The Foggy Fool’s Farrago

First published by Creative India, 2016

They were men (and there were some women) of a different generation, and they were a different breed. Born in colonial India, many of them in humble surroundings, they spearheaded the effort to rid India of the British. They grew up in different corners of the country but inspired by both the grand traditions of Indian literature, music, and the arts, and trained in writing and speaking English well, they emerged as leaders, as worthy interlocutors, and guides and gurus for the disenfranchised, for those seeking guidance and direction. These were the ones who gave Indians of my parents’ generation the courage, the map, and the energy to pick up the “tiranga”, march down the main streets of little towns and big towns, villages and mohallas, and sing the glories of the great, and the ancient that shaped Bhaarata, also known as India. They memorized the works of these men, and they sang the songs that these men, and women, wrote and sang, and when independence came, they were inspired to dedicate themselves to a new India. In this pantheon was Karnataka’s D. V. Gundappa (popularly known as DVG), who is now mostly forgotten (by the anglicized and “modern” denizens of Karnataka), and is rarely invoked in his native land by the left/progressive/aggressive writers/commentators. Equally troubling, such a man of caliber is known or recognized by few in the country. Let us not bother to consider the new political lot, who know little, and care less.

DVG was born in 1887, and a combing of the internet highway produced only the math genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan, as another famous Indian of 1887 vintage. Ramanujan, these days, is now much known, with a slew of books on him, myriad academic and popular articles about his life and work, and even a Hollywood movie. DVG, the polyglot, polymath pundit needs to be better known, and as his contemporary Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, the Jnanapith award winner, notes in the obituary he wrote of his friend, “Gundappa was altogether a rare type of man. The world at large may not know him as such, but he was a great man.”

DVG wrote children’s fiction, memoirs, biographies, essays, plays and poetry, social and political commentary, spiritual works, and did translations and adaptations of Western poetry and plays. He lived life simply, but fully. He was fluent in Kannada, Sanskrit, English, and Telugu, and read widely in “history, philosophy, politics, economics, literature, aesthetics, and science in English, Kannada, and Sanskrit”, as Shatavadhani Ganesh notes (p. 20). He drew deeply from the ocean of Indian art, literature, and epics, and was a keen reader of Western works. Truly, he was a world citizen, and not merely a poseur like some others who are household names in India. DVG was a high school drop-out, but became one of the greatest of Kannada litterateurs, who wrote marvelously well in English, edited newspapers, and won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1967. This man of great wisdom was also a keen activist, and founded the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, in Bengaluru, in memory of one of his political heroes, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He published the English language journal “Indian Review of Reviews”, and was a member of the Mysore University Senate and the Mysore University Council. Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974, DVG died on October 7, 1975.

Most Kannadigas remember DVG for his opus, “Mankuthimmana Kagga”, which still brings a smile to people’s faces, and though few of them memorize the Kagga these days and recite the verses both to showcase their own talents as well as to use them as ripostes in bright conversations, like people did in my mother’s and father’s days, this work of DVG continues to draw the attention of connoisseurs of the language, and seekers of wisdom and sage advice. Indeed, the Kagga might be considered twentieth century Karnataka’s and Kannadigas’ “Bhagavad Gita”. Some have called it the “Gundopanishad”. The verses deal with everything about life and the beyond, and give the reader solace, peace, joy, insight, and a way out of the dead-ends of life. It is a self-help book par excellence, and it is a compendium and treasure-trove of sage wisdom. The lover of Kannada will find the language lyrical, and the expert will find layers upon hidden layers of information, allusion, and insight.

However, even as we note the ignorance of many of the modern generation of Kannadigas, there are, thanks to the still remaining DVG enthusiasts, Google apps that one can download on one’s smart-phones, and read one verse a day of the 945 verses in the Kagga, to mull over, and to contemplate life and its vicissitudes. And there are enthusiasts, and dogged, committed, and talented individuals willing to take on the gargantuan task of translating the 945 verses into simple, modern English that, in turn, might make the rest of India, if not the world, take notice of this great work by one of the greatest men of twentieth century Karnataka.

Titled, “Foggy Fool’s Farrago”, the new translation of the Kagga is by Malathi Rangaswamy, and her grandson, Hari Ravikumar. There are a couple of previous, other translations of the Kagga, but in an attempt to hew to the original, those don’t do full justice nor provide the modern reader the thrill of discovering much of the qualities and the immense depth of this Kannada opus. Malathi Rangaswamy is from the old school, and born in 1931, she completed her BA as a young mother and wife. She has written poems, short stories, essays and travelogues in Kannada, English, Tamil, and Sanskrit, and thus is worthy of taking on this major task of translating the Kagga, supported by her talented grandson, Hari Ravikumar, an engineer by training, but talented in many arts, and a young man of many parts.

There are big challenges in translating the Kagga. It would be impossible for it to be translated into English following the Kagga requirements: four line verses, in aadi praasa (with the second letter in each line being the same alphabet) – for example – in this verse, it is the alphabet “la”:

Hullagu bettadadi, manege malligeyaagu, kallagu, kashtagala maleya vidhi suriye, Bella-sakkareyaagu deenadurbalaringe, Ellarolagondagu Mankutimma

The verse, 789, is translated thus:

Be the grass at the foothills,

Bea jasmine in the family,

Bea sturdy stone when fate showers hardships,

Be the sweet sugar to the poor and helpless

Become one with everyone (p. 286)

We can see how difficult it is to capture the tone, the voice, the lilt and the lyrical qualities of Kannada in the English translation. Furthermore, the verses in “old/classical Kannada” have allusions to locale, texts, myths, the fables, and the scriptures of India that can make the task of the translators even more challenging.

Luckily for us, and aiding the translation, is a masterful introduction by the intrepid Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh – which, by itself, is worth the price of the book, and more. Dr. Ganesh’s introduction covers important ground, and provides for us the context and the reasons for considering DVG’s work a masterpiece. Placing the Kagga in the treasury of great Indian poetry and literature, the introduction offers us compact summaries of DVG the man, his upbringing, his philosophy, his work, his writings, India’s cultural heritage, the poetry of the Kagga and the major themes in the 945-verse opus, the literary traditions guiding and shaping the Kagga, and the quality of the Kagga. He points out that DVG wrote the Kagga in classical Kannada, sometimes using “archaic and rare words” (p. 39), and each of the 945 verses are standalone verses that can be read and enjoyed separately, with each one edifying and satisfying.

This translation of the Kagga “is better than all previous translations”, Dr. Ganesh avers (p. 51), and one can concur, without having read those previous translations, that this effort by Malathi Rangaswamy and Hari Ravikumar is noteworthy, and a major contribution to the lore and lure of DVG. What makes the book and the translation even more attractive are the detailed footnotes which guide the non-Kannadiga and the non-Indian reader through this ocean of verse.

Readers owe a huge debt to these two intrepid translators. They have paid careful attention to keeping the translation true to the original, though one can quibble at the wordiness of some verses or the inappropriate word choice here or there (“biting the teeth” instead of “gritting the teeth”, in verse 643, for example). May be, a poet’s sensibility, or a careful editor’s keen eye could have added a little more gloss, and provided a sharper edge to some of the verses. One surely hopes that there are new editions of this translation that will provide the translators the opportunity to chisel and to refine what is already a monumental work of love and dedication.

Foggy Fool's Farrago (2016) -- by Malathi Rangaswamy (translator), Hari Ravikumar (translator), Hema Ravikumar (editor), Ashok U. (illustrator). Introduction by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

Ramesh N. Rao is Associate Chair and Professor of Communication, Columbus State University, Columbus, GA.


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