The Fascinating Flute (Gopalkrishna Adiga)

If you are reading this translation, it’s possible you know I translate Da Ra Bendre’s Kannada poetry into English. If you don’t – and actually even if you do – I encourage you to read and listen to the poetry of the varakavi of 20th-century Kannada literature and one of the world’s greatest lyric poets.

However, the poem below, is not by Bendre but by Gopalkrishna Adiga, considered by many one of the best Kannada (as well as Indian-language) poets of the 20th-century and the doyen of the Navya movement, a poetry movement in Kannada that modelled itself on Europe’s modernist movement.

A tradition of setting poetry to music began in Karnataka in the early 20th century. Pioneered by Kalinga Rao and Hukkeri Balappa in South and North Karnataka respectively, this tradition came to be called “ಸುಗಮ ಸಂಗೀತ (sugama sangeeta)” or “easy-listening music”. Well-established and respected now, the tradition’s greatest achievement has been to take contemporary lyric poetry to the public. Several of Kannada’s greatest modern lyric poets – including Da Ra Bendre, K.S. Narasimhaswamy, Chennaveera Kanavi, and Chandrashekara Kambara – have benefitted from having their poems turned into a ಭಾವಗೀತೆs or bhaavageetes – a lyric poem set to music.
Of course, one can question the literary merit of more recent bhaavageetes, but that would entail questioning the literary merit (or at least the lyric quality) of more recent Kannada poetry itself; which is a matter for another day.

Anyway, this lyric poem by Adiga has a special place in the world of Kannada bhaavageetes. Since it was first released, it has come to be one of Kannada’s most recognizable and widely-sung bhaavageetes; its use in the 1995 hit Kannada film “ಅಮೆರಿಕಾ! ಅಮೆರಿಕಾ!!” or “America! America!!” served to cement its status. It is, by some distance, Adiga’s most well-known poem, not something he would have been particularly thrilled about. (As it was, he’d grumbled in 1991 itself about how its popularity had begun to mask the complexity of his later modernist poetry.)

Like it is with most bhaavageetes, only a portion of the poem’s been sung. Which is why, in addition to offering a Youtube link – in which only stanzas 1, 6, 7, and 8 have been sung – I have added an audio recording of the entire poem.

Original Bhaavageete:

 

 

Kannada Poem’s Recitation:

 

 

 

The Fascinating Flute (ಮೋಹನ ಮುರಲಿ)

What fascinating flute was it that called you out to distant shores?
Which heaven’s garden wrought its pùll upon these gróunded eyes of yours?

A bed of flowers, sandal, the moon, tight-tangled limbs, a kiss;
Within desire’s fenced-in field pláys this dance of the senses;

A soft-heart’s love, the touch of warmth of a cage of flesh and blood;
You said yourself that that sufficed! Why’s it that you’re now feeling bad?

What just what dòes it want to say the drift-sight of your rolling eye?
What ecstatic pain does it convey? A plea for which divinity?

Like fire’s dormant in the wood a despáir seems asleep somewhere;
When something rubs when something strikes an excìtement begins to flare.

Somewhére beyond the seven seas’s a sleeping simmering sea,
Did the mute murmúr of its unformed waves come tràvelling all this way?

The life-breath’s now slipped out of hand; you’ve lost all command of your heart;
Is to live to leave all that there is and reach oút for what there’s not?

What fascinating flute was it that called to you out of the blue?
Which heaven’s garden’s lightning-hand strétched itself forwards to you?

(Translated by Madhav K. Ajjampur)

Poem Details: From the collection “ಕಟ್ಟುವೆವು ನಾವು”, first published in 1948.

English Translation’s Recitation:

 

P.S: This is the first time I’m publishing a translation of a poem that’s not by Bendre. (I’ve translated other poems and poets, but never published the translations.) I took it up not simply because it seemed a nice challenge but also because I thought it would pleasantly surprise a friend (and rasika) who’s a fan of Adiga’s poetry. So, yeah – this one’s for you, Aruna.

Another Kannada Folktale: The Parakeet and the Hunter-Boy

Once upon a time, there lived in a forest a hunter-boy. This boy made a living trapping parakeets and selling them in the nearby town. Now it happened once that a rare type of parakeet was caught in his net.
       But before the boy could get hold of it, the parakeet spoke: “Dear boy, please spare me. You will be rewarded for it later.”
       Said the boy, “I don’t mind. But to let you go free means that I will have to go hungry today – ”
       “Is that all!” exclaimed the parakeet. “Just let your net lie as it lies now. No sooner am I gone than a many-coloured parakeet will fly into this very net. Take it up and give it to your king. He will reward you.”
       So the boy let go the parakeet and spread out his net. No sooner had the first parakeet flown away than a many-coloured parakeet came and fell into the net. The boy was overjoyed. He took it up and carried it straight to the king himself. The king too was greatly taken with the parakeet. He instantly gave the boy the price he asked for. Not just that, he even gave the boy a present as a token of his gratitude.
       The king had a golden cage made for the many-coloured parakeet. In less than a week, the parakeet had begun to talk too. This development brought the king no end of joy. Every spare second found him delighting in the parakeet’s company.
       Now it happened that this king had a wicked minister. That a mere boy, a nobody, should be given such a handsome reward did not sit well with him. He was further displeased by the favour the king showered on the parakeet. The king was no less attentive to the hunter-boy, and was forever asking about his welfare.
       How best, the minister wondered, to turn the king against the boy? Of course, killing the boy was out of the question. So the minister waited his chance. One day saw him say confidentially to the king –
       “Maharaj, it is my opinion that a golden cage is not sufficient adornment for such a rare bird as this many-coloured parakeet. Nor does it become your Majesty’s greatness. But a mantapa built of pure ivory – that would be the very thing! Think too of how much it would burnish your Majesty’s reputation.”
       “You tell the truth,” said the king thoughtfully. “But one can get a tusk or two at most. Where am I to get enough ivory to build a mantapa?
       “Why let that vex you? You could always call on that hunter-boy. He’s a mighty resourceful fellow. He will certainly be able to do this for you should you ask him.”
       The idea pleased the king, who sent word of his order with his minister. The minister went up to the boy and said – “Now look here, boy. It is the king’s wish that an ivory mantapa be built for his parakeet. You have been given two fortnights time to collect the tusks necessary to build it. If you bring them, you shall be rewarded. If you do not, you will be put to death.”
       The hunter-boy put his hands together and pleaded with the minister.
       “Mister, I can get a tusk or two if I am lucky. But where am I to get enough ivory to build a mantapa?”
       “It doesn’t matter where you get it from,” answered the minister. “Nor does it concern me. I have only come to tell you what the king’s order is.” He then sped away.
       The hunter-boy sat down disconsolately, his head in his hands. He rued the day he had presented the many-coloured bird to the king. ‘I have only a month left to live,’ he thought sadly. He was sitting like this when, of a sudden, there was a flutter of wings and the parakeet he had set free alighted on his wrist.
       “What ails you, dear boy?” asked the bird.
       “Why relate my misfortune!” cried the boy. “I used to live simply, catching and selling parakeets. But I was happy too. Then came you and the many-coloured parakeet. I sold the many-coloured parakeet to the king like you told me to, and had returned to being happy when alas! what should I hear but that the king wants enough ivory to build a mantapa with. Is that even possible? I have been granted two fortnights to find the ivory – if I fail, I shall be put to death.”
       “Do not despair, dear boy,” said the bird, “but head eastward instead. There, you will find a forest. In the middle of the forest is a lake, which is the watering hole for the forest’s elephants. Among them is an old elephant, the head of the herd. Tell him your trouble and ask him for his help. He will see to the rest.”
       The boy made east the next day. Everything was as the bird had said. He came upon the forest first. In the middle of it was the lake. In the afternoon came the herd of elephants. Their grazing finished, they romped and splashed around in the water. When they were done, they rose and began to make their way back to their grazing grounds. Bringing up the rear was a solitary old elephant, the leader of the herd. The boy went up him, fell on his knees, and clasped the old tusker’s feet.
       “Save me, O King of elephants!” he pleaded.
       Said the old elephant: “Who are you, young brother? What is it that ails you?” whereupon the boy poured out his woes. “Only you can save me now!” he cried.
The old elephant listened to this and said: “Young brother, there lives a lion in this forest who picks off one of our herd every single day. We are all of us helpless against him. Rid us of that menace and I will see to it that you get all the ivory you need.”
      The hunter-boy was more perplexed than ever. He stood there unmoving, trying to think of a way to help the elephants. He stood there so long that his throat turned dry, whereupon he went up to the lake to quench his thirst. As he bent down to scoop up a handful of water, his reflection looked back at him. A sudden idea struck him. He hurried back to town, bought a pair of large mirrors and set them up opposite one another by the bank of the lake. He then sat down by their side, singing softly to himself.
       Very soon – having caught the scent of a man – a lion came bounding up, roaring fiercely. But the boy showed no sign of fear – unperturbed, he continued to sit where he was, singing softly to himself. The lion was astounded by the boy’s behaviour.
       “What kind of arrogance is this, boy?” it asked. “Do you not know that the very bravest men flee at the sight of me? Are you not afraid of me?”
       Said the boy nonchalantly – “What reason have I to be scared? I have captured and caged a thousand lions like you.”
       The boy’s sangfroid angered the lion. It let forth a roar that shook the very ground of the forest.
       “Foolish boy!” cried the lion. “Do you hope to evade me with your petty lies?”
       “Lies?” answered the boy. “The captured lions are all here. Would you like to look at them?”
       “Think yourself dead, arrogant boy!” roared the lion as it landed with a spring between the two mirrors that faced each other. But lo, when it looked in the mirror what should it see but a endless parade of lions! This sight was too much for the lion, whose knees almost collapsed under it. Half-crazed with fear, scarcely knowing if it was awake or dreaming, it turned tail and fled without a backward glance.
       The fierce roars of the lion had caused the elephants to huddle together in fear. Seeing it flee now, they danced with spontaneous joy. The elephant king then praised the boy’s resourcefulness and said: “The lion has killed so many of our herd that there is an enormous pile of tusks you can help yourself to.” He showed these to the boy and then, loading the elephants of the herd with huge sacks of ivory, bade them accompany the boy home.
       The hunter-boy led these loaded elephants to town and presented himself to the king. The overjoyed king showered the boy with presents of  every kind and appointed him the Keeper of the royal elephant herd. He then enlisted the help of a famed sculptor and had made a most beautiful ivory mantapa, within which he placed the many-coloured parakeet. This largesse on the king’s part only served to stoke the minister’s envy. His well-laid plan had gone awry. For, consider, is it a common thing to be able to collect enough ivory to build a mantapa? The minister had been sure that the boy would fail and be punished for it – instead, he had succeeded splendidly. But this only made the minister more determined than ever to get rid of the boy, and he set about hatching a plan with renewed vigour.
       One day, as he watched the king talk merrily to the parakeet, a devious idea struck the minister.
       “Maharaj,” said he, “is it not strange that a bird that talks so enchantingly cannot sing?”
       “Perhaps he does not know how to,” replied the king.
       “Ah, Maharaj,” answered the minister, “can one believe that a parakeet cannot sing? Besides, it is said by those who know that even a bird that has forgotten its song will sing in the presence of he who first kept it. Summon that person and we shall know if this parakeet can sing or not.”
       His minister’s words vexed the king.
       “What you say is true,” he said, “but we do not know who first kept it, do we?”
       “But surely the Keeper of the royal elephants, I mean our hunter-boy, will know?” said the minister smoothly.
       The idea pleased the king, who, like before, sent word of his order with his minister. The minister went up to the boy and said – “Look here, boy, you have two fortnights to find and bring back to the palace the person who first kept the many-coloured parakeet. If you carry out the task, you will be rewarded. If you do not, you will be put to death.”
       The hunter-boy’s head whirled. “Mister,” pleaded he, “I brought the parakeet back from the forest. I do not know who first kept it.”
       “That does not concern me,” said the minister, “I have only come to tell you what the king’s order is.” He then sped away.
       The worried boy sat down in the doorway of his house. ‘I was fortunate enough to achieve the impossible last time,’ he reflected, ‘but what I am to do this time?’ ‘Indeed, I shall inhabit this earth no longer,’ he thought sadly. He was sitting like this when his old friend, the parakeet, alighted on his lap.
       “What ails you, dear boy?” it asked.
       “What’s there to tell!” lamented the boy. “I have been ordered by the king to find and bring to me the one who first kept that many-coloured bird. I have been given two fortnights time to do so. If I fail, I shall be killed. What am I to do?”
       “I see,” said the bird after it had listened to the boy. “Then come with me,” and saying so, it took wing and hovered in front of the boy. The boy climbed onto the bird’s back and the two set off. Very soon, they reached a temple within the forest. A rocking-horse stood to one side. Said the bird to the boy –
       “Climb onto that horse. It will fly. When you reach the ocean and are flying over it, you will spot a beautiful island. Bring the horse down onto it. As soon as you do, you will be swarmed by slave-girls who wish to look at the horse. Show them how to mount it, how to fly it, and how to bring it back down. Offer to take a few of them for a ride. Once you have humoured them, their mistress, the princess, will herself come to look at the horse. Help her mount the horse. Then jump on it yourself and steer it back here.” So saying, the bird showed the hunter-boy how to mount the rocking-horse, how to to fly it, and how to bring it back down. Having learnt the manouevers, the boy climbed onto the horse and took off.
       As he was flying over the ocean, the boy saw the island the bird had spoken of, and steered the rocking-horse down towards it. No sooner had they landed than a large group of slave-girls came up to look at the horse. He kept them entertained by showing some of them how to mount it, fly it, and get off. Finally, the princess herself came up to look at the rocking-horse. She had only just climbed onto it when he gave the horse a tug, wheeled around, and flew off. Thinking this his idea of a sport, the princess sat back to enjoy herself. By the time she realized she was being kidnapped, it was too late – neither her screams nor her tears had the slightest effect on her captor.
       The hunter-boy made straight for the palace. No sooner had they landed in the courtyard than the many-coloured parakeet recognized its mistress and burst into song. The occasion brought the king such joy that he danced a jig in celebration. Equally happily, the princess and the king had fallen in love at first sight, and were married within the week. As for the hunter-boy, the king showered him with riches and appointed him Chief of the royal army. The minister’s flaming jealousy was now mingled with fear. ‘The hunter-boy went from being a mere stripling to being the Keeper of the royal elephants,’ he thought worriedly. ‘He has now risen to be Chief of the royal army. Who knows, if he keeps this up, he may even usurp my ministership.’ He determined to cause the boy’s undoing.
       A few weeks later, the princess took ill with a stomach-ache. A phalanx of royal physicians tried to cure her, but their efforts yielded no fruit. When the king raged at them for their incompetence, they said: “Maharaj, it appears to us that the queen is not one of our own. Instead, we think she must be of the race of the gods themselves, for not one of our medicines has had the slightest effect. We can only suggest that one of her own people from the island be brought to cure her.”
       Sensing an opportunity, the minister intervened. “The royal physicians speak the truth, Maharaj,” said he.
       “But if that is so,” asked the king, “who is to go the island?”
       “Why let that worry you, Maharaj?” said the minister. “Surely the Chief of the the royal army, the hunter-boy, will be able to help us. Why not send him?”
       The king was preparing to send the hunter-boy back to the island when the queen got wind of the plan. “Alas,” said she in deep dejection, “there is nothing to be achieved from going there. For there is but one soul who knows the cure – she is my beloved companion, whom, in a moment of anger, my curse transformed into a parakeet. Thenceforth she has lived in the wilds, winging her way in the ten directions. What chance have we of finding her? Ah woe is me, for death is at my doorstep – ”
       That evening, the hunter-boy returned home and sat down, thinking all the while of a way to save the queen. He was engaged thus when his friend, the parakeet, flew up and alighted on his wrist.
       “What is the matter now, dear boy?” it asked.
       “What can I say?” replied the boy. “The queen is suffering from a pain in the stomach, the cure to which is known only to a beloved companion of hers. But, alas, an impetuous curse of the queen’s transformed that very companion into a parakeet – which, right at this moment, may be flying through some unknown wilderness. So, there lies the queen, disconsolately awaiting her death as the king grieves for her. It is in the hope of helping them, poor souls, that I am wrapt in thought.”
       “If that is so,” said the bird. “then take me with you to the palace.”
       The boy did as the bird asked and took it with him to the palace. Inside, the king and his family stood in a circle around the suffering queen, their faces etched with lines of helpless despair. When the hunter-boy entered with the parakeet, the queen immediately recognized the bird for her long-lost companion and turned her back to her original form of a woman. Thus transformed, the queen’s companion stood in the room, glowing with a rare beauty that was not lost on the hunter-boy – who gazed at her with frank appreciation. The companion then deftly prepared the medicine and fed it to the queen, who recovered instantly.
       When this was done, the king made the hunter-boy his minister as a mark of his appreciation. He also made arrangements for the hunter-boy to be married to the queen’s companion. As for the minister, the king finally recognized his wickedness and had him banished from the kingdom.
       So, our heroes lived happily ever after in their kingdom. And we? We live on here.

Afterword:

Another folktale I translated years ago; when I was just learning to read the Kannada script. A lot of what I said in the Afterword to the last post applies to this one too (particularly the reference to the type of language used).
Again, it seems to me that this folktale is both archetypal and “of the soil”.

A Kannada Folktale: Hucchayya (The Fool)

       There once lived three brothers in a town. The youngest of them was Hucchayya. That wasn’t his real name, but he was a fool and so people called him Hucchayya. But that never bothered Hucchayya.
       Now Hucchayya, as the name suggests, was not a man of guile. Nor did he know what it was to keep a secret. So, those who wished to spread a rumour had only to say: “Hucchayya, here’s a piece of news, but don’t speak about it to anyone.” Huccha would then travel through town, telling everybody he met the news, adding: “But see that you don’t speak about it to anyone.”
       Hucchayya’s two brothers had married and set up separate homes. The two of them had also split the inheritance, leaving nothing to Hucchayya. ‘He can split his time between our houses,’ they thought.
       But this didn’t suit Hucchayya, who protested –
       “You have been unjust, brothers,” said he. “I too am my father’s son. I deserve my share of the inheritance.”
       “So be it,” said his brothers. “What would you like for yourself?”
       Hucchayya was taken aback. Finally, he said: “I would like this ox,” pointing to an old ox that was on its last legs. Rejoicing inwardly, his brothers handed him the ox.
Thereafter, in spite of eating at his brothers’s homes, Hucchayya lived with his ox in the backyard and bethought himself independent.
       How well Hucchayya looked after his old ox! No mother ever pampered her infant more. He stroked it tenderly, fed it the best hay to be found, and made sure that its bucket of water was always full.
       Besides all this, Hucchayya also talked to his ox. If, as Hucchayya spoke to it, the ox shook its head, twitched its ears, or swished its tail in an attempt to shake off the flies, Huccha found in it the suitable response to his chatter and was content. And when, wishing for some grass, it licked his face with its wet tongue, it pleased him so much that he told everyone of it. “How well an animal can love!” he said.
       His affection for the ox went so far as to give it the name, Basavakumāra, the ox-prince. For a few days after the naming, he even spoke of him to all those who passed. “My Basava didn’t drink his water today,” he would say anxiously, “I wonder what the matter is.”
       Or, “My Basava went all day without shaking his tail.” And even: “My Basava didn’t utter a sound all day.” No mother ever spoke of her child more lovingly. But what did the old ox know of all this?
Weeks passed. One day, Huccha caught hold of Basava‘s tail and saying, “Why aren’t you moving your tail about, my dear Basava?” gave Basava‘s tail a little shake, whereupon the old ox collapsed. Huccha was so disappointed at the ox’s behaviour that he ceased to look upon it with any affection.

       Now Hucchayya’s brothers owned a pair of cows between them. Thinking these animals a needless burden, the brothers sold them at the neighbouring town. When Hucchayya heard of this, he too decided to sell his ox and betook himself to the same town. But his was an old ox. Who would buy it willingly? Hucchayya spent a fruitless day at the fairgrounds and when evening fell began to make his way back home. On his way, he came across a tree swaying to the wind. “Clickety click,” went the tree as it swayed back and forth. (Let us remind ourselves at this juncture that Hucchayya was a fool.)
       “What’s that, Mr. Tree,” said Hucchayya when he heard this. “Are you asking me how much I want for my ox?” “Clickety click,” went the tree.
       “I won’t take anything less than twenty-five rupees,” answered Hucchayya.
       “Clickety click,” went the tree again. “What’s that? You’ll pay me twenty-five rupees for my ox?”
       “Click.”
       “Yes? All right, here you are. Hand over the money now.”
       “Clickety click.”
       “Oh, well, if that’s the way you want it,” said Hucchayya. He went up to the tree and secured the old ox to its trunk.
       “Clickety click,” went the tree.
       “Eh? You’ll pay me tomorrow? So be it,” answered Hucchayya and made his way home.
       When they gathered for dinner, his brothers asked: “Where’s your ox, Hucchayya?”
       “I’ve sold it,” he answered.
       “For how much?”
       “Twenty-five rupees,” said Hucchayya.
       His brothers were impressed. ‘Not a bad bargain,’ they reflected. ‘Twenty-five rupees for a run-down old ox.’
       “Where’s the money, brother?” they asked.
       “He’ll give it to me tomorrow,” said Hucchayya.
       Having no reason to disbelieve him, his brothers turned the conversation to other things.
       When Hucchayya went up to the tree the next day, his ox was nowhere to be found.
       “All right, Mr. Tree, hand over the money,” said Hucchayya.
       “Clickety click,” said the tree.
       “What’s that? You’ll pay me tomorrow?” asked Hucchayya. “All right, but make sure that you do. I won’t have you telling me tomorrow to come the next day and then the next day and so on. It’s only because you’ve asked me nicely today that I’ve said yes.” Saying this, he took himself home.
       That evening too, Hucchayya’s brothers asked him where the money was.
       “He said he’d give to me tomorrow,” said Hucchayya.
       “Very well, your lordship,” said his brothers, “at least tell us who you sold the ox to.”
       “To a tree on the way to town,” answered Hucchayya.
       His brothers clapped themselves on the forehead. “When will you ever learn some sense?” they shouted.
       “The poor tree,” answered Hucchayya. “He pleaded so piteously that my heart melted and I gave in.”
       Consoled by the reflection that they had been saved the trouble of burying the old ox, his brothers dropped the matter.

       The following morning Hucchayya went up to the tree again. “Well then, are you going to pay me today?” he demanded.
       “Clickety click,” went the tree.
       Hucchayya was displeased. “I won’t have any more of this clickety click nonsense,” he warned it. “I just want my money. Otherwise, I’ll use my axe to give you a cut for every rupee you owe me. What do you say to that, huh?”
       “Clickety click,” said the tree.
       Hucchayya lost his temper at this. One, two, three, four – chop, chop, chop, chop went his axe.
       Now the tree was an old desiccated tree. Hucchayya had struck no more than ten blows than it fell. But wonders never cease, do they? For what should the tree harbour but a stolen stash of treasure! When the tree fell, the treasure spilled out in all its richness. Wrapping a portion of the treasure in his bag of cloth, Hucchayya rushed home and deposited it in front of his brothers. His brothers’s faces expressed both happiness and amazement.
       “Where did all this come from, Hucchayya?” they asked.
       “Didn’t I tell you?” answered Hucchayya. “I sold my ox to the tree. It didn’t give me my twenty-five rupees, but instead gave me all this gold and silver. There’s a lot more gold and silver by it still.”
       “Well, what are we waiting for?” cried his brothers. Saying so, they rushed to the spot with Hucchayya.
       It was just like Hucchayya had said. Spades of gold and silver lay by the fallen tree. Eagerly, the brothers gathered up all the treasure. Then, handing a small sack to Hucchayya to carry home, they said to him: “See that you don’t say a word about all this gold and silver to anyone, Hucchayya.”
       “All right,” said Hucchayya.
       The three of them were hurrying home when they came up against the village priest. “What’s this, boys,” he asked, “what have you got in those sacks?” “Oh, nothing much, Mister, just some sprouts from the field,” replied the eldest. But Hucchayya intervened – “Is it right to tell lies to the village priest, brother?” he said reproachfully. Turning to the priest, “Mister, these sacks we’re carrying are full of gold and silver.” “Here, see for yourself,” he added and undid the knot of his sack.
       The priest’s eyes glittered greedily at the sight of the treasure.
       “So it’s true!” he exclaimed and stooping, picked up a handful of gold and put it his bag of alms. This displeased Hucchayya. “The cheek!” he expostulated and brought down the axe he was holding on the priest’s head, who drew his last breath  and fell down dead. Furious at Hucchayya’s foolishness, his two brothers threw the priest’s corpse in a nearby pit and hurried homewards.
       That very night, Hucchayya’s brothers waited until he had gone to bed and then stole out. Retrieving the priest’s body from the pit, they buried it securely, flung the remains of a dead ram into the pit and returned home.
       In a couple of days, people noticed the priest’s absence and begun to discuss the matter. When Hucchayya heard this, he said:
       “That’s right, it was I who killed him. I then placed the body in a nearby pit and returned.”
       “Let’s go look,” said the townspeople when they heard this. Hucchayya led the way to the pit his brothers had flung the body into. Going up to its lip, he called out –
       “Our priest had a beard, did he not?”
       “Yes,” came the answer.
       “And did he not have two horns upon his head?”
       What’s this fool of a Hucchayya talking about, thought the crowd, and came up to the pit to see for themselves. When they looked, all they saw were the decaying remains of a ram.
       “Hucchayya was born a fool, but fraternising with a fellow like him will only make us go mad,” they thought bitterly and turned to make their way back to town. When later, Hucchayya told them of how the tree gave him and his brothers all that gold and silver, the people of the  town ignored him. So it turned out that Hucchayya and his brothers lived happily ever after.

       So they’re out there. And we? We’re out here.

Afterword:

I grew up reading the wonderful and engaging folklore and mythology of many of the world’s peoples. Naturally, my reading included Indic mythology. However, most stories I read were those that had come down through the ages along the mainstream of Sanskrit. Stories from the Ramāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, and the Panchatantra abounded. Much less common were folktales from the many indigenous languages (often called bhāsha-s) of India’s various peoples.

The story I’ve translated here is a Kannada folktale, found in a collection – whose name I forgot and a copy of which I seem to have misplaced – compiled by Chandrashekhara Kambara. The theme, like so many other folkloric themes, is one that is found in the folktales of various other peoples. Notwithstanding these similarities, there are elements in this Kannada version that I, for one, have not come across in other stories of this “type”. Those of you who have read folklore of this sort before will have noticed that the language I’ve used is sometimes deliberately archaic.

P.S: This was perhaps my very first translation from Kannada to English; and was done several years before I got around to translating Bendre.

Puṇyakōṭi – The Song of the Cow

Puṇyakōṭi herself may have hesitated to say it, but it is very close to the truth that there is almost no Kannadiga who has not heard the refrain ಸತ್ಯವೇ ಭಗವಂತನೆಂಬ ಪುಣ್ಯಕೋಟಿಯ ಕಥೆಯಿದು (satyavē bhagavantanemba puṇyakōṭiya katheyidu). Even I, who grew up in a predominantly English environment and never studied Kannada in school (which is where most children come across it if they haven’t already), seem to remember listening to the refrain as a child – in the same lilt familiar to so many other millions of Kannada speakers.
On its surface, the story of Puṇyakōṭi is a moral story. It is also the way most people apprehend it. The song-narrative of the upright, ever-truthful cow has brought and continues to bring tears to countless eyes. Indeed, if one does not object to a little ‘back-to-the-future’, Puṇyakōṭi’s behaviour may easily be called Gandhian. (Raja Rao, the Kannada-speaking English novelist, tells of how he related Puṇyakōṭi’s story to Gandhiji himself and how pleased Gandhiji was to hear it.)
Today, it is very possible that a moral story like this one may seem, at best, rather quaint; at worst, saccharine and preachy. Cows are no longer woven into the fabric of people’s lives, there are few thickly-forested areas (like the ones in the story) and even fewer tigers, and ideas like the truth and honesty have turned into curiosities. And yet, the memory of a people (though they themselves may transform beyond recognition) is not easily erased. The past continues to impress itself on the present. If earlier it was the radio and school textbooks that propagated the song, it is now the internet and Youtube.
A word now about the song’s origin. While nothing definitive has been said, the song has been dated to the early 1800s (and is quite possibly of even earlier vintage). And while the unity of the song’s narrative points towards it being a single author’s work, it is only fitting that the author is unknown. Because, like every true folksong, the singer of the ಗೋವಿನ ಹಾಡು (The Song of the Cow) is not an individual but society itself.
Having provided this introduction, I would now like to present my (poetic) English translation of the poem. The version I have chosen to translate is the extremely popular sung version. While it is true that this version omits a number of verses originally recorded, it does so without ever doing violence to the ಭಾವ (~emotional context) of the original. Likewise, my translation is not always literal but is an attempt to convey the ಭಾವ of the song. Also, because the original itself uses a vocabulary and rhyme-scheme that are Old-Kannada, I have taken the liberty of using a vocabulary and a grammar of “inversion” that may seem redolent of English poetry of the Romantic period.
Since there is a readily available online version of the song, I am simply embedding the link below. I think it best to read the translation as you listen to the song.

Puṇyakóṭi – The Song of the Cow

Let me tell you of the ways
Of Kāḷinga, the keeper-of-the-cows,
In the flourishing land of Karnāta here,
Right in the centre of this earthly sphere.

Beneath the tender mango trees,
He sat as he played on his flute at ease,
And happy strains went forth of sound
That cálled to the cattle gathered round:

Come Gangē, come, come Gowri, come
Come, mother-Tungabhadrē, come,
Come, Puṇyakōṭi, you come too
Was how he called out his halloo.

Harking to the cowherd’s call,
The cows they gathered one and all,
And then they overflowed their milk
Until his earthern pot was filled.

This is the story of Puṇyakōṭi,
Who said the truth was the only deity.

Within the mountains spread around
Was heard tiger arbhuta‘s sound,
As round and round the hills he prowled
While his stomach in a hunger growled.

In a fury fiercely roaring,
He went rumbling thundering soaring,
Down to where the cows all were,
And sent them scattering here and there.

A straying cow called Puṇyakōṭi,
Thinking fondly of her baby,
Was returning happy to her shed
To the calf she had to feed.

Aha! thought the tiger cruel
Here at last is today’s meal,
As he bounded up with wicked laugh
And blocked her way back to her calf.

This is the story of Puṇyakōṭi,
Who said the truth was the only deity.

I have no intent to play,
I’ll pounce upon you right away,
And then I’ll tear you side to side,
The tiger boomed in villainous pride.

Tiger, listen to this plea of mine,
I’ve left my kanda ’mongst the kine.
Let me feed him just once more
And then I’ll make my way back here.

Your capture’s like a gift to me,
And if I simply let you free,
You’ll slip away and never appear –
You lie to me, roared the tiger.

The truth’s my father, and my mother’s the truth,
The truth’s my sister, and my brother’s the truth.
And if I do not keep my word,
I know that it will not please the lord.

This is the story of Puṇyakōṭi,
Who said the truth was her only deity.

I’ve come back, kanda, to our shed,
To see you once before I head
Back to the tiger to whom I’ve said
That I will give myself as food.

Whose teats shall I now suckle, ma,
Whose side shall I now sleep by, ma,
In whose care, ma, shall I now live,
Who will hug me when I grieve?

O mothers dear, O sisters dear,
We all came fróm the same mother.
So will you please, on my behalf,
Treat as your own this orphaned calf?

Do not butt him if he rears,
Do not kick him if he errs;
Make him your own on my behalf,
Fondly treat this orphaned calf.

This is the story of Puṇyakōṭi,
Who said the truth was her only deity.

You are an orphan now, my son,
The tiger’s claimed me for his own.
I will now go and clear our debt
She said as she hugged her kanda tight.

Then saying goodbye to her child,
Not even once looking behind,
She reached the entrance to the cave
And said to the tiger – urgent-brave.

Here take my flesh, here take my meat,
Here take this hot blood of my heart,
O mighty tiger, take all of this
And sate your hunger with relish.

Listening to these words of hers,
The tiger’s eyes filled up with tears.
O if I kill and eat a lass so good,
I know that it will not please the lord.

You’re like a sister born with me,
What will I gain by killing you?
So saying, with a heavy sigh,
Off the cliff he leapt to die.

This is the story of Puṇyakōṭi,
Who said the truth was the only deity.

Puṇyakóṭi, now filled with joy,
Frolicked home to feed her boy.
Then calling on her own cowherd
She stood in front of him and said:

Let all the cows within my clan
And all the cowherds from your clan
Come together every year
And chant our Krishṇa’s name in prayer.

For he is the store of all good things,
And the máster of our good feelings.

P.S: Here is another link that just misses having the whole song, but blends the song with a very charming animation.