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 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.)

 

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.

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.