The Fascinating Flute (Gopalkrishna Adiga)

If you are reading this translation, it’s possible you know I translate Da Ra Bendre’s Kannada poetry into English. If you don’t – and actually even if you do – I encourage you to read and listen to the poetry of the varakavi of 20th-century Kannada literature and one of the world’s greatest lyric poets.

However, the poem below, is not by Bendre but by Gopalkrishna Adiga, considered by many one of the best Kannada (as well as Indian-language) poets of the 20th-century and the doyen of the Navya movement, a poetry movement in Kannada that modelled itself on Europe’s modernist movement.

A tradition of setting poetry to music began in Karnataka in the early 20th century. Pioneered by Kalinga Rao and Hukkeri Balappa in South and North Karnataka respectively, this tradition came to be called “ಸುಗಮ ಸಂಗೀತ (sugama sangeeta)” or “easy-listening music”. Well-established and respected now, the tradition’s greatest achievement has been to take contemporary lyric poetry to the public. Several of Kannada’s greatest modern lyric poets – including Da Ra Bendre, K.S. Narasimhaswamy, Chennaveera Kanavi, and Chandrashekara Kambara – have benefitted from having their poems turned into a ಭಾವಗೀತೆs or bhaavageetes – a lyric poem set to music.
Of course, one can question the literary merit of more recent bhaavageetes, but that would entail questioning the literary merit (or at least the lyric quality) of more recent Kannada poetry itself; which is a matter for another day.

Anyway, this lyric poem by Adiga has a special place in the world of Kannada bhaavageetes. Since it was first released, it has come to be one of Kannada’s most recognizable and widely-sung bhaavageetes; its use in the 1995 hit Kannada film “ಅಮೆರಿಕಾ! ಅಮೆರಿಕಾ!!” or “America! America!!” served to cement its status. It is, by some distance, Adiga’s most well-known poem, not something he would have been particularly thrilled about. (As it was, he’d grumbled in 1991 itself about how its popularity had begun to mask the complexity of his later modernist poetry.)

Like it is with most bhaavageetes, only a portion of the poem’s been sung. Which is why, in addition to offering a Youtube link – in which only stanzas 1, 6, 7, and 8 have been sung – I have added an audio recording of the entire poem.

Original bhaavageete:

Kannada Poem’s Recitation:

The Fascinating Flute (ಮೋಹನ ಮುರಲಿ)

What fascinating flute was it that called you out to distant shores?
Which heaven’s garden wrought its pùll upon these gróunded eyes of yours?

A bed of flowers, sandal, the moon, tight-tangled limbs, a kiss;
within desire’s fenced-in field pláys this dance of the senses;

A soft-heart’s love, the touch of warmth of a cage of flesh and blood;
you said yourself that that sufficed! Why is it that you now feel bad?

What just what dòes it want to say the drift-sight of your rolling eye?
What ecstatic pain does it convey? A plea for which divinity?

Like fire dormant in the wood a despáir seems asleep somewhere;
when something rubs when something strikes an excìtement begins to flare.

Somewhére beyond the seven seas’s a sleeping simmering sea,
did the mute murmúr of its unformed waves come tràvelling all this way?

The life-breath’s now slipped out of hand; you’ve lost all command of your heart;
is to live to leave all that there is and reach oút for what there’s not?

What fascinating flute was it that called to you out of the blue?
Which heaven’s garden’s lightning-hand strétched itself forwards to you?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಕಟ್ಟುವೆವು ನಾವು”, first published in 1948.

English Translation’s Recitation:

P.S: This is the first time I’m publishing a translation of a poem that’s not by Bendre. (I’ve translated other poems and poets, but never published the translations.) I took it up not simply because it seemed a nice challenge but also because I thought it would pleasantly surprise a friend (and rasika) who’s a fan of Adiga’s poetry. So, yeah – this one’s for you, Aruna.