Impromptu Poetry and Singing

Around the year 1909-10; one day I was sitting in the Printing press of Navaratna and Sons. It was about 9 AM. Two customers arrived, and they consulted the cost of printing a thousand copies of a four-page article. The owner informed it would be three rupees including the cost of paper. Customers agreed. “These need to be delivered at 10 AM” they said. “I will give you by noon”, said the Owner.

There were two songs in that article. I am presenting here as I remember:

It ends when legs stumble||
Onlookers’ fancy||
Collection for police||
(Few stanzas continued like this)

ಬೈಸ್ಕಲ್ ||
ಕಾಲ್ತಪ್ಪಿದ ಮೇಲೆ ಫೈಸಲ್ ||
ಬೀದೀಲ್ ಹೋಗೋರ್ಗಮ್ಮತ್ ||
ಪೋಲಿಸ್ನೋರ್ಗೆ ಕಿಮ್ಮತ್ ||
(ಹೀಗೆ ಮೂರು ನಾಲ್ಕು ಚರಣ)


Look at the sprint of the motorcycle
This is the flight of gods
If the focus is lost by its sight
limbs will get crippled
If lord Shiva orders the crippled
life will go at once
(Few stanzas continued like this)

ಓಟವ ನೋಡೈ ಮೋಟಾರ್ ಗಾಡಿ
ಇದೇ ದೇವತ ವಿಮಾನ ||
ನೋಟಾ ನೋಡ್ತಾ ಬೆಪ್ಗಿಪ್ಪಾದರೆ
ಕೈಕಾಲ್ಗಾಯ್ತದೆ ಊನ ||
ಊನಾ ಆದೋರ್ಗ್ ಶಿವನಾಜ್ಞ್ಯಾದರೆ
ಕೂಡ್ಲೆ ಓಯ್ತದೆ ಪ್ರಾಣ ||
(ಹೀಗೆ ಮೂರು ನಾಲ್ಕು ಚರಣ)

By 11 AM they took around one thousand prints. They came back by 1 PM again. Again, they ordered another two thousand copies. As the printer setup done in the morning was intact, another two thousand copies were delivered in one hour. "What did you do with so many copies?" I asked. "Come and see," they said.

At the junction of Arcot Srinivasachar avenue, one person sings in a corner. Another person accompanies him. Three kāsu (~0.06349 rupees) per print. Fifteen rupees and seventy-five paise were collected for a thousand prints. Deducting three rupees for the print; the profit was twelve rupees and seventy-five paise.

I went there and observed that people were waving their arms in excitement, calling out the duo, "One copy for me! One copy for me!"

I remember they took one or two thousand copies the next day as well.

Sri Bhattaraja

This was done by a person belonging to Magadi - Bhattaraja; it seems he worked in the palace sometime back.

Another event happened after one or two years. Every year during the festival season of Deepawali and Ugadi; some friends would arrange distribution of sweets, fruits, and clothes to the patients in the Hospital for epidemic diseases and the Hospital for Incurable diseases, in Magadi road. Because of the possibility of plague outbreak in Bangalore, the Mental hospital also was established nearby. That year the program was presided by Sir. K. P. Puttanna Chetty. We proceeded towards the so-called Mental hospital after finishing our service in the two hospitals. Among them, few people were standing out and watching us. Once we got closer one among them folded his hands and started singing.

Mr. Puttannashetty
Will the tummy be given food?
Will the flour and mongo be given?
Will the clothing be given to the bodies?

ಹೊಟ್ಟೇಗನ್ನ ಇಟ್ಟರೇ
ಹಿಟ್ಟು ಆಮ್ರ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿರೇ
ಮೈಗೆ ಬಟ್ಟೆ ತೊಟ್ಟಿರೇ

Probably he would have continued. Sri Puttana Chetty recognized him and conversed. He was in the palace. He said, “His lordship's carriage used to visit the royal court. Is it not?” Sri Puttanna Chetty smiled and uttered a few kind words. He told us “He is Bhattaraja from Palace, looks like he still follows some of the conventions of the palace. His memory is still working.”


Krishnappa is a relative from my Aunt's side. Krishnappa's father was Subbanna. He went to Mysore city at a young age. His birthplace was away from Mysore. Appears that his liking for music had come naturally. His family was prosperous. They had a good house, land, also a large number of relatives and friends. They were people of decency and morality. Subbanna somehow came out of the family; did not align with the old ways. He resided temporarily in many places and eventually reached Mysore city. After learning music and becoming famous, he started earning his bread by teaching music in a few places. He got patronage from the Palace too and in due course got married. Three kids. Two daughters and one son, i.e. Krishnappa, the person of our current subject.

Daily routine/work

Krishnappa learnt music. But his father passed away when Krishnappa was young. Seems like his mother too followed her husband, not long after. Sisters went to their respective husbands’ places after marriage. Krishnappa used to pass time by teaching music at some of the rich people's houses. He did not marry, so he did not have his own house. His passion for music continued. His daily work was to practice, teach music, and attend the concerts to listen to music.

He spent sixty to sixty-five years like this. One of his cousins, being a member of the people's representatives, would visit Mysore twice a year. Then he would search for and find Krishnappa, invite him to visit his native place. Krishnappa used to say, “Sure I’ll visit sometime. I am happy here. What is so special there?", he would reply with apathy. Finally the cousin got tired of it. Once during his visit to Mysore he pleaded,

“Mister! you are nearing seventy. At least now shouldn’t you come back to your native? Why struggle here in your old age? There are lands in the native which belong to you.That would be more than sufficient for your needs. Around 25-30 members are presently residing in my house. You won’t be a burden in any way. Please come back.”

Like this, he managed to get his elder brother's consent and brought Krishnappa back.

Back to native

Krishnappa led a content life there except for one situation. He used to go to the plantation and fields in the morning, gossip, wash clothes neatly, eat food after extensive ritual utterances, creating lighter moments by telling experiences of self - He was a very jovial person.

To name one dissatisfaction he had was when his uncle Surappa used to ask him, “Krishna, sing something.” Surappa did not have any bad habits. He was a person of noble conduct. He used to recite passages again and again from Telugu Bhārata, Bhāgavata, Devaranāma. Used to create lighter moments. Very delicate mind. Will share an example.

Interest in snacks

Surappa was aged around eighty to eighty-five. In his house, his brothers and other relatives, some of their daughter-in-laws and a few widows resided. He wished his daughter-in-law to respect and assist the widows. But he found it difficult to force his daughter-in-law to do that. She is a pleasant and obedient lady. But will the widows accept her assistance? Surappa came out with a plan. Night's dinner will be completed by eight or eight-thirty. After everyone had partaken the dinner, Surappa would visit the kitchen and call his daughter-in-law, “Acamma, anything there for phalāhāra[1]?" he would ask. If she replies roṭṭi or dosa , he would ask, “Give me some of it!” Surappa was not eating dinner. If he was handed a dosa or roṭṭi or koḍubaḻe or cakkuli by his daughter-in-law, he would act as if he would eat it. He could not eat hard items as his molar teeth had fallen. He was not a foodie. He would carry the food in his hand near the sleeping folks who have already eaten. He would then sit next to someone's bed and force the food in their mouth. Spitting the food a little, “I don’t want! grandfather" they would say. Surappa, “Why Appanna you act like that, already old?” he would joke and make him eat that.

Such was the charm of the old man.

Surappa would recite Hanumad-vilāsa-kāvya every Saturday. In the evening, he would not bother about anything after lighting the lamp till he is through reciting Hanumad-vilāsa from beginning to end and do maṅgalārati . At his place, recitation of Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, Bhāgavata used to happen in Telugu language on occasions such as Rāma-navamī, Kṛṣṇa-janmāṣṭamī, and Ganeśa-caturthī, all Mondays of the month of Kārttika.

In these situations, he would ask Krishnappa to sing. Krishnappa was not interested in singing without accompanying instruments. If he had to sing, it had to be like a concert. Apart from this, there appears to be something missing. When asked to sing Krishnappa would say like this, “What to sing? Shouldn't there be some ghee to lubricate the throat? In the house of Tirumalacharya, a handful of ghee . Should that not be the case for singing? a handful of ghee , a mouthful of sajjappa , if that is taken care of, only then it’s time for music.”

Once when Surappa, adamant and persistent, insisted Krishnappa to sing. He agreed to it, took the Tanpura, tuned it, and started singing the composition below in Mayamalavagowla raga. The lyrics were prepared by himself based on the situation.

Beg![2] Beg for eating
Beg! Beg for eating
Beg for stomach; Beg for clothes
Beg for vessels; Beg for garments
Despite begging happiness eludes
Beg! Beg for eating


ತಿರಿದು ತಿರಿದು ತಿನ್ನನ್ನ - ಅ -
ತಿರಿದು ತಿರಿದು ತಿನ್ನನ್ನ - ಅ -
ಹೊಟ್ಟೆ ತಿರಿದು ಬಟ್ಟೆ ತಿರಿದು
ಪಾತ್ರೆ ತಿರಿದು ಧೋತ್ರ ತಿರಿದು
ತಿರಿದೂ ತಿರಿದೂ - ಸುಖ ಬರದೂ ಬರದೂ
ತಿರಿದು ತಿರಿದು ತಿನ್ನನ್ನಾ

Krishnappa's eyes had tears while reciting this syllable by syllable, composing the notes. What happened to this fellow? Why this agitation? why this anger? People who knew him understood. In his life more than getting old, he had spent time under other's patronage. Even to that day, he deeply felt that was a burden to others. He might have sung by remembering his indebtedness to how many.

Such people also are in this world.

This is the translation of the eleventh essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Samkirna Smruti Samputa. Edited by Raghavendra G S.


[1]Lit. fruits, but here some snacks

[2]Means both - to beg - and - to wander around - to emphasize his uneasiness we have taken the meaning - to beg -.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Somashekhara Sharma is a software professional with Mavenir Systems. His interests include Indian classical music, Arts, Yoga, Swimming and Gardening. He is also a poet with keen interest in classical literature in Kannada and Sanskrit.

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The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...