Bendre’s English Bird Is Flying – Have You Seen It?

At about this time last month, i.e. September 2021, I was wondering if the measured progress of my website’s ( 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’d be around March 2022 when the milestone was 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.”

(6th stanza of the poem ‘Feather’)

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. reaches 10,000 UNIQUE visitors!

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 different 10,000, 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.

Da Ra Bendre in English hits 10,000!

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I began the blog-website ( 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.