Bellave Venkatanaranappa - The Basavanagudi Club and his Last Days

Basavanagudi Club

I've mentioned earlier that Venkatanaranappa was unassuming, disciplined, honest, dispassionate, and hard-working. There were, however, a couple of qualities that were unusual for a person of his stature, namely friendliness and humorous nature. Though he was conservative and religious in certain matters, tenderness that is innate to humans was not a rare quality in him. He desired to have the constant company of friends, comedy filled with wit, and regular association with other humans.

The Basavanagudi Club established by him stands as an evidence for his temperament. Today, the club is famous as ‘Basavanagudi Union and Service Club.’ The building has grown, expanded and is a prominent structure today in Basavanagudi [a locality in South Bangalore]. Many men of eminence are members of the club today. The club has a lecture hall, a library, and a room for indoor games such as playing cards.

The seed of such a club was first found in Venkatanaranappa’s heart. Back in his times, Basavanagudi was a prominent part of the city with great potential to expand. The first people to populate this area were well educated, noble, and held good posts – a few served the government, a few others were doctors, lawyers, and traders. A locality that housed the elite didn’t have a common meeting area – and that shortcoming caught Venkatanaranappa’s attention.  He wanted to fill up for this gap and set up a place for people to spend their evenings in a jovial manner. A few joined hands with him in his endeavour. After the municipality had sanctioned the building of the club house, one day, Venkatanarappa himself stood with a bolster, chisel, float and putty knife to raise the walls of the building. The club that stands today was constructed in this manner.

I remember vividly the first time Venakatanaranappa took me to the club. I wasn’t familiar with playing cards. When I mentioned this to him, Venkatanaranappa pulled my leg a bit and expressed a tinge of surprise. He then taught me the lore! I have played cards with him a couple of times and have lost miserably. He then realized that I lack the ability of picking up the game and gave up on me. Just as he never had capable students in several other matters, in this one too, he didn’t seem to have worthy disciples. I have always been weak at math!

I don’t know, however, if Venakatanaranappa was an expert in the art of playing cards, either. I have no locus to estimate his calibre. I have never heard anyone praise his skill at cards, anyway.

I don’t think he played cards that often. He knew the theory of the game, by heart. Did he have the time to play and perfect the sport? Absolutely not! Moreover, he never aimed to gain mastery over playing cards. All that he wanted was some fun and a means to get over monotony. I don’t think he even sat down an hour per month with cards in his hands.

He always wished that others in the society had fun. He found great happiness in others’ delight.  He never drank coffee but when the rest of us gulped down the tasty drink and expressed pleasure, he found fulfilment for his life. This is the path the noble ones tread.

Conclusion

The final scene:

Venkatanarappa was sick during his last days – that was the first time, perhaps, he had fallen ill. His ailments started in the form of pain in the leg. Many prominent physicians of Bangalore were his students. One of them was the senior surgeon Dr. S. Subbaraya. Another one was Dr. B. K. Narayanaraya. The third was Dr. K. Srinivasacharya. Subbaraya performed tests on him and said, “Your body is not diseased, sir, but the bones and nerves in your legs have weakened. The reason for this is your constant walking. You will need to rest your legs for some days.”

Venakatanarappa’s intellect accepted this advice in good spirit. His heart, however, wouldn’t give up a habit it had cultivated for long. The natural gait of Venkatanarappa’s was faster than the speed at which a person like me runs. He never looked that way or this and walked like the sun and the moon would come together in a short time, brief space, and at a rapid speed. He wouldn’t waste even a minute. If he was to catch a train, he wouldn’t reach the railway station before the first bell rung. He only planned to reach after the second bell rung and before the third one went off. A person who was accustomed to such speeds naturally suffered from pain in his legs.

After some time, he was treated by Karachi Krishnaraya. He got his legs massaged. This treatment too didn’t cure his ailment. He was reduced to his bed for some time. He was afflicted with bouts of cough in addition to pain in his legs. He had above normal temperature from time to time.

Once, when I met him in this condition, I told him, “Sir, this room is right next to the street. You are forced to breathe in dust and smoke. These are peppered with the noise of the buses and carts. Why don’t you give up this room and rest in the small house towards the east?”

Venakatanaranappa said, “I will consider it.”

When I raised the topic yet again after two days, he said, “Your advice is well-founded but I prefer to remain here. Elsewhere, I don’t get the pleasure of two elements that this room possesses. Firstly, my grandchildren inhabit the adjoining room; listening to their talks, their lessons and games brings in some life to me. Secondly, my granddaughter teaches music in the other adjoining room. I love listening to her music.”

What could I have replied to this? Who can say anything, anyway? Someone who has retained interested and derives pleasure out of the activities and music of grand-children are indeed blessed; they are closer to the Divine.

“Nediṣṭho brahmaṇo bhavati”

Concluded.

This is the seventeenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough review and Smt. Savithri Bharadwaj for her help in preparing the translation.

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

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.