English Writings of D V Gundappa - 7

This article is part 7 of 12 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

M Venkatakrishnaiya (1844–1933) was popularly known as the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Mysore. He was a veteran journalist, educationalist, and builder of institutions. The Mysore State owed a great chunk of its development to his zeal and perseverance. DVG wrote a tribute to him in 1932. Assessing the importance of Venkatakrishnaiya’s work, he outlined the nature of public work in India:

… Public work in our country then was, even if it now is not, like the procession of a Hindu God. Devotees come thronging on the way but numbers of them slowly scattered away after a little while. The whole pious crowd keeps changing from moment to moment. The dharma-karta and the priest are all that remained to the very end. While others have come and helped and gone away after a little time, Mr. Venkatakrishnaiya has remained at the post of duty all the while, never weary and never impatient, sustaining the responsibility, burdens of popular spokesmanship and bearing the brunt of all attacks by its adversaries. The single-minded and long-continued steadfastness in shouldering the burdens of public life is to me of deeper and more enduring significance than anything else, in this ample and many-sided career.  (p. 292)       

               What DVG wrote of Venkatakrishnaiya applies in equal measure to him as well:

His is a mind that can hold the good points of every school of thought and makes up a synthesis of its own … his honesty of purpose and his fundamental beneficence have been so to compel respectful recognition even from those who differed from him in opinion and policy. (p. 299, 300)

               DVG’s ability to capture all the traits of a multifaceted personality with a small set of well-chiselled phrases is uncanny. The following is a fine example:

Mr. Venkatakrishnaiya is a hard hitter but is not one who would leave a rankling sore behind. As ready to forgive as to point out faults; unafraid to strike, but anxious to heal; hearty in appreciation and loyal in support; candid yet generous; he is here, as elsewhere, a wholesome mixture of both nutritive and curative elements. (p. 301)

               In 1940, DVG wrote an obituary on Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore. The final paragraph of his essay sums up the events and attitudes that guided the life of the Maharaja:

Constitutionalist and nationalist as he was, his politics had for its basis a certain upward-looking disposition of the soul. He was ever on a quest after dharma. Life’s experiences had filled him with a vivid and constant sense of the limited values of the things of this world. He was a boy of ten years when he lost his father. Cares fell on him thick with the progress of years. Loneliness must be the lot of any serious-minded man in circumstances so trying; and doubly so the lot of one born to sit on a throne. Fancy would like to speculate what might have been his future if his father, Sri Chamarajendra Wodeyar of blessed memory, instead of meeting with an untimely death in 1894 (in his 31st year), had lived on to 1904, and had been persuaded to leave the son free to choose his career. Would not the son have expressed preference for a life of enlightened leisure and reposeful contemplation for himself, recommending his more active-natured younger brother for the onerous duties of kingship? The late Maharaja was a lover of great solitudes and great silences, a man who loved to brood and to penetrate the mystery of life, one who sought to commune with nature and realize the one essence behind her phantasmagoria. He was such a one among Princes as might have been singled out by Plato for approbation. He belongs to the company of Asoka and Aurelius, with the splendour of the Crown made mellow by the wrinkles on the brow. (p. 309)

               DVG delivered the Presidential Address at the Mysore State Journalists’ Conference on 1 December 1940. The address contains a valuable survey of the history of journalism in the state, in addition to a few guidelines applicable to the (then) contemporary practice of the craft.

               DVG’s conception of journalism as a sacred activity comes across in his allusion to a priest: “The editor, in relation to his paper, is what the priest is in a public temple, – the agent and assistant of the public.” (p. 326)

               Despite batting for the freedom of the press, DVG warns journalists against becoming a law unto themselves:

It is a difficult thing for a journalist to pocket his individuality and behave as though he had someone superior to himself. The mental habit which the nature and the conditions of the profession promote is one of self-assertiveness. But poor indeed must be the moral worth of a man who would be a law unto himself anywhere and everywhere and would not recognize the obligations implicit in the fact of his being the member of a profession. (p. 332)

               The newspaper, to DVG, was much more than a medium to communicate news. He saw it as a tool to refine the literary and cultural sensibility of people:

It is proper that the newspaper writer should always keep in view two apparently incompatible aims: that he should be readily understood, and that he should be gradually raising the literary capacity of the reader … In any case, the gradual elevation of the level of popular culture should be one of the principal aims of our newspapers. (p. 335) 

               He requested journalists to be wary of the ‘mechanizing of thought’ and urged them to be objective reporters—and not judges—of public affairs:

The evil of the age of the machine has not exempted the newspaper. Machine means mass production and easy circulation; and this means ready currency for half-baked ideas and readymade phrases. Nothing can be more fatal to the mind and the spirit than such mechanizing of thought … The journalist has to make it plain that he speaks but as a witness and not as the judge; that his office is but to report and to explain and that it is the reader’s to examine and decide. (p. 351)       

               DVG visualized an ideal paper that would be a pure aid to intelligence, leaving no room for any suspicion of private interest. He described it in unambiguous terms:

Its record of news will all be impersonal or photographically objective; and its budget of views will all be “personal” and frankly signed in large part. Its reports will not be tendentious; and its editors need not regard himself as under an obligation to discover or imagine a theme for discourse every day. There need be no such thing as a leading article at all, the editor being content to write over his signature, and that only when he has something to say, like any contributor. Its space will be available to everybody who has anything to submit for the consideration of the public, irrespective of the nature of his doctrine or his point of view. The only condition, apart from questions of the economy of the paper’s space and resources, is that the writing should be decent and responsible and not injurious to the integrity and harmony of civic life; and to judge of this will be the main responsibility of the editor. (pp. 351–52)

               DVG, unlike many of his traditional contemporaries, recognized the inevitability of scientific progress. He saw no conflict between tradition and science. In 1941, he wrote an article in Current Science, explaining the criteria to evolve scientific vocabulary in Indian languages. He identified four markers:

  1. Intelligibility: This includes the qualities of simplicity, directness, brevity, lucidity and also forcefulness.
  2. Accuracy: The words should … have definite meanings and should not be interchangeable.
  3. Harmony: This is the fitness of the word to its context in both sound and sense … Each language has its own peculiarities of word-structure and syntax, as well as of sound-value and rhythm; and any new word we coin or borrow must be appropriate to the idiom and the euphony of our language.
  4. Extensiveness of Currency: The words should be as far as possible such as can facilitate (i) not only the acquisition of knowledge by the student individually and at a particular stage of his education, but also (ii) his discussing about it and sharing it with his fellow-students and even communicating it to others, on as large a scale as possible, and further (iii) his using that knowledge as the basis for his higher education outside his Province and outside India. (pp. 358–59)

               His comments on sticklers and linguistic fanatics are instructive:

One detail which the linguistic fanatic is apt to forget is that the content of the word is of greater consequence than the word itself, that language is merely the means, and that there are strict limits to the demands that can be made upon the average man’s time and energy and enthusiasm by etymology and grammar, all-important though they be to the philological pandit.   

               Rigid adherence to particularism and provincialism as regards the medium of knowledge and culture would be nothing but a pitiful process of stunting our own intellectual and moral growth. (p. 363)   

               DVG wrote an essay titled Science and Ethics in 1941. It was in the wake of a symposium convened in London on the same subject. His presentation of the Hindu view of science and ethics elicited widespread response from the USA and Europe. Nature, the reputed science journal, expressed its appreciation for the essay on 18 April 1942.

               DVG began by explaining the central objective of ethics:

There is a duality in the composition of man: an outward impulsion and an inward impulsion. The flow and interplay of these two forces is human life. They mould character and make history …          A comprehensive morality should provide both for the convenience and comfort of the outward life and for the satisfaction and peace of the soul within. (p. 374)

               He advocated ‘enjoyment without indulgence,’ staying true to the spirit of the Bhagavadgītā (7.11):

No human faculty need be famished provided it will be governed by dharma. Indeed, it is conceivable that dharma may itself recommend that certain appetites should be kept satisfied up to a point, so that the higher elements in man’s nature may be left at peace to develop and grow. (p. 377)

               His comment on erring in the stage of training is worth bearing in mind: “It is safer to err, if erring it be, on the side of too much than on that of too little in the matter of training and preparation.” (p. 378)

               He scornfully commented on the recalcitrance of science in accepting brahman as the sheet-anchor of morality:

Science may not herself need it; but life, which is larger than science, stands in need of it if it should be more than a race of blind mice terrified by the screams of lame cats themselves frightened by the sniffings of dumb dogs in a sunless wood. (p. 379)

               In 1942, DVG delivered a lecture titled Towards a New World Order: An Indian View. He averred that progress and welfare bereft of a solid philosophical underpinning cannot be long-lasting. He argued for ‘cosmic humanism’ guided by spirituality and actuated by science:

My hope for the future rests firmly on our creating conditions for scientific humanism to express itself in economic and social betterments through the operation of world-democracy, sustained by a philosophy of manly effort combined with calm fortitude in the presence of failure. What we need is both a new political and economic program and a new moral philosophy in formulating which the scientist and the humanist join in collaboration and which will be a harmonious blending of serene self-renunciation within and ceaseless striving without, — a new scheme of spiritual discipline as well as a new social order of greater justice and better felicity, — a new ethic in which individualism will find its justification as well as its culmination, through service to the Nation and the State, in cosmic humanism. (p. 381)

*                            *                            *

Nāḍoja S R Ramaswamy introduced me to the nuances of editing and provided incredible insights into the personality and works of D V Gundappa. Śatāvadhānī R Ganesh breathes life into all my activities. Sandeep Balakrishna patiently polished my prose and offered valuable suggestions to shore up the observations in this essay. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to all of them.

*                            *                            *



Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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