Come be the Snakes that Strike (Dr. Siddalingaiah)

I began this week with the translation of a poem — to which I’ve just added the audio — by Dr. Siddalingaiah and I thought I would end it with another one. The title of this poem leapt out at me as I browsed through a book of Siddalingaiah’s poems. Actually reading the poem was an even more striking experience –  and made me almost certain I wanted to translate it. I will confess that the last couple of lines tripped me up (and I’m still not sure I’ve fully understood them), but, on the whole, I am rather satisfied with the translation. As far as I am concerned, this is both a greater and a more important poem that “ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು (nanna janagaḷu: My People)“, the poem’s whose translation I published at the beginning of this week. It may not be as popular – Siddalingaiah himself popularized ‘My People’ through his numerous public readings of it (none of which I was fortunate enough to witness) – but it is more poetic, more passionate, and certainly more filled with the imagery that prompted a critic to call Siddalingaiah ‘the emperor of the exaggerated conceit’.

This time, I decided to have a go at reciting the poem. I can’t hope to do it the justice that someone like Siddalingaiah (or even a ‘dalit’ who’s experienced what Siddalingaiah did) could, but it’s the best I can offer in lieu of a recitation by Siddalingaiah himself.

Recitation of the original Kannada poem:


Come be the Snakes that Strike (ಹಾವುಗಳೇ ಕಚ್ಚಿ)

All you —
who having heaved the sky and made it stand
           now stand yourselves having turned blue;
who having reddened black-coloured ground
           now flower as the plantain tree.

All you —
who when the sky rained pearly rain
           were struck down by the lightning;
who to burn in flame the prideful ones
           came down as the fiery rain.

All you —
who springing water in the ground and land
           grew the graceful golden grain;
who toiled and toiling turned to dust
           máde of your own hunger your food.

All you —
who to the masters’ outstretched cane
           offered up your back and arms;
come now and puff out your chest
           to the gunpoint that is waiting.

All you —
who lulled by mantras were dead to truth
           come be the fíre that flames;
who, by not being aware hid your envy away,
           cóme be the snakes that strike.

Recitation of the English translation:

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)

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