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 process-
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)
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