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;
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:
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.
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)
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