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.