V.S.Srinivasa Sastri (Part 17) - 'Nourishing the Body' and Oratory Skills

‘Nourishing the Body’

Every morning during the days when we were working on Gokhale’s biography, we went for a walk. Once we returned, we would sit to work with the documents. This was our routine.

One day, Sastri seemed to be in great distress and told me – “What is this, sir? All my years are rolling down just in taking care of this body. Eat food every morning and go for a stroll to let it digest. Take rest following the stroll to get rid of the fatigue it causes. To refill the energy exhausted, eat once again and then exercise, rest…. – all my time is going away in this manner. When will I find fulfilment by writing the biography of Gokhale?”

I have heard him speak in this manner quite a few times. His body was not really strong. Though his pain was not visible from the outside, he had symptoms of weakness inside him. Whenever he expressed his languish, I remarked – “Keep your mind happy. There is no hurry right now. We can sit together next summer and the book will be ready in one go, without any interruptions”. I always spoke words of reassurance.

Whenever we went for a walk, we discussed the number of chapters the book on Gokhale would contain, the titles for each of those chapters and the number of pages each topic was to span – we discussed these topics again and again and had even come up with a working solution.

After the writing of the book faced the aforementioned obstacle, Srinivasa Sastri delivered a few lectures on the topic in 1935 in the Mysore University campus. This was all based on whatever he had retained in his memory. I also remember him giving a lecture  in the quadrangle of the Intermediate College in Bangalore which contained the salient points from whatever he spoke in the Mysore University.


Restrain in Speech

Srinivasa Sastri’s fame was multitudinous. He was known as a teacher, an initiator of education, a writer, scholar and a political genius. Though he was famous for myriad reasons, the peak of his popularity was because of his oratory skills.

Sastri was restrained in his speech – he never spoke a lot. He spoke very little even in friendly gatherings. He never monopolized conversations and attracted attention all to himself. Instead, Sastri spoke only as a reply to someone else. Whenever he had some doubt in whatever the other person had spoken, or when he found that the other was being irrelevant or lethargic, Sastri would speak. Even then, he spoke only as much was required and was relevant. His friendly conversations were meant as formalities only.


Brilliance in his Oration

Here, I am attempting to describe his oratory skills, i.e., the impact his speech had on the audience in assemblies. There are two words in English that can describe a person’s skill at speaking to an audience – 1. Eloquence 2. Oratory.

Eloquence is about the torrential flow of words and the force of the speech that make an impact on the minds of the listener. He speaker can have a small audience and make his speech impactful

Oratory, on the other hand, relates to the speech rendered by a person in a passionate manner which can kindle passion in the listener too.

One can know the difference between the two only by direct experience. The brilliance of speech which falls under the term ‘eloquence’ can be seen in good prose as well. Edmund Bruke is famous among the English Orators. It is said that Bruke once spoke in such a forceful and brilliant manner in the British Parliament against the unlawful and crooked manners of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India back then, that the listeners got frigbecause of the ferociousness in his speech and they were scared to even turn their faces towards Warren Hastings. They just hung their heads low. Such was the grandeur in Bruke’s speech.

Apparently, the skill of oration is no longer developing in England and under today’s circumstances, it does not serve much purpose there. This is what I get to hear from people who have understood the matter well.

There is great scope of oratory in our country even today. However, those who can speak English don’t have many opportunities. Today, oratory in regional languages can develop in India. The main characteristic feature of good oration is to poke its audience, invigour it and awaken the masses. I have heard an anecdote connected with Bala Gangadhar Tilak’s Marathi oration. A person who heard Tilak’s speech was so enthused that he wanted to pick a stone, at the least, and sling it to a distance. The job of oration is to invigorate people in this manner.


Three Orators

There are three people who are known for their English oratory skills in India

  1. Surendranath Banerjee of Bengal
  2. Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society
  3. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri

All the three had different styles.

Surendranath Banerjee had a loud voice, an uninterrupted flow of words and force in his speech. Annie Beasant’s style was more like the wavy nature of a river – going up and coming down. Her sentence construction was serious and profound. In Srinivasa Sastri, along with the flow of words, there was a certain kind of beauty embedded it in. I’ll explain it to the extent I can.

It need not be separately state that Sastri’s speech was greatly influenced by the English language. He had also delivered lectures in Tamil. I have heard that his Tamil was good too. I, however, have heard his speeches only in English.


Mental Preparation

The kind of preparation that Sastri would make before his lectures was that of his mind and it was not related to his speech at all. He spoke on all topics impromptu, excluding very important political issues. It all came with timely inspiration to him. Srinivasa Sastri did not even carry a bit of written material when he delivered his lectures at Ernakulam. He made notes, contemplated upon the subject and got prepared only for the Kamala Lectures series. As the topic was quite technical by nature and was related to śāstra, Sastri wanted to be doubly sure of his content. He wanted to be accurate to every detail in his presentation and thus made notes.

I can add a few more words regarding the preparation Sastri had for this series of lectures. Sastri went through several works related to Political Science, History of Nations, Law, Jurisprudence and several related works in great detail. He had studied law for some duration while he was a student. He, however, wanted to be doubly sure that everything that he spoke was correct and he took the assistance of a capable lawyer who could help him understand different judicial cases in the right manner. Advocate General T.R. Venkataramana Sastri who was a very close friend of Srinivasa Sastri got a law graduate in his office assist him. Sastri’s study on the subject went on for almost an year.

The lecture, however, did not have much scope for Sastri’s impactful delivery. What qualifies as ‘oratory’ in the English parlance should come with spontaneity and must be inspired by the current times. It cannot be prepared beforehand.  The beauty and brilliance in Sastri’s speech were prominent only during his impromptu speeches.


To be continued...

This is the seventeenth part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.



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.



Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

Prekshaa Publications

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