poem. I confess that I was myself surprised by what I think are successful renditions of some particularly difficult parts.