Bellave Venkatanaranappa was overly enthusiastic about impossible tasks. One such task that he always thought of undertaking was ironing out the printing mistakes in Kannada books. Bellave Somanathayya, one of his relatives had written a work called Rājaśekhara-carita. Somanathayya was an honest scholar and had a strong analytical mind. He authored several other works in Kannada including Śankaracarita-kāla-vicāra. His work Rājaśekhara-carita was prescribed as a text for a certain exam in a particular year. As Somanathayya had passed away by then, Venkatanaranappa took up the task of re-publishing the text. The work ran to about two hundred pages. There were probably about a hundred printing mistakes in the text. Venkatanarnappa was concerned that a work that students were supposed to study had so many errors. Students could mistake the typographical errors as the correct forms and might learn what was wrong. In this manner, whatever was supposed to educate students would work in an adverse manner. Venkatanaranappa felt that the responsibility was a huge one. But what was to be done currently? The book has already been published! He thought about this in detail and came to a conclusion. I have seen his idea taking shape. It was as follows:
At eight every evening, after having had his dinner, Venkatanaranappa sat in his living room. He placed the forme of the book before him. Forme was a bunch of eight printed pages folded together. Starting from his left-hand side, his two sons, two daughters, nephews, and others were to sit around him in a semi-circle. Each one had an Indian ink bottle before him, a pen with a narrow nib, a carbon paper – all this had to be present before him. Venkatanaranappa held the forme in his hand and would read out, “Page 25, fifth line from the top – there is a syllable missing (for instance, “ಯಕ್ಕೆ ಯ- ಒತ್ತು ಸರಿಯಾಗಿಲ್ಲ”); the letter in the seventh line is not printed right – a curve is missing next to the letter. There is a ‘ಪ’ in place of ‘ಮ’ in the fifteenth line. Thus, there are three mistakes in this page!” He called out the mistakes in this manner holding the forme in his had and once done, he passed it on to the person seated next to him. The person right next to him had to rectify the first error only. The one sitting next to the first person had to correct the second mistake only and the third person had to rectify the third one. The fourth person had to fold up the sheets properly and the fifth had to place them in their designated place. This activity went on up to 10 in the night. Doing this for four to five days rectified all errors and the work would be ready for consumption.
The same procedure was employed for editing Śabdamaṇidarpaṇa at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat. Venkatanaranappa was particular and adamant that Kannada books should not come with an errata list once published. Venkannayya and I often argued about this. I would say, “How is that humanly possible? What charm does a lady possess without vermilion on her forehead?” After having heard us out several times, Venkatanaranappa gave his final word – the errata was not to be more than a page long! What did he achieve by saying this? The books anyway came with several typographic errors and we limited the errata sheet to a page. He then took up the task of correcting the remnant errors by hand!
It only added to his workload and his energy was consumed in such activities.
Venakatanaranappa had yet another idea of achieving purity, clarity, and accuracy in rendering a language. He started writing his name as ‘ವೇಂಕಟನಾರಾಯಣಪ್ಪ’ instead of ‘ವೇಂಕಟನಾರಣಪ್ಪ’.
He tried to impose this rule upon us – we were to spell his name in the new format.
We begged him – “Sir! Your name is long, as it is – 7 letters when written in Kannada and you have added one other letter. You have elongated the ‘ರ’ there. Don’t add to our agonies. Your new format takes us a fraction of a second longer to utter the name. It strains us to call your full name!” We gave several different reasons too. He fussed a bit and then, fortunately, agreed with us.
We have all heard a couple of vogue words that often slipped out of Venkatanaranappa’s tongue. He was enthusiastic about the first book that was being published through the Karnataka Sangha. Venkannayya was all the more thrilled about it. The two were obsessed about the following – a smooth and good quality paper, clarity in printed letters, neat print, a beautiful cover-page and more importantly, an error-free publication. Once the published work reached our hands, we were eager to hand over a copy to H H Babasaheb. Venkannayya, Venkatanaranappa, and I hopped on to a horse-carriage and headed to his place. Venkannayya remarked that the book had come out well.
Venkatanaranappa replied, “ನಾಶನವಾಗಿಹೋಯಿತಪ್ಪ” (Literally, “It's all destroyed!” A rhetorical phrase, which, in Venkatanarappa’s vocabulary meant “reached completion”).
More than the word “ನಾಶನ” he often used the word “ಫೈಸಲು” (from the Urdu/Persian word 'faisala' meaning 'verdict;' basically a decision arrived at after a lot of deliberation).
“Is the food cooked?”
“ಫೈಸಲಾಗಿಹೋಯಿತು” he would reply.
“Apparently, her delivery turned out to be difficult”
“It finally got done. ಫೈಸಲಾಗಿಹೋಯಿತು”
“This time, the (Kannada Sahitya) Sammelana is in Belagavi, isn’t it, sir?”
In Venkatanaranappa’s language, ‘nāśana’ meant ‘finish’ and ‘faisalu’ meant ‘conclusion’ (usually after a discussion).
The former councillor of the Mysore State, C S Balasundaram Iyer, who was serving as the chief of the Education Sector, one day called me and said – “Sir! Can you please talk to your honourable friend and tell me his heart. There doesn’t seem to be any scope for Venkatanaranappa to rise above the post he currently holds. The Education Sector badly needs a person of his calibre. If he is happy to join us, I will help him for his growth within my capacity.”
I waited for the right occasion and proposed the matter to Venkatanaranappa. His reply was as follows, “Sir! I have had enough of torture here! I don’t want any other hassles. I'd like to be independent for a while, working on the things I love, in the manner I like. I think I've served enough.”
Thereafter, he took leave from work for a while and later retired. Some of colleagues tried to organize a party to honour him. When this idea was proposed to him, he said the following – “How much more entertainment do you need? What else did you do all these days? I have had enough of that!”
When His Majesty, the king of Mysore felicitated him with the title “Rājasevāsakta” (Devoted to the service of the King), Venkatanaranappa truly rejoiced. His student, Mirza Ismail was the reason behind the honour and this pleased him all the more. Venkatanaranappa was immensely proud and had great regard for his students.
To be continued...
This is the seventeenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough review and Smt. Savithri Bharadwaj for her help in preparing the translation.