At about this time last month, i.e. September 2021, I was wondering if the measured progress of my website’s (www.darabendreinenglish.com) statistics would allow me to celebrate it reaching a total of 50,000 views by the end of the year. Given that some 8500 more views were needed to get to 50,000 and the average monthly views-count was about 1500-2000, I reckoned it would be around March 2022 when the milestone would be reached. Not having posted anything new for more than a year (and having acquired a degree of satisfaction about the monthly numbers), the forecast was something I was able to take in my stride. Indeed, I had recently achieved a state of (almost) detachment that allowed me to go a couple of days without even looking at the website’s numbers.
It is only in hindsight that the 25th of September stands out. Squat and insignificant as the day now looks on the bar graph (that shows daily views over a month), it would be the very first day that Bendre’s the ‘The Bird is Flying – Have You Seen It?’ (ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಹಾರುತಿದೆ ನೋಡಿದಿರಾ?) would occupy the top spot in the ‘most viewed posts’ section; jointly sharing the honour with ‘Song-Essence’ (ಹಾಡ-ಹುರುಳು) on that day.
But just like a bird can when it wishes to, so too would the ‘The Bird Is Flying’ poem begin to fly ‘up and away’ from the next day, soaring to precipitous heights with an abandon the more ‘earthbound’ poems could not hope to match. To wit – September 26 would see the poem gather 98 views, September 27 would see it get 99 views, September 28 would see it gloriously cross a hundred views (and reach 180 views) and it would gather 320 and 449 views to close out the month of September. And like a high-flying kite draws attention to the (earthbound) player-of-its strings, so too did the ‘Bird Is Flying’ poem draw attention to the other poems on the website and raise their profile (and, consequently, their views).
It’s been two weeks now since the ‘The Bird is Flying’ poem took flight – and the milestone of ‘50,000 views’ (that was predicated on steady, earthbound travel) has lost all relevance. Soaring high with outspread wings, the poem’s singular flight has lifted the website’s numbers to stratospheric heights and allowed it to surpass the 100,000 (or one hundred thousand or one lakh) views mark! And though I am still searching for what caused the ‘The Bird is Flying’ poem to finally spread its wings wide and fly like Bendre knew it could, I am overwhelmed (in rather dazed fashion), extremely gratified, and very grateful to the people and the circumstances that have given such an unexpected boost to my website and the translations therein. No matter what happens next (though I hope, of course, that the bird of Bendre’s poetry continues to soar), these last two weeks – should the statistics prove to be legitimate and not ‘bot-generated’ – have brought a certain ‘ಸಾರ್ಥಕತೆ (saarthakaté)’, a certain sense of fulfillment to a work that has been a long labour of love. Sure, it would have been even nicer if some of the more-than-thousand new visitors had left a comment to show they were there but then again – one mustn’t be greedy!
As serendipitous as it’s been for the purpose of this write-up that the relevant poem was so felictiously named ‘The Bird is Flying’ (though I do hope I haven’t overdone the metaphor!), I would like to conclude by quoting a few lines from another poem of Bendre’s; lines that seem to me especially appropriate for the occasion, given how one poem-feather set off a ‘domino effect’ that gave the other poem-feathers the chance to be recognized.
“Push them, blow them, make them fly, let them fly as much they will, these feathers that were born to fly, these feathers on a bird’s body.”
P.S: Almost exactly one year ago (October 12, 2020), I celebrated the fact that my website had been visited by 10,000 unique visitors! At the time, I talked about how it had taken about four-and-a-half years for the website to reach the milestone and how the 10,000 visitors hailed from 59 different countries. As I write this, the number of unique visitors has more than tripled and crossed 30,000 while the number of countries they have come from has risen from 59 to 71. All in all, it’s extremely gratifying.
A couple of months ago, I was (once again) complaining to my father about the lack of recognition, appreciation, and feedback for my translation-creations of Bendre’s poetry. I suppose I repeated what I’d told him before – the unresponsiveness (despite their promises) of the many Kannada litterateurs I had shared my translations with, the general apathy of the non-Kannada people I’d reached out to (on Facebook mostly) who seemed interested in such things, the disregard of other Indian-language translators I’d sent messages to, the negligible number of visitors to the blog-website who’d thought to write a message saying they’d been there and enjoyed my translations. It was then that Appa said something I knew – perhaps had even heard before – but had never properly recognized. “Madhava,” he said, “you have to realize that you are dealing with a very niche subject”.
It was no epiphany, but it came close. Appa’s words contributed to piercing the veil of disillusionment (and, to some extent, self-pity) I had allowed to mantle me. As I thought over what he’d said, I was able to return to the reason I had begun the blog-website in the first place: to popularize the sublime Kannada poetry of Da Ra Bendre.
I remember celebrating reaching 10,000 hits, a milestone the blog-website reached last December. At the time, it seemed like a significant milestone; especially since the website’s progression had been tortoise-slow for over three years. The initial indication that the website was gaining currency came in July 2019 – with a record 824 hits, the first time the monthly count had ever crossed 500. But it was the 1000 hits mark being breached the very next month that got my pulse racing. I began, for the first time, to check the stats on a daily basis – with some dread to begin but with pleasurable anticipation not long after. Happily, this upward trend did not falter – the blog-website continued to record over a 1000 monthly hits and I was soon preparing my write-up for when the blog reached the milestone of 10,000 hits. (In the thirteen months, not including this one, that have passed since August 2019, the only time the website did not record 1000 monthly hits was July 2020; when it recorded 990.)
Returning to what Appa said, his observation did not negate the desire to be recognized and appreciated so much as it tempered the desire. (Indeed, it would be somewhat unnatural on my part to not want my work to receive recognition – or even be published!) Consequently, it should not surprise anyone that I continue to look at the website’s stats regularly, check to see which translation-creations are currently in favour, and try to find ways to best promote the blog-website. What I have tried to change, however, are my attitude and my approach. I have decided to celebrate the support and appreciation that I do receive (from a small but wonderful group of friends and rasikas) rather than lament the appreciation I don’t.
Speaking of celebrating, I’m writing now to celebrate a different10,000, one that is perhaps more meaningful than the number of hits. It is the total count of unique visitors to the blog-website since its inception in April 2016. It is also an indicator of the blog-website’s scope, its extent, its reach.
10,000, ten thousand, ಹತ್ತು ಸಾವಿರ (hattu sāvira): that is how many people have visited my blog-website and read Bendre’s poetry in its English avatar. The statistics tell me that these 10,000 people hail from 59 different countries, including St. Lucia, Brunei, and Serbia. Assuming, generously, that at least half of them already knew of Bendre and knew how to read Kannada (though I suspect that estimate errs on the high-side), it would mean that my blog-website has introduced both Bendre’s poetry and the Kannada language to some 5000 people around the world! And while none of these non-Kannada readers-who-aren’t-my-friends has written to me personally, it is nonetheless very gratifying to know that Bendre’s poetry has reached so many people (and hopefully moved some of them with its magic).
I’d like to end with an anecdote. About two months ago, my friend, Aditi, relayed her birthday wishes via a quite lovely voice message. Of the many nice things she said in her message, one was that “Bendre must be so proud of your work”. It was the first time somebody had expressed the thought in so many words. Recalling her words in this context, I’d like to think that Addy was right and that Bendre would be proud.
This is my English translation of my own Kannada essay. I wrote the essay at the request of Kuntady Nithesh, editor-in-chief of the online Kannada magazine “ಋತುಮಾನ”. It was published on Jan 31, 2020, Da Ra Bendre’s 124th birth anniversary. I thank Nithesh for his ಸಹೃದಯತೆ (sahrudayate) and his goodwill.
I have tried to keep the translation as literal as possible. I have added audio recordings everywhere. Please note that the wordplay in a few poem-excerpts makes them untranslatable; however, it is sufficient to listen to their sound. Also, a couple of other translations are less “rigorous” than those I usually publish.
Finally, here is a guide for those who’d like to read Kannada written using the English alphabet (like has been done here).
It must have been about ten years ago. I was studying for my BA degree at the time. One day, I’d put the music on in my room and was working on something when a Kannada bhāvagīte (a lyric poem set to music) came on. Its rhythm attracted me and I stopped to listen to it more carefully. I found the words to the song unfamiliar and could hardly grasp more than a few of them. However, I was smitten by the song’s wonderfully attractive rhythm and listened to it several times over. As I did so, the two lines (above) were the only ones I was able to catch clearly. For some reason, listening to them sent a thrill through me. With repeated listening, they became a part of me. This was my first meeting with varakavi Bendre(’s poetry). I think it was the middle of 2013. A friend of my father’s sent me a book that was a collection of writings about Bendre and his poetry. Having only just learnt to read Kannada reasonably well (though I’d been speaking it from when I was very young), a perusal of that book introduced to me both Bendre the man and his poetry. I began to take a pride in him and enjoyed the excerpts of his poetry I found among the essays. A few (praise-filled) writings especially excited me. I was now eager to learn more about Bendre and his poetry. By about 2015, I was making headway in my Kannada reading. A significant portion of what I read concerned Bendre. At the time, I read more about Bendre’s poetry (including critical appraisals) than I read Bendre’s poetry itself. There was a reason for this: I knew very little then about both Kannada poetry and the Dharwad register of the Kannada language. I’ve already mentioned the book my father’s friend gave me. That aside, I’d managed to lay my hands on a copy of Bendre’s ‘gangāvataraṇa’ that had been lying about the house. Sunaath Kaka’s blog too had come to my attention. On a trip I’d made to ‘Sapna Book House’, I’d had the luck to come across the collection “sūryapāna“ which contained the poem ‘The Dance of the Bear’. I was also browsing the web for articles about Bendre and his poetry. All told, Bendre was someone I had begun to feel close to. At the same time, my own “poetic conceit” had begun to show itself. Which is to say – the desire of several years had finally come to fruition and my own poetry had begun to “stream forth”. The language of my poetry, though, was English. (The English language itself was something my mother had bequeathed me.) But why did what until then was a quiescent underground stream suddenly spring to life? It’s my opinion that it was because, at the time in question, the language of my reading (Kannada) and the language of my thinking (English) were different languages. In other words, in some strange almost inexplicable way, the two languages closest to me melded with one another and, offering inspiration, brought out the poetry that had stayed hidden within. What’s more, my close, parallel association with Kannada gave the English poetry I wrote at the time a colour it might have otherwise lacked.
rasika, let my troubles stay my own,
I will give you just their song! And if that melts your sugar-heart,
send drops of sweetness back along!
(from the “sakhīgīta” collection, pub. 1937)
Bendre had a special affection for the rasika-sahrudaya. Like the lines above demonstrate, he has directly addressed the rasika in several of poems and called to them to participate in the ‘Kāvyōdyōga (The High Yoga of Poetry)’ that he was engaged in. Literary readers may be generally divided into two categories: critics and rasikas. Those part of the “rasika group” are keen to experience the feeling literature inspires, to partake of the happiness it provides; they do not concern themselves too much with its provenance, its reasons, and its ‘defects’. In a word: their point of view is innocent, innocuous. Those in the “critics group” possess a more trenchant point of view. It is not enough for them if literature simply provides happiness; its intentions, its scope, its novelty, its sensibility – all these are equally important. It is their belief that the merit of a work of literature must be recognized by an evaluation of these aspects. These two groups are not completely disparate. It is possible for a rasika to be a critic and it is just as possible for a critic to be a rasika. However, the number of people who are both rasika and critic in equal measure is extremely small.
It is fair to say that my temperament has, from the very beginning, been that of the ‘rasika‘, the ‘sahrudaya’, the ‘kindred spirit’. (Especially so in the case of poetry.) Consequently, I have always preferred enjoying a poem’s beauty, the felicity of its words, its rhyme and rhythm and euphony and have never had the desire to examine it critically by ‘taking it apart’. In the case of Bendre’s poetry, Shankar Mokashi Punekar’s ideas gave credence to this natural approach of mine. I first became acquainted with Punekar’s writings through an essay of his in the book “To say Bendre’s to say…”. His essay titled ‘The Study of Bendre’s Poetry’ was one I thoroughly enjoyed, especially because it illustrated the intimate relationship Mokashi Punekar had had with Bendre’s poetry. Reading his essay kindled an especial appreciation of and enjoyment for Bendre’s poetry in me too. In the days to come, I sought out and read other essays Punekar had written about Bendre. Common to every single essay was his faith (in Bendre and Bendre’s poetry), his affection, his loving belief, his kinship.
However, reading Shankar Mokashi did not preclude me from reading what other writers and critics had said about Bendre. I also read the writings of Kurtakoti, G.S Amur, Pu.Ti.Na, Adiga, Ki. Ram. Nagaraj, GSS and others. I enjoyed some of them and even learnt from them. But in none of their writings did I find the intimacy, the rasika perspective, or the ‘flashes’ (of both language and insight) that I found in Shankar Mokashi’s writings. Which is why, as far as I am concerned, Shankar Mokashi is the man who gave me the gift of Bendre’s poetry. He is the ‘master-rasika’ who nurtured my natural rasika instinct and for that I will always be grateful to him.
kṛtiya racisade kṛārthave jīva? rasa vima– rsheyu rasada yōga koḍaballudē?
is life fulfilled without creativeness to fill it?
is analyzing rasa the same as drinking it?
(from “kṛti“, “uyyāle” collection; pub. 1938)
I began to feel particularly close to Bendre’s poetry when I began to translate (and transcreate) his poems into English. It seems to me that my beginning this work was destiny. In any case, by June or July of 2015, I had reached the point where I was writing, on average, one original English poem a week. Like Bendre says in the excerpt above, I had, with these poems of mine, achieved a fulfillment of sorts. At about the same time, my study of the Kannada script and my reading about Bendre had reached the ‘next’ level. Even as I was asking “what next?”, I asked myself why I shouldn’t try to translate a poem of Bendre’s into English – which is what I went ahead and did! However, that attempt was simply incidental; a one-off, “why not?” sort of attempt. (It certainly wasn’t work I’d taken on in ‘serious’ fashion.) My hunch is that I was, at the time, looking for a creative engagement with Bendre’s poetry – because, let it be remembered, I had until then read much more about Bendre’s poetry than directly engaged with it. In the event, my attempt (to translate a poem of his) was a way of plugging this gap. The poem I chose to translate then was ‘nānu (I)’. Part of the ‘Gaṅgāvataraṇa’ collection, a documentary made in 1972 shows Bendre himself reading the poem out loud, even as he gesticulates in that singular manner of his. (As far as I know, this is the only video recording of Bendre reciting his own poetry. When he lived, his manner of reciting or singing his own poems was at least as famous as the poems themselves.) In all likelihood, I chose the poem for the very reason that I’d seen and listened to his recitation of it. Even now, I remember trying to translate the poem using the rhythm of Bendre’s recitation as my touchstone.
The most notable difference between the English and Kannada languages is phoneticism. The makeup of Indic languages means it is possible to represent a sound the tongue makes by means of a single symbol. Languages of this kind are called phonetic languages. On the other hand, in English, it is very possible that several symbols (in this case, letters) are needed to representa single sound. Languages of this sort are called non-phonetic languages. Succinctly, the character of the English and Kannada languages are very different. From the very beginning, I had a clear goal – that the English translation or transcreation I make capture as fully as possible the poetic qualities inherent in the Kannada original. In the transcreation of ‘I’, Bendre’s recitation served as an aid. It was by paying special attention (and respect) to the rhythm of that recitation that I undertook my English transcreation. As I continued on, I wondered about what it would mean to use accents to add a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ to my translations and transcreations. (I had already begun to do this in the original English poetry I was writing.) As I began to translate and transcreate more poems, I learnt what kinds of challenges I’d have to face, the sorts of experiments I could try, and what qualities of a poem (would) remain beyond the grasp of both a translation and a transcreation.
What do these lines mean? What have they set out to say? For the bee to travel from flower to flower drinking their nectar is part of the natural order of things. In the poem, the poet has made a metaphor of this extremely natural action (of the bee’s). To the poet, the poem is the nectar-filled ‘[lotus] flower’ calling the rasika ‘bee’ towards itself. It appears that the poet himself is curious and excited about the ‘new creation’ that will result from the bee bending over and drinking the nectar. Speaking for myself, the (idea of a) ‘new creation’ interests me more than the ‘bee-pollen-flower’ metaphor. Like I’ve said already, ‘I (nānu)’ was my first translation. It would not be wrong to call that translation experimental. But once that was done, a ‘what next?’ surfaced. While I cannot remember exactly when in 2015 it was, my first great endeavour as a translator was the translation of the poem ‘gaṅgāvataraṇa’. What I just said may have raised a few eyebrows. A translation of the poem ‘gaṅgāvataraṇa’ (more famous as ‘iḷidu bā tāyi)’? You may have even chuckled to yourself and said, ‘Look here, fellow, did you manage to properly understand the [original] Kannada poem first? It’s only after that that translating it or creating an anuvāda or whatever comes. You get that, don’t you?’ What can I say now? I suspect I did not, at the time, fully understand the scale of what I was attempting, and that my bravado made me push forward. I thought to start with the first couple of lines and see where it went. I was soon done with the first stanza – by the end of which I had managed to create a corresponding English rhythm. But the second stanza held me up. It contained several unfamiliar words and several lines that suggested (rather than being obvious in their meaning). A quick scan of the rest of the poem brought further complexity to my notice.
It was at this juncture that Sunaath Kaka and his very own interpretation of the poem came to my aid! Reading through his explication helped the poem ‘open up’ to me. I returned to the translation. For every line that followed, Kaka’s detailed explication was the lamp that offered illumination. I continued on. The translation progressed easily – matching the original step for step, rhyme for rhyme, rhythm for rhythm. It wasn’t long before I reached the section of the poem that is an extraordinary blend of euphony, rhyme, rhythm and language. Kalinga’s Rao musical rendition of this section filled my ears. With Kaka’s explication in front of me, my fingers moved of their own accord, beating out words on the keyboard. To this day, I cannot explain exactly how I transcreated that section. A translation that should have difficult and presented the most acute challenge had, like the Gangé river, flowed on with an uninterrupted ‘swissshhh’. (It was about a year and a half after I translated the poem that I shared it with Kaka. I had, in the meanwhile, translated a few more poems with the help of his explications. He responded to my reaching out with a sahrudaya’s wonderful affection. His extravagant praise for the translation made me very happy. We began a friendly email correspondence. Kaka was the first ‘serious reader’ of my translations. His support was – and continues to be – a great help. I’d like to take this chance to offer Kaka an affectionate hug.) My ‘successful’ transcreation of ‘gangāvataraṇa’ was the springboard that allowed me to take off as a translator. At first, my translations flowed forth with the momentum and speed of a dam whose sluice gates had been opened. Though the momentum (and speed) lessened as time passed, the work I began then continues unimpeded today. Occasionally, the ‘kiss’ I have given a Bendre poem has resulted in a ‘new creation’ that is my English translation (or transcreation). Although, like every creation, it is likely to have its faults and rough edges, I can affirm that the act of creation has made me happy. In some particular instances, the joy I have experienced has almost overwhelmed me. All told, this ‘translatory journey’ has brought me closer to the the Kannada language. It has increased my affection for it. It has inspired me to experiment with (writing in) the English language and made my relationship with English a more intimate one. Most of all, it has, by offering constant opportunities to ‘create’, allowed me to keep the fire of creativity burning.
mugila bāyi gāḷikoḷala beḷakahāḍa bīri
the sky-mouth played the flute-of-wind;
it sent fórth a song of light.
(from “A Play of Sounds“; “nādalīle” collection; pub. 1938)
beḷaku nūlutide tulārāshiyali bhavya rāṭiyāgi.
light’s weaving in the tula zódiac,
it lòoks like a resplendent reel.
(from “Rays of the Eye“; “shatamāna” collection; pub. 2004)
beḷaku nāyi maimūsi barutalide shukra candrarante
Snìffing the skin comes the dog of light
lìke the stárs and moon of the night
(from “In the Garden of the Gods; “kāmakastūri” collection; pub. 1934)
navanavōnmēshashālinī – the ability to see with a new and renewing sight. This is what the ancients of India called pratibhā (a word that’s loosely translated as ‘talent’ but whose scope allows for it to be a synonym of ‘genius’). A poet achieves this ‘newness’ by means of conceits, similies, metaphors, and images. Bendre’s genius, to be sure, was a gift from the heavens; the genius of a heaven-touched poet. As for the newness of Bendre’s poetry, it corresponds to the ever-renewing newness of nature itself. The three excerpts above (from three different poems) illustrate my point. All three speak of light. But how different the three conceptions! It is likely to astonish anybody to learn that the same poet conceived of all three. Just as important is the novelty of these conceits. None of these is a well-worn ‘poetic cliché’. This novelty is what sets Bendre apart. Several commentators and critics have discussed Bendre’s originality. It is this quality that has irradiated Bendre’s poetry, has given his metaphors and similes their freshness and left his readers and listeners spellbound and astonished.
The chúrn and churning of the word brought forth a euphony
It felt a joy – it spread a joy – in its own lòve it was happy
It did not mean – it did not want – it was just lyric poetry
(from “The Lyric Poem“; “nādalīle” collection; pub. 1938)
“euphony – euphony – euphony is what we need | euphony is what we need to knead | a euphony needs a euphony to match”. Bendre may be the most singular ‘nādalōla‘ or ‘romancer of sound’ the Kannada poetic tradition has seen. He has given us more nāda (~euphony) than we could have asked for. That nāda has been the bumblebee’s guṅguṅ at one time and the koel’s kuhukuhoo at another, has resounded as the mrudanga’s tōmtanānā on one occasion and flowed on another occasion as the jum jumu rumujumu guṅguṅu dumudumu of the river-of-sound.
The bhaavageeta or the lyric poem was Bendre’s favoured form of poetic expression. Speaking generally, the form favours sound over meaning. That is to say, a lyric poet uses techniques like rhyme, rhythm, metre, and euphony to evoke (the reader’s or the listener’s) feeling. Bendre was a born poet. Like Shankar Mokashi said, he was ‘a true lyric poet’ (who could write a lyric poem about almost anything). At a time when poetry in Kannada (and other Indian languages) was, under the influence of the west, moving from ‘poetry to be sung’ towards ‘poetry to be read’, Bendre used his distinctive genius to create hundreds of modernlyric poems. What’s more, the flow of his poetry was as natural as a fount’s. Stitching together sounds, rhythms, rhymes, and words that came effortlessly to him, Bendre created a poetry that was variously complex, suggestive, melodic, intimate, simple, and many-meaninged. But, in the end, a bhaavageeta does not mean and does not want. In other words, every lyric poem is free – an untrammelled creation. It is a feather fallen from the bird flying in the “stretching cloth of sky [with] neither start or end”. It has one and only one aim: to spread joy.
(from “The Éla Song“; “gaṅgāvataraṇa” collection; pub. 1951)
The poet is a skilled worker. He is an artist. In his hands, a language can blossom, can take on new forms, can be infused with new vitality. The language a poet uses remains the people’s language while transcending it. Poetry offers space for suggestion, simile, and metaphor that everyday language does not. It allows for the use of rhythm, rhyme, and sound in ways that prose does not. In his use of language, no one has as much freedom as the poet does.
It is my belief that the “Ambikatanaya who mirror[ed] forth in Kannada the universe’s inner voice” lent the Kannada language the divine touch. The crown of varakavi – the poet given a vara, the heaven-touched poet – sits upon Bendre’s head like it can sit upon no other’s. His use of the Kannada language is unparalleled. He ‘burrowed deep into its [very] womb and drew forth [its] (inner) thread’. In my opinion, his poetry is a wonder of the world. What is more, he is, as a poet, na bhūtō na bhavishyati, i.e. ‘never before and never again’.
On occasion, I play a game as I read Bendre’s poetry. The game is to count how many tatsama words (words directly borrowed from Sanskrit) there are in the poem. I am astonished almost every time I play this game and cannot help but ask myself: ‘What is this! How in the world did he write such sublime poetry in the janapada, in the the spoken language of the people of the Dharwad region! How, when Kannada – in the tradition of every language the world over – had created a poetic literature by treading the classical path did he manage to use a dialect (Dharwad Kannada) of the language to create such magic! Has poetry of this sort ever been created anywhere?’
(For instance, the poem, ‘Jogi (ಜೋಗಿ)’ – labelled the poem of the 20th century [in Kannada?] – contains just ten tatsama words! Every other word is a ‘pure Kannada’ word. In order to properly understand the magnitude of this achievement, it is necessary not simply to read what poetry was being written in Kannada by Bendre’s contemporaries but to realize the emphasis that had been placed on Sanskrit all through the Kannada literary tradition – beginning with Pampa’s works in the 10th century AD. However, this doesn’t mean Bendre did not use Sanskrit in his works. As someone born into the vēdic tradition, Bendre is known to have called himself a ‘vēdavit kavi’, i.e. a poet in the manner of the vēdic poets and written poems in the incantatory metre of the sāmavēda.)
It seems fitting to end an essay that began with Bendre’s words with his own words.
kannaḍavu kannaḍava kannaḍisutirabēku.
Kannada must continue to mirror itself in Kannada.
(The translation of this last line is necessarily approximate; in no small part because of its play with the Kannada language and the pun within. For the curious, the pun comes about from the word ‘kannaḍi‘ being the Kannada word for ‘mirror’.)
I began the blog-website (www.darabendreinenglish.com) some three-and-a-half years ago on the advice of a couple of well-wishers who, appreciating what I was trying to do, suggested I move my work from the ephemeral illusion that is Facebook to the less-ephemeral reality of a blog. Since then, I have used this blog-website as a bit of a laboratory; that is to say, as a place to experiment with different ways to present and publicize (to the world at large) the English avatara-s of the remarkable Kannada poetry of Da Ra Bendre. What began in a flurry of enthusiasm (and posts) continues now, in calmer fashion, as a project of enjoyable creative labour and professionalism.
10,000! The last time I had something to do with this number was when I was being paid to find different ways to introduce it to students in Grade 4. (I think I prefer the number in its present context.) Unlike then, the number has arrived with unexpected speed. I remember the last time I took a screenshot of the stats of the website was when the number of hits was 4444. I meant to take the next screenshot when the number reached 5555, but I missed it by a whisker: when I got there, it showed 5556 hits. In any case, the way the traffic on this website has grown since that last screenshot has been extremely and pleasantly surprising. After being hit a record 465 times in June, the website was at the end of 824 hits in July. And when it rains it pours. Beginning August, the website has received at least a thousand hits every month! It is this consistency that has allowed it to reach the 10,000 mark even earlier than I’d reckoned. That these 10,000 hits have come from 4384 “unique” people living in 47 different countries is really quite gratifying.
If I may, I’d now like to say a little bit about Bendre and myself. The truth is that I began translating his poetry on a whim. I seem to recall that my first attempt happened sometime in the middle of 2015. At the time, I was reading a good deal more about Bendre (than Bendre himself) in Kannada while enjoying my most productive year as a writer in English. Looking back to that time, I believe my interaction with Bendre, his life and his Kannada poetry catalyzed – in some strange, wondrous way – the English poetry I had been waiting for for years.
Maybe it was this feeling that made me take a stab at translating a poem of his. (I had only ever translated a couple of short folktales previously.) Perhaps it was because I had been reading so much about Bendre and about his ways and his poetry and excerpts from his poems that I decided to go straight to the source. Because what had happened through my reading was that I had begun to revere Bendre in the same way I’d come to revere Gauss and Euler and Newton after reading about them and their work (as related by E.T. Bell mostly) and I think maybe I didn’t want that to happen with Bendre too. So where I didn’t pursue those mathematicians’s original work, I did Bendre’s – down previously unknown, unfamiliar paths.
The first poem I took up was “ನಾನು (I)“. It is not one of his “famous” poems, but it has the distinction of being the only poem whose recitation (by Bendre himself) was videographed. With this video to look at and a recitation to inform the rhythm of the translation (more accurately a transcreation), I went to work and came up with a translation that I considered reasonable. This translation (with a couple of tweaks) would go on to become the inaugural post on the website. But what really got me going was the success I made of transcreating what is perhaps Bendre’s most famous poem — “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ (The Descent of the Ganga)”. Begun rather impulsively, it was only with the help of Sunaath Kaka’s wonderful Kannada explication that I was was able to pull through — with the transcreation of some parts happening in a manner I myself found difficult to believe. (I’m referring here, particularly, to the portion of the poem that begins “Beloved into whose waters fell…”.) But that done, things just took off: I had properly begun my “creative engagement” with the poetry of Da Ra Bendre — Kannada’s ವರಕವಿ (varakavi: ~ heaven-touched poet), one of the world’s greatest lyric poets, and a ನ ಭೂತೋ ನ ಭವಿಷ್ಯತಿ (never before never again) phenomenon. Almost four years into this engagement, I am more or less convinced that it was destiny or fate or ಹಣೆಬರಹ (haṇebaraha: ~ writing-on-the-forehead) that brought Bendre and me together.
I’d like to conclude with a vote of thanks to the various people whose support and encouragement has vitalized this venture and given me reason to continue it. Yes, it is silly to use the number of “likes” and “hearts” and “comments” on Facebook to measure a work’s worth. But, at a time when I was just starting out and knew barely anybody capable of assessing this sort of work, it was these little taps of appreciation by friends (and the occasional stranger) that buoyed me, that helped my work, that made me keep at my translation and its publishing. (I can only imagine how pleased Bendre would have been to know that the English translations of his poetry had its own group of “ರಸಿಕ-ಸಹೃದಯ“s.)
So – my heartfelt thanks to all of you: the first readers of my work; the Facebook friends with their emoticon gestures of support; the people kind enough to write a comment telling me what they thought; the strangers from all over the world who “hit” this page and left without a trace; the sahrudaya-s generous enough to share a transcreation or two and spread the word; the very small number of bilingual Bendre-enthusiasts who’ve expressed their appreciation; the strangers-turned-acquantainces who’ve warmed my heart with their emails or messages; the recently-formed group of Bendre aficianados in Bangalore who have shown me such gracious affection; the friends and family who took the time to come to listen my talk at NIAS; the reader yet to come. Thank you.
To end, I would, at the cost of being accused of “partiality”, like to name some people whose support – each for a different reason almost – has meant more than they may ever know.
Amma, Appa, Zain, Danny L, Aruna, Jenny, Roshan, Babyshek, Rashmi, Sethappa, Roshan, Rajata, Anagha, Raakhul, Pratibha S, Sindhura, Lipi, Anjana, Vima Viveka, Sagaré, Acchu, Jyothi, Shubha awaré, Rajanna uncle, Sharada aunty, Sudhakar uncle, Vasudha awaré, Arvind uncle, Hema aunty, Gayathri chikkamma, Addy, Sandhya aunty, Ritu, Kiccha, Vidya ma’am, Tds, Amaaan, Sunaath Kaka, K Nithesh, Arch, Manisha, Vasant S, Rukmini ma’am, Latha ma’am, Jayashree ma’am, Harisha, Sangamesha, Mounesha, Suma awaré, Surabhi awaré, Raju NS, Gorky, Vyasa, Abhijeet K, Mangala N, Malini, Hamsa aunty, Himan, Rekha M, Nivi, HSR uncle, Tirumalesh uncle — my thanks again to each of you for being the ಸಹೃದಯ (sahrudaya) you’ve been.