Celebration : Da Ra Bendre in English hits 10,000!

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I began the blog-website (www.darabendreinenglish.com) some three-and-a-half years ago on the advice of a couple of well-wishers who, appreciating what I was trying to do, suggested I move my work from the ephemeral illusion that is Facebook to the less-ephemeral reality of a blog. Since then, I have used this blog-website as a bit of a laboratory; that is to say, as a place to experiment with different ways to present and publicize (to the world at large) the English avatara-s of the remarkable Kannada poetry of Da Ra Bendre. What began in a flurry of enthusiasm (and posts) continues now, in calmer fashion, as a project of enjoyable creative labour and professionalism.

10,000! The last time I had something to do with this number was when I was being paid to find different ways to introduce it to students in Grade 4. (I think I prefer the number in its present context.) Unlike then, the number has arrived with unexpected speed. I remember the last time I took a screenshot of the stats of the website was when the number of hits was 4444. I meant to take the next screenshot when the number reached 5555, but I missed it by a whisker: when I got there, it showed 5556 hits. In any case, the way the traffic on this website has grown since that last screenshot has been extremely and pleasantly surprising. After being hit a record 465 times in June, the website was at the end of 824 hits in July. And when it rains it pours. Beginning August, the website has received at least a thousand hits every month! It is this consistency that has allowed it to reach the 10,000 mark even earlier than I’d reckoned. That these 10,000 hits have come from 4384 “unique” people living in 47 different countries is really quite gratifying.

If I may, I’d now like to say a little bit about Bendre and myself. The truth is that I began translating his poetry on a whim. I seem to recall that my first attempt happened sometime in the middle of 2015. At the time, I was reading a good deal more
about Bendre (than Bendre himself) in Kannada while enjoying my most productive year as a writer in English. Looking back to that time, I believe my interaction with Bendre, his life and his Kannada poetry catalyzed – in some strange, wondrous way – the English poetry I had been waiting for for years.

Maybe it was this feeling that made me take a stab at translating a poem of his. (I had only ever translated a couple of short folktales previously.) Perhaps it was because I had been reading so much about Bendre and about his ways and his poetry and excerpts from his poems that I decided to go straight to the source. Because what had happened through my reading was that I had begun to revere Bendre in the same way I’d come to revere Gauss and Euler and Newton after reading about them and their work (as related by E.T. Bell mostly) and I think maybe I didn’t want that to happen with Bendre too. So where I didn’t pursue those mathematicians’s original work, I did Bendre’s – down previously unknown, unfamiliar paths.

The first poem I took up was “ನಾನು (I)“. It is not one of his “famous” poems, but it has the distinction of being the only poem whose recitation (by Bendre himself) was videographed. With this video to look at and a recitation to inform the rhythm of the translation (more accurately a transcreation), I went to work and came up with a translation that I considered reasonable. This translation (with a couple of tweaks) would go on to become the inaugural post on the website. But what really got me going was the success I made of transcreating what is perhaps Bendre’s most famous poem — “ಗಂಗಾವತರಣ (The Descent of the Ganga)”. Begun rather impulsively, it was only with the help of Sunaath Kaka’s wonderful Kannada explication that I was was able to pull through — with the transcreation of some parts happening in a manner I myself found difficult to believe. (I’m referring here, particularly, to the portion of the poem that begins “Beloved into whose waters fell…”.) But that done, things just took off: I had properly begun my “creative engagement” with the poetry of Da Ra Bendre — Kannada’s ವರಕವಿ (varakavi: ~ heaven-touched poet), one of the world’s greatest lyric poets, and a ನ ಭೂತೋ ನ ಭವಿಷ್ಯತಿ (never before never again) phenomenon. Almost four years into this engagement, I am more or less convinced that it was destiny or fate or ಹಣೆಬರಹ (haṇebaraha: ~ writing-on-the-forehead) that brought Bendre and me together.

I’d like to conclude with a vote of thanks to the various people whose support and encouragement has vitalized this venture and given me reason to continue it. Yes, it is silly to use the number of “likes” and “hearts” and “comments” on Facebook to measure a work’s worth. But, at a time when I was just starting out and knew barely anybody capable of assessing this sort of work, it was these little taps of appreciation by friends (and the occasional stranger) that buoyed me, that helped my work, that made me keep at my translation and its publishing. (I can only imagine how pleased Bendre would have been to know that the English translations of his poetry had its own group of “ರಸಿಕ-ಸಹೃದಯ“s.)

So – my heartfelt thanks to all of you: the first readers of my work; the Facebook friends with their emoticon gestures of support; the people kind enough to write a comment telling me what they thought; the strangers from all over the world who “hit” this page and left without a trace; the sahrudaya-s generous enough to share a transcreation or two and spread the word; the very small number of bilingual Bendre-enthusiasts who’ve expressed their appreciation; the strangers-turned-acquantainces who’ve warmed my heart with their emails or messages; the recently-formed group of Bendre aficianados in Bangalore who have shown me such gracious affection; the friends and family who took the time to come to listen my talk at NIAS; the reader yet to come. Thank you.

To end, I would, at the cost of being accused of “partiality”, like to name some people whose support – each for a different reason almost – has meant more than they may ever know.

Amma, Appa, Zain, Danny L, Aruna, Jenny, Roshan, Babyshek, Rashmi, Sethappa, Roshan, Rajata, Anagha, Raakhul, Pratibha S, Sindhura, Lipi, Vima Viveka, Sagaré, Acchu, Jyothi, Shubha awaré, Rajanna uncle, Sharada aunty, Sudhakar uncle, Vasudha awaré, Arvind uncle, Hema aunty, Gayathri chikkamma, Addy, Sandhya aunty, Ritu, Kiccha, Vidya ma’am, Tds, Amaaan, Sunaath Kaka, K Nithesh, Arch, Manisha, Vasant S, Rukmini ma’am, Latha ma’am, Jayashree ma’am, Harisha, Sangamesha, Mounesha, Suma awaré, Surabhi awaré, Raju NS, Gorky, Vyasa, Abhijeet K, Mangala N, Malini, Hamsa aunty, Himan, Rekha M, Nivi, HSR uncle, Tirumalesh uncle — my thanks again to each of you for being the ಸಹೃದಯ (sahrudaya) you’ve been.

Poem : Upon a Winter Morning’s Walk

For this 25th post on my blog, I’ve gone back a long way – to one of the first poems I wrote after college. (I think it must have been in late 2011 or early 2012.) Also, given the occasion, I’ve had my mother recite the poem.
I suggest you read the afterword (below). It offers context and a few details that I think you’ll find interesting.

Upon a Winter Morning’s Walk


A solitary crow alights upon
The half-torn branch of the broken tree;
Cawing to a misted winter morning
Blooming silently into its glory.

A rustle; the frightened crow flies off
The half-torn branch of the broken tree,
And its rising wing brushes a leaf
That does not know how tò be free.

The fallen leaf will wet and wither
Beneath the winter’s sun and rain,
But that black crow that flies the skies
Will never léarn what it has done.

But a little squirrel that saw it all
Will plant a treasured nut when it is spring,
And a tree will open beautifully
With the leaf that fell from the crow’s black wing.

Afterword:

I recall the incident that inspired the poem quite vividly.
I’d woken up unusually early that day and decided, on a whim I imagine, to go take a morning walk through the Tata Institute. When I set out, the sun had only just begun to make its way upwards and spread its warmth upon the cold, misty morning. The route I took brought me to the top of the long slope that descends to the IISc’s swimming pool. I began my walk down that road, enjoying the bracing breeze and watching the sunlight create a light-and-shadow play as it made its way through the green that arched above me. As I neared the bottom of the slope, the green above began to give way to the fresh blue of the lightening sky. I decided to turn right and walk one of those mud-and-stone paths that give the IISc its inimitable old-world charm. I had only just stepped off the flagstones and onto the path when I saw it – the solitary crow, the broken tree, the happiness of blue and green in the background.
The first lines of the poem came to me when the crow took off. Having no pen or paper, I recited them to myself over and over as I made my way to the campus canteen – where I pencilled down the first four lines or so on a piece of crumpled bill-paper. The rest of the poem came gradually (over the next day or two).

Note: I don’t think I could write a poem like this today. For better or for worse, I have moved past such romanticism – like most writers do as they grow older and more experienced. When I wrote it, not only was I a fledgling writer but a young man greatly influenced by and extremely attracted to the overwhelming beauty and romanticism of Yeats’s early poetry.

Travel Tales from Uttara Kannada

Towards the end of September 2014, I travelled with my parents and three other relatives to Honnavar, Kumta, and some other places nearby. This is a “diary”, as it were, of the three days we spent there. Most of the account is what I wrote down (in a notebook) as we went along; the rest are details remembered and written down in early October – when I typed out and polished the whole thing.

Note: There’s a glossary below. Words with an asterisk against them show up in it. Do refer to the glossary if any of those words need clarifying. However, please note that there is no need to refer to the glossary and that it is possible to read and grasp the whole account without referring to it.

Sep 27, Day 1:

We reached Mangalore on time, at about 8 in the morning. The station was reasonably clean and sparsely populated. We had breakfast – iḍlis and vaḍēs* – and then napped until about noon on the train. We crossed the sharāvati river at about 12.30 p.m. and gained a wonderful view of it from the bridge. It looked so large, it could have been mistaken for the sea and it was full with the water of a beneficent monsoon. The waves looked calm, and the water itself was an attractive grey colour. Somewhere out on the river rode a small painted boat. Dotting the river were small islands, looking green with their trees and shrubs.
We reached
honnāvara at about 1.00 in the afternoon: it was a small station and held only a handful of people. A stone plaque that had been laid in 1996 put the station’s age at 18.
We were met at the station by Gopi, a small man with small eyes and a swollen, unshaven face who turned out to be an inveterate chewer of paan masala*. He had brought a Maruti van, which was perhaps the best kind of car for the roads found in the area. (Gopi, it struck me later, was a rather careful driver, who rarely extended himself or the car.) We loaded our bags onto the roof of the van and made our way to the railway station at
kumṭa – where we were to pick up Shaila aunty and Anand uncle. The road to kumṭa took us through several tiny villages that are a common feature of the Karnataka – and I presume the Indian – countryside. Along the road were orchards and open fields, some overgrown with grass after the rains; others drowning in water, marking them as paddy-fields. The day itself was hot (with some humidity), the heat hanging in the air in a sort of haze.
We reached
biḍāra – the homestay – at about two in the afternoon, sweaty and sticky and raring to have a bath. The façade of the place made no particular impression at first sight – it looked somewhat unstructured and remote – but a quick tour of the rooms impressed me. Since the water was being heated using hot coals, we were advised to have lunch first – which we did, upon an unostentatious glass-top table that had been placed under the cool shelter of a Mangalore-tiled roof. (The lunch was simple but substantial – slender chapātis, dōṣekāyi huḷi*, well-cooked rice, some aromatic lemongrass tambuḷi*, a lush, well-set bowl of curds and a bowl of shāvigē pāyasa* for dessert.)
We then bathed and set off for a
darshana of the karikānanamma temple – which sits atop a medium-sized hill. We had been told, warned rather, that it would be crowded; however, it was anything but. After a drive – upon potholed, gravel-and-sand roads – of about 3 to 4 kms, we reached the temple, a rudimentary structure of stone, with a corridor that led to the garbhaguḍi* (where the dēvī’s* face had been drawn on a black stone, and where the windows had been carved out to spell her name). After a short stop at the garbhaguḍi, where we were given the mangaḷārati*, we returned to the car and decided – after looking out towards the Arabian sea and into the thickly-forested valley below – to stay to watch the sunset, which wouldn’t happen until 6.45 or 7.
In order to pass the time, we trekked up a winding, stony path that eventually descended – instead of rising – towards the temple of another
dēvī, kaṇivē* amma. The trail was nice and cool and wet – and reminded me of a similar trail we had travelled on in America. (Appa said that it was at the Mt. Rainier Park.) We turned back when we came to the top, but that was not enough to prevent Pammie aunty and Shaila aunty (and me) from the bloodlust of the leeches – or umbaḷa as Gopi called them – that we had been cautioned about, and, in our chappals, were unprepared for. However, no harm was done, I saw a leech finally – and didn’t find it especially repulsive – and the episode led to a good deal of chatter and laughter.
We then sat about in some plastic chairs and waited for the sun to sink and fall – and it seemed as if we had been condemned to wait and wait and wait, for the sun stood still in the sky like the reassuring, motionless light of a lighthouse. Beyond the sun and (later, as we grasped the key to the mirage) under it spread the Arabian sea, rippling faintly in the single beam of sunlight falling on it, and attractively set off by an island that rose like a large, enshrubbed hillock.
We returned home soon after the sun set – anticlimactically and abruptly, as if in freefall – to our cosy homestay, secreted away within a forest of
aḍikē* orchards and fruit trees, where insects chirped and sang all night long under the clear crescent moon. I close my narrative now at 1.00 am, as I sit among the faint lights that separate this little homestay from the ancient darkness of the surrounding forest. The last sound I hear is the singing of a cricket, its ancient notes falling into an ancient darkness.

Sep 28, Day 2:

We breakfasted at about 8.30 and left for yāṇā at about 9. Breakfast was a steamed idli wrapped like a patroḍē* within a slice of plantain leaf. We reached yāṇā at about 9.30 and set off for the peak almost immediately. (We had been assured there would be no leeches but we had all rubbed on Odomos just to make sure.) The climb was pleasant, with a gurgling stream that kept us company most of the way. The trees along the path, as well as the shrubs, moss and sundry bushes, looked untouched and as if they had come right out of an undisturbed past. The climb was mildly challenging – and Appa led the way as usual. Shaila Aunty lagged behind and was visibly tired, frequently stopping to wipe her face. She eventually stopped before the last flight of stairs, and plopped down on a nearby bench. Luckily, the remainder was a short climb and she made it at Pammie Aunty’s urging.
All along the climb we had seen the two mountains – the
kālabhyrēshwara (ಕಾಲಭೈರೇಶ್ವರ) and the mōhinī (ಮೋಹಿನೀ) – two wide, black, calcite structures that time and the elements had carved gracefully. If the mōhinī parvata* is an erect structure, with sheer bluffs crested by steeples – one steeple rising above all the others, the kālabhyrēshwara rock (under whose hood are the temple and the linga) is a broad-chested structure of black, with a deep concave flank.
The inner temple was almost empty, and held a placid quiet within its small courtyard. The shrine itself was a small room, with a black-floor vestibule and a
swayambhu* image of shiva within the garbhaguḍi. Appa requested a rudrābhishēka* – inspired by the quiet he said later – and the purōhitru*, a fat man with a calm face and a slow, gentle, clear voice – said the introductory prayers before asking us to make a pradakshiṇa* of the temple. Shaila aunty and Pammie aunty asked out, but Appa, Anand uncle, Amma and I climbed the stony path that had been carved through the rock itself. This was a much more challenging ascent (and descent) which was not, however, without its rewards (that came in the form of numerous exquisitely patterned, latticed rocks of laterite).
Upon our return, the
purohitru performed the abhishēka* – that included the divesting and the dressing of the murti – and gave us the prasada*. We then bought a few curios (including a black miniature of the mōhinī parvata) at the small store within the temple’s premises; before descending at a fair pace, buoyed by having eaten some chakkalis* Pammie Aunty had brought along. Upon reaching the base, we had some coffee and bought a couple of jars of honey before leaving for biḍāra.
With everyone hungry, lunch was a quiet affair. We were served sāru* (instead of huḷi) and cabbage palya*, with a boondi* laḍḍoo for dessert. A short rest later, we left for the haḷadipura beach, a visit I had no particular reason to look forward to. I seem to recall that I dozed on the way and was surpised when I awoke to see that a slight detour off the main road led to the sandy front of the beach.
I have been to very few beaches in my life, but I cannot think that I have seen any finer than this one. We had glimpsed the sea (from atop the hill) the evening before, but now it lay spread before us, rising and falling with its sombre grey set off by the countless white sprays of foam that rode the crests of the waves. It was still light when we arrived, which allowed us to see the fine, white, powdery sand of the beach – soft and squishy, like a pillow. The beach itself was mostly empty, with only a few fishermen and their grounded boats to be seen, tiny figures in the dusk.

Sep 29, Day 3:

Breakfast was an early affair for we had a day’s worth of places to see. We were served uppiṭṭu* and sheera* – the uppiṭṭu was much too salty but the sheera was just the way I like it: soft, yellow and not too sweet. (I would have eaten a lot more of it, but I made it a point to not overeat on the days we were to travel in the Omni.) We were to have gone to iḍagunji first and then on to the sharāvati but we set out only at 9 o’clock, which meant going straight to the sharāvati for our scheduled “boating” session. We were earlier than expected but the proprietor arranged things for us over the phone and deputed one of his men, Maasti, to take us on a tour of the river on one of the several dinghies lying by the jetty. The sharāvati itself didn’t look as nice as it had two days ago (from the vantage of the bridge) but its expanse was undeniable. The sun was quite high in the sky when Maasti pulled the string, brought the motor-engine to life and extinguished all hope of conversation.
The idea was to round the larger group of islands dotting the river and return in about an hour and a half’s time. Our passage towards the islands – along the middle of the river’s expanse – was insipid, the monotone of green-coloured water our only companion. It was like walking up the middle of a wide, monochromatic plain, the faraway mountains losing their aura with every next step. About the only interesting part of this stretch was the small wash that accompanied the dinghy’s passage and reminded me of Coleridge’s “…the furrows followed free…”.
It was when we’d escaped the monotonous expanse of water and neared the cluster of islands that the journey transformed into a memorable one, as Maasti manouevred us through the more intimate spaces of the river and between the several patches of land and the reed-thick shallows around them. It was like we were finally communing with the river after a sustained period of aloofness. And the river too had begun to warm to us and reveal her secrets; the most wonderful of which was her collection of birds. From the empty blue of the ever-widening sky came to us garuḍa* (the Brahminy kite) himself, proud and beautiful as he winged and glided upon currents of air invisible to us. White-breasted with a glittering eye, two regal wings of brown and his famous aquiline beak, I cannot recall a finer time spent watching birds. He was given company by a number of other birds – the black geese (bātukōḷi: ಬಾತುಕೋಳಿ) with their thin necks and cocoon-like bodies, lightning-fast sunbirds that flew by in a flash of colour, and the poor dull crow.
Maasti had switched off the engine and we drifted along the sinuous curves of the river and among the reeds and lilies and mangroves and arcing palms of coconut. I thought then of the word “intimacy” as the best way to describe this passage through space and time and, as I write this now, I still think it felicitous; with its echoes of closeness and sympathy.
Maasti too was a source of pleasure, with his attractive sun-browned face and happy smile. He emboided the archetypal village man – simple and honest and gentle and hard-working. His speech too was characterized by a spare fluency. I would have liked to have pressed a hundred rupees into his palm as a token of my admiration and appreciation, but the proprietor was nearby and I thought it best not to. Nevertheless, I expect I will remember him and his simple smile for some time to come.
We returned to biḍāra for lunch, which was the usual affair plus a tambuḷi and a special sweet of rice and jaggery that came wrapped in the distinctive three-veined dāl chīni* leaf. (I forgot to mention our quick visit to a gaṇesha temple in iḍagunji that was visibly more commercial and busy than the other temples we’d visited. It was near “closing time” – for the afternoon – when we reached, but we managed to catch the last rites of the mahāmangaḷarati, a ritual made lively by the extremely rare sight of small, excited sparrows that shot about from one corner to another.)
It was about 4 p.m. when we left for apsarakoṇḍa, a locally-celebrated waterfall (and bathing-hole) whose beauty, it is said, attracted Indra’s own apsaras*. The place lay a little way up a hill, with an entrance that offered a pleasant view of the Arabian Sea. A local bhaṭṭru* gave us a summary of the place’s attractions which we were told ended in a procession of steps down to the shore. The apsarakoṇḍa and the waterfall were pleasing without being spectacular. The waterfall itself was only about 30 feet high and descended in a gush of swirling white before dissipating within the shallows of the koṇḍa. Unlike the yāṇā trail that was charged with the echoes of the past, the shallows and the koṇḍa* seemed to have lost the charm that made them the delight of the apsaras.
We ascended as we’d been told to, up a wild trail of trees and stones to a “plateau” that had been spruced up with inlaid, coloured stones and a sheltering gazebo around a well-cut lawn. The sea was closer now and its sands glittered in the late-afternoon sun. Around us lay the green of the ghats and the villages: olden trees and wild flowers and swathes of untouched forests adjoined watered and supervised fields of paddy that stretched away towards the right. (Later, we got a better view of these fresh-green fields and the white sands of the beach from a high-hanging cave that seemed as though it had been placed to serve as a vantage point.) A slight drizzle kept us company through our ascent, but it was warm and not unpleasant. The shore looked welcoming and thanks to Appa’s scouting, we began our descent down a series of steps that led right down to the beach.
It was earlier in the evening than the previous day and “the sun poured down like honey” upon the bobbing waves of the sea. It was low tide and the sea by the shore was calm. If the haḷadipura beach presented a long, desolate, dusk-darkened coastline, the shore by apsarakoṇḍa was livened by the presence of a fertile mountain that rose both unexpectedly and inexorably from one side; its characteristic black rock mossed by a rich, rain-fed green. (I was reminded of the forests that circled the sand dunes of Colorado National Park.)
As the evening wore on, we were treated to the sight of the sun dropping seawards, in a temperate glow of orange and red and foregrounded by jagged, half-coloured clouds. Like ever, it seemed to hang over the horizoned sea before dropping precipitously into the distant waters. Near the shore, the waves ran in and out as usual, with their small sprays of foam turned gold-green by the twilight. I spent a long time simply looking out over the sea, both aware of it and unaware, watching its untiring motion with a vague abstraction. I would have liked to have stayed on, looking out into the sea as the night fell from the corners of the sky – but my mother was calling to me persistently and the party was impatient, so I turned away from the sea and towards the waiting car.

Glossary:

1. vaḍē — the Kannada name of a deep-fried savoury dish shaped like a doughnut made using urad dāl (a certain kind of pulse/lentil)

2. paan masala — a mix of crushed betel nuts, angelica, and (often) tobacco

3. huḷi — the Kannada name of a liquid “side dish” made using a specially prepared powder (puḍi), crushed toor dāl (a certain kind of pulse/lentil), and one or more cut-up vegetables

4. tambuḷi — the Kannada name of a liqueous preparation made using several different vegetables or herbs; it has a most wonderful cooling effect

5. shāvigē pāyasa — pāyasa is the Kannada word for kheer (a sweet pudding of sorts); shāvigē is the Kannada word for vermicelli

6. garbhaguḍi — the sanctum sanctorum of a temple where the idol is kept

7. dēvī — a Sanskrit word that basically means ‘goddess’

8. mangaḷārati — an auspicious ārati, which is a ritual that involves the clockwise-revolution of a tongue of fire (usually lit by a tablet of camphor); it usually ends a prayer-ceremony

9. kaṇivē — the Kannada word for “valley” or “trough”

10. aḍikē — the Kannada word for betel nut or areca nut

11. patroḍē — a coastal Karnataka savoury dish, (usually) made using rice flour and wrapped in a leaf

12. parvata — the Sanskrit word for ‘mountain’

13. swayambhu — lit. ‘self-born’ in Sanskrit; often used to describe lingas or other natural structures that bear a resemblance to a Hindu deity

14. rudrābhishēka — a water-ceremony considered especially auspicious and performed for the god Shiva’s benefit (‘rudra’ being the name of his angry, terrible form)

15. purōhitru — the Kannada word for a Hindu priest

16. pradakshiṇa — a circumambulation of a temple or temple-like structure

17. abhishēka — a ceremony where water is poured over the idol and mantras are chanted

18. prasada — lit. happiness in Sanskrit; most often used to refer to the food (ostensibly) blessed by the deity themselves and handed out to devotees

19. chakkali — the Kannada word for a deep-fried savoury dish, spiral in shape and made using rice flour and the flour of urad dāl (a certain kind of pulse/lentil)

20. sāru — the Kannada word for a liquid “side dish” made using a special powder (puḍi), a handful of crushed toor dāl (a certain kind of pulse/lentil) and tamarind

21. palyā — the Kannada word for a savoury vegetable preparation, often contaning more than one vegetable and seasoned with grated coconut; usually eaten with annā-sāru (rice-sāru) and annā-huḷi (rice-huḷi)

22. boondi — a savoury (or occasionally sweet) preparation made using basin (gram flour), usually rolled into tiny balls and deep-fried

23. uppiṭṭu — the Kannada word for a savoury dish made using ravē or (broken) wheat flour; often flavoured using cut-up vegetables including onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc.

24. sheera — a sweet dish made using ravē or (broken) wheat flour

25. garuḍa — a mythological bird considered the mount of the god Vishṇu; an important figure in the Hindu tradition

26. dāl chīni — cinnamon

27. apsara — an exceedingly beautiful damsel present in the court of Indra, the king of the gods (who lives in swarga or heaven)

28. bhaṭṭru — a Kannada honorific for a Hindu brahmin-cook

29. koṇḍa — a (smallish) pond

Poem : Cryptic Conceit

Cryptic Conceit


The wounded angel on the koel’s wing’s
Carrying the dregs of Shakuni’s spring;
Spilling tears for the processing dead,
All reclining in the wake of the lead.
The soundless fall of the crashing tree,
A bed of arrows for a costly fee,
Whispered words of good intent
Squeeze-drying all the energy spent.
And in the end a poem pure,
Sung like a chant both clear and sure,
That even to this day resounds
From the depths of the deep heart’s fertile grounds.

Afterword:

I seem to remember that I wrote the first eight lines of this poem sometime in 2010. The last four lines were added some two or three years later to ‘complete’ the poem, as it were.
This poem was, in large part, a response to the poems I used occasionally to come across at the time; poems that seemed, to me, deliberately obtuse and cryptic. Maybe it was my involvement with Yeats’s sublime lyric poetry at the time or maybe it was my discontent at what I considered (and still, to some extent, do consider) the ‘unpoeticness’ of modernist free verse – in any case, I’d say annoyance played a part in this poem’s creation.
In any case, I must confess I’m not sure what, if anything, the poem means.

Poem : Upon A Tree

Upon A Tree


I cast my gaze upon a crooked tree
And run my eyes over its withered,
Sun-burned skin.
I cannot tell how old it is.
Above its faded, scoured waist it forks,
Two weather-sculpted limbs emerge.
How motionless its body broken, how
Green the spring around it.
I suppose that it is dead
This headless shape of wood.
Within, the sap lies still, stiffened
By unsoft time that lays to waste all majesty.

Below, perhaps, away from prying eyes like mine,
Dendritic roots spread out in spidery webs;
Entombed within the quiet of the earth
They patiently await new birth.

Afterword:

I wrote this as I looked out on a seemingly-dead tree from inside the library of the NIAS campus, a small campus beside the IISc campus.
I remember wanting to give expression to seeing a withered Jacaranda Mimosifolia on my daily run. That didn’t materialize, but it may have worked itself into this poem.

Poem : An Afternoon’s Reverie

A short poem. Please note there’s a glossary below the poem that you can refer to.

An Afternoon’s Reverie


Turn the heavens upside down,
See the sun spin on the ground.
Watch the moon play on the sea,
See the waters circle round
And Indra topple from his throne,
Fall at Vishwāmitra’s feet;
And thousand-hooded Sēsha arch
His yogic body forth to meet
Boy-Krishṇa and his singing flute.

Glossary:

1. Indra (in-draah): The king of the Gods, who lives in swarga (swur-gaah), or heaven.

2. Vishwāmitra (wish-waah-myth-raah): A king who through mighty tapasya (heat-radiating meditation) attempts to become a rishi (poet-seer) of the highest order. The puraa-s (tales of Hindu mythology) relate an interesting story where Indra (with the help of the rishi Vasishṭha) and Vishwāmitra duel; a duel that ends in a stalemate and leaves king Trishaṅku suspended between the earth and sky.

3. Sēsha (shay-shaah), also known as Ādisēsha: A fabulous thousand-hooded serpent of Hindu mythology on which Vishnu – popularly considered the “preserver” among the trinity of Vishu, Shiva and Brahma – and his consort, Lakshmi, recline. Sēsha himself lies on the ಕ್ಷೀರಸಾಗರ, or kshīra-sāgara, the Ocean of Milk. (cf. Jörmungandr of Norse mythology.)

4. Krisha (crish-ṇá): A most popular deity in the Hindu pantheon. His boyhood and youth are supposed to have been spent in Vrindāvan, where he passed his time caroling on his flute and flirting with the adoring gōpi-s (cowherdesses).

Afterword:

I remember half-dozing as I travelled by bus in Bangalore, while images like the ones I’ve described vaguely drifted in and out. I think I noted a couple of these lines down in my pocket-notebook before elaborating on them later. This happened in 2015 (if I’m not mistaken).

 

Poem : In Gratitude

In Gratitude


I thank him who set my splintered bone
And gave life bàck to flesh around my thumb
That I might once more hold hands with the world.
Who, with his dexterous hands and whetted eye,
Gave back the fulcrum to my hand
So it could once more spin and twirl
And summon forth, perhaps, a swirl
Of words that glide and curl
Like fragrance from some unseen flower.
              Three years have passed now
              Since the accident, three years
              Since he with so much care reset
              Those broken shards of thumb,
              The injury séems like dream of day.
              So though I seldom think of him,
              (For who holds memory in a thumb?)
              I sometimes spread and look unthinkingly
              Upon the webbing of my hand
              Where, within the vein that rivers down
              Between the index and the thumb,
              I see once more the gratitude I owe to him.

Afterword:

In the December of 2012, I broke the base of my right thumb (the metacarpal bone) while playing football and had to have surgery. Set in plaster for six weeks, and terribly weak for two months after, I remember wondering if my thumb would ever be the same again. It was more or less so (when I wrote this poem in early 2016) and for that I am very grateful to my doctor.
It so happened that I (hairline) fractured the same thumb in February 2018. It did not require surgery again, but I did have to wear a thumb splint for seven or eight excruciatingly long weeks.