I had visited Vasudevaiah’s home about a month before the day of his demise. He sat up in his bed, made space for me, and insisted that I sit right beside him. He was past ninety by then. Clean from tip to toe, it seemed like he had freshened up just then. His skin was of a golden brown colour; it turned pure gold whenever his mind got excited. Not a slightest sign of clutter was seen either on his body or his clothing. He was an image of unsullied and remarkable radiance. He spoke in a relaxed manner about general things. Then, I ventured to ask a bold question: “How do you pass your time these days?” He replied:
“Is that so difficult? I’m frequently disrupted from sleep through the night. The ticking of the clock falls on my ear. When it strikes four in the morning, I think to myself, “Ah! It’s nearly time for coffee!” By the time I say a silent prayer to the almighty for a few seconds, one of them will have hot water ready. They walk me to the bathroom. After I wash my face, I get a cup of hot coffee. I recite the Viṣṇusahasranāma after a ten-minute breather. This goes on till around six. I then move on to the recitation of Ādityahṛdaya. By the time I finish that, my wife will enquire about my health and check if I need anything. Then I bathe. The clock would have struck seven-thirty or eight by then. Even as I lie on my bed, I perform the Sandhyāvandanā including reciting the Gāyatrī mantra a hundred times. I can’t perform it sitting upright anymore. By the time this weakened version of the Sandhyāvandanā is done, I’ll have another cup of coffee. I enquire, ‘What’s for lunch today?’ even as I slobber over it. Until lunchtime, my thoughts wander about cooking and food. Meanwhile, either Sharaboja Iyengar or some of my other friends visit me. Discussions go on till about eleven in the morning and then it’s time for lunch.
“After lunch, I swallow a spoon of the powder that is on the rack beside me, along with some water – that’s for digestion. Ten to fifteen minutes later, a spoon of another powder follows – that is to subdue piles. I rest for about half an hour to forty-five minutes after that. I wake up by one in the afternoon. I revisit a couple of chapters from the Mahābhārata and then chant a few stotras.
“At about three in the afternoon, a little coffee or a glass of water. By that time, a few friends call upon me, with some random news that they bring along. That keeps me occupied till about six in the evening. And then there’s the pretext of the evening Sandhyāvandanā. This is followed by a cup of milk if I’m hungry or a cup of water if I’m not. I close my eyes yet again. I fall asleep sometimes if I’m lucky enough and if not I meditate upon the memory of the snacks that I’ve eaten, drooling about it. Thinking about the food and drink that I will get the next day, I derive great joy. And if I get bored by both of these, then there’s always the refuge of Rāma-Kṛṣṇa-Govinda!
“And this, sir, is how I spend my time!”
He was laughing and so were the ones listening to him.
Vasudevaiah’s memory remained strong and undimmed till the end.
I requested his permission to leave as I stood up. “Should you leave?” he asked. I told him I’d return in a week’s time and left. After about fifteen or twenty days, one of his grandsons visited me at my home and said, “It appears that you told Grandfather that you would return. He recollected that it has been fifteen days. He sent me to inform you.”
These words alerted me. I went to meet him the same afternoon. I didn’t observe any substantial change in his condition between those fifteen days. He talked a bit lesser this time. I was there for about fifteen to twenty minutes that afternoon. Five or six days after that, his time was over.
Freedom from Desire
I’ve heard a lot of examples about Vasudevaiah’s freedom from desire (nisspṛhatā). His was a large family, with a vast network of friends and relatives. He alone shouldered all their needs. Once he had borrowed a sum of about two thousand rupees for his household affairs from a wealthy vaiśya by mortgaging his house. After about four or five years, Vasudevaiah decided to repay this debt. He sold the shares that Bhabha had secured for him in one of the Tata companies and took that money to the vaiśya landlord. “Oh! I didn’t pressurize you for repayment, did I?” asked the vaiśya merely out of formality. “Repaying the debt is my duty. Not pressurizing me displays your goodness. Just because you’re a good person, it’s not appropriate for me to forget my duty. What might the interest add up to?” asked Vasudevaiah and accordingly paid back the sum of two thousand and eight hundred rupees. The landowner had great regard for Vasudevaiah; he placed the tāmbūla (a coconut with betel leaves and areca nut) on a plate along with the interest of eight hundred rupees and insisted that Vasudevaiah should accept it.
This is another episode that Vasudevaiah had shared with me.
It appears that during his childhood, he was raised by his sister-in-law. Since his mother died young, his sister-in-law took the place of his mother. Now, an elderly lady, when she neared her end, she called Vasudevaiah and asked, “My son, will you please do me a favour?”
Vasudevaiah said, “Amma! My life itself is yours. What can I ever do to repay the debt of love and affection that you have showered me with! Whatever you say, all of us are prepared to do it!”
Tears filled the eyes of Vasudevaiah and everyone else present there. She was experiencing excruciating pain. She said, “My child, tomorrow is Gokulāṣṭami. As for me, I won’t be able get up from the bed. Neither can I bathe nor can I offer worship. I’ve fallen. Tomorrow, the pain in my stomach might increase, my condition might grow worse. None of you must feel pity towards me; don’t put with milk or fruits into my mouth. If I’m alive until tomorrow, please bathe me and pour some tīrtha (sacred water) into my mouth. That’s all I need.”
Vasudevaiah narrated this as an example of fortitude of people of the yesteryear. It is indeed natural for a person who has seen and experienced such fortitude and pure wisdom to zealously engage in writing a classic such as Bhīṣma-carite. From a noble life emerges good literature. There is a verse in the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gītā:
मैत्रः करुण एव च।
One who harbours no hatred,
who is gentle and friendly to all,
who is beyond the feeling of ‘I’ or ‘mine’,
who is poised in pain or pleasure and
is endowed with forgiveness (is dear to me).
I’m not aware of any other mahāpuruṣas (great people) in this world, to whom such ślokas are applicable as precisely as they do with Vasudevaiah. The Kumāravyāsabhārata was a work that Vasudevaiah cherished a lot. One of its poems seems like it is addressed to Vasudevaiah himself:
ಬೈಯರಾರನು ಬೈಯೆ ಕೇಳ್ವರು
ಪ್ರೀಯವಚನವ ನುಡಿವರಾರಾದೊಡೆಯು ಮನ್ನಿಸುತ।
ಮೈಯ ಮರೆವರು ಆತ್ಮಚಿಂತೆಯ-
ಲಯ್ಯನೆನಿಪರು ಜಗಕೆ ಇದು ಸಾಧುಗಳ ಗುಣವೆಂದ॥
They abuse none, yet listen if they’re abused
They put out their hands with benign intention
They utter affectionate words towards everyone and forgive all.
They forget themselves in thought of the Self
And in the blink of an eye, they become the
protectors of the world – these are qualities of sadhus, he said.
This is the second part of a two-part English translation of the ninth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.