Dalit Poetry in Kannada: Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy


I have earlier offered a translation of Kannada Dalit poet Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy. He is a senior writer and a good poet. Experimental and sharp, his works are surely important. Recently I discovered his website which has lot of pictures and details about him.from: mudnakadu.com

Some of Mudnakudu    Chinnaswamy’s poems are  available in translation by Prof. Rowena Hill here

I must apologize for spelling his name incorrectly in my previous post. Thsi time around I have corrected it.


If I was a tree
the bird wouldn’t ask me
before it built its nest
what caste I am.
When sunlight embraced me
my shadow wouldn’t feel defiled.
My friendship with the cool breeze and the leaves
would be sweet.
Raindrops wouldn’t turn back
taking me for a dog-eater.
When I branch out further from my roots
Mother Earth wouldn’t flee shouting for a bath.
The sacred cow would scrape her body on my bark,
scratching wherever it itched
and the three hundred thousand gods sheltering inside her
would touch me.
Who knows,
at the end,
hacked into pieces of dry wood,
burning in the holy fire,
I might be made pure,
or becoming the bier for a sinless body
be borne on the shoulders of four good men.

22 responses »

  1. sir its a beutiful and a meaningful poem. if possible pls upload some notes on this poem

  2. Hello everyone, I noticed that there were no summaries on the poem online and I found it difficult to study for my test so I’ll write describe the poem from my perspective.
    In ancient Karnataka there existed a caste system which mainly included four castes and out of them the dalits also called the untouchables were bitterly deprived of even the basic privileges being a dalit himself Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy questions the nature of humans and compares their discrimination to that of mother natures. He wishes he was a tree and hence the poem is named-If I was a tree. If he was a tree the bird wouldn’t ask him which caste he is from before building his nest.The sunlight would not only touch him but embrace him, in a society where even touching the shadow of a dalit was unholy, the tree would face no such discrimination and would not flee after touching the tree. In the next line dog-eater could be understood in two ways 1-the literal way (a person who eats dogs) 2-an unholy and dirty person. The trees can spread their branchs without hesitation because the soil; the earth wouldn’t run saying it has become unclean and needs a bath. In a society where the dalits weren’t allowed inside temples, a tree would be touched by three hundred thousand gods when a holy cow (cows are considered holy in Hinduism and the vessels of gods) scratches-rubbing it’s skin against the tree the gods would touch the tree. On the final stanza when a tree dies it would be hacked into peices of dry wood and it’s soul would be purified either when it’s being used in the holy fire or when it becomes a bier for a sinless man who died.
    I hope this helped you all to atleast some extent.

  3. i want answer for this question 👇
    •How does the poet depict the idea of equality by using the elements of nature in the poem ‘if I was a tree’?

  4. Dear unknown,
    Thank you so much for this great interpretation of the poem, it helped me for my exams.

  5. Thank you poetry lovers. This poem has been flag bearer for me. Now the ‘erbacce press’, Liverpool, UK has published my collection of poems “Before It Rains Again”. Please go to their website and buy the book if interested.

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