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)

The Rabbit and the Moon (Vaidehi)

Audio of the original Kannada poem:


The Rabbit and the Moon (ಮೊಲ ಮತ್ತು ಚಂದ್ರ)

The moon came over the mountain
he climbed the mountain and left

Here, right here, he stood
he was there silently
he looked like he was running
he moved like he was coming down

The moon left over the mountain
he climbed the mountain and came

He was playing in a silence,
washing his face-of-light
a moon-dot was on his forehead –
it was a summer’s night

The moon came over the mountain
he climbed the mountain and left

He rose from the clouds’s thisside
he slept between the clouds
waking, suddenly, he turned
into a child that laughed

The moon left over the mountain
he climbed the mountain and came

the moon came over the mountain
he saw a rabbit kid

Quietly – slowly – he said come,
he gently picked it up
(the wind swung in the sky)
rock, my darling, rock –
isn’t the world a sight!

The traveller came over the mountain
he climbed the mountain and left
in the terrace of the sky above
is the rabbit with the moon

Afterword:

Not too long ago, I published a translation of Vaidehi’s well-known poem, ‘ತಿಳಿದವರೇ … ಹೇಳಿ (You who clearly know … tell me)“, in which she professes to knowing much more about ತಿಳಿಸಾರು (tiḷisaaru: ~ clear saaru) than poetry. While that poem is obviously satirically self-deprecating and the poem’s conceit is clearly feminist, I am actually inclined to agree with Vaidehi’s assessment – speaking strictly in terms of “lyric poetry”. What I mean is: very few of Vaidehi’s poems would qualify as lyric poems, which are the kind of poems I like best (but which are, especially in today’s modernist or post-modernist or whatever times, perhaps the hardest kind of poems to write). From what I can tell, most of Vaidehi’s poems are “free verse” poems – almost prose-like actually. (This isn’t to say that Vaidehi is capable of writing lyric poetry – the sensitive nature of her prose is proof that she has the necessary sensibility.)

In any case, this particular poem is one of Vaidehi’s few lyrical poems (in that it moves to a rhythm). Perhaps the poem allows for a deeper reading, but from what I can tell, it seems to be a poem for children – which, then, explains its rhythmic nature. It’s also why I chose to sing rather than recite it.

An Evening Raga (K. S. Narasimhaswamy)

This is a translation of a poem by K. S. Narasimhaswamy (ಕೆ. ಎಸ್. ನರಸಿಂಹಸ್ವಾಮಿ), one of the greatest poets of 20th-century Kannada literature. I remember reading somewhere – but I can’t find where now – that a well-known and respected Kannada literary and cultural critic called Bendre, Narasimhaswamy, Adiga, and one other poet (Kambar?) the four major poets of 20th-century Kannada literature.
While it goes without saying that Bendre‘s name must show up in any such list, it is my opinion that KSNa (kay-es-naah) – as Narasimhaswamy was popularly known – was the “best of the rest”. Beginning his poetic career with the publication of the tremendously-popular “ಮೈಸೂರು ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆ (Mysuru Mallige: ~ The Mysore Jasmine)” poetry collection in 1942, KSNa would remain a ‘searching poet’ over the next fifty years. Not half as prolific as Bendre (but, then, which world-class poet in any language has been?), he was nonetheless a ‘born poet’; with a deep-rooted affection for both the language of his people and the people themselves. Starting out, like almost every poet does, as a “romantic poet”, KSNa used the ಆಡುಭಾಷೆ (spoken language) of the Old Mysore region like no other contemporary poet did. (Bendre’s astonishing use of the Dharwad “vulgate” completely transformed the idea of what was and wasn’t possible within poetry.)

The poem below is one of those poems I “loved at first sight”. Attempting to translate it was simply natural. The poem itself could be called (within the tradition of English poetics) a “blank verse narrative”. The idea, during the translation, was to find a corresponding “blank verse rhythm” in English. I like to think that I have managed that.

You will notice that the poem is rather long. I thought I could try reciting it (expressively), but several attempts made it clear that this poem was not amenable to a recitation. In the meanwhile, my father had suggested “singing” the poem in the ಲಾವಣಿ (lāvaṇi) style, a style similar to the balladic – and usually reserved for narrative poems like this one. Consequently, I have, not for the first time, taken him up on the suggestion and tried to “sing” the song in the balladic style.

The only reason you get to listen to my recording rather than my father’s is because he’s a little under the weather and isn’t up to singing such a long poem himself. (My father’s voice and sense for music is significantly better than mine and I hope to share his sung version as soon as he feels ready to record it. Until then, I hope I haven’t done too bad a job and that you will be able to bear listening to the recording. Here is a recording of my father singing a Bendre poem to a tune of his own.)

Nota bene: Like I said, I’m not particularly musical but if you’re reading this and you are (or you know someone who is), I’d love to hear a balladic rendering of the English translation I’ve made. I hope some of you will be able to oblige me and I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks.

“Singing” of the Kannada poem:


An Evening Raga (ಸಂಧ್ಯಾರಾಗ)

He, who for thirty years, rode proudly on his horse;
who, in three precincts, was better known as ‘King’;
when, now retired, has come home with a smile,
what makes you stand like this outside the door?

The
sarkāri stuff we had was taken yesterday;
there’s no need now to guard the room, come in;
the chair of your wedding-day is here; sit down,
set down the post you came to give to me.

This garland’s yesterday’s; the poor thing’s faded

now; these fruits won’t last, they must be quickly shared.
I am not worthy of this gift, this walking stick;
take it; use it for your work with sēvige*.

No need to blush; just talk; sing too, if you will;

it’s only now I see how beautiful you are.
If love found others when they were young, I offer
thanks for its finding us upon this second cusp.

Let those who said, “horses are this king’s craze,

he does not care about his home” come here and look;
I’ll show them how this family really lives;
what, after all, did thàt horse ever do?

It only ever bridled once; I fell on to the fence.

I must have only told you of my wins; you do
not know about my falls; move closer now and
listen; the next day at the courthouse’s front I saw

a newly-married pair, a prideful pair

(he’d drowned himself in her embrace)
come cycling down the road all crookedly;
my anger stoked, I’d gone to the police.

I now regret that day’s impulsiveness;

forgive me. What thought is on your mind?
My pension’s going to fill our coffers soon;
that should suffice, for us two and our son.

That golden-boy who lives across the seas;

let him return, kaṇay, with his medallions!
Your brother’s daughter waits; we’ll marry them;
let them, like royalty, leave for an Ooty* trip

in their new car; I will not make them wait;

and if I do, my mouth will only drop a kiss;
Ooty that glitters in the Nilgiris*! Such procss-
ions are not new – a time ago, they ended here

and not in
Ooty-land; we two can testify
to that! Then came the job; you too returned,
the horse too came, then went; then came the car;
why, until we’d sold the car at half its price,

did we not think to make an
Ooty trip?
Free now, the idea of this trip struck me
just yesterday; and picking up the phone,
I called the travel-man and asked him secretly;

he said he’d write to let me know, then cut the

phone; something made me rush upon this second cusp;
what you’ve now brought may be his letter after all!
I should have seen it right away; here, let’s read it now.

“It’s horse-race-gambling season in
Ooty now,
everyone must attend! There are no private vehicles.
Instead, we’ve buses whose headlights split the night;
take one and come.” Hear that? ‘I, with my better half,

I, who for thirty years, rode proudly on his horse,

who, in three precincts, was better known as ‘King’
cannot go to Ooty in that thing’ is what I’ll
write and say to him. Let us go later on –

when, with our son’s bride, a new car comes;

when, opening its door, the car calls us to come –
but, before all that, our boy must first come back;
let’s wait for him – that golden-boy across the seas.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Glossary
:

1 . sevige (say-we-gay): the Kannada word for (something akin to) vermicelli

2. ooty (ooh-tea): a popular hill station in Southern India; part of the state of Tamilnadu

3. nilgiri (neel-ghir-e): literally, blue mountain; the longest mountain range in Southern India

My Mother’s Place (A Kannada Folksong)

I was introduced to this song-poem by Shilpa Mudbi, a folk-artist who – through her Urban Folk Project – has been doing her best to keep alive the folk traditions of (her ancestral part of) Karnataka; generally North Karnataka (and, more specifically, the village of Mudbi). This particular song was bequeathed to Shilpa by her ajji, her grandmother; who, Shilpa tells me, is a treasure trove of such songs.
The song-poem I’m offering here is a distillation of Shilpa’s own presentation (where she intersperses the song with her commentary). You can find Shilpa’s presentation here. It is important to note that a song-poem like this is necessarily fluid; its lyrics are not fixed in the way the lyrics of today’s poems and songs are fixed. The lyrics I’ve given right below may be considered “formal”. Having never been written down (until quite recently), it should be not surprising if different inheritors of this oral tradition sing the song in different ways with different pronunciations.
It is worth noting that this fluidity is an essential part of the oral tradition — and offers the inheritor of the tradition a chance to make the song her own. You will note, if you watch Shilpa’s presentation, that she has “added” an extra stanza to the poem. I believe that is Shilpa’s way of continuing the tradition even as she inserts herself into it. (As I understand it, Shilpa has recently relocated to the Gulbarga area of North Karnataka with the intention of “returning home [to Mudbi]”, as it were, and immersing herself in the sounds and scents of the soil and the people who nourished those songs that now offer her nourishment.)

Note: Here is the Facebook page of ‘The Urban Folk Project’. Here is their Youtube channel. And here is their Instagram profile.

Finally, before I offer up the song-poem, here’s what Da Ra Bendre, 20th-century Kannada’s genius poet and one of the greatest lyric poets to have lived, had to say about song-poems like this one and the women who created them. It is an excerpt from my English translation of the ಪರಿಚಯ (paricaya: ~ introduction) Bendre wrote for “ಗರತಿಯ ಹಾಡು (garatiya haaḍu: ~ songs of our womenfolk)”, a collection of traditional Kannada “folksongs”. A great portion of these folksongs were gathered by Bendre’s ಗೆಳೆಯರು (friends-colleagues) from women living in the villages of the ತದ್ದೆವಾಡ (taddevāḍa) area of Bijapur and brought out in book form in 1932.

For those who worship living itself, the rishis of the spontaneous three-line verses of these ‘Songs of our Womenfolk’ are women: our mothers and our sisters, our aunts and our nieces, our wives and our children. If we were to properly think about it, theirs is the real poetry. Everything else is just a shade of that poetry. Our tradition tells that poetry is ಕಾಂತಾಸಮ್ಮಿತಿ (kāntāsammiti: ~ like the talk of the beloved). But if poetry is that which is like the talk of the beloved, is not the actual talk of the beloved the mother of our poetry? What we proudly call poetry is really one of her children. The words of the ‘beloved’ is the true poetry; it was upon seeing how those who stubbornly refused to follow the vedas, who refused to cede authority to the shastras could be softened by the words of the ‘beloved’ that the essence of the vedas and the shastras took on the winsome form of poetry. (Here, it is important to not restrict the ‘beloved’ simply to the ‘wife’ but to think of her as representative of all womankind.)

(Edited) audio of Shilpa singing the poem:


My Mother’s Place

Bending I’m drawing rangolis
outside the door – such varieties;
the same dream it pláys and plays,
how to escape to mother’s place;
I’ve now come to my mother’s place,
I remémber her – tears wet my face.

Brother’s wife so full of cunning,
her glances – they’re piércing things.
I went to the river with brother
to tell him to talk sternly to her;
I’ve now come to my mother’s place,
I remémber her – tears wet my face.

Vasudeva, lord of this land,
make my mother’s place abundant;
make my mother’s place abundant,
goddess, I bring karpūra to your temple
I’ve now come to my mother’s place,
I remémber her – tears wet my face.

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)

P.S: The idea was to create an English translation that could be sung in (more or less) the same tune as the original. I think you should try it and let me know if you were able to. Also, for those interested, here’s a write-up from three months ago, part of my informal collaboration with Shilpa. What you see in the afterword is part of the write-up.

Afterword:

This song speaks to a village woman’s idea of her mother’s home or mother’s place as her (only) sanctuary. While not irrelevant to other cultures and countries, this idea is particularly Indian in its scope. The reason is simple: the longstanding (patriarchal) notion of a woman as chattel or property who is passed on – at the time of her wedding – from her father’s custody to her husband’s custody; in other words, kanyādāna. With dāna accorded such high status in Indian (Hindu) culture, the dāna of one’s daughter becomes an act of merit (or puṇya) for the father. The recepient of the dāna is the husband. Caught between the giver and the taker is the woman, an independent being wholly deprived of her agency. (This short, no-dialogue film offers a take on this transaction.)

What then makes a woman look on her mother’s home as a sanctuary (if that is where her father is too)? I reckon it is solely the presence of her mother, perhaps the only person in this world who can and does sympathize with her predicament. Given the legendary atté-sosé (or saas-bahu; mother-in-law–daughter-in-law) relationship, it is expected that the woman will be treated poorly in her husband’s home – where she will serve, variously, as a washing machine, cook, sweeper, and child-bearer. Given these circumstances, returning to her mother’s home or place is the only respite a woman can look forward to; a short time when she can “put her feet up” and be taken care of, be her mother’s child again. But with the passing of her mother, the mother’s home too becomes a different place; bereft, less comforting, and ‘ruled’ by a different woman – usually, her brother’s wife.

(A real irony of the whole situation is the role of the woman in her own subjugation. By her unthinking propagation of patriarchal norms, she ensures her bondage within the ‘system’. For example, even her ‘mother’s place’ that the woman speaks of so fondly was once her mother’s mother-in-law’s place; a place her mother once bore suffering that she wished to escape from by going to her mother’s place. Here’s some more on the matter.)

A final word. It is important to understand that this song is not contemporary. That is to say, it does not (like it may have a hundred years ago when this song was put together by women as they ground flour in the early morning) represent the reality of nearly all women within India. Yes, the patriarchy persists (and not just in India), but things – from a woman’s perspective at least – are changing for the better. Anti-discrimination laws together with increasing urbanization have changed society in untold ways.

On the other hand, it is just as important to understand that attitudes of this sort persist – and not just in India’s villages. Countless dowry deaths and domestic violence testify to its persistence. So too does the inclusion of this attitude within a language itself. For instance, it is normal in Kannada to speak of ‘ಹೆಣ್ಣನ್ನು [ಒಂದು] ಊರಿಗೆ ಕೊಡೋದು’ or ‘heṇṇannu [ondu] ūrige koḍōdu’, i.e., ‘give a female to a [certain] town’ in the context of her being married off to a man who lives in that town. I don’t know what the situation’s like in other Indian languages, but I reckon it isn’t too different.

All in all, though, I see no reason to not be optimistic. After all, the idea of dharma (~morality) that underlies Hindu tradition is the opposite of stagnant in that it allows, encourages, and even advocates for change to suit the times.

The Rangoli and my Son (K. S. Nisar Ahmed)

Recitation of the poem by Nisar himself:


The Rangoli and my Son (ರಂಗೋಲಿ ಮತ್ತು ಮಗ)

1

In front of every house but ours
was an early-morning rangavalli* –
like brightly shining teeth,
like the entire gully
was merry with a mirth.
Leaving to get the milk at dawn,
my mind would be fully captured
by the pictures that had been drawn;
unlocking room on room in my empty mind –
oh, what a surge of feeling they’d fill me with!

This one’s design is not like that;
among these drawings can be found
a greater meaning to geometric laws
that seem so complicated and hard:
the touch of a finger that is soft.
Now, through her rangoli, this sumangali*
(who didn’t go at all to college)
gives, every day, a shape and form
to geometry’s laws of knowledge.

What edges and what lines!
What circles and what squares!
A swastika*, a mandala*, a star;
to some ancient mantra’s chant,
this artistry has spread its wings –
see how it is nòw flying.

2

The rangavalli
it stole my heart when I was young –
and still forming fully.
Unable to tell where were its start and end
(and feeling bad I couldn’t understand)
I’d worried my head from time to time:
having entered, with my eyes,
the thicket of its white patterns.

Astonished to see
the neighour woman bending
to draw, in a second, an unusual rangoli,
I’d, taking the powder of a piece of chalk,
looked to draw it in our verandah –
only to fail each time I tried;
I’d been labelled a kafir*
by my mother for this deed.

Once, the neighbouring lady, Vedavalli,
had drawn a thick-knotted rangavalli.
Smiling widely – her teeth all showing –
at the deep-gazed curiosity I was displaying,
“Why don’t saabru* draw such rangoli?” she’d asked.
My god, if only I’d had an answer!
I’d stood ashamed, not looking at her.

When ajji* chastised the outhouse-folk
for using their threshold to draw a rangoli
abba! that incident had hurt me deeply.
Once, when in some worry of my own,
I’d veered from my path and stepped upon
a house’s rangoli, I’d yanked my foot away
as if what I’d stamped was a fiery coal.
‘Did those people see me?’ was my other worry.

3

The day before, my six-year boy
set out with me to buy some milk.
My eyes took in the rangoli as we walked;
noticing this, my boy had asked –
‘Why is it that every day
they draw these circle-figures in this way?’
I’d already cut and cleared and pared
the knotty details of what I had to say:
I offered the clean-shaven branch of my reply;
“Doing this is not our people’s way”.
As the churn of his mind began to mask
his clear face and the question ‘why’ looked set to flash,
I voiced, to quiet him, that old refrain:
“This is not spoken of in the koran*.”
Flying out of its half-second’s-silence nest
it pounced – another garuda*-winged question:
‘Must we do as it says there?’
Yes, I said –
the drizzle of his questions
had left me in despair.
The year our house was built, your name –
you had that written outside our house;
is that too something the koran says?

Can he be called a child,
this one who’s come to squeeze
my conscience’s throat?
Spreading its tentacles, his artless question
has brought me to despair;
smashing pot upon filled pot that holds
my beliefs, my customs, my ways.

“Hurry up, the queue’ll get long”, I said,
returning to the real world.
The rangoli was resting – like every other day:
like a little bird spreads its two wings,
my son spread his questions-of-wondering:
in doing so, he lit within my mind
a fire of questioning.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Note: What I’ve given above is the audio of Nisar reading the poem. To watch Nisar reading it, go here.

Glossary:

1. rangavalli (or rangoli): an art form that involves creating (often intricate) decorative patterns using chalk, rice powder, flowers, etc.

2. sumangali: a married (Hindu) woman

3. swastika: an ancient symbol in the form of an equal-armed cross with each arm continued at a right angle; a symbol of auspiciousness in Indic religions; the Nazis’s use of the (inverted) swastika as their emblem has contributed to its extremely negative image

4. mandala: literally, a circular figure, a disk; it has philosophical implications in Hinduism and Buddhism

5. kafir: an infidel, an unbeliever, a non-Muslim (per orthodox Islamic theology)

6. saabru: a Kannada word often used to refer to people who are Muslim; it derives from the urdu word ‘saab‘ (the equivalent of the English ‘mister’) and is more neutral than derogatory

7. ajji : the Kannada word for grandmother

8. koran: Islam’s holy book; considered the ‘word of god’ by orthodox believers

9. garuda: a fabulous bird of Hindu mythology, said to be the god Vishṇu‘s mount; often called the ‘king of the birds’ and understood to be, per traditional texts, the mortal enemy of snakes and the snake-people (nāgas)

Afterword:

Here’s an English distillation of what I wrote (in Kannada) upon learning of Nisar’s death on May 3, 2020. Those of you who’d like to read the original write-up can find it here.

When he lived, Prof. Nisar Ahmed’s immensely popular ಭಾವಗೀತೆ (bhavageethe: ~ lyric poems; song-poems) – including favourites like ‘In the Jog Falls’ Beautiful Light…” and “Our Krishna Stole the Butter…” – made him a household name in Karnataka. His writing, however, was not restricted to the production of such song-poetry. He was, in fact, a “modern” poet; whose sensibility allowed him to remain a “romantic”. In his best-selling “ನಿತ್ಯೋತ್ಸವ (nityōtsava: ~ Every day’s a Festival)” collection of poems, Nisar deliberately returned to this “romantic” poetry – with the explicit intent to make poetry accessible again.

As a Muslim writing in Kannada, Nisar’s (poetic) perspective added a new dimension to Kannada literature. His use of Urdu words in his Kannada poetry is particularly worthy of remark. (A majority of Muslims in Karnataka consider Urdu their ‘mother tongue’. However, the Urdu they speak is almost pidgin and looked down upon by the Dakkani speakers of the Hyderabad region – whose speech, in turn, is looked down upon by speakers of Laknavi, considered the most refined and courtly version of Urdu. That being said, almost every school-educated Muslim in Karnataka speaks Kannada, the language of the state of Karnataka.)
In my opinion – which is based on a limited reading of Nisar’s poetry and prose – Nisar’s use of Urdu in his Kannada poetry was extremely deliberate and his way of asserting his dual identity — as a Muslim’ and a ‘Kannadiga (Kannada speaker)’. I also think it served as a way for him to express his views on the give-and-take that happens at the intersection of society, religion, and language, even as he used it as a tool of introspection and self-reflection.

This poem you’ve just read is considered one of his “important” poems. The reason I translated it, though, was because it was a poem I enjoyed – not least for the singular point of view it offered. As far as I am concerned, the poem is a poem of “searching” and “reflection”.

My Ajji’s Passed (Soujanya Bokkasam)

Recitation of the poem by the poet, Soujanya, herself:


My Ajji’s Passed

My ajji‘s passed –
in my eyes
she’s turned to tears that will not cease;
suddenly appearing everywhere,
slowly staying in me – here
she’s become a river of memories;
she’s become a rain
of all exquisite
feeling and pain;
she’s turned –
into the wave
that comes and comes again;
into the tree leaves
that bring the shade;
entering me,
stepping happily,
she’s become an art
that will never die

My ajji‘s passed —
in my eyes
she’s turned to tears that will not cease…

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Recitation of the English translation:


Afterword
:

Soujanya, the creator of this poem, is my second cousin. She lost her ಅಜ್ಜಿ (ajji: grandmother) in early April. Some two or three days later, her father – Sudhakar uncle, who has been a great supporter of my translations of Bendre’s poetry – sent me this poem with a photo of his mother (Soujanya’s grandmother) attached. I read the poem and was immediately taken with it. I found it a particularly exquisite “reaction” to her ajji‘s death, sensitive without being sentimental. I also found the images “quietly powerful”; not especially new perhaps, but genuine – with just the right balance of the personal and the general. You will notice that Soujanya does not describe her ajji with the slightest particularity – and yet, you get the sense of the woman who has passed and the influence she had on her granddaughter.

You can find Soujanya on Instagram here: @soujanyabokkasam

My People (Dr. Siddalingaiah)

Dr. Siddalingaiah is known for having recited it countless times, but I was never fortunate enough to get to listen to him doing so nor have been able to finding an audio recording of his recitation. It is for want of such an audio file that I decided to recite the poem myself. If someone knows where I can find an audio or video of Dr. S reciting it himself, please let me know.

Also, for those who’d like to listen to it sung, here’s another recording. The problem with singing a poem like this one though is that the lightness of the music can mean a “sterilization” of the poem’s passionate anguish.


My People (ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು)

They are my people —
who die from hunger – who haul large stones
who getting kicked drop on their backs;
who beg for mercy – whose hands are slaves,
who’re so devout such devotees

They are my people —
who till and later sow the soil – who cut the crop and sweat,
then burn up in the sun’s hot heat;
who come back empty-handed – who draw a sigh and sit
empty-stomached in their ragged clothes

They are my people —
who raise the roofs – who build the towers
only to then be caught beneath;
who haunt the streets – who make no noise
before they cry themselves to sleep

They are my people —
who pay the leech – who fired by a speech
catch flame and burn and turn to ash;
who stitch the boots – who fix the shoes
of those who take god’s name and eat

My people —
they mine the gold – they get no food
they stitch the cloth – their body’s nude;
my people –
they do as they are told to do,
they simply live upon the wind.

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)

Afterword:

Holageri Siddalingaiah (1954 – present), better known to the public as Dr. Siddalingaiah, shot to fame in the early 1970s, right after the publication of his poetry collection “ಹೊಲೆಮಾದಿಗರ ಹಾಡು (holemādigara hāḍu: ~ the song of the subjugated men)”. His was a new, previously-unheard voice; full of anger and fire and truth as it protested the ill-treatment of “his people”; the trodden-upon, the underprivileged, the exploited, the dalits (by birth, social status, and treatment). In his 60s now, Dr. Siddalingaiah has mellowed, naturally. He is no longer the fierce poet-activist he was in his youth – his first poetry collection was published when he was just 21 years old and comprised poems he’d written beginning when he was 14 or 15! – who drew society’s attention to the plight of the downtrodden via a poetry that flamed with a light and heat that were its own. (One prominent Kannada cultural critic called Siddalingaiah ‘the king of the exaggerated conceit’.)
In the last twenty years, in fact, Dr. Siddalingaiah has become better known for his much-praised autobiography “ಊರು ಕೇರಿ (ūru kēri: ~ the town and the outskirts)”, a narrative of his early and middle years. The book’s first volume was released in 2003, the second volume in 2006, and the third volume in 2018.
Coming to Kannada literature when I did, I too first learnt about Dr. Siddalingaiah through his autobiography (whose first volume I have). I do not remember too much of it, but one portion remains vivid. It is an account of Siddalingaiah watching his father in the fields beyond the ಕೇರಿ (kēri) where they lived. Siddalingaiah talks about seeing his father and another man (who was also a dalit) being yoked, like oxen, to the cart and then being driven through the field. It is an image indelibly etched in Siddalingaiah’s mind – and becomes, through his narrative, an image that both startles and transfixes any (non-dalit) reader of his work.

Note: The rights to this poem belong with Dr. Siddaliangaiah and his publishers. No copyright infringement is intended. The lyrics to the poem have been provided only to give the curious rasika a chance to read the original.

Here are the ಮೂಲ ಕನ್ನಡ ಪಾಠ and the English transliteration. Go here for a guide on how to read the transliteration.

ಹಸಿವಿನಿಂದ ಸತ್ತೋರು ಸೈಜುಗಲ್ಲು ಹೊತ್ತೋರು
ವದೆಸಿಕೊಂಡು ವರಗಿದೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು
ಕಾಲುಕಯ್ಯಿ ಹಿಡಿಯೋರು ಕೈ ಮಡಗಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳೋರು
ಭಕ್ತರಪ್ಪ ಭಕ್ತರೋ ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು

hasivininda sattōru saijugallu hottōru
vadesikoṇḍu varagidōru nanna janagaḷu
kālukayyi hiḍiyōru kai maḍagisikoḷḷōru
bhaktarappa bhaktarō nanna janagaḷu

ಹೊಲವನುತ್ತು ಬಿತ್ತೋರು ಬೆಳೆಯ ಕುಯ್ದು ಬೆವರೋರು
ಬಿಸಿಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಬೇಯೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು
ಬರಿಗೈಲೇ ಬಂದೋರು ಉಸ್ಸೆಂದು ಕೂತೋರು
ಹೊಟ್ಟೆ ಬಟ್ಟೆ ಕಟ್ಟಿದೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು

holavanuttu bittōru beḷeya kuydu bevarōru
bisilanalli beyōru nanna janagaḷu
barigailē bandōru ussendu kūtōru
hoṭṭe baṭṭe kaṭṭidōru nanna janagaḷu

ಮಾಳಿಗೆಗಳ ಎತ್ತಿದೋರು ಬಂಗಲೆಗಳ ಕಟ್ಟಿದೋರು
ತಳಾದೀಗೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕಿದೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು
ಬೀದಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಬಿದ್ದೋರು ಸದ್ದಿಲ್ಲದೆ ಇದ್ದೋರು
ಒಳಗೊಳಗೇ ಅತ್ತೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು

māḷigegaḷa ettidōru bangalegaḷa kaṭṭidōru
taḷādīge sikkidōru nanna janagaḷu
bīdiyalli biddōru saddillade iddōru
oḷagoḷagē attōru nanna janagaḷu

ಬಡ್ಡಿಯನ್ನು ತೆತ್ತೋರು ಭಾಷಣಗಳ ಬೆಂಕಿಯಲ್ಲಿ
ಬೆಂದು ಬೂದಿಯಾದೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು
ಪರಮಾತ್ಮನ ಹೆಸರು ಹೇಳಿ ಪರಮಾನ್ನ ಉಂಡಜನಕೆ
ಬೂಟುಮೆಟ್ಟು ಹೊಲೆದೋರು ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು

baḍḍiyannu tettōru bhāshaṇagaḷa beṅkiyalli
bendu būdiyādōru nanna janagaḷu
paramātmana hesaru hēḷi paramānna uṇḍajanake
būṭumeṭṭu holedōru nanna janagaḷu

ಚಿನ್ನವನ್ನು ತೆಗೆದೋರು ಅನ್ನವನ್ನು ಕಾಣದೋರು
ಬಟ್ಟೆಯನ್ನು ನೇಯೋರು ಬರಿಮೈಲೇ ಹೋಗೋರು
ಹೇಳಿದಂತೆ ಕೇಳುತಾರೆ ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು
ಗಾಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಬಾಳುತಾರೆ ನನ್ನ ಜನಗಳು

cinnavannu tegeyōru annavannu kāṇadōru
baṭṭeyannu nēyōru barimailē hōgōru
hēḷidante kēḷutāre nanna janagaḷu
gāḷiyalli bāḷutāre nanna janagaḷu

You who clearly know … tell me (ತಿಳಿದವರೇ … ಹೇಳಿ)

Smt. Vaidehi is one of Kannada’s best-known writers of modern fiction. Short stories are her preferred form, but she is also a novelist, playwright, biographer, essayist, and poet. Most of her work is informed by a feminine (feminist?) perspective and she has made it clear in several interviews that she finds it necessary to tell these stories about women and the various worlds they inhabit and navigate (within the patriarchy). This particular poem is considered a classic and has been widely anthologized.

I trust Smt. Vaidehi will not object to this publication of my English translation of the poem. Naturally, the copyright to the original lies with Smt. Vaidehi and her publisher. I am also, since the poem is popular enough to be otherwise available, giving the poem’s original Kannada text and English transliteration below. You can find the guide to reading the transliteration here.

You who clearly know … tell me (ತಿಳಿದವರೇ … ಹೇಳಿ)

You who clearly know what poetry is –
tell me;
I do not know poetry
clear saaru* is what I know

What do you think clear saaru is?
It too needs within
a water-truth – a truth of fragrance –
a rasa-truth that boiling forms;
this way –

in the corner lay the saaru-pan
cooled-like but uncooled,
as though wait-boiling upon
an emberous stove;
so what if it waiting-boils?

Within the merriness
of lightly-exchanged laughter
of the drumbeat-feet
of servers who serve the meaty-meal
with a dash of spice
(like a lightning-flash),
the diaphanous clear-saar remained
from the morning on

cooled-like but uncooled
upon the emberous stove
dried from the boiling and reboiling,
unspoiled though it is now night!

Tell me, you who know poetry so clearly
do you know clear-saaru?
Forgive me, I do not know poetry

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

*saaru – the Kannada word for a watery broth or infusion (usually) made using a specially-prepared powder (saaru pudi), several spices, and boiled-to-softening toor dal; often and mistakenly conflated with rasam – which is (usually) a much blander dal-less version

Nota bene: I have deliberately chosen to translate the word ತತ್ತ್ವ (tattva) as truth – rather than the usual “essence”. While I will acknowledge that my main reason for doing so is the translation’s prosody, it is worth noting that tattva is a Sanskrit word that encompasses a spectrum of meaning – with a primary (ontological) meaning that references the higher truth of the metaphysical sameness of the ātman and the brāhmaṇ.

Original and Transliterated lyrics:

ಕಾವ್ಯದ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ತಿಳಿದವರೇ
ಹೇಳಿ. ನನಗೆ ಕಾವ್ಯ ಗೊತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ
ತಿಳಿಸಾರು ಗೊತ್ತು

kāvyada bagge tiḷidavarē
hēḷi. nanage kāvya gottilla
tiḷisāru gottu

ತಿಳಿಸಾರು ಎಂದರೆ ಏನೆಂದುಕೊಂಡಿರಿ?
ಅದಕ್ಕೂ ಬೇಕು ಒಳಗೊಂದು
ಜಲತತ್ತ್ವ – ಗಂಧತತ್ತ್ವ –
ಕುದಿದು ಹದಗೊಂಡ ಸಾರತತ್ತ್ವ
ಹೀಗೆ –

tiḷisāru endare ēnendukonḍiri?
adakkū bēku oḷagondu
jalatattva – gandhatattva –
kudidu hadagonḍa sāratattva
hīge –

ಇತ್ತು ಸಾರಿನ ಪಾತ್ರೆ ಮೂಲೆಯಲ್ಲಿ
ನಂಗದೆಯೂ ನಂಗದಂತಿದ್ದ
ಬೂದಿ ಮುಚ್ಚಿದ ಕೆಂಡದೊಲೆಯ ಮೇಲೆ
ಕಾಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದಂತೆ. ಕಾದರೇನು?

ittu sārina pātre mūleyalli
nangadeyū nangadantidda
būdi muccida kenḍadolaya mēle
kāyuttidante. kādaṛenu?

ಮಾಂಸದಡುಗೆಯ ಕಿಡಿಮಿಂಚು ವಗ್ಗರಣೆಯ
ಬಡಿಸುವ ಝಣ್ ಝಣ್ ನಡಿಗೆಯವರ
ಲಘು ನಗೆ ಬಗೆ ವಿನಿಮಯ ಒಡ್ಡೋಲಗದಲ್ಲಿ
ತೆಳ್ಳನೆಯ ತಿಳಿಸಾರು ಹಾಗೆಯೇ ಇತ್ತು
ಬೆಳಗಿಂದ

māmsadaḍugeya kiḍimincu vaggaraṇeya
baḍisuva jhaṇ jhaṇ naḍigeyavara
laghu nage bage vinimaya oḍḍōlagadalli
teḷḷaneya tiḷisāru hāgeyē ittu
beḷaginda

ನಂಗದೆಯೂ ನಂಗಿದಂತಿದ್ದ ಕೆಂಡದೊಲೆಯ ಮೇಲೆ
ಕುದಿಕುದಿದು ಬತ್ತಿ
ರಾತ್ರಿಯಾದರೂ ಹಳಸದೆ!

nangadeyū nangidantidda kenḍadoleya mēle
kudukudidu batti
rātriyādarū haḷasade!

ಕಾವ್ಯದ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ದೊಡ್ಡಕೆ ತಿಳಿದವರೇ
ಹೇಳಿ. ಗೊತ್ತೇ ತಿಳಿಸಾರು ನಿಮಗೆ?
ಕ್ಷಮಿಸಿ, ಗೊತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ ಕಾವ್ಯ ನನಗೆ

kāvyada bagge doḍḍake tiḷidavarē
hēḷi. gottē tiḷisāru nimage?
kshamisi, gottilla kāvya nanage

P.S: If you’re interested, you can listen to Smt. Vaidehi herself read the poem in this video. The poetry reading begins at 37:12.

The Snake-Charmer’s Little Boy (S.R. Ekkundi)

Every once in a rare while, I come across a poem that seems (to me) to be imbued with a certain magic, a magic that is often as palpable as it is unexplainable. This poem was one such.
I suppose my reason for translating it was to try to transfer that magic to another language. (You must tell me if I’ve succeeded.)
To compensate for the absence of an audio recording of the original Kannada poem, I’ve included the poem’s text and the text of the poem’s English transliteration. For a guide to reading the English transliteration, go here.

The Snake-Charmer’s Little Boy (ಹಾವಾಡಿಗರ ಹುಡುಗ)

1

For a house that had nine doors
nine attics worked out well;
filled with wealth to overflowing
were nine large vessels.
So as not to lose a single coin
all day long and through the night
the guardian-serpent-of-providence
reared its hood and spat upon
all those within its sight.
Its hood upraised, it swayed
to the tune that was outdrawn
from the iron tinkle of the coins.
What does it know, the snake
that acts as the guardian of providence?

2

It was the dawn one day;
from the wide-open directions
the winds blew every way –
that day they wore a heady scent,
a fragrance of a myriad hues
borrowed from some pulsing flowers;
that day, he just showed up
the snake-charmer’s little boy –
what a brave he was!
His skin was of a hue
darker than a raincloud’s blue.
This darling little cowherd-boy
eats both curd and butter,
he splits his red-bud-lips –
his laugh-smile’s melted butter;
a step of his’s enough
for the ground to turn to gold –
his anklet’s bells all sweetly tinkle,
his little ears are richly crowned

3

The guardian-serpent-of-providence
had begun to hiss and spit
its hood upraised, its eyes were wide;
the snake-charmer’s little boy
took little steps and came
to stand right in its sight;
standing there, he raised his tiny hand,
and stroked its reared hood;
to the garuda-rider’s magic touch
the snake became a gem-garland;
when to the call of providence itself
the guardian-serpent-of-the-fates
glittered like a gemmed-garland –
shri hari picked the garland up
and placed it round his neck;
then lying on his shésha-bed
went back to sleep again.

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Original Kannada Poem and English Transliteration:

ಹಾವಾಡಿಗರ ಹುಡುಗ (hāvāḍigara huḍuga)

ಒಂಬತ್ತು ಬಾಗಿಲುಗಳಿರುವ ಮನೆಗೊಪ್ಪಿದವು
ಒಂಬತ್ತು ಉಪ್ಪರಿಗೆ;
ತುಂಬಿತ್ತು ಸಂಪತ್ತು ತುಳುಕಾಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದವು
ಒಂಬತ್ತು ಕೊಪ್ಪರಿಗೆ.
ಬಿಡಿಗಾಸು ಕೂಡ ಹೊರ
ಬಿಡದಂತೆ ಹಗಲಿರುಳು
ವಿಧಿಯ ಕಾಯುವ ಸರ್ಪ
ಬಂದಬಂದವರೆದುರು
ಹೆಡೆಯೆತ್ತಿ ಫೂತ್ಕರಿಸುತಿತ್ತು.
ಕಾಸುಕಾಸಿನ ಪುಂಗಿ
ಯೆಳೆದ ಲೋಹಸ್ವರಕೆ
ಹೆಡೆಯೆತ್ತಿ ತೂಗುತಿತ್ತು.
ವಿಧಿಯ ಕಾಯುವ ಹಾವಿಗ್ಗೇನು ಗೊತ್ತು?

ombattu bāgilugaḷiruva manegoppidavu
ombattu upparige;
tumbittu sampattu tuḷukāḍuttiddavu
ombattu kopparige.
biḍigāsu kūḍa hora
biḍadante hagaliruḷu
vidhiya kāyuva sarpa
bandabandavareduru
heḍeyetti phūtkarisutittu.
kāsukāsina puṅgi
yeḷeda lōhasvarake
heḍeyetti tūgutittu.
vidhaya kāyuva hāviggēnu gottu?

ಒಂದು ದಿನ ಮುಂಜಾವು;
ಘಮಘಮಿಸಿದ ಹೂವು
ದಿವ್ಯ ಸೌಗಂಧಿಕ
ಸಹಸ್ರ ಸೌರಭತಾಳಿ
ಬಿರಿದ ದಿಕ್ಕುಗಳಿಂದ
ಬೀಸಿದವು ಗಾಳಿ
ಅಂದು ಬಂದೇ ಬಿಟ್ಟ
ಹಾವಾಡಿಗರ ಪುಟ್ಟ
ಹುಡುಗ ಬಲು ದಿಟ್ಟ!
ಮುಗಿಲಿಗಿಂತಲು ನೀಲ
ಮೈಯ ಬಣ್ಣ.
ಮೊಸರು ಬೆಣ್ಣೆಯನುಂಡ
ಮುದ್ದುಗೊಲ್ಲರ ಚಿಣ್ಣ
ತಳಿರು ತುಟಿ ಬಿಡಿಸಿದರೆ
ಮುಗುಳು ನಗೆ ಗಿಣ್ಣ
ಹೆಜ್ಜೆಯಿಟ್ಟರೆ ಸಾಕು
ನೆಲವು ಬಂಗಾರ
ಗೆಜ್ಜೆಗಳು ಗಂಟೆಗಳು
ಕಿವಿತುಂಬ ಸಿಂಗಾರ

ondu dina munjāvu;
ghamaghamisida hūvu
divya saugandhika
sahasra saurabhatāḷi
birida dikkugaḷinda
bīsidavu gāli
andu bandē biṭṭa
hāvāḍigara puṭṭa
huḍuga balu diṭṭa!
mugiligintalu nīla
maiya baṇṇa.
mosaru beṇṇeyanunḍa
muddugollara ciṇṇa
taḷiru tuṭi biḍisidare
muguḷu nage giṇṇa
hejjeyiṭṭare sāku
nelavu baṅgāra
gejjegaḷu ganṭegaḷu
kivitumba siṅgāra

ವಿಧಿಯ ಕಾಯುವ ಸರ್ಪ
ಫೂತ್ಕರಿಸತೊಡಗಿತ್ತು.
ಹೆಡೆಯೆತ್ತಿ ಕಣ್ಣು ಬಿಟ್ಟು,
ಹಾವಾಡಿಗರ ಹುಡುಗ
ಮುಂದೆ ಬಂದೇ ಬಿಟ್ಟ
ಒಂದೊಂದೆ ಹೆಜ್ಜೆಯಿಟ್ಟು,
ಹಾವಿನೆದುರಿಗೆ ನಿಂದು
ಪುಟ್ಟ ಕೈಯೆತ್ತಿದನು,
ನೇವರಿಸಿ ಹೆಡೆಯ ಮೇಲೆ
ಗರುಡವಾಹನಗಿತ್ತ
ಗಾರುಡಿಗ ಸ್ಪರ್ಶಕ್ಕೆ
ಹಾವಾಯ್ತು ರತ್ನಮಾಲೆ.
ವಿಧಿಯ ಕೊರಲಿನ ಕರೆಗೆ
ವಿಧಿಯ ಕಾಯುವ ಸರ್ಪ
ಹೊಳೆದಿರಲು ಮಾಲೆಯಾಗಿ
ಎತ್ತಿ ಕೊರಳೊಳಗಿರಿಸಿ
ಮತ್ತೊಮ್ಮೆ ಮಲಗಿದನು
ಶ್ರೀಹರಿ ಶೇಷಶಾಯಿಯಾಗಿ.

vidhiya kāyuva sarpa
phūtkarisatoḍagittu.
heḍeyetti kaṇṇu biṭṭu,
hāvāḍigara huḍuga
munde bandē biṭṭa
ondonde hejjeyiṭṭu,
hāvinedurige nindu
puṭṭa kaiyettidanu,
nēvarisi heḍeya mēle
garuḍavāhanagitta
gāruḍiga sparshakke
hāvāytu ratnamāle.
vidhiya koralina karege
vidhiya kāyuva sarpa
hoḷediralu māleyāgi
etti koraḷoḷagirisi
mattomme malagidanu
shrīhari shēshashāyiyāgi.

A Kannada Lullaby

Bendre, Lorca, Tagore, Yeats
must all have cried their baby-cry;
before they ever wrote a song
they listened to a lullaby.

This one’s for Amma, who asked me to translate it into English for her.

Why do you cry, my ranga boy
I’ll give you all that you would like
Milk milked from four lactating cows –
With sugar whene’er you ask

Why does he cry they áll ask me
He begs me for my body’s milk
Asking for his milk my honey-boy
Fusses his way out of my grip

Crying kanda’s lips are pearly
His tender brows are petalled neem
The sparkle in his eye’s just like
The glint of shiva’s sword

Let him cry, avva, if he must
Just let him be all mine
Let all my housework go to waste
Just fill the house with kids like him

He only listens when I sing
Such lullabies to him
He then forgets his wish for milk
This lullaby’s his favourite thing

You are not one to cry and fuss
You do not even pester me
No tantrums that I lift and cradle you
Oh! I could have ten more of you

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

English and Kannada transcriptions of the lullaby:

Here is a guide to reading the Kannada transcription of the poem.

ಯಾಕಳುವೆ ಎಲೆ ರಂಗ ಬೇಕಾದ್ದು ನಿನಗೀವೆ
ನಾಕೆಮ್ಮೆ ಕರೆದ ನೊರೆಹಾಲು | ಸಕ್ಕರೆ
ನೀ ಕೇಳಿದಾಗ ಕೊಡುವೇನು || ೧ ||

yākaḷuve ele raṅga bēkāddu nīnagīve
nākemme kareda norehālu | sakkare
nī kēḷidāga koḍuvēnu

ಯಾತಕಳುತಾನೆಂದು ಎಲ್ಲಾರು ಕೇಳ್ಯಾರು
ಕಾಯದಾ ಹಾಲ ಕೆನೆ ಬೇಡಿ | ಕಂದಯ್ಯ
ಕಾಡಿ ಕೈಬಿಟ್ಟು ಇಳಿಯಾನು || ೨ ||

yātakaḷutānendu ellāru kēḷyāru
kāyadā hāla kene bēḍi | kandayya
kāḍi kaibiṭṭu iḷiyāṇu

ಅಳುವ ಕಂದನ ತುಟಿಯು ಹವಳದಾ ಕುಡಿಹಂಗೆ
ಕುಡಿಹುಬ್ಬು ಬೇವಿನೆಸಳ್ಹಂಗೇ |ಕಣ್ಣೋಟ
ಶಿವನ ಕೈಯಲಗು ಹೊಳೆದಂಗೇ || ೩ ||

aḷuva kandana tuṭiyu havaḷada kuḍi haṅge
kuḍihubbu bēvinesaḷhaṅge | kaṇṇōṭa
shivana kaiyalagu hoḷedhange

ಅತ್ತರೇ ಅಳಲವ್ವ ಈ ಕೂಸು ನನಗಿರಲಿ
ಕೆಟ್ಟರೇ ಕೆಡಲಿ ಮನೆಗೆಲಸ । ಕಂದನಂಥ
ಮಕ್ಕಳಿರಲವ್ವ ಮನೆತುಂಬಾ || ೪ ||

attarē aḷalavva ī kūsu nanagirali
keṭṭarē keḍali manegelasa | kandanantha
makkaḷiralavva manetumbā

ಜೋಗುಳಾ ಹಾಡಿದರೆ ಆಗಲೇ ಕೇಳ್ಯಾನು
ಹಾಲ ಹಂಬಲವ ಮರೆತಾನು । ಕಂದಂಗೆ
ಜೋಗುಳದಾಗ ಅತಿ ಮುದ್ದಾ || ೫ ||

jōguḷā hāḍidare āgalē kēḷyānu
hāla hambalava maretānu | kandange
jōgūḷadāga ati muddā

ಅತ್ತು ಕಾಡುವನಲ್ಲ ಮತ್ತೆ ಬೇಡುವನಲ್ಲ
ಎತ್ತಿ ಕೊಳ್ಳೆಂಬ ಹಠವಿಲ್ಲ । ನಿನ್ನಂಥ
ಹತ್ತು ಮಕ್ಕಳು ಇರಬಹುದು || ೬ ||

attu kāḍuvanalla matte bēḍuvanalla
ettikoḷḷemba haṭhavilla | ninnantha
hattu makkaḷu irabahudu

P.S: Here’s the same lullaby sung differently (in one of Carnatic classical music’s most ebullient, joyful rāgas, ānanda bhairavī.)

 

When Milk Becomes Light

This is an old Sanskrit story.

It seems that once upon a time, milk prayed fervently to god. Its dedication made god himself appear and ask milk what it wanted.

‘I’m milk,’ said milk. ‘I emerge pure and white from cows and buffaloes. But arrogant man messes with me and turns me sour. Give me a boon that will allow me to keep on being just pure white milk.’

God laughed when he heard this.

‘Ay milk! Listen to me a moment. Listen to me before you decide that you want to live your whole life as milk.

‘As milk, you will live a single day. If you are made sour, you will turn curd and live two days. If as curd you’re churned, you will live on a third day as you turn sourer and sourer. If you rise as butter from buttermilk, you will live for weeks. If, as butter, you are heated temperately and decorated with a couple of betel leaves, you will turn into ghee whose fragrance fills the room. When as ghee you are used to light an earthen lamp, you will transform into a light that lights me up.’

‘So, tell me — would you like to be born as milk, live one day, and die as milk? Or would you rather grow every second of every day and transform into my light?’

Milk turned mute. It surrendered. It emerged from the darkness of ignorance and became god’s light.

Are we too not like this? The next time someone says something that makes us sour or bitter, let us not complain but choose to progress from being milk to being curd to being buttermilk to being butter to being ghee to being the light that lights up life and makes it worthwhile.

Afterword:

This is the translation of a Kannada story I read (on Whatsapp!) a couple of days ago. I knew as soon as I read it that I wanted to translate it.

I don’t know what you thought of the story, but let me tell you what I thought. I was drawn in first by its enigmatic title and then captivated by its originality. It is my opinion that the story possesses a poetic quality that elevates it to literature. In particular, the transformation of an everyday matter in an almost-transcendental metaphor is simply astonishing.

I also think the story cannot be easily classified. It may end in a moral but its striving for something much larger precludes it from being just another “moral story”.

P.S: It says it’s a Sanskrit story, but there is no reason to believe that it is not a folk story told by the classic “illiterate villager”. It’s very possible that it was given a Sanskrit stamp to lend it prestige. What stands out, rather, is the Indic (or subcontinental) origin of the story. Indeed, one of the strengths of the metaphor lies in the breadth of its cultural grasp.

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’s it that you’re now feeling 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’s 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.

Another Kannada Folktale: The Parakeet and the Hunter-Boy

Once upon a time, there lived in a forest a hunter-boy. This boy made a living trapping parakeets and selling them in the nearby town. Now it happened once that a rare type of parakeet was caught in his net.
       But before the boy could get hold of it, the parakeet spoke: “Dear boy, please spare me. You will be rewarded for it later.”
       Said the boy, “I don’t mind. But to let you go free means that I will have to go hungry today – ”
       “Is that all!” exclaimed the parakeet. “Just let your net lie as it lies now. No sooner am I gone than a many-coloured parakeet will fly into this very net. Take it up and give it to your king. He will reward you.”
       So the boy let go the parakeet and spread out his net. No sooner had the first parakeet flown away than a many-coloured parakeet came and fell into the net. The boy was overjoyed. He took it up and carried it straight to the king himself. The king too was greatly taken with the parakeet. He instantly gave the boy the price he asked for. Not just that, he even gave the boy a present as a token of his gratitude.
       The king had a golden cage made for the many-coloured parakeet. In less than a week, the parakeet had begun to talk too. This development brought the king no end of joy. Every spare second found him delighting in the parakeet’s company.
       Now it happened that this king had a wicked minister. That a mere boy, a nobody, should be given such a handsome reward did not sit well with him. He was further displeased by the favour the king showered on the parakeet. The king was no less attentive to the hunter-boy, and was forever asking about his welfare.
       How best, the minister wondered, to turn the king against the boy? Of course, killing the boy was out of the question. So the minister waited his chance. One day saw him say confidentially to the king –
       “Maharaj, it is my opinion that a golden cage is not sufficient adornment for such a rare bird as this many-coloured parakeet. Nor does it become your Majesty’s greatness. But a mantapa built of pure ivory – that would be the very thing! Think too of how much it would burnish your Majesty’s reputation.”
       “You tell the truth,” said the king thoughtfully. “But one can get a tusk or two at most. Where am I to get enough ivory to build a mantapa?
       “Why let that vex you? You could always call on that hunter-boy. He’s a mighty resourceful fellow. He will certainly be able to do this for you should you ask him.”
       The idea pleased the king, who sent word of his order with his minister. The minister went up to the boy and said – “Now look here, boy. It is the king’s wish that an ivory mantapa be built for his parakeet. You have been given two fortnights time to collect the tusks necessary to build it. If you bring them, you shall be rewarded. If you do not, you will be put to death.”
       The hunter-boy put his hands together and pleaded with the minister.
       “Mister, I can get a tusk or two if I am lucky. But where am I to get enough ivory to build a mantapa?”
       “It doesn’t matter where you get it from,” answered the minister. “Nor does it concern me. I have only come to tell you what the king’s order is.” He then sped away.
       The hunter-boy sat down disconsolately, his head in his hands. He rued the day he had presented the many-coloured bird to the king. ‘I have only a month left to live,’ he thought sadly. He was sitting like this when, of a sudden, there was a flutter of wings and the parakeet he had set free alighted on his wrist.
       “What ails you, dear boy?” asked the bird.
       “Why relate my misfortune!” cried the boy. “I used to live simply, catching and selling parakeets. But I was happy too. Then came you and the many-coloured parakeet. I sold the many-coloured parakeet to the king like you told me to, and had returned to being happy when alas! what should I hear but that the king wants enough ivory to build a mantapa with. Is that even possible? I have been granted two fortnights to find the ivory – if I fail, I shall be put to death.”
       “Do not despair, dear boy,” said the bird, “but head eastward instead. There, you will find a forest. In the middle of the forest is a lake, which is the watering hole for the forest’s elephants. Among them is an old elephant, the head of the herd. Tell him your trouble and ask him for his help. He will see to the rest.”
       The boy made east the next day. Everything was as the bird had said. He came upon the forest first. In the middle of it was the lake. In the afternoon came the herd of elephants. Their grazing finished, they romped and splashed around in the water. When they were done, they rose and began to make their way back to their grazing grounds. Bringing up the rear was a solitary old elephant, the leader of the herd. The boy went up him, fell on his knees, and clasped the old tusker’s feet.
       “Save me, O King of elephants!” he pleaded.
       Said the old elephant: “Who are you, young brother? What is it that ails you?” whereupon the boy poured out his woes. “Only you can save me now!” he cried.
The old elephant listened to this and said: “Young brother, there lives a lion in this forest who picks off one of our herd every single day. We are all of us helpless against him. Rid us of that menace and I will see to it that you get all the ivory you need.”
      The hunter-boy was more perplexed than ever. He stood there unmoving, trying to think of a way to help the elephants. He stood there so long that his throat turned dry, whereupon he went up to the lake to quench his thirst. As he bent down to scoop up a handful of water, his reflection looked back at him. A sudden idea struck him. He hurried back to town, bought a pair of large mirrors and set them up opposite one another by the bank of the lake. He then sat down by their side, singing softly to himself.
       Very soon – having caught the scent of a man – a lion came bounding up, roaring fiercely. But the boy showed no sign of fear – unperturbed, he continued to sit where he was, singing softly to himself. The lion was astounded by the boy’s behaviour.
       “What kind of arrogance is this, boy?” it asked. “Do you not know that the very bravest men flee at the sight of me? Are you not afraid of me?”
       Said the boy nonchalantly – “What reason have I to be scared? I have captured and caged a thousand lions like you.”
       The boy’s sangfroid angered the lion. It let forth a roar that shook the very ground of the forest.
       “Foolish boy!” cried the lion. “Do you hope to evade me with your petty lies?”
       “Lies?” answered the boy. “The captured lions are all here. Would you like to look at them?”
       “Think yourself dead, arrogant boy!” roared the lion as it landed with a spring between the two mirrors that faced each other. But lo, when it looked in the mirror what should it see but a endless parade of lions! This sight was too much for the lion, whose knees almost collapsed under it. Half-crazed with fear, scarcely knowing if it was awake or dreaming, it turned tail and fled without a backward glance.
       The fierce roars of the lion had caused the elephants to huddle together in fear. Seeing it flee now, they danced with spontaneous joy. The elephant king then praised the boy’s resourcefulness and said: “The lion has killed so many of our herd that there is an enormous pile of tusks you can help yourself to.” He showed these to the boy and then, loading the elephants of the herd with huge sacks of ivory, bade them accompany the boy home.
       The hunter-boy led these loaded elephants to town and presented himself to the king. The overjoyed king showered the boy with presents of  every kind and appointed him the Keeper of the royal elephant herd. He then enlisted the help of a famed sculptor and had made a most beautiful ivory mantapa, within which he placed the many-coloured parakeet. This largesse on the king’s part only served to stoke the minister’s envy. His well-laid plan had gone awry. For, consider, is it a common thing to be able to collect enough ivory to build a mantapa? The minister had been sure that the boy would fail and be punished for it – instead, he had succeeded splendidly. But this only made the minister more determined than ever to get rid of the boy, and he set about hatching a plan with renewed vigour.
       One day, as he watched the king talk merrily to the parakeet, a devious idea struck the minister.
       “Maharaj,” said he, “is it not strange that a bird that talks so enchantingly cannot sing?”
       “Perhaps he does not know how to,” replied the king.
       “Ah, Maharaj,” answered the minister, “can one believe that a parakeet cannot sing? Besides, it is said by those who know that even a bird that has forgotten its song will sing in the presence of he who first kept it. Summon that person and we shall know if this parakeet can sing or not.”
       His minister’s words vexed the king.
       “What you say is true,” he said, “but we do not know who first kept it, do we?”
       “But surely the Keeper of the royal elephants, I mean our hunter-boy, will know?” said the minister smoothly.
       The idea pleased the king, who, like before, sent word of his order with his minister. The minister went up to the boy and said – “Look here, boy, you have two fortnights to find and bring back to the palace the person who first kept the many-coloured parakeet. If you carry out the task, you will be rewarded. If you do not, you will be put to death.”
       The hunter-boy’s head whirled. “Mister,” pleaded he, “I brought the parakeet back from the forest. I do not know who first kept it.”
       “That does not concern me,” said the minister, “I have only come to tell you what the king’s order is.” He then sped away.
       The worried boy sat down in the doorway of his house. ‘I was fortunate enough to achieve the impossible last time,’ he reflected, ‘but what I am to do this time?’ ‘Indeed, I shall inhabit this earth no longer,’ he thought sadly. He was sitting like this when his old friend, the parakeet, alighted on his lap.
       “What ails you, dear boy?” it asked.
       “What’s there to tell!” lamented the boy. “I have been ordered by the king to find and bring to me the one who first kept that many-coloured bird. I have been given two fortnights time to do so. If I fail, I shall be killed. What am I to do?”
       “I see,” said the bird after it had listened to the boy. “Then come with me,” and saying so, it took wing and hovered in front of the boy. The boy climbed onto the bird’s back and the two set off. Very soon, they reached a temple within the forest. A rocking-horse stood to one side. Said the bird to the boy –
       “Climb onto that horse. It will fly. When you reach the ocean and are flying over it, you will spot a beautiful island. Bring the horse down onto it. As soon as you do, you will be swarmed by slave-girls who wish to look at the horse. Show them how to mount it, how to fly it, and how to bring it back down. Offer to take a few of them for a ride. Once you have humoured them, their mistress, the princess, will herself come to look at the horse. Help her mount the horse. Then jump on it yourself and steer it back here.” So saying, the bird showed the hunter-boy how to mount the rocking-horse, how to to fly it, and how to bring it back down. Having learnt the manouevers, the boy climbed onto the horse and took off.
       As he was flying over the ocean, the boy saw the island the bird had spoken of, and steered the rocking-horse down towards it. No sooner had they landed than a large group of slave-girls came up to look at the horse. He kept them entertained by showing some of them how to mount it, fly it, and get off. Finally, the princess herself came up to look at the rocking-horse. She had only just climbed onto it when he gave the horse a tug, wheeled around, and flew off. Thinking this his idea of a sport, the princess sat back to enjoy herself. By the time she realized she was being kidnapped, it was too late – neither her screams nor her tears had the slightest effect on her captor.
       The hunter-boy made straight for the palace. No sooner had they landed in the courtyard than the many-coloured parakeet recognized its mistress and burst into song. The occasion brought the king such joy that he danced a jig in celebration. Equally happily, the princess and the king had fallen in love at first sight, and were married within the week. As for the hunter-boy, the king showered him with riches and appointed him Chief of the royal army. The minister’s flaming jealousy was now mingled with fear. ‘The hunter-boy went from being a mere stripling to being the Keeper of the royal elephants,’ he thought worriedly. ‘He has now risen to be Chief of the royal army. Who knows, if he keeps this up, he may even usurp my ministership.’ He determined to cause the boy’s undoing.
       A few weeks later, the princess took ill with a stomach-ache. A phalanx of royal physicians tried to cure her, but their efforts yielded no fruit. When the king raged at them for their incompetence, they said: “Maharaj, it appears to us that the queen is not one of our own. Instead, we think she must be of the race of the gods themselves, for not one of our medicines has had the slightest effect. We can only suggest that one of her own people from the island be brought to cure her.”
       Sensing an opportunity, the minister intervened. “The royal physicians speak the truth, Maharaj,” said he.
       “But if that is so,” asked the king, “who is to go the island?”
       “Why let that worry you, Maharaj?” said the minister. “Surely the Chief of the the royal army, the hunter-boy, will be able to help us. Why not send him?”
       The king was preparing to send the hunter-boy back to the island when the queen got wind of the plan. “Alas,” said she in deep dejection, “there is nothing to be achieved from going there. For there is but one soul who knows the cure – she is my beloved companion, whom, in a moment of anger, my curse transformed into a parakeet. Thenceforth she has lived in the wilds, winging her way in the ten directions. What chance have we of finding her? Ah woe is me, for death is at my doorstep – ”
       That evening, the hunter-boy returned home and sat down, thinking all the while of a way to save the queen. He was engaged thus when his friend, the parakeet, flew up and alighted on his wrist.
       “What is the matter now, dear boy?” it asked.
       “What can I say?” replied the boy. “The queen is suffering from a pain in the stomach, the cure to which is known only to a beloved companion of hers. But, alas, an impetuous curse of the queen’s transformed that very companion into a parakeet – which, right at this moment, may be flying through some unknown wilderness. So, there lies the queen, disconsolately awaiting her death as the king grieves for her. It is in the hope of helping them, poor souls, that I am wrapt in thought.”
       “If that is so,” said the bird. “then take me with you to the palace.”
       The boy did as the bird asked and took it with him to the palace. Inside, the king and his family stood in a circle around the suffering queen, their faces etched with lines of helpless despair. When the hunter-boy entered with the parakeet, the queen immediately recognized the bird for her long-lost companion and turned her back to her original form of a woman. Thus transformed, the queen’s companion stood in the room, glowing with a rare beauty that was not lost on the hunter-boy – who gazed at her with frank appreciation. The companion then deftly prepared the medicine and fed it to the queen, who recovered instantly.
       When this was done, the king made the hunter-boy his minister as a mark of his appreciation. He also made arrangements for the hunter-boy to be married to the queen’s companion. As for the minister, the king finally recognized his wickedness and had him banished from the kingdom.
       So, our heroes lived happily ever after in their kingdom. And we? We live on here.

Afterword:

Another folktale I translated years ago; when I was just learning to read the Kannada script. A lot of what I said in the Afterword to the last post applies to this one too (particularly the reference to the type of language used).
Again, it seems to me that this folktale is both archetypal and “of the soil”.

A Kannada Folktale: Hucchayya (The Fool)

       There once lived three brothers in a town. The youngest of them was Hucchayya. That wasn’t his real name, but he was a fool and so people called him Hucchayya. But that never bothered Hucchayya.
       Now Hucchayya, as the name suggests, was not a man of guile. Nor did he know what it was to keep a secret. So, those who wished to spread a rumour had only to say: “Hucchayya, here’s a piece of news, but don’t speak about it to anyone.” Huccha would then travel through town, telling everybody he met the news, adding: “But see that you don’t speak about it to anyone.”
       Hucchayya’s two brothers had married and set up separate homes. The two of them had also split the inheritance, leaving nothing to Hucchayya. ‘He can split his time between our houses,’ they thought.
       But this didn’t suit Hucchayya, who protested –
       “You have been unjust, brothers,” said he. “I too am my father’s son. I deserve my share of the inheritance.”
       “So be it,” said his brothers. “What would you like for yourself?”
       Hucchayya was taken aback. Finally, he said: “I would like this ox,” pointing to an old ox that was on its last legs. Rejoicing inwardly, his brothers handed him the ox.
Thereafter, in spite of eating at his brothers’s homes, Hucchayya lived with his ox in the backyard and bethought himself independent.
       How well Hucchayya looked after his old ox! No mother ever pampered her infant more. He stroked it tenderly, fed it the best hay to be found, and made sure that its bucket of water was always full.
       Besides all this, Hucchayya also talked to his ox. If, as Hucchayya spoke to it, the ox shook its head, twitched its ears, or swished its tail in an attempt to shake off the flies, Huccha found in it the suitable response to his chatter and was content. And when, wishing for some grass, it licked his face with its wet tongue, it pleased him so much that he told everyone of it. “How well an animal can love!” he said.
       His affection for the ox went so far as to give it the name, Basavakumāra, the ox-prince. For a few days after the naming, he even spoke of him to all those who passed. “My Basava didn’t drink his water today,” he would say anxiously, “I wonder what the matter is.”
       Or, “My Basava went all day without shaking his tail.” And even: “My Basava didn’t utter a sound all day.” No mother ever spoke of her child more lovingly. But what did the old ox know of all this?
Weeks passed. One day, Huccha caught hold of Basava‘s tail and saying, “Why aren’t you moving your tail about, my dear Basava?” gave Basava‘s tail a little shake, whereupon the old ox collapsed. Huccha was so disappointed at the ox’s behaviour that he ceased to look upon it with any affection.

       Now Hucchayya’s brothers owned a pair of cows between them. Thinking these animals a needless burden, the brothers sold them at the neighbouring town. When Hucchayya heard of this, he too decided to sell his ox and betook himself to the same town. But his was an old ox. Who would buy it willingly? Hucchayya spent a fruitless day at the fairgrounds and when evening fell began to make his way back home. On his way, he came across a tree swaying to the wind. “Clickety click,” went the tree as it swayed back and forth. (Let us remind ourselves at this juncture that Hucchayya was a fool.)
       “What’s that, Mr. Tree,” said Hucchayya when he heard this. “Are you asking me how much I want for my ox?” “Clickety click,” went the tree.
       “I won’t take anything less than twenty-five rupees,” answered Hucchayya.
       “Clickety click,” went the tree again. “What’s that? You’ll pay me twenty-five rupees for my ox?”
       “Click.”
       “Yes? All right, here you are. Hand over the money now.”
       “Clickety click.”
       “Oh, well, if that’s the way you want it,” said Hucchayya. He went up to the tree and secured the old ox to its trunk.
       “Clickety click,” went the tree.
       “Eh? You’ll pay me tomorrow? So be it,” answered Hucchayya and made his way home.
       When they gathered for dinner, his brothers asked: “Where’s your ox, Hucchayya?”
       “I’ve sold it,” he answered.
       “For how much?”
       “Twenty-five rupees,” said Hucchayya.
       His brothers were impressed. ‘Not a bad bargain,’ they reflected. ‘Twenty-five rupees for a run-down old ox.’
       “Where’s the money, brother?” they asked.
       “He’ll give it to me tomorrow,” said Hucchayya.
       Having no reason to disbelieve him, his brothers turned the conversation to other things.
       When Hucchayya went up to the tree the next day, his ox was nowhere to be found.
       “All right, Mr. Tree, hand over the money,” said Hucchayya.
       “Clickety click,” said the tree.
       “What’s that? You’ll pay me tomorrow?” asked Hucchayya. “All right, but make sure that you do. I won’t have you telling me tomorrow to come the next day and then the next day and so on. It’s only because you’ve asked me nicely today that I’ve said yes.” Saying this, he took himself home.
       That evening too, Hucchayya’s brothers asked him where the money was.
       “He said he’d give to me tomorrow,” said Hucchayya.
       “Very well, your lordship,” said his brothers, “at least tell us who you sold the ox to.”
       “To a tree on the way to town,” answered Hucchayya.
       His brothers clapped themselves on the forehead. “When will you ever learn some sense?” they shouted.
       “The poor tree,” answered Hucchayya. “He pleaded so piteously that my heart melted and I gave in.”
       Consoled by the reflection that they had been saved the trouble of burying the old ox, his brothers dropped the matter.

       The following morning Hucchayya went up to the tree again. “Well then, are you going to pay me today?” he demanded.
       “Clickety click,” went the tree.
       Hucchayya was displeased. “I won’t have any more of this clickety click nonsense,” he warned it. “I just want my money. Otherwise, I’ll use my axe to give you a cut for every rupee you owe me. What do you say to that, huh?”
       “Clickety click,” said the tree.
       Hucchayya lost his temper at this. One, two, three, four – chop, chop, chop, chop went his axe.
       Now the tree was an old desiccated tree. Hucchayya had struck no more than ten blows than it fell. But wonders never cease, do they? For what should the tree harbour but a stolen stash of treasure! When the tree fell, the treasure spilled out in all its richness. Wrapping a portion of the treasure in his bag of cloth, Hucchayya rushed home and deposited it in front of his brothers. His brothers’s faces expressed both happiness and amazement.
       “Where did all this come from, Hucchayya?” they asked.
       “Didn’t I tell you?” answered Hucchayya. “I sold my ox to the tree. It didn’t give me my twenty-five rupees, but instead gave me all this gold and silver. There’s a lot more gold and silver by it still.”
       “Well, what are we waiting for?” cried his brothers. Saying so, they rushed to the spot with Hucchayya.
       It was just like Hucchayya had said. Spades of gold and silver lay by the fallen tree. Eagerly, the brothers gathered up all the treasure. Then, handing a small sack to Hucchayya to carry home, they said to him: “See that you don’t say a word about all this gold and silver to anyone, Hucchayya.”
       “All right,” said Hucchayya.
       The three of them were hurrying home when they came up against the village priest. “What’s this, boys,” he asked, “what have you got in those sacks?” “Oh, nothing much, Mister, just some sprouts from the field,” replied the eldest. But Hucchayya intervened – “Is it right to tell lies to the village priest, brother?” he said reproachfully. Turning to the priest, “Mister, these sacks we’re carrying are full of gold and silver.” “Here, see for yourself,” he added and undid the knot of his sack.
       The priest’s eyes glittered greedily at the sight of the treasure.
       “So it’s true!” he exclaimed and stooping, picked up a handful of gold and put it his bag of alms. This displeased Hucchayya. “The cheek!” he expostulated and brought down the axe he was holding on the priest’s head, who drew his last breath  and fell down dead. Furious at Hucchayya’s foolishness, his two brothers threw the priest’s corpse in a nearby pit and hurried homewards.
       That very night, Hucchayya’s brothers waited until he had gone to bed and then stole out. Retrieving the priest’s body from the pit, they buried it securely, flung the remains of a dead ram into the pit and returned home.
       In a couple of days, people noticed the priest’s absence and begun to discuss the matter. When Hucchayya heard this, he said:
       “That’s right, it was I who killed him. I then placed the body in a nearby pit and returned.”
       “Let’s go look,” said the townspeople when they heard this. Hucchayya led the way to the pit his brothers had flung the body into. Going up to its lip, he called out –
       “Our priest had a beard, did he not?”
       “Yes,” came the answer.
       “And did he not have two horns upon his head?”
       What’s this fool of a Hucchayya talking about, thought the crowd, and came up to the pit to see for themselves. When they looked, all they saw were the decaying remains of a ram.
       “Hucchayya was born a fool, but fraternising with a fellow like him will only make us go mad,” they thought bitterly and turned to make their way back to town. When later, Hucchayya told them of how the tree gave him and his brothers all that gold and silver, the people of the  town ignored him. So it turned out that Hucchayya and his brothers lived happily ever after.

       So they’re out there. And we? We’re out here.

Afterword:

I grew up reading the wonderful and engaging folklore and mythology of many of the world’s peoples. Naturally, my reading included Indic mythology. However, most stories I read were those that had come down through the ages along the mainstream of Sanskrit. Stories from the Ramāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, and the Panchatantra abounded. Much less common were folktales from the many indigenous languages (often called bhāsha-s) of India’s various peoples.

The story I’ve translated here is a Kannada folktale, found in a collection – whose name I forgot and a copy of which I seem to have misplaced – compiled by Chandrashekhara Kambara. The theme, like so many other folkloric themes, is one that is found in the folktales of various other peoples. Notwithstanding these similarities, there are elements in this Kannada version that I, for one, have not come across in other stories of this “type”. Those of you who have read folklore of this sort before will have noticed that the language I’ve used is sometimes deliberately archaic.

P.S: This was perhaps my very first translation from Kannada to English; and was done several years before I got around to translating Bendre.