Ratnana Padagaḻu(‘The Sayings of Ratna’)
The literary work that firmly placed Rajarathnam in the hearts of the people of Karnataka is Ratnana Padagaḻu, which was published in 1930s. Yeṇḍkuḍka (drunkard) Ratna launched a new genre in Kannada literature. But the best was also the first and the only: Rajarathnam’s. In the beginning, there were a few efforts to imitate this work, but it didn’t take much time for those attempts to flop! There wouldn’t be many who would dare to imitate the rustic (grāmya) language in this work. Ratnana Padagaḻu has become part of the State’s folklore. How would people forget Ratna, who would swear on liquor or Naga, who went on to teach bicycle riding to Malli! It’s a rare feat that a poet would get such adoration from the people while he was still living.
“Let Kannada words gush forth till this world exists” is the pervasive desire of this work. “Even if I’m thrown to hell, with my tongue cut off and my lips sewn, I’ll still speak Kannada through my nose; You are my favourite!” is its firm resolution. Such unique usage of language, however, isn’t the only reason it has found its place in everyone’s heart. It is because it echoes the timeless ethos of the Sanātana-dharma.
ಯೋಳ್ ಕೊಳ್ಳಾಕ್ ಒಂದ್ ಊರು
ತಲೇ ಮ್ಯಾಗ್ ಒಂದ್ ಸೂರು
ಮಲಗಾಕೆ ಬೂಂತಾಯಿ ಮಂಚ
ಕೊಟ್ರಾಯ್ತು ರತ್ನನ್ ಪರ್ಪಂಚ!
[A place to call as one’s own
A roof over one’s head
Mother earth as the cot to sleep
Putnanji, his life-companion,
who, if with a smile, serves rice-gruel –
is itself the world for Ratna!]
Who wouldn’t appreciate such simplicity?
ಕಸ್ಟ ಸುಕ ಏನ್ ಬಂದ್ರೂನೆ
ನಿಂಗೆ ನಾನೆ ನಂಗೆ ನೀನೆ
ಮುಳುಗೋನ್ ಬೆನ್ನಿನ್ ಬೆಂಡಿದ್ದಂಗೆ
ನಿಂಗ್ ನೆಪ್ಪಿರ್ಲಿ ನಂಜಿ!
[Rain or shine, whatever may come
I’m for you and you’re for me
Just like the log tied to one who’s drowning
Remember this, O Nanji!]
Which couple wouldn’t appreciate such mutual intimacy?
ಬಾಳೋದು ರತ್ನನ್ ಪರ್ಪಂಚ
[Without troubling anyone,
with whatever little that he has –
living thus is the world for Ratna]
Isn’t this the quintessence of the philosophy of a well-lived, complete life?
ಅಂಗ್ ನನ್ ಅಟ್ಟೀನ್ ಬೆಳಗಿಸ್ತೈತೆ
ನನ್ ಪುಟ್ನಂಜೀ ರೂಪ
[Just like temple is brightened by
a golden lamp eternal
So is my hut brightened by
my Putnanji’s beauty!]
An Important Detail
It is pertinent to record one important detail related to the publication of Yeṇḍkuḍka Ratna (‘The Drunkard Ratna’). There was a paucity of donors when the time came to publish this massive work of twenty-four pages (in 1932). Rajarathnam wrote in an article in Prajāvāṇi (Dīpāvaḷi edition, 1968), “I checked with the publisher how much it would cost if I published the work myself. Thirty-five rupees was the cost. I didn’t have even thirty-five paisa back then. What to do? The year before, I was awarded with a gold medal for one of my poems. How about selling it and publishing the work with that money? But I had already given it to my wife. With petty self-interest in mind and without hesitation when I asked her for it, she said, ‘What trouble would it be to return what is yours?’ with no second thought and just gave it away! Perhaps the time that she gave it was auspicious, perhaps she gave it with a good intent, but the book got published. Sales picked up. Multiple editions were brought out. Even though she is no more, the book still exists.”
Thus he used the medal as a security for the loan and published the book. Eventually he was able to repay the loan and get the medal back. It is not a coincidence that lines like ‘ಜೀವಾನ್ ಬೆಳೆಸೋಕ್ ತಾಕತ್ ಅಂದ್ರೆ ನಂಜೀ ನಾಮಸ್ಮರಣೆ’ (Remembrance of Nanji’s name is the invigorating strength to grow in life’) have such gravity.
Da. Ra. Bendre wrote in his Foreword to Hattu-varuṣa – “Without money for ink, his poetry says he has produced extraordinary works by dipping his pen into the blood in his heart. He has never reduced himself to the pitiable state of begging!”
It is appropriate that Ra. Shi. [Dr. M. Shivaram] has sung this following variation of a verse [#789] from the Maṅkutimmana Kagga –
ಹುಲ್ಲಾದ ಬೆಟ್ಟದಡಿ ಮನೆಗೆ ಮಲ್ಲಿಗೆಯಾದ
ಕಲ್ಲಾದ ಕಷ್ಟಗಳ ಮಳೆಯ ವಿಧಿ ಸುರಿಸೆ
ಬೆಲ್ಲ ಸಕ್ಕರೆಯಾದ ಕಲಿಯ ಬಂದವರಿಂಗೆ
ಎಲ್ಲರೊಳುವೊಂದಿವನು ಯೆಂಡ್ಕುಡ್ಕ ರತ್ನ
[He became the grass at the foothills,
became a jasmine in the family,
he stood like a sturdy boulder when fate showered hardships,
he became the sweet sugar to seekers and learners,
he became one with everyone – the drunkard Ratna!]
The people of Karnataka have shown extraordinary adoration to these three works – Rajarathnam’s Ratnana Padagaḻu, K S Narasimhaswamy’s Maisūru Mallige, DVG’s Mankutimmana Kagga.
One more genre that brought fame to Rajarathnam is his writings for children. Tuttūri (‘Bugle’), Kaḍalepuri (a snack made by mixing parched rice and Bengal gram), Cuṭuka (short poems), Kallu-sakkare (‘Sugar Cubes’), etc. continue to entertain and educate children even after seventy-five years. These are his poems which have perhaps had the most number of reprints.
ದೊಡ್ಡ ಪಟ್ಟೆ ಹುಲಿ
“ಅಯ್ಯೋ ಅಪ್ಪ ಚಳಿ!”
[Big striped tiger
treading the jungle path
Stood trembling and
“Oh! It's very cold!”]
A series of such small limerick-like poems naturally capture the minds of children. Not just being attractive, his poems have also been instructive in many cases.
ಕೋಳಿ ಕೂಗಿತೇಳು ಕಂದ!
ಸೂರ್ಯ ಪೂರ್ವದಲ್ಲಿ ಬಂದ
ಹೆಚ್ಚು ಮಲಗಲೇನು ಚಂದ?
ಬಾ ಕಂದ ಬಾ!
[O my child! The rooster has crowed
the sun is up in the east!
Is it good to sleep so much?
Come my child, wake up!]
Before Rajarathnam, Panje Mangesha Rao and ‘Hòysaḷa’ had already published poetry for children. But Rajarathnam’s poetry provided more ease and joy for the children. Children reciting—individually or in a group—with actions, the proud fellow suffering in Tuttūri, Kiṭṭappa of the Roṭṭi Aṃgaḍi (bread shop), and Nāyimari (puppy) are all common scenes even now. As soon as the children learn pronunciation, they tend to become familiar with the ‘ಕರ್ ರ್ ರ್ ರ್ ರಗಿರುವ ಕಾಗೆ’ (‘Pitchhh Daaark Crow’) or they are able to visualize koḍubaḻes stored in some container hanging from the kitchen wall. Poetry that can keep children so absorbed and engrossed is rare indeed.
For children who have grown enough to read themselves, Rajarathnam wrote a lot of stories in prose. He introduced Buddha, Ashoka, Harsha, Jesus, and others; from the literary world, he introduced Ivan the fool, [Baron] Munchausen, Robin Hood, Oliver Twist; from the Purāṇas he introduced the intriguing stories of Nāḍījaṅgha, Viśvaṃbhara, and Maṇikaṇṭha.
In the genre of satire, perhaps there is no work in Kannada which can better Rajarathnam’s Mahākavi Puruṣa-sarasvati. “ಪುರಿಸ ಸರಸತಿಯ ಸೋಗಿನಲಿ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ ಜೀವನದೀಗಳಿನ ವಿಕೃತಿಗಳನತಿಗಳ ಲಾಗ ಹಾಕಿಸುವೀ ಕೃತಿ” (In the disguise of a male version of Sarasvatī, this work will turn the contemporary disorders and excesses in literature on its head)” was, doubtless, more successful in reaching its aim than it intended.
ಪರ್ಪಂಚ್ ಇರೋತನಕ ಮುಂದೆ ಕನ್ನಡ್ ಪದ್ಗೊಳ್ ನುಗ್ಲಿ
ನರ್ಕಕ್ ಇಳ್ಸಿ ,ನಾಲ್ಗೆ ಸೀಳ್ಸಿ ,ಬಾಯ್ ಒಲ್ಸಾಕಿದ್ರೂನೂವೆ ಮೂಗ್ನಲ್ ಕನ್ನಡ್ ಪದವಾಡ್ತೀನಿ, ನನ್ ಮನಸ್ ನೀ ಕಾಣೆ
So also lines like ‘ಬದುಕೋದ್ ತಿನ್ನಾಕ್ ಅಲ್ಲಾಂತ ಅಂದದ್ ನಿಂಗ್ ನೆಪ್ಪೈತ ನಂಜಿ?’ (“We don’t live just to eat,” was what I said – Do you remember Nanji?)