Kannada Modernism in Hyderabad: 5 Poems by K.V. Tirumalesh

By S. Jayasrinivasa Rao. Jayasrinivasa Rao translates across Kannada and English. His translations of K. V. Tirumalesh’s “Hyderabad Poems” have appeared in Caesurae: Poetics of Cultural Translation and Muse India while his Kannada translations of world poetry have appeared in Avadhi and Ruthumana.

K.V. Tirumalesh
(Source: vijaykarnataka.com)

K.V. Tirumalesh (b.1940) is one of the living legends of Kannada Modernism. A scholar of English and Kannada literature, he has translated English poets such as Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens into Kannada and composed numerous innovative works of his own. His poetry has received the Kumaran Asan Award (1978), Kendriya Sahitya Award (2015), and many other honors.

Tirumalesh was born in the Kasaragod region on the border of Karnataka and Kerala and spent most of his life outside the mainstream Kannada milieu. In the 1970s, he came to teach at Hyderabad’s Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL – now EFLU) and made the city his home.

The five poems that I have chosen for translation here come from his early work and feature Hyderabad as their backdrop. These “Hyderabad poems” are not about Hyderabad specifically but rather the impressions and images that its landmarks provoked in the the poet’s mind. They appear in Mukhamukhi (1978) and Avadha (1986), his fourth and fifth collections of poems respectively.  Hyderabad continues to make its presence felt through his recent works like Akshaya Kavya (2010).

When I first came to Hyderabad in 1992, I had not read anything by Tirumalesh. On reading his Avadha (1986), I was surprised to discover that so many of his poems were inspired by Hyderabad. Places surrounding the Central Institute, such as Tarnaka, Seetaphal Mandi, and the Arts College, as well as other well-known locations around the city such as Charminar, the Salar Jung Museum, Tank Bund, Chintal Basti, and Hyderguda were all objects of his imagination. In 1995, I got a copy of Mukhamukhi (1978) and discovered even more Hyderabad poems by Tirumalesh. 

The Hyderabad of 1995 hadn’t changed much from the Hyderabad of 1986 or 1978. I was able to identify with many of the spaces that Tirumalesh incorporated into his poetry. Hyderabad has changed much now. These poems take me back in time to the Hyderabad of the eighties and nineties. 

ಸಾಲಾರ್ ಜಂಗ್ ಮ್ಯೂಸಿಯಂನಿಂದ 

For our ancestors, things were not just objects,
they were things.    
For example, the mirror was not just something
to see one’s face in.
It needed a large frame.  A number of creepers on the frame. 
Lots of flowers on the creepers.
We only need the mirror – the frame is only to hold it.
Similarly, god.  A temple for god.
A tower for the temple, idols, anklets for the feet,
bells for the anklets – not for making sound.

We too need god - and for that, a temple.

"Salar Jung Museumninda"
Mukhamukhi (1978)

One day in Afzalgunj
a man named Albuquerque
while returning from his office
vanished all of a sudden,
like the rising smoke vanishing from the roof,
like the rising heat evaporating from the earth.
(like in the movies, but this was real.)
Whither went this Albuquerque,
this quintessential clerk?
What happened to him,
who was full of vigour and vim?
A son,
a daughter,
an ideal wife,
he was a happy family man!
A tamarind tree on that side
A lake on this side.
Once you get into the train
only at Solapur can you detrain.
Only one man knows everything,
a baba named Moinuddin.
His beard itself three-feet long.
His eyes, nobody has seen their depths.
A great man engulfed in silence –
A wise man who speaks only once
every year.
Yeah, he is there inside a cave in Golconda
beyond our sights.

Avadha (1986)
ತಾರನಾಕದ ಚೌಕ

We cannot count stars
standing at Tarnaka Crossroads.
On one side we have
Moula Ali gutta;
On the other,
Yadagiri gutta.
To choose between these two,
is really difficult. 
Come in, sit down,
have a drink,
bite into mirchi bajjis,
resolve this dilemma,
this is another way,
calls out the toddy shop to us.
Here, it is darkness at noon.
Instead of stars
we have dim bulbs
twinkling weakly.
Easy to count.
But why tears
in your eyes?
Is it because of the fiery mirchi?  Or
is it because of our 
yet unexpressed final decision?

“Taranakada Chowka” 
Avadha (1986)
ಸೀತಾಫಲ ಮಂಡಿ

When the sun starts setting earlier,
when the breeze starts blowing cooler,
it means 
the carts would have started trundling 
Sitaphal Mandi.

They arrive at the crack of dawn,
behind the veil of the first light,
from somewhere … who knows 
from where …
while we are still groggy with sleep. 

When I wake up … the lane across
is lined up with carts.
Sitadevi’s fruit of kindness,
the season of Sitaphal, 
Sita’s fruit.

November comes … December comes …
winter comes … winter goes – 
and all of a sudden
Sitaphal Mandi is bare too;
no carts
no oxen
only Sitaphal husks, 
nothing else.

Sitaphal will be seen again
only next year.  
Till then, we humans have to wait.
Doesn’t the tree in the jungle wait,
so far away from 
Sitaphal Mandi?

“Seetaphala Mandi”
Avadha (1986)
ಹಿಮ ಮಾನವ

No water, no shade.
Can’t step outside.
During one such blazing summer,
from the Himalayas, a snowman
came to Hyderabad and sat
atop a large boulder.
What an extraordinary thing!
The weather cooled down all of a sudden.
Where the grass was charred,
where the earth was cracked,
sprung jets of water.
Ponds and lakes were filled,
roads were soaked.
Aah, it will be better now,
people heaved a sigh of relief.
But here, the snowman,
sitting with a straight gaze,
continued to melt.
his hands and legs melted.
his eyes melted,
his head melted,
his stomach melted.
His penis melted.
Finally, only a piece of ice remained.
After a while, that too melted.

Only the boulder remained 
unmelted at Khairatabad.
Will another snowman come
next summer
or won’t he?
O’ kavi, only you can say!

"Hima Manava" 
Avadha (1986)
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