Da Ra Bendre on why nitrogen is nonsense

It is always interesting to discover your own through the other; to have an outsider look dispassionately in; to see reality without the familiarity.

In 1976, Dom Moraes met Da Ra Bendre. Here’s what the English poet wrote on the Jnanpith Award winning Kannada poet.


At the moment, the landmarks of Dharwar apart from the colleges are limited. There is a shop selling pedas, which is famous all over the district. There is also a poet, who is 82 years old and is famous all over Karnataka. His name is D.R. Bendre.

Dr Bendre is a small, bespectacled man, frail, but despite his years, incurably active and like my wife, incurably talkative. As soon as we arrived, he deposited me in a chair and pointed triumphantly at a blackboard.

“Nineteen,” he said, “is your number. Look. It is also mine.”

Chalked on the blackboard was a series of dates, the first of which was 1919. “That,” he said, “was the ear of my marriage.” The next date was 1938. “That,” he said, “was the year of your birth. You will notice that 38 is 19 multiplied by two.” I told him that I had been born on the 19th of July. “There,” he said, “you see?”

The date after this was 1957. “In this year you won the biggest literary award in England,” he told me, “and 57 is 19 multipied by three.” The date under this was 1976. “In this year we met,” he said triumphantly, “and 76 is 19 multiplied by four.”

He therefore clearly supposed our meeting to be one of the most important points in my life. The next date was 1995. “This,” said Dr Bendre, “is 19 multiplied by five, and this will be the acme of your career.”

By this time I was feeling extremely bemused. “I come from an old Vedic family,” said Dr Bendre, “and for 60 years I have pursued the science of numerology.” He added, “Apart from the number 19, I was born with the number four. That is why the English translation of my poems is called Four Strings.

He pointed to the German isotope chart on his wall. “The letter C,” he told me, “is 6. The letter N is really 7. The letter O is 8. O is nonsense: 8 is sense. C is nonsense. 7 is sense. Nitrogen is nonsense.” I sat and looked at him in utter incomprehension, nodding my head politely from time to time. He asked me if I understood him.

Since, had I said I did not understand him, I would have perpetuated another waterfall of words, I said I did. He then took me around his library, which is immense. There are thousands of books stacked in wooden shelves: books in all languages.

While we inspected them he told me, “Pythagoras said 50 minus is 3 square + 4 square, and this makes 5 square. Three squared is the child, five squared is the woman: 25 is the man.”

I said, “Ah.”

Dr Bendre continued, “We are in the Milky Way. The truth of the seasons is not in the solar but in the polar centre. We have to shift our minds to the Pole star which has 28,000 cycles. It is in front of my house sometimes. I know it is there: I know I am here. Men may come and men may go.”

I said, “Ah,” once more.

I no longer had any doubt that he was a great poet. Only great poets have such interests and ideas as Dr Bendre has.


Excerpted from The Open Eyes, a journey through Karnataka by Dom Moraes, illustrations by Mario Miranda. Published by the Government of Karnataka, 1976.

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21 Responses to “Da Ra Bendre on why nitrogen is nonsense”

  1. gmohanprakash Says:

    Can somebody explain what that Nitrogen is nonsence and about Polar cycles.

  2. dr ramesh Says:

    interersting article. it is said that great personalities have certain idiosyncracies which many of us cannot understand. this proves it again.

  3. Dheerendragopal Says:

    Varakavi Da.Ra.Bendre avarige Namo Namaha !

  4. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Namma Varakavi swalpa Nitrous Oxide thagotha iddhru antha kanisutthey!

    Thumba swarasya wagidhey ee lekhana!

  5. Dheerendragopal Says:

    DB , yaake neevu yavaglu yellarnu ‘ Something’ thogondidheera antha keltheera?

  6. Nikhil Moro Says:

    DG, sariyagi helidri. :P

    Da Ra Bendre’s quirks reveal a supremely intelligent individual whose words struggled to keep pace with his thoughts. Such people love visitors — especially smart ones like Dom Moraes.

    Literary auras hide interesting social personas, especially for later generations.

    I wish someone would compile into a series the oddities of R.K. Narayan, Pu La Deshpande, Ha Ma Nayak, and the living legends R.K. Laxman (Mumbai/Pune), Khushwant Singh (Delhi), Girish Karnad (Bangalore?).

  7. Doddi Buddi Says:


    Swalpa thagondreney ee tharahada thoughts baruthhey! I speak from personal experience astey!

    Varakavi Bendre enadhru thagoltha iddhru andhrey nange thumba khushi aaguthhey…Nodi namma beechi, AnaKru, Kailasm, Kalinga Rao, et cetera ivarugalu thagondey olley kelsa madtha iddhaddhu!

  8. Nikhil Moro Says:

    “It is always interesting to discover your own through the other; to have an outsider look dispassionately in; to see reality without the familiarity.”

    Beautiful, thoughtful, prose. KP sure can write!

  9. Doddi Buddi Says:


    Rightly, said. KP must be taking something…:)

    IMHO the simplest and the most obvious low-cost way of ‘inner discovery’ is possible through imbibing some spirits.

    Swalpa jasthi thagondrey, it results in “experience unreality without the familiarity.” aagi bidutthey!

  10. E.R. Ramachandran Says:

    It’s true great and gifted people have their own delightful ideosyncracies and hobbies to relax.I had read somwwhere Singer Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer liked to play Rummy very much! after a music cutchery, he would hurriedly finish the supper and sit with his paaka Vadya people and play Rummy regularly.The hobby of Bhimsen Joshi was to drive like a F1 Driver late in the evenings! In fact he had a Ford in which he used to zoom from city to city for his performances.Friends finally asked him to stop the madnes.

    Our own ‘ Maasthi.Karnatakada Aasthi’ used to play Rummy in ‘Pensioners’ club in Gandhi Bazzar! He played with full gusto fighting over every point, thoroughly enjoying the game!

  11. Gouri Satya Says:

    Very interesting. Reveals how Dr. Bendre, a staunch follower of Maharshi Arabindo, was different from many other poets. Even when he spoke at functions, it was difficult to understand his continuous thoughtful flow of words, highly philosophical rich in meaning. By the time one would try to understand his first sentence, Bendre would have already moved to the third or fourth sentence. words flowing in an eloquent manner. A downpour of words, he will have lost himself. No surprise, his remarks with Dom Moraes were all riddles, key words with hidden meanings which only Bendre knew.

  12. Mysorean Says:

    Sri. Gouri Satya: Upon reading your comment, I looked online for Dr. Bendre’s speeches.

    Instead, I found this Web page at Kamat’s Potpourri: Bendre lived a hard life — for all that he gave Kannada, our state apparently gave him a short shrift.

    See http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/kar/leaders/bendre.htm

  13. Gouri Satya Says:

    Dear Mysorean, I fully agree with you. Bendre was a genius. If he were to be in France or US, he would have been awarded top awards, including the Nobel prize. His collection of speeches would be have been a work of excellent philosophical treatises, in the unique Bendre style in Kannada. Unfortunately none are available. May be if we search (not on the net) in some notes and books, we may find one or two. Too sad.

  14. Prabhakar P Bendre Says:

    Dear Bendre Lovers,

    I, The grandson of Da Ra Bendre, am taking the liberty to explain the meaning behing Varakavi’s comments made to Dom Moraes – ” nitrogen is nonsense. 7 is sense”. As a science student, I knew that the properties of element no. 7 are really possessed due to the atomic structure and number of electrons – all of which are represented by number 7 – which is the ‘sense’ !it doesn’t matter whether we call it ‘nitrogen’ or anything else – that’s why ‘nitrogen is nonsense’. Same is true about other elements. This my grandfather Da Ra Bendre explained to me many times in our conversations…

    I hope it clarifies the idiosynchracies.. Nothing to do with ‘consuming anything’…

  15. tsubba Says:

    is that why he wrote uttara dhruvadim, dhakshiNa dhruva koo chumbaka gaaLi yu….

    i can assure you 99.9999% percent of the people in this and previous worlds and in future worlds would not be have/would been fascinated by the magnetic flux. an even lesser number would have articulated their fascination for it like he did.


    though i must point out as much as i like/respect kaNagall saar, his interpretation of this particular poem is woefully inadequate. the gravitas( pardon the pun) of the poem is completely lost in the kappe genthu (again pardon the pun) of shrimati kalpana and her cohort.


    bendre says: tumbuta tuLukuta, teeruta taane tannoLu saviyanu saviyutide.
    yes not the excessive ukkuta but the characteristic tumbuta, self complete as in teeruta, self realized and self fulfilling as in taane tannoLu saviyanu saviyutide.

    paapa kalpanamma idella hyang ri act maaDodu? rofl.


    kaNagall chaTa, actors ge sankaTa. anyways, i close my eyes and listen to the magic of vijayabhaskar. and am happy,


    to put it in context, kaNagall ravichandranized the entire poem. rofl!! hahaha!!

  16. tsubba Says:

  17. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Prabhakarji, thank you for the post.

    TS, in the good old days ‘Kalpanamma’ was the best at these types of roles. The genius of Vijayabhaskar made these great poems even greater!

  18. sisya Says:

    I watched this video and came straight here. Anybody else see parallels? Prabhakar avare, did your grandfather see coloured numbers too?

    Random trivia : Bannanje in his ‘Bannanje kaMDa bEndre’ says that bendre had once claimed to him that he was none other than Kalidasa reincarnated.

  19. Vinay Says:

    There is a CD in Gokhale Institute Basvanagudi called Da Ra Bendre: Baduklu Baraha by Gururaj Kharjagi. It is a series of talks in MP3 in Kannada language. A very well done effort.

  20. girish pujar Says:

    Dr Da ra i felt many times prevailed beyond material level and a glimpse we can have in the poem he has written on the ‘shaktipatha’ in the train (of Sri Aurobindo) in the translated work from the Ashram (Aravindayana). I some how can not hold back moistening of the eye while i hear uttara dhruvadim, ilidu ba, nee hinga etc. We were taught by Sri Suresh Kulkarni at karnataka high school, whose many great renditions of Dr Da Ra fill our mental horizons and could get glimpses of Dr’s immersion in numerology through his discussions. During 2000 i was strongly feeling that i do not have a photo of Da ra with me. And was walking near KCD near Saptapur 1st cross and felt a small paper roll lying by the side of road. i just took and unrolled it and was shocked to see painting print of Da Ra! For me it was beyond comprehension!

  21. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    In what Moraes writes, “sense” and “nonsense” are purely contextual in meaning. Because of KP’s decision (I don’t know if he had taken something or not) to make a caption out of a phrase in what must have been a long, mostly one-sided, discussion, the posts here have created a kind of prose poem DRB himself may have enjoyed.

    I know we don’t have to validate our greats by comparing them with geniuses from other lands or climes, but our DRB sounds like a combination of Goethe and S. T. Coleridge, great creators and talkers both.

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