Song–Essence (ಹಾಡ–ಹುರುಳು)

I am fairly certain no other “major poet” in world history has written as many poems concerning the rasika, the sahrudaya, the kindred-spirit as Bendre has. Indeed, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Bendre’s raison d’etre for writing and publishing his poetry — especially in his later years, after people had begun to call his poems complicated and incomprehensible and obfuscatory — was his belief that the best (kind of) poetry was a ‘give and take’ between the kavi (poet) and the sahrudaya (the appreciative kindred spirit). This sentiment is supported by Bendre’s many ‘statements’ on the subject in his prose writings as well as by the several poems he wrote about it.  Indeed, I myself have published two of those poems on this very website. They are The Pollen Calls and Rasika. (In both poems, we see Bendre speaking to the rasika: in allusive fashion in the former and more directly in the latter.)
What’s more, please note that in the introduction to Rasika, I have offered some samples from Bendre’s prose that express his views about the relationship between the poet and the rasika.

Now with this poem, it seems to me that Bendre “goes a step further” in expressing his relationship with the rasika. To see what I mean, please read the afterword. But first — here are the poem and its translation.

Note: I am very pleased to say that I have finally managed to collaborate with both Amma and Appa on the same poem. Specifically, Appa has played the part of the rasika in our Kannada ‘duet’ and Amma has played the same part in our English ‘duet’. I’ve played the part of the poet (kavi) in both. I hope you enjoy both recitations!

Recitation of the Kannada poem:


Song–Essence (ಹಾಡ–ಹುರುಳು)

Poet:
You sat listening to my songs,
I sat to listen to you sing;
as though in echo of the joy I felt,
I saw that your éyes were dancing.

Rasika:
You’ve created your new poetry to
the rhythmed-beat of my dancing eyes;
does the koel not sing in the burgeoning spring?
That song you sing’s not yours – it’s mine!

Poet:
The essence of a peeled sad-happiness is joy;
the same reflection’s found in every heart!
The song-essence was forgotten in your gaze,
my throat has now become your flute.

Recitation of the English translation:


(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

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

Afterword:

It seems to me that this poem is more intimate than the two other (translated) poems concerning the rasika. To elaborate, in Rasika, we see the poet speaking not simply of the every heart’s need for ‘a kindred spirit’, but his own specific need for the rasika, for ‘the kindred heart’ ready to accept the ‘song offering’ he wishes to send forth. The poem ends in the suggestion that the poet’s final happiness lies in the rasika‘s wholehearted embracing of the poem that has been sent forth. Or, looked at another way, while the poem showcases the rasika as a figure essential to the poet (and, consequently, his poetry), it also positions him as the ‘taker’, as someone who is ‘on the outside looking in’ and accepting the ‘gifts’ that come his way.

In this poem, however, we see the rasika ‘coming in’ from the outside. He is now an integral part of the poem and inseparably involved with its creation. Indeed, the poem can be understood as a symbiotic “dialectic” of sorts — where neither the poet nor the rasika is the single creator of the poem but, instead, engage in a ‘give and take’ (through a mirrored partnership) that is ultimately responsible for the creation of the poem. Indeed, the “action-reaction” nature of the exchange allows us to think of the poem’s creation as the result of a (continuous) back and forth: poet — rasika — poet — rasika — poet and so on. Or, looked at another way, the poem is indicative of Bendre’s stance about poetry and its creation as a collaboration between the kavi and the rasika in such a inextricable manner as to allow them to exchange positions. In other words — their give-and-take partnership brings forth a poetry that neither of them could singly create.

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 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.

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.