“No Anger, please”
Sastri was an advocate of patience and humility. He was, at times, ridiculed by his own friends because of the great emphasis he laid on these traits. In one of his public lectures in Madras, he stressed on the point that anger should be avoided at all costs and one shouldn’t get enraged even under adverse circumstances. The newspapers carried a report on the lecture, the following day. His friends who happened to read the report had the following kind of conversations :
A: What is this injustice! The government seems to have forgotten the law!
B: Don’t say so, sir! You are speaking with anger in your heart. Sastri has impressed upon the point that you should never get angry.
In a hotel:
A: What is this? It is very spicy! Feels like swallowing fire!
B: Don’t speak that way sir! Sastri has advised us not to get angry!
In the market:
A: How much does the brinjal (aubergine) cost?
Lady-vendor: Fifty Paisa
A: Why is it so expensive?
Lady-vendor: Buy it if you like, if not leave it here.
A: Why do you get vexed so quickly? It is not right to get angry says Srinivasa Sastri.
This was the response Sastri’s lecture had! Similar incidents took place in Bangalore too, right before my eyes!
An Eventful Meal
The following incident took place in Annamalai. It was meal time and Sastri was seated before his plate. What got served on the plate were side dishes made of greens, beans, a little ghee and two slices of bread. The other who were eating off plantain leaves were served with rice, tovve, majjige-paḻadya and a few palyas (sides). Happaḻa and saṇḍige came along with them to their delight. It seemed like Sastri was hungry. He had taken his seat before the plate a couple of minutes before the others and was found to be restless. He hadn’t started eating. “Who cares for me, after all! How does it matter whether I eat my food or not?” We too went there and sat down for our meal - Prof. Sundaran, Secretary Venkataraman, a third person and I - I gathered courage and asked:
“Why are you annoyed?”
As though Sastri was waiting for my question, he said
“Look, sir! You all are served with happaḻa and saṇḍige. I am not fortunate enough to even partake of a happaḻa!”
Anasuyamma who was watching this said: “He isn’t supposed to consume food items that are fried in oil. He has been advised by the doctor that his diet should only consist of boiled and soft palya, bread and buttermilk. He has been advised against consuming fired items at any cost!”
Sastri: “If fried happaḻa is prohibited, why shouldn’t I eat, at least, a baked happaḻa?”
We couldn’t control our laughter. Sastri had his meal only after a couple of baked happaḻas fell into his place. Thus, the incident ended amicably.
Srinivasa Sastri was being treated with Unani medicine for some time. Syder Mohammed Usman was a famous doctor of Unani medicine in Madras. If my memory serves me right, he had a tenure in the political arena, served as an Executive Council member for a while and was also the Governor for a considerable number of days. He had consented to look into the health of Sastri and had prescribed some powder as his medicine.
By five, every morning, a lemon was to be cut into two halves, the powered medicine sprinkled on the two halves, the halves were to be brought together and juiced into a tumbler. The tumbler was to be filled with some cold water. A spoonful of honey was to be mixed with the liquid. This was the medicine prescribed. Sastri consumed the medicine ritualistically for a few months. It was my responsibility to prepare the medicine when he was on his tours. He would fret on some days because I was to get up early in the morning and prepare this tonic for him, while otherwise, I could have slept in peace. Under such instances, I usually cracked a joke or two, lightened the moment and let him consume the medicine.
“Patience is something you advocate us to inculcate, right?” if asked, he would reply – “You are lynching me with my own words!”
It was on our way back from Kochi. We were seated across each other in a second class compartment in a train. It was probably around three in the afternoon. We had woken up after enough sleep and were sitting before each other. A person who was sleeping in the Upper berth right above Sastri’s seat seemed to have woken up from his sleep. He bundled his bed linen, pushed them to the side of his berth and let his legs hang down. His legs happened to graze Sastri’s head. As I was seated in the opposite seat, I could see the guy’s face. “Oye!” I called out. Sastri held my shoulder and said “Sit with your mouth shut!”. I was surprised and asked – “Should I keep quiet even if his legs are dangling close to your head?”
“Let him hang his feet down, so what? Why do you want to pick a fight on this petty issue? Don’t quarrel with anyone!” he advised me.
Srinivasa Sastri strangely seemed to suspect me for being a quarrelsome person. Whenever he wanted to give me a piece of advice, he started the conversation with a ‘Sir’. As soon as that word of respect fell on my ears, I would alert myself and get ready for getting verbally beaten up. Elsewhere, I have narrated an incident where I had a verbal duel with Sivaswami Iyer and the particular remark that Sastri had made. For Sivasami Iyer’s enquiry about my non-wearing of kacche-panche, I had acknowledged my shortcoming for the day quoting lack of time and being in a hurry as the reason. Sastri was relieved because I had apologized for my slip that day.
“Good are these times. You have finally listened to me!” I replied – “I have never disobeyed you. Have I?” Sastri threw a taunt at me – “Let’s not get into that now. If I start quoting examples, you will pick up another fight with me”. All this, was after all, on a lightnote.
Sastri and I picked up an argument during our visit to Annamalai. We sat down for dinner that night and Mahamahopadhyaya S. Kuppuswami Sastri sat there merely as a spectator. We were served with a fluid-like substance to eat – it was hard to say if it was pāyasa, a soup or a diluted version of kootu. We were to pick up the liquid with spoon and place it in our mouths. I tilted the plate away from my face and started gulping down the liquid.
Srinivasa Sastri told me – “That is not the right procedure. You should always tilt the plate towards yourselves”
Me: How is that more comfortable?
Sastri: That’s the tradition
Me: That is the tradition of those foreigners and carries no logic behind it. Why should we imitate their style?
Thus grew our argument. Kuppuswami Sastri heard us rambling for ten minutes. It seemed like his heart was in my favour. He remarked – “If we are to quote tradition as the only logic behind all our actions, the theory of cause and effect goes for a toss. The practise has somehow come down to us”
Perhaps this and a few other similar incidents had laid deep roots in Srinivasa Sastri’s mind. It is with this background, probably, that he had developed the impression that I was combative by nature.
Put to Shame
Once, a certain well-known physician was speaking in one of the casual gatherings of Sastri and his friends. As he spoke, he happened to quote a certain line of Shakespeare. I tried correcting him and told him that the sentence had to be interpreted and understood in a certain different manner. Sastri’s face turned grave. After the speaker had left the place, Sastri spoke to me – “Merely because you have read some bits (of Shakespeare), you have developed so much of ego. What have you gained out of all your studies? The speaker is such an important person! You know in what high esteem I hold him! The whole world looks up to him for his expertise in medicine. You know how much he has helped me! He has helped so many people around the world! Giving no heed to all that, you tried to show off your scholarship at Shakespearean works!”
I got a mouthful from him.
To be continued...
This is the seventh part of the English translation of Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.