Desi colossus on a par with Yeats & Shakespeare

Rasave Janana,
Virasa Marana
Samarasave Jeevana

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: These evocative lines (meaning: rasa is birth, virasa is death, and harmony is life) in a world torn asunder by discord,  dissension, greed and avarice continue to be on the lips of every Kannada-speaking person even today.

Penned by Kannada’s poet-laureate, Da. Ra. Bendre, the literary colossus who strode on the firmament of modern Kannada literature for more than seven decades, they retain the same liveliness and relevance even after three decades of his passing.

“Bendre is an evergreen poet,” says the poet, Chennaveera Kanavi. “I don’t mind admitting that every time I read his poems, I acquire newer insights. The process of learning never stops.”

Better known by his pen name, Ambikatanaya Datta, Bendre, a recipient of the Jnanpith award, was a poet par excellence of a different genre. Though poetry was his first love, he was quite at home with other forms of literature like drama, prose, short stories and satire.

A poem for him was a nothing but the translation of his pangs and pains.  “It is the poet in me who speaks and I am a mere scribe,” Bendre used to say.

“Let the sufferings remain with me

But I give you the song of my life.”

What makes his poetries sparkle and appeal to the common man is that they are lyrical and are firmly rooted in desi Kannada of the Dharwad region, which was his home turf. With equal felicity and aplomb, he wields his magic wand of words to paint superb verbal images with a liberal sprinkling of colloquial idioms.

Besides being a poet, Bendre was a visionary and philosopher, and scientific thinker, too, who was far ahead of the time.

In last phase of his life, he had developed a keen fascination for the science of numbers. Bendre had made it clear as back as in the 1940s, while presiding over the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in Shimoga, that he was a firm believer in the fusion of material science and literature as essential tools in the quest of truth.

Mere literature alone would not help realise the truth but it has to be judiciciouly tempered with material science.

His multidisciplinary approach and the amalgam of philosophical thoughts, scientific theories and the mathematical concepts reflected in his writings, often proved to be a riddle for the uninitiated in understanding his poetry.

Dharwad takkadi innoo tookaane aagilla. Horataava chakadi, hortaava chakadi…,” was his favorite observation about his works not being properly assessed or understood by the society.  The scale of evaluation of his poetry was to emerge, while cartloads of literature continued to be produced. (Takkadi is the scale used by the traders to weigh the material brought to the market.)

And the situation remained so when Bendre died in 1981. He bequeathed to posterity a rich legacy in literature in the form of published works and manuscripts waiting to see the light of the day. As a voracious reader, he had more than 16,000 books in his library, with jottings which had a whale of material for publication.

All these awaited being deciphered, analysed and interpreted. This arduous task,  stupendous by any standards has been bravely taken up by a two member-team  comprising Dr Vaman Bendre, his son, and  Dr K.S. Sharma, his close disciple.

By their close association with the poet throughout the life, both have developed a keen insight into the thinking, the philosophical strands and scientific concepts which prop up often in the language and literature of the poet.

Combining themselves in the name of the Bendre Research Institute, Hubli,  the duo, through their labour of love and indefatigable efforts have been able to bring out  more than 25,000 pages of literature  in the post-Bendre era.

It includes, six volumes of poems, two volumes on Aurobindo and Mother, and sakhi geete, a mini-epic; three volumes of dramas; Kavyodya, a prose volume on the aesthetics and philosophy in his poems; and 35 individual anthologies of poems, five selections of poems, 14  stage plays including the unpublished Taledanda relating to the life of Basaveshwara,  and 13 collections of Bendre’s poems with musical notations, a la Rabindra sangeet.

The latest work to come out of Bendre Research Institute is the 13th volume in the series of collected works of Bendre, viz Sahitya Yoga Sidhanta, a treatise on the aesthetics in Bendre’s prose, and Bendre Samagra Kaavya Nighantu, a dictionary of the words used by the poet, compiled by the leading linguist, Dr B.B. Rajpurohit, who incidentally had collaborated with Dr Nichida of Japan in bringing out a Kannada-English-Japanese dictionary.

The Sahitya Yoga Siddhanta comprises five parts: a) Theory of literary prose; b) Samvada, translation of his Marathi articles;  c) short stories, which Bendre would often describe as common man’s epics including transcreation of Chinese stories adapted to Indian settings ; d) Kadambari yoga, with  Bendre writing the finale of relay writing of the novel by eleven authors, in an unique  literary experiment undertaken by Manohar Grantha Mala, and e) ten satires.

The significance of the 170-page lexicon lies in the fact that it deals with only the words which are not found in other dictionaries which are used in the six collected poetry volumes brought out by the Institute already. There is  emphasis on the colloquial Kannada used by the poet, which is peculiar to this part of Karnataka, and a plethora of diglosia (words having more than one meaning) thrown therein.

Oh Manava, Bidu Durabihmanava/ Oh Daanava kodu Hridaya Daanavaa,” which could be loosely translated as, “Oh man, shun the ego/ Oh demon, donate your heart.” This is a typical example of diglosia found in the work of Bendre.  Both the words Maanava and Daanava have different meanings in the two contexts.

These books were released to mark the 30th annual memorial day of the poet the other day. Chennaveera Kanavi expressed the view that by using the Dharwad desi Kannada, Bendre had raised Kannada literature to cosmic heights. In a way Bendre  could be placed a  notch above the English poet, W.B. Yeats, who while being Irish, gave up the desi to start writing in English.

Said Dr K Raghavendra Rao, the Indo-Anglican writer who has translated several of works of Bendre including the Jnanpith award winning work “Naku Tanti” in English: “Bendre who had transcended the barriers of language deserves to be treated on par with Shakespeare and Yeats. No lexicon can help fully understand Bendre.”