Da Ra Bendre on why nitrogen is nonsense

It is always interesting to discover your own through the other; to have an outsider look dispassionately in; to see reality without the familiarity.

In 1976, Dom Moraes met Da Ra Bendre. Here’s what the English poet wrote on the Jnanpith Award winning Kannada poet.

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At the moment, the landmarks of Dharwar apart from the colleges are limited. There is a shop selling pedas, which is famous all over the district. There is also a poet, who is 82 years old and is famous all over Karnataka. His name is D.R. Bendre.

Dr Bendre is a small, bespectacled man, frail, but despite his years, incurably active and like my wife, incurably talkative. As soon as we arrived, he deposited me in a chair and pointed triumphantly at a blackboard.

“Nineteen,” he said, “is your number. Look. It is also mine.”

Chalked on the blackboard was a series of dates, the first of which was 1919. “That,” he said, “was the ear of my marriage.” The next date was 1938. “That,” he said, “was the year of your birth. You will notice that 38 is 19 multiplied by two.” I told him that I had been born on the 19th of July. “There,” he said, “you see?”

The date after this was 1957. “In this year you won the biggest literary award in England,” he told me, “and 57 is 19 multipied by three.” The date under this was 1976. “In this year we met,” he said triumphantly, “and 76 is 19 multiplied by four.”

He therefore clearly supposed our meeting to be one of the most important points in my life. The next date was 1995. “This,” said Dr Bendre, “is 19 multiplied by five, and this will be the acme of your career.”

By this time I was feeling extremely bemused. “I come from an old Vedic family,” said Dr Bendre, “and for 60 years I have pursued the science of numerology.” He added, “Apart from the number 19, I was born with the number four. That is why the English translation of my poems is called Four Strings.

He pointed to the German isotope chart on his wall. “The letter C,” he told me, “is 6. The letter N is really 7. The letter O is 8. O is nonsense: 8 is sense. C is nonsense. 7 is sense. Nitrogen is nonsense.” I sat and looked at him in utter incomprehension, nodding my head politely from time to time. He asked me if I understood him.

Since, had I said I did not understand him, I would have perpetuated another waterfall of words, I said I did. He then took me around his library, which is immense. There are thousands of books stacked in wooden shelves: books in all languages.

While we inspected them he told me, “Pythagoras said 50 minus is 3 square + 4 square, and this makes 5 square. Three squared is the child, five squared is the woman: 25 is the man.”

I said, “Ah.”

Dr Bendre continued, “We are in the Milky Way. The truth of the seasons is not in the solar but in the polar centre. We have to shift our minds to the Pole star which has 28,000 cycles. It is in front of my house sometimes. I know it is there: I know I am here. Men may come and men may go.”

I said, “Ah,” once more.

I no longer had any doubt that he was a great poet. Only great poets have such interests and ideas as Dr Bendre has.

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Excerpted from The Open Eyes, a journey through Karnataka by Dom Moraes, illustrations by Mario Miranda. Published by the Government of Karnataka, 1976.