I welcome feedback on this ongoing translation project.
Chapter 1: Posted on July 31, 2014:
Translated from the Marathi
Jeffrey M. Brackett
Tuka vanished on a Monday. Day two in the second half of March-April. It was still misty in the fields before sunrise. That day, after finishing up work in the cowshed and milking the cows, I headed into the fields at the crack of dawn. I’d taken food with me.
As my sickle swished swiftly through the grass, from time to time, with the joy of a poet, I was signing devotional songs I’d composed myself. But family-related questions were creeping into those devotional songs. While working in the fields, one can think about family concerns just as easily as about spiritual matters. One can release suppressed anger and despair by prattling on about them. That’s exactly what I was doing while cutting grass. I was explaining things to my wife. I was consoling my sister-in-law–Tuka’s wife. Thoughts of the shop were on my mind. I was budgeting family expenses with my pitiably small sum of money. And I couldn’t rid my mind of Tuka’s ceaseless chattering about Heaven for the past twenty or so days. I was saying, “Tuka, Dada! If only you’d pay the slightest attention to household matters, how comfortable we could be!”
For some years now Tuka had been useless to the family. But for the past few days his renunciation of this-worldly affairs had increased even more rapidly. It was as if he was unaware of the world around him. I’d never seem him so carried away while singing bhajans. Before now, there’d never been such intensity in his poetry. It was as if the troubled words of those devotional songs were haunting him. Now and then I was unknowingly humming,
“Hari comes to the riverbank | Chakra and conch glinting ||
The Eagle comes fluttering | ‘Fear not, fear not’ ||
Crown and earrings so radiant | The Sun hidden in such brilliance ||
Hari’s complexion, like a black-cloud | Such a beautiful image to behold ||
Jolted back into reality, I was warning myself, “Kanhya! Watch out! Don’t get lost in devotional songs. This isn’t your path. Then, is it Tuka’s path? When was that decided? Who decided? When?” I started to recall….in our childhood, Tuka had played all the games with us, played just like us. Then he started working in the shop. Then our parents died. And while recalling the past, I remembered how Tuka, without even knowing it, had narrated his own life-story.
This storytelling event took place on the Anandaowari, which is what the verandah of our house used to be called: “The Verandah of Joy.” We roughhoused here as children, and thundered oh-so-authoritatively as adults. Tuka wrote devotional poetry sitting here, and several times he and his colleagues sang devotional songs and performed kirtans right here. One night after the devotional singing finished, Tuka’s colleagues urged him, “Friend, we want to hear your story!” Feeling a bit embarrassed, Tuka then told an abridged version in fifteen or so couplets.
I started to sing those abhangas. But while singing, I completely forgot the reason for my singing. I’d always have the same experience when I started singing Tuka’s abhangas: I’d lose all awareness of my surroundings. I also composed abhangas— “Tukya Says,” “Kanhoba Says.” Many others copied Tuka’s signature-line, “Tuka Says.” But when poetry was coming out of nearly every home, with “Says Rama,” “Says Gondya,” and “Says Kisha,” I quit composing them.