Carrying in my helpless hands The weight of my very heavy heart
Translation from poem By Sunanda Rao about the pain of leaving her grandchild
I have long admired poets for how they can deftly arrange words transforming language to convey the most profound of messages that speaks to the soul.
Two Kannada poets, one famous and the other unknown are featured in this essay. Both hail from the Chikmagalur District of Karnataka. The subjects of both poems are connected by a thread of love— a love of home and a love of family. In the case of the latter, it is about a very special love that grandchildren evoke.
K. V. Puttappa
Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa (1904–1994) is one of the most celebrated poets from Karnataka. Nicknamed Kuvempu, he wrote Karnataka’s State anthem Jaya Bharata Jananiya Tanujate. He was also a playwright, novelist and an admired intellectual of his time. His contributions to Kannada literature earned him the titles of Rashtra Kavi (National Poet) in 1958, and Karnataka Ratna (Gem of Karnataka) in 1992. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 1988, and was the first Kannada writer to receive the Jnanpith award.
Kuvempu was a stalwart who used his writings to inspire patriotism, while encouraging Kannadigas to be proud of their language and culture, at a time when colonization threatened to undermine it.
“Nanna Mane” (My House) was written by Kuvempu in 1927, and is charming because of its simplicity and universal appeal. The pleasure of reading a piece of writing is always the most potent in its original language, since meanings don’t always translate seamlessly into another language. Realizing this, and in order to keep the meter and rhyme in the translation into an English poem, some liberties were taken with the translation—these are indicated with asterisks.
Verses from Kannada work,
Nanna Mane By Kuvempu
Manay manay muddhu manay
Manay manay nanna manay!
Nanna thaayiyolidha manay,
Nanna thandhe beLedha manay:
Nanna geLeyarodane koodi
Muddhu maathugaLanu aadi
Naanu nalidha nanna manay!
Thayi mutthu kotta manay,
Thandhe yetthikonda manay:
Manege bandha nentarella
Koogi karedhu kobari bella –
GaLanu kottu saviya solla –
Naaduthiddha nanna manay!
Naanu nudiya kalitha manay,
Naanu nadigeyaritha manay:
Hakki baLaga suttha koodi
Bygu beLagu haadi haadi
Maleyanaada sagga maadi
Nalisuthiddha nanna manay!
Naanu biddhu yeddha manay,
Modhalu beLaku kanda manay:
Thippa thippa hejje ittu
Bisila kola hididhubittu
Thangi thammarodane hittu
Thindhu beLedha nanna manay!
Modhala minchu hoLedha manay,
Modhala gudugu kayLdha manay:
Modhala maLeyu karedhu karedhu
Hencha mele saddhu haridhu
Maadinindha neeru suridhu
Bereganittha nanna manay!
Home, Home, Sweet Home
Home, Home, my very own!
Home, which my mother blessed each
Where, as a boy, my father played:
Home where with my friends I’d meet
To play and exchange words so sweet,
That haven which my ancestors owned
Where my spirits soared, that was
Home, where my mother kissed me
on my cheek
*Home, where in my father’s arms I’d
Home, where all the relations who
**Plied me with sweets and called my
Speaking with affection, we whiled
That precious home, it was all mine!
Home, where I first learned to speak
Home, where I first got on my feet:
That home, where I’d hear my feath
Sing and sing, till the day’s very end
That Malnad—a Heaven on Earth,
Where freely I roamed—that was
Home, where I had many a fall
Home, where I saw my very first
Where on tiptoe I would quietly sneak
To catch and ride Sun’s golden beam,
Where with all my sisters and brothers
***My childhood melted, as if in a
Home, where I saw my first lightning
Home, where I heard my first thunder
Where the first monsoons awaited
Danced on the tiled roof with
And the great skies opened and poured
As I watched in wonder, truly spell
Home, which contains all my past
Home, where I hope to breathe my
Though this Earth I can never own
A piece of it, I proudly call my home
Home, you’ve been a sanctuary when
I was scorched
And always quenched me when I was
While the idea of home and hearth is relatable to everyone, what makes this poem unique to Karnataka is the reference to Malnad and its existing culture. “Malnad” is the Anglicized version of maLe naadu, which in Kannada means “land of rains.”
Rich in imagery of cascading rains, thunder and lightning of the Malnad region, the poet paints a picture of a bustling ancestral home with relatives dropping in and of a happy childhood. Particularly striking is the image of a little boy victorious at having caught a golden beam of sunlight streaming through a window, while probably playing hobby horse.
Today the “Karnataka Ratna” is not far from the home to which he has paid tribute—he lies in Kavishaila, a memorial made of megalithic rocks, close to his beloved childhood abode.
* The original text mentions the poet being carried in his father’s arms.
** He makes a reference to “kobbari bella” which translates to dried coconut bits and jaggery that his relatives would bring—trail-mix of the days of yore.
*** Here he mentions ‘hittu’ (millet flour) as a staple diet on which he and his siblings grew up.
The author of the next poem, Sunanda Rao (1936–2013), was not short of creative attributes, but was shy of attention. She never sought fame and it was only the people in her inner circle who knew of her passion and witnessed her art. Her family referred to her as “Kala Sarawathi,” as she was well-versed in the arts. Not only did she excel in singing Carnatic music, but she also played the veena, and composed music and poetry.
Rao was also a fine artist—the self-portraits and landscapes of her youth, changed in her years as a grandmother, and her favorite subjects became her grandchildren and the various animals she painted to delight them. Sadly, towards the end of her life, her ability to sketch dwindled severely and even words eluded her, making it a struggle to find a way to express herself.
Several of her poems were found after her demise. Her poem Vidhaaya meaning “Goodbye” was inspired by the profound love for her grandchildren.
Verses from Vidhaaya
By Sunanda Rao
Shall I take your leave little darling?
It’s time to say goodbye
The eagerness I felt to see you made
My heart light when I first arrived
And now, too soon, here I stand
Waiting tearfully to depart
Carrying in my helpless hands
The weight of my very heavy heart
Those moments that we spent together
How wonderful! How sublime!
The loving bond we share, that’s my
It’s God’s blessing to me—how divine.
The poet’s sorrow at bidding farewell to her grandchild is poignant. The reference to the weight of her heart is as brilliant as it is moving—while she is waiting to leave, with her suitcases packed, it seems that the weight of her heart is heavier than those of her bags.
The pathos in this poem may be relatable to grandparents in the current time frame, as their children move to distant shores and they miss many “firsts” in the life of their grandchildren—the first word, the first step, the first recital…the list is endless.
Poets, and indeed, all artists, touch our lives to make them richer. I think of what a great loss it is when talent does not come to light, and how many talented artists are unrealized. I consider it a privilege to be showcasing the work of one such poet who though invisible, pursued her art with quiet inspiration.
Meera Prahlad is a freelance writer, community organizer and volunteer with a wide variety of interests. She wears several hats, but finds that the style that suits her best is one where she takes on a cause close to her heart, to make a meaningful impact on the community around her. The author wishes to thank the Rashtrakavi Kuvempu Trust for their co-operation and support in gaining information for this essay.