Unsung Poetry (Part 1)

Here poetry isn’t the proverbial tough nut to crack. One need not raise their eyebrows remembering illustrious poets like Pampa, Ranna, aḍakṣarī, Harihara, Rudra-bhaṭṭa, Nāraṇappa (Kumāra-vyāsa). Our aim here is some light poetry. In these we see hints of prosody here and there; alliteration is present in a haphazard manner. The purpose here is to highlight some light compositions of people which they normally don’t highlight themselves. Since the aim here is to extol the proverbial dwarf reaching out for a coconut high up in the tree or the singer who after opening her mouth to sing ends up burping instead, it might end up being a mischief, a ramble or a tickle. One can guess the nature of the light-hearted poetry by reading the examples given here.

My revered maternal aunt

ಗುಂಡಂ ಭಂಡಂ |

ತಿಂಡಿಕಿ ಶೂರಂ |

ಚಂಡಾಲ ಮುಂಡೇಗಂಡಂ ||

Gunda the rascally

Champion of gluttony

The lowly wretched rogue[1]

This was the first modern poetry I heard. That too around seventy-five years ago.

The poetess being my maternal aunt, i.e. my father’s uncle’s[2] daughter. Without the relevant background one wouldn’t understand the full significance of the poem.

Before hearing this I remember in bits that I’d already heard some poems in Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu and Marathi. My grandfather was familiar with all these languages. He also knew Farsi and Urdu. My grandfather’s younger brother had already taught me a Marathi poem which goes like this.

 

ಶ್ರೀ ಹಣಮಂತ |

ಮಹಾ ಬಲವಂತ |

ಸದಾ ಯಶವಂತ |

ಉಡೇ ಗಗುನೀ ||

Shri Haṇamanta[3]

Extraordinarily well-built

Always triumphant

Flew in the sky

I don’t remember any other poems. My maternal aunt’s poem was the first to extol my fame!

During those days, there used to be ten-fifteen people in my house. It was common for around twenty people to have a meal together, at a time. The reason being 1) it was the era of love and affection 2) it was the era of surplus.

The required quantity of Paddy, Toor dal, Ragi, Moong dal, Bengal gram etc was readily available to us from our fields. Toor was being cultivated in our house. That was an elaborate process. I used to regularly participate in that. Even now I can teach the whole process to interested people. Paddy was pounded to separate the husk and obtain rice. Tamarind was available in surplus. The harvest of the Honge seeds (Indian beech) were given to the Gāṇigas[4] (oil-mongers) and half of the oil extracted from it was received for using it to light the lamps used in our household. The remaining half was bartered for gingelly oil. Coconut’s price was fixed to either six or four per Āṇṇa[5]. We never used to buy jaggery. My grandfather’s younger brother had a money-lending business. As a substitute for the interest upon the loans which he had lent to few (two-three) of the sugarcane farmers, he used to make them supply jaggery. There were two dairy/milch cows and a buffalo always residing in our house to provide milk.

But the expenses were also likewise. There used to be around six-seven death ceremonies in a year. Because of that, Vaḍā, Sukinuṇḍe, Obbaṭṭu was not at all rare. Along with that there used to be birthdays of six-seven kids. Thus, fried items like Cakkuli, Mucchore, Koḍubaḻe and sweets like Puḻḻangāyuṇḍe etc were prepared on a weekly basis. This is the foundation of the gluttony mentioned in the above poem.

As this was the situation, I had no taste for the routine meal. My exploits invariably were in the storeroom. The process of searching for Karigaḍubu or Āmboḍe or Cakkuli would never be silent. Pots would fall and break, resulting in spillage of beaten rice or flour. When my father would become aware of that it would lead to jabs or lashes on my back. But the exploits of the pot-tiger[6] would go on without any remorse or shame. Thus “champion of gluttony” and “rascally” as adjectives had found their aptness. To quote the great poet Bhavabhūti,

ಲೌಕಿಕಾನಾಂ ಹಿ ಸಾಧೂನಾಂ

ಅರ್ಥಂ ವಾಗನುವರ್ತತೇ |

ಋಷೀಣಾಂ ಪುನರಾದ್ಯಾನಾಂ

ವಾಚಮರ್ಥೋSನುಧಾವತೇ ||

In case of the commoners and good people, their words follow the events/things. But in case of the sages who are worthy of high respect, the events/things happen according to their words.

My maternal aunt’s poem is the best example for this. Her words about gluttony and foulness still holds true.

Her poem is adorned with alliterations [which is of course lost in the translation]. First two lines can be said to be Svabhāvokti[7] , the third line is Utprekṣā[8]. I was not matured enough to understand the word ‘Gaṇḍa[9]’ then. One important quality of poetry is alliteration. It is so attractive that poets are tempted to use it sometimes without caring even the destruction of the original intent of the poem. The third line here is the product of that bias towards alliteration.

My maternal aunt used to mock some of my other relatives too. Here is an example.

ಸಿಂಗಾರವಾದಳು ಶಿಂಬ್ಳಪುರುಕೀ |

ಅಂಗಡೀಲಿ ಕುಂತನು ಗಜ್ಜಿಬುರುಕ ||

Made up she was, the runny-nose woman.

In the store he sat, the itchy man.[10]

The elders of the house would sometimes be annoyed by this; but while they expressed their anger outside, within the confines of their mind they used to enjoy it too.

This is the first part of the English translation of  the Eighteenth essay (Aprasiddha Kavitva 1) in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrudayasampannaru, translated by Raghavendra G S. The translator likes to acknowledge the timely help of Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh in translating the verses in this article.  

Footnotes

[1] The translation fails miserably to convey the full meaning let alone the alliterations.

[2] Cikkappa

[3] Observe that it is not hanumanta

[4] Caste whose profession was extracting and selling oil.

[5] Equal to ​116 of a rupee.

[6] Due to my voracious appetite I’d earned a nickname called Haṇḍī-bāg i.e. pot-tiger

[7] A figure of speech which can be described as statement of the exact nature, an accurate description of properties or attributes

[8] A figure of speech described as “poetic fancy” where the comparison is based on probability of similarity.

[9] Lit. husband

[10] The translation is again inadequate.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a Sanskrit poet and a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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