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 at 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
s
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)

Afterword:

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.

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