What translations can’t, these especially sung songs do for Bendre

‘I no longer had any doubt that he was a great poet.’ This is how the Jnanpith awardee appeared to the mortal eyes of Dom Moraes in 1976, but listen to these songs to understand his immortality

Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre, who wrote under the pen name Ambikatanyadatta, is among the greatest 20th century poets. Unfortunately, there are not too many fine translations available of his poetry or prose works. It should also be stated here that his poetry, written in the north Karnataka dialect of Kannada, does not lend itself easily to English. Here’s a Wikipedia page on the poet: Da Ra Bendre

On the occasion of his 122nd birth anniversary on January 31, SW. invited some of Karnataka’s finest singing talents, across genres and styles, to render his poetry into music. The results are here in this video collection:

A proponent of the Kirana Gharana of Hindustani Classical music, Jayateerth Mevundi, from Hubli presents Bendre's Uttara dhruvadim...

Parameshwara Hegde, well known Hindustani Classical vocalist from Bangalore, sings Bendre's Koduvudenu? Kombudenu?

South Indian music director Bindu Malini performs Bendre's Nee bairagi

Theatre personality and youth icon, Disha Ramesh, sings Bendre's popular poem Naaku Tanti

Bendre, in the mortal eyes of poet Dom Moraes

Here’s how Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre appeared to the mortal eyes of Dom Moraes when he met him in 1976 for the book, The Open Eyes: A Journey Through Karnataka. The book, illustrated by Mario Miranda, is published by the Government of Karnataka.

An excerpt:

“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 year 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.”

Music legend Bhimsen Joshi’s rendition of one of Bendre’s love poems:

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