Reorganizing the Municipal Council
A situation arose about eight- ten days after this, which required a reorganization of municipal council. A recommendation was sent by the municipal president to the government about nominating a few people. Diwan Visvesvaraya personally had my name added to the list. I was told that Puttanna Shetty was elated when this was made known to him. He called out to me and expressed his happiness about it. “I’m indeed grateful to the Diwan. But this is a position that I didn’t wish for. I’m already sated by the work that I currently do. This additional work might disturb my mind” I said. Puttanna Shetty replied:
Functioning of the Council
“Didn’t you understand the intent behind Diwan’s words? If your criticism must be fruitful, it must be knowledgeable and constructive. If you don’t experience the workings first-hand, how will you be able to understand things that go into it? Youngsters like you must take up such responsibilities.”
It was a pleasurable experience for me to have served as a municipal councillor under the presidency of Puttanna Shetty for about four-five years. It was also an experience of the workings of the public affairs. My peer councillors were all venerable. Rao Bahadur B K Garudachar, S Venkataranga Iyengar, Adeppa, Chinnaswamy Shetty, Usman Khan Saheb, Karanika Krishnamurthy - they were all respectable people; they weren’t the ones who’d talk lightly. Whatever they said was presented thoughtfully to fulfil its intended purpose. At times when the discussions resulted in anger and discord, president of the council - Puttanna Shetty- intervened and got things under control. I’ll cite an example.
A discussion on water supply was once taking place. Maybe because of the failure of monsoon or because of some other issue, there was an acute shortage of water in the Hesaraghatta lake . Discussion ensued. Amidst this pressing situation, Usman Khan Saheb said:
“Swamy! There exists a class of people. Once they get to the tap, even if an hour elapses they keep it running. They bathe over and over. They rinse their clothes time after time. This is how water goes squandered Swamy.”
Karanika Krishnamurthy stood up: “Swamy! Isn’t it the Brahmin community that he’s targeting?” he said, stiffening his biceps and swinging his arms around – as though he was about to start a wrestling match. Three- four others were all set to stand up. Puttanna Shetty said:
P: “Wait, Wait! Let’s hear his opinion. Usman Khan Saheb. Is it your inference that Brahmins waste water?”
U: “Swamy! is that ever possible? Let them come to my store and inspect the account ledger. All my important clients in our garment shop are Brahmins. Who else buys clothes like they do? It’s because of them that I have food on my plate Swamy!”
That which started in fury ended in laughter.
Since there was no dearth of virtuosity in Puttanna Shetty, everyone else reciprocated it in their conduct. There wouldn't be any ruckus or commotion in the council.
Practical wisdom was Puttanna Shetty’s most significant quality. It was wisdom accompanied by nobility and gentleness. The finesse which is usually referred to as ‘tact’ in English is a rare and an equally valuable quality in worldly affairs. Our lives may go bumpy without ‘tact’. It’s not right to term ‘tact’ or ‘finesse’ as falsehood. Disclosing truth without harshness, revealing only so much of it, as required to suit some particular situation, in a manner that doesn’t hurt anyone is called ‘tact’.
A lot of people on earth would think that the nature of truth to necessarily be rough, its face to be thorny and its voice - crude. They would’ve been accustomed to needlessly emphasize everything they say in a heated and compulsive tone. Such discourses of truth impart more fury than truth itself. Isn’t there a difference between saying “Water is warm” and “Water is burning hot”? Perceiving this difference is an exclusive aspect of disclosing the truth. It’s a practice of some people to disclose truth by adding colours to it. A few others’ practice would be to disclose it by lightening it. Expressing the subject without either adding or taking away its colours is a practice of yet others. There's an appropriate place for each of these ways in worldly affairs. Where then does this propriety lie? That kind of talk which aids pleasantness and minimizes hostility is an appropriate one.
तत्सत्यमिति धारण ||
Therefore, (our) utterance and conduct - both should lead to favourable results. Raising our voices may be required at times to achieve this; it might demand the use of strong words from us. In other situations, we may have to soften our voices; tone it down a bit. However, our voices are, whatever it maybe about, it’s important that it transmits pleasantness and that it bears an effect on the listener. Which means the way we express should consider the listener too and not just the speaker.
A talk must be accessible to both the parties. Our forefathers had realized it quite well.
आश्चर्यो वक्ता कुशलोऽस्य श्रोता
वक्ता श्रोता च दुर्लभः||
Also, all of our words must hold truth in them; and they have to be in accordance with worthiness and the mindset of the listener. This is the enigma of ‘tact’
It’s my belief that Puttanna Shetty followed this philosophy.
This was his vow.
It’s is an arduous pledge. We are upset if our coffee has cooled down a bit and infuriated if it’s just a bit warmer than it should be. Temperament of our mind isn’t in our control.
Puttanna had somehow gained control in speech. This same attribute has been praised in Bhagavad-gītā as:
वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते ||
Puttanna Shetty occupied a senior position and was an influential person, therefore there were a lot of people who came to see him for solicitation; no one can say all their requests were always genuine. Most of their requests were usually the ones that could not be fulfilled. What kind of approach should Puttanna have taken in matters where requests were unfulfillable? What would be the impact on solicitor if he (directly) said “Your request is unreasonable”? What would the effect be had he said “I shall ensure that it happens”? Speaking the truth would dishearten the solicitor and lying goes against inner instincts.
Puttanna got caught in such situations and endured them each day. “Alright, let’s see” he would say ; “I’ll give it a thought,” he said sometimes ; “ I’ll check it out with him” he often told - Though he certainly but suggestively pointed out to the solicitors that their requests were unreasonable, they often remained oblivious to his remarks. It's not a big deal to tell them right on their face. But it would be easy if the solicitor can understand his suggestive reply and comply with the fact that their demands are irrational. If even after this they don’t recognize it, they’ll only have to be gently consoled and seen off.
It’s because of these kinds of unreasonable solicitors - who don’t think along rational lines - that there’s an infamy that Puttanna is a man of niceties and pleasantries but doesn’t get things done. But the reality is, he never has talked out of disrespect to anyone under any circumstances. He never made false promises.
This is the second part of the five-part English translation of Sixth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavu Saarvajanikaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra.