It was after he joined the Hindu High School at Tiruvallikkeni (also called Triplicane, today) that Sastri became famous. His skill at teaching and at administration worked for bolstering his fame. I have heard many of his students speak highly of his teaching skills. The quality of his teaching was a result of his mastery of the language and his sincerity at work. He taught English literature at school. He gave special importance to the usage of language, grammar and special idioms associated with English. One of his students, Dr. M.A. Sampath Kumar later became a Professor of Biology at the Central College in Bangalore. He often narrated interesting anecdotes of hsi times as Sastri's student. Sastri, apparently, often twisted his ear for being notorious!
There lived an advocate by name C. Krishna Murthy in the First Cross of Shankarapuram in Bangalore. He was a well known lawyer and was in great demand at all times. Parthasarathi, his son-in-law worked at Krishna Murthy’s office. Probably, people at Prathasarathi’s house insisted that he should invite Srinivasa Sastri for his daughter’s wedding. Sastri, who wanted to pay back the respect that he was given, attended the wedding. There, while the tāmbūla was being distributed, Parthasarthi spoke to Sastri and said “I am your student”
Sastri - “When? Where?”
“Hindu High School, Madras”, Parathasarathi said and continued – “I remember having been slapped on my cheek”
Sastri felt as though he collapsed within himself, as he heard him say this. Touching his cheeks with his hands, he said “Sir, please excuse me!”
“I was still young then. I don’t know what all I did! Please don’t bring these to your memory. Only if you promise me so, I’ll accept this tāmbūla.” We could not control our laughter.
Sastri said in a morose tone – “What can we do, sir! This is the nature of a school teacher’s job!”
Nevertheless, the students of the town where Sastri taught had great regard for him. Parents whose wards were Sastri's students also looked up to him. People developed respect for the school. In three to four years, Sastri rose up to the position of the Head Master.
I shall narrate an incident that will attest his shrewdness.
Aspirants who wanted to gain admission to the Hindu High School in Madras had to appear for a test conducted by Srinivasa Sastri. It was not sufficient for Sastri if the students had cleared the public examination of the Lower Secondary school.
Once, two students form the Andhra region applied for admission at the Hindu High School. One among them was Nyapathi Madhava Rao, who later rose to the position of the Diwan of our province. I have forgotten the other’s name.
When the two students approached Sastri, he posed a question to them.
“Please construct a sentence with the phrase ‘had it not been’ thrown into it.”
The other aspirant (whose name I cannot recall currently) answered spontaneously:
“Had it not been for the fact that you are the Head Master here, we would not have been particular about applying for seats here”
Sastri was thrilled! He immediately called one his faculty and said,
“Subrahmanyyar-val. Take these students with you and seat them in the class. We don’t have to offer seats to them. They have won seats for themselves and they own then!”
This was Sastri’s way. He executed all different kinds of tasks that came his way with this working principle. Quality was to be revered.
Srinivasa Sastri had great reverence for the job of a teacher. Even until his last moments, he recalled his tenure as a teacher and relished his memories with pride.
Once, when Srinivasa Sastri was residing in Bangalore, four of his friends from Pune visited him. His friends reached Sastri’s residence in the evening. They had their dinner and retired for the day. As was the usual practise, I visited Sastri at seven, the next morning. Sastri too was ready to head out for a walk and had suitably dressed up for the purpose. His face, which was usually relaxed every morning betrayed some anxiety that day. I asked him
“Haven’t your friends come?”
As though he was waiting for my question, he answered
“Who are friends for this household, sir? There is no one to take care of them. No one even bothers to prepare a cup of coffee for them…”
He rained complaints and criticism for ten minutes. Sastri’s remarks were very caustic, indeed. I went to the kitchen and caught the eyes of Lakshmamma. Her face shrunk in displeasure –
“What can I do! He keeps shouting at me all the time. I prepared both tea and coffee at six in the morning and went to the friends’ room. To my surprise, there was no one there. They had bolted the room from outside and were gone! Apparently, I didn’t host them well. What should I have done?” She expressed her helplessness. I gathered what must have happened. This was no mistake of hers. I knew that the friends from Pune who were to visit Sastri were known for being in a hurry at al times. I later consoled Sastri by speaking some soothing words. We headed towards Lal Bagh. By the time we reached the West Gate of Lal Bagh the four friends were coming out from the garden in great merriment. Sastri caught his breath back once he saw them. Still, there were signs of angst in his mind. He said –
“What is this! Seems like my guests couldn’t even chance upon a cup of tea or coffee at my residence. The lady of the house does not seem to care about being a good host!”
The four friends laughed out loud and said
“We came to Bangalore with the sole intention of seeing Lal Bagh when the weather is cool. If we had sat down to savour coffee, we would have missed this treat of nature. We had decided to come here early at five this morning and did precisely so”
The four friends were members of the Servants of India Society. Sridhara Ganesha Vaje, D.V. Ambedkar and R.R. Bakhale were among them. I forget the name of the fourth person. The four had gone back to Sastri’s house from Lal Bagh and had finished their course of coffee and breakfast by the time we returned home. It all ended well.
Eight days after this incident took place, Sastri, his wife and I were taking a stroll in Lal Bagh. As we crossed the Glass House and came close to the lake, Sastri seemed to pick up some words of resentment. I thought that his caustic remarks on the day his friends from Pune visited him were pricking him from within. It was his nature to repent for his actions and words. That evening, he turned towards me and said –
“My ancestors were known for their short-tempered nature. Dūrvāsa can attest that! What can a poor lady like Śakuntalā do! He cursed her for no reason! It appears to me that it is a natural state of mind. These Riṣi-s grew long beards and moustaches, knew no courtesies and cursed anyone they saw. My ancestors were similar, sir! My grandfather had a volcanic temper! My father was just like him as well. He humiliated my mother too much - ‘I don’t want to eat the food you have cooked! Fed up with your culinary skills!’ That was their nature. They yelled at people and cared nothing for others. In my entire family, it looks like I am the only one who is free of anger.”
Lakshmamma immediately let out a “Aha!”
Sastri – “Tell me Lakshmi, have I ever beaten you up or broken your limbs?”
Lakshmamma – “Everything, except that…!”
Sastri – “Why do you say so?”
Lakshmamma – “Remember the day Vaje and Ambedkar visited us…”
Sastri – “If such incidents occur once in a while, can you say that it is my inherent nature?”
I gathered courage and inserted my words between their conversation – “Your case is lost, sir!”
We returned home with a hearty laughter.
To be continued...
This is the sixth part of the English translation of Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.