It Happened This Way (K. S. Narasimhaswamy)

ಹೀಗಾಯಿತು (It Happened This Way)

Someone of mine it seems, a friend of mine it seems
had come this evening to our house;
someone who knew me it seems, asked for me it seems –
not here, said Gowri, chasing him away.

This is our rented home; there is no sign
upon the door that says if I am in or out –
if somebody should ask if I am there or not,
it is not right to say no and close the door.

A relative of mine, maybe, perhaps a friend,
someone I know – but who? Let him be well;
shyness may have stopped the question on her lips
but let the reasons be; for now – who was he?

A shy, blushing woman; in front of me she swells;
to other voices, though, she is a bud that’s closed;
couldn’t she, who said ‘He isn’t there,’ say ‘Stop, 
who are you, what do you want?’ – stupid woman!

Having slogged all day, I see that it’s the evening now
and say, god, send your cool breeze on its rounds;
whether in poverty or wealth, your affection is what
sends me home each evening, a song upon my lips.

Beneath the leafy-wreath, behind the limn,
my woman waits, laughter’s flower in her hand.
I step past her and walking to the cradle,
flick the kanda who calls with outstretched hand.

Reserving in faith what little happiness I have,
I lead my life in a curtained way;
but, still, now and then, such people push through,
then vanish – leaving a gnawing feeling behind.

Not saying who he was, not saying why he’d come,
did he just leave like that? – let him return!
Who was it – I’ve asked Gowri a hundred times;
saying over and over what’d happened,

‘Don’t kill me’, she said, with this constant asking,
‘I do not know; what’s he to you? He’ll come again, 
tomorrow he’ll return; stay and ask him yourself,
I’m certain he’ll come’ – she laughed and said.

Baby’s-cradle’s only just filled with sleep,
eyes closed, lips parted in a laughter-hint;
so, damayya, she says, don’t come and ask
who, what, why, where – her words get me laughing.

She spreads the mattress from her mother’s home
upon the bed, then slowly, looking at me and
tightening with a turn her nose-ring, she makes
her bangles sound and goes to sleep, my Gowri.

My watch tells me it’s eleven, then twelve,
I do not get to sleep at all that night;
by me, this woman who’s plumbed sleep’s depths
appears like an answer to all questions.

Like pure-white milk poured on pure-white flowers,
like the moon’s pure light falls on a pure-white cloud,
like she alone has seen the figure of peace,
she’s gone to sleep this one’s who blessed. 

Just like that, I looked her way one time,
her eyes were filled with sleep, her tendril-hair was all awry;
a whisper in the nook of her just-open lips
brought a melody to imagination’s ear.

A cool breeze ran slowly upwards,
a photo of Gandhi cheered the sight;
the grand-Indian dream paraded the mind-eye’s,
the light of the temple-bed-of-sleep turned bright.

The evening’s visitor knew me it seems,
is it all right to trust that he’d been sent by god?
The one who came was my friend it seems,
would it work to imagine he was every life-friend?

He’d seen me it seems, who’d thought to come to
ee me; the enlightened man can see it all;
ayyo! he was someone of mine, this sympathetic man;
the knot undid itself – things can now move on.

Such ones do not just come once and leave;
does the earth only momentarily turn heaven?
Her saying that he will come again is not untrue,
the rain, the grain, all life itself happens from them.

(Translated by Madhav Ajjampur)


This was the second poem of KSNa I came across and read in its entirety. The first one was ಸಂಧ್ಯಾರಾಗ (‘An Evening Raga’) – which is a poem I’ve already translated and published. These two poems together convinced me that KSNa was a serious poet, one deserving of attention. I have since bought his collected poetry and found him to be a poet with a style of his own; one that reveals itself in his legendary “ಮೈಸೂರು ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆ (The Mysore Jasmine)” itself, his first collection of poetry and one of 20th-century Kannada’s best-selling poem-books. Like I said in the foreword to ‘An Evening Raga’, I consider him the second-greatest Kannada poet of the 20th-century (after Bendre). Indeed, the evolution of KSNa’s poetry is as worthy of study as his poetry itself; not least for the gradual increase in its metaphorical complexity and the fact that his last six collections of poetry were published after he’d lost his sight and needed to dictate his poetry.
     As far as this poem is concerned, it appears to me both a narrative and a meditation. And while it may not be as effortlessly lyrical as Bendre’s poetry, it is still a poem (rather than chopped-up prose) for it contains the rhythm, imagery, and roundedness that, in my opinion, are the qualities that distinguish a poem. In this age of anything-is-a-poem, it is both refreshing and exemplary.

P.S: For once, I have not recited the original poem; mostly on account of it being too long. It’s also why I haven’t recited my English translation-creation. (However, I encourage you to read it out loud so as to hear its rhythm.) By the way, if any of you would like a copy of the original, let me know.

You who clearly know … tell me (Vaidehi)

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 aatman and the brahmaṇ.

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

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

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)


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?


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


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

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