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 audio of my reciting the poem.
(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.