English Writings of D V Gundappa - 3

This article is part 3 of 3 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

Volume Two (1917–1922)

               Journalism today has mostly been reduced to a racy reportage of colourful caprices, half-truths, and open propaganda. These were the precise journalistic evils DVG repeatedly warned against. His standards were exacting, and he made sure that he practised what he preached. His essays and editorials in The Karnataka unceasingly celebrated enduring values such as gratitude, trustworthiness, independence, courage, and candour.

               In 1915 Annie Besant wrote a book titled How India Wrought for Freedom. The book was notable for the conspicuous absence of pre-Congress, pro-freedom stirrings from South India. DVG set out to fill this absence by narrating these stories whilst harbouring great respect for the theosophist. Gratitude drove him to remind his compatriots that their efforts were not without illustrious precedents. He presented detailed accounts of a few historic episodes involving Gazulu Lakshminarasu Chetty and C Poorooshottum Modaliyar who had laid bare the defects of the Imperial establishment as far back as in the 1840s. Through the Madras Native Association and the periodical Crescent, they had written about critical issues of public interest and campaigned against government-backed Christian missionaries. Credit goes to DVG for recording these little-known nationalistic activities. (pp. 7–106)   

               He wrote a series of richly documented articles on the evolution of political institutions in Mysore during the rule of the commissioners (1831–1881) and after the Rendition (25 March 1881). When readers desired to know the aims and policies that guided the framers of Mysore’s constitution, DVG sourced official dispatches from London that recorded the correspondence between Mysore’s Chief Commissioner, the Governor-General-in-Council, and the Secretary of State for India. He did this in the days of snail-paced communication – only to preserve the trust of his readers. (pp. 172–94)

               S Subramania Iyer (1842–1924) was endearingly called the ‘Grand Old Man of South India.’ He was the first Indian Chief Justice of the Madras High Court and the Vice-Chancellor of the Madras University. A person of high integrity, he renounced his knighthood when Viceroy Chelmsford spoke disparagingly about him. Naturally, DVG had deep respect for him. He wrote a biographical introduction to a collection of Subramania Iyer’s speeches and writings in 1917. The essay is a model of well-crafted interpretive biography. Explaining why we should cherish Subramania Iyer, DVG wrote:

One of the dangers of a nascent democracy lies in its demagogues. When popular excitement runs high, the upstart and the hot-gospeller will surely make their appearance and hurl down their shining shibboleths and fiery rhetoric from a hundred platforms. But a reflective mind will not take long to perceive that under such leadership, the destiny of the nation will be nowhere. The wise friend of democracy is he who early realizes the value of deliberation and study and strives to avert the reign of shallow knowledge and vaporous speech. In this respect, the precept and example of Sir Subramania Iyer deserve to be constantly remembered. (p. 218)  

               Speaking to students who wished to become conscientious social workers, DVG warned them about the “habit of living upon past reputation” and urged them to move out of their familiar orbit and keep themselves well-informed. He recorded his personal conviction thus:

When every intelligent person in the country recognizes active citizenship as part of his daily religion, the State is bound to be well and do well and that will of course be to the material benefit of all. We daily come across persons who grumble about some defect or other in the Government. But if they are not going to do anything further about it, how is the defect to be remedied? The inactive citizen has no right to complain about the shortcomings of the administration any more than the unwashed has to bemoan the stink in his clothing, or the lazy and the gluttonous has to protest against the heaviness in his limbs. Every human institution — and a government is an utterly human thing — is liable to go out of order if its parts are not constantly renovated and its working is not carefully scrutinized. Enlightened self-interest, thus, as well as ethical ratiocination, makes it imperative that every one of us should be an active citizen according to his circumstances and capacity. (p. 248)

               Inspired by W T Stead, DVG published The Indian Review of Reviews between 1921 and 1922. (It was published as The Karnataka and the Indian Review of Reviews from 1922 to 1927.) The monthly magazine focused on subjects of long-term relevance and drew profuse praise from learned quarters for its high standard.

               DVG’s respect for Gandhi did not make him blind to his defects. Admonishing him for siding with the Ali Brothers on the bigoted Khilafat issue, he commented:

We deplore the necessity — political expediency or whatever else it be — which has induced Mr. Gandhi to make the devout Maulanas a hinge, as it were, for the cause of Swaraj to turn upon. To them, since they are Mussalmans first, Khilafat is the chief end, and Swaraj is merely the means for it. (p. 307)  

               When the Congress appointed Gandhi as its sole executive authority, DVG wrote a piece of scathing disapproval. He made the following timeless observation:

There may arise moments in the history of a democratic body when it must feel that it is not adapted for efficient action and that concentration of authority in a single strong individual is necessary. Such a moment is a crisis in the history of that particular democratic body or party, as well as in the general history of the country … It is well for a democracy to remember, in any case, that the extent to which it feels compelled to resort to the dictatorship of a single person is the measure of its confession of its own helplessness.  (pp. 318–19)   

               He inveighed against Gandhi for tacitly promoting the Moplah genocide. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this critique:

We dare say we shall know some day why this Moplah episode has so far not been given the benefit of his [Gandhi’s] characteristic heart-searching and plain-speaking … It should be no small surprise if the leaders of a movement of national unity and self-purification and non-violence who must be presumed to know their countrymen, first lit the fire of fanatical fury on the altar of native ignorance, and then when the inevitable conflagration was up, tried to wriggle out of the responsibility by casting the blame on the sufferers themselves. (p. 322)

               Bemoaning the leaderless Hindu community, DVG directed his darts at the Mutts as well: “The wholesale conversions and terrible sufferings of the Hindus in Malabar have not disturbed the death-like slumber of the great Mutts.” (p. 324)    

               Henry Whitehead, a Christian missionary, published a book on our Grama Devatas titled The Village Gods of South India. His avowed motive was to clear the ground for the propaganda of the Church. DVG took him to task with sardonic severity and elucidated the Vedantic vision behind the conception of the Devatas:   

It does not lie in the mouths of beef-eating Europeans to call buffalo-slaughter a sin or a crime. To put it at the worst, the fault of the Indian rustic is that, making no secret of his love of meat, he seeks to purity it (if possible) by making an offering of the dish first to the Divine as he could conceive of it … The Devata-cult may at first have been prompted by fear and then confirmed by superstition; but Vedantic theology will only view it as man’s first crude manner of recognizing an agency superior to himself. It is man’s first confession of the littleness of his apparent, physical self. It is homage semi-consciously paid to the principle of Cosmic Energy which moves winds and waves and lends lustre to sun and moon – and which assumes a small local form as the epidemic of plague or cholera and puts on a terrible imperial form as war or earthquake. It is, in short, that which works in an “act of God” – that which is above the control of man. (p. 348)

               DVG had an abiding interest in education. He served as a member of the Executive Council of the Mysore University in later years and played a vital role in its development. In 1921 he suggested administrative reforms to the incipient Indian Institute of Science. Speaking on the need to empower the Institute to grant degrees to its students, he observed that it would “prevent the misappropriation by professors of the credit that is due entirely to the originality and industry of students officially supposed to be under their guidance” (p. 358). DVG had not passed the Matriculation exam. I am at a loss to imagine how he grasped the elusive perils of studenthood!

               He wrote informed book reviews for The Indian Review of Reviews. Assessing Dr Lingesha Mahabhagawat’s monograph, The Heart of the Bhagawad-Gita, he admirably summarized the Gita’s teaching in a single phrase: practising the omnipresence of God (p. 364). He gave it a memorable Sanskrit form in his award-winning work on the Gītā in later years: bhagavat-samakṣatā-abhyāsa.

               DVG delineated the achievements of Joseph Mazzini as a nationalist and internationalist in a meticulously crafted essay (pp. 381–92).

               John Keats’ Ode on the Grecian Urn identifies Truth with Beauty. The following lines are well known to the students of literature:

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty; that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

               DVG’s spirited defence of Keats’ philosophical position is a fine example of discursive exposition:

To ask that Beauty should always satisfy the intellect and Truth the emotions, is like asking that the scent of the rose and the colour of the rose shall, before we can believe the sweetness of the scent or the beauty of the colour, be each perceptible to both our sense of smell and our sense of sight. This is not wise … Man is both intellect and emotion, and only through both can he get at the fullest idea that is possible to him here of the Highest and the Ultimate. (pp. 420–21)

               He eventually wrote a full-length poetic work in Kannada on the equivalence of Truth and Beauty (Śṛṅgāra-maṅgalam, 1970).

To be continued.

Author(s)

About:

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. A literary aficionado, Shashi enjoys composing poetry set to classical meters in Sanskrit. He co-wrote a translation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Kavitegondu Kathe.

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