Pot of Butter – Review (English)

Pot of Butter and other Short Stories sets in motion the charms of rustic life by quoting a few lines from the Jnanapitha awardee Da Ra Bendre’s poems, at the beginning of its selected works. Each story of this anthology, originally composed by Sunanda Belgaumkar in Kannada, is titled in a manner that reflects and captures the essence of the narrative form. The nine short stories represent author’s concrete understanding of the world.  Spending her early days in Dharwad, Karnataka, the author had shifted to Zambia, after her marriage, wherein she ventured into writing. Reminiscing her childhood days, she penned down several stories, each appreciated and received with compassion by her readers. Her works are permeated with recurring themes of folk art, traditions, home remedies, and other instances based on the ways of life prevalent in her times. Kajjaya Koduvudenu Kombudenu, her original work in Kannada is one of her most valuable contributions to Kannada Literature.

Among the translators,  Sa Usha is an acclaimed writer and critic in Kannada literary circle, renowned for her soulful poetry collections, with several publications and a prestigious award to her name. Further, Vaijayanti Suryanarayana, a Doctor by profession, has followed her mother’s footsteps and joined the literary sphere by engaging her efforts in this translation as her first literary venture.

It is common knowledge that the townsfolk of Dharwad, widely known as the ‘Shikshana Kashi” are endowed with great sensibility and scholarship in the field of art, literature, and culture. Their daily lives are imbued and shaped by standards of morality, a celebration of culture, folk and cultural traditions, principles, proverbs, music inspired by the life and works of exemplars of art and creativity. A seemingly mundane conversation between acquaintances could be interlaced with ideas and ideals of literary figures such as Purandara Dasa, Rabindranath Tagore, Da Ra Bendre, alluding to their composed works. In turn, this illuminates how literature forms the part and parcel of daily lives and the respect that ordinary individuals hold towards it, the celebrations of culture, and the highs and lows of life among others. These subtleties of life have been recorded and rendered with the utmost care and compassion in Belgaumkar’s stories. Her perceptivity to minute details of everyday existence and her enjoyment in articulating them into stories have been combined much to the reader’s delight. The lucid rendering of the prose is supplemented with the English translations of Da Ra Bendre’s poems, and many words representative of Dharwad Kannada are used freely with endnotes specifying their usage and requirement. Thus, in an effort to retain the nativity, the translation avoids many inhibitions and inconsistencies that come with undermining the essence of the original story. The translations are straightforward and clear, being true to the spirit of the original, incorporating all elements which make it a classic.

Stories of sacrifice, heart-warming accounts of family values, and depiction of everyday existence in Dharwad are brought to life in this anthology. The suffering of a cursed Brahmin who’s crushed under the weight of poverty, the enduring loyalty of an adopted animal, Shallakka’s satisfaction with bare minimum comforts of her life are few among the many memorable aspects of these writings. Characters such as Bharmi who spends her days selling butter, her fiscal genius, and her tireless efforts are embedded in one’s memories by the time the anthology reaches its conclusion.

In contrast with the lives we lead today – lives permeated with dissent and differences, these translated works unveil and celebrate the modest lives in rural India of yesteryears. Even though our lives today have changed, the experiences, messages, ideals, and values imparted are highly relevant in the present scenario and would remain so, for years to come. For a reader entirely immersed in the hustle of urban life, the depiction of village landscapes, the rural mannerisms, and steady belief-systems, which form the premise of these stories, would surely bring a smile. This sentimentality moves beyond Dharwad and remains true for people across India, manifesting as their sense of belongingness to the same land. As one flips the last page, the translators’ promise that the stories composed about Dharwad as it was 50 years ago are closest to the original in the translated collection, remains true in all respects.