Spending five mirthful minutes with DVG was sufficient to make us forget the fatigue of undertaking four hours of brain-wracking work. In the overall reckoning, he had a habit of making a fuss about things.
Let’s assume that DVG would be seated in the front room or the living room of his house. He could call Chandra (son of DVG’s younger brother, D.V. Rama Rao) and ask him to fetch some book from DVG’s bedroom: “There’s a blue-stringed book inside a green plastic bag next to the stool at the right. Bring it.” Chandra would say, “Yes,” and head to the bedroom.
Within ten seconds, by the time he had reached the end of the living room, DVG would shout out: “Did you get it?” Chandra would say, “Yes,” and quicken his pace. And by the time twenty seconds would have elapsed, DVG’s second shout would issue forth: “Didn’t you find it?” Chandra would shout back, “Got it, coming.”
By this time, three quarters of a minute would have passed. And by the time the minute would finish, DVG would roar, “Should I come there myself?” Before the last syllable of “myself” was completed, Chandra would have reappeared.
Chandramouli and others would re-enact all these scenes among themselves and have great fun and forget such minor troubles given by this old man. On many occasions DVG would laugh at his own behaviour. After such episodes were over, DVG would himself report them to us and laugh at himself. He would say, “What can I do? I have become habituated from childhood to this kind of undisciplined life. Shameless life. God has somehow enabled me to lead this sort of life so far – for eighty years. Now it is impossible for me to rectify myself.”
Sometime in 1970, V.C. came to visit DVG as usual.
DVG: “Come my man, Sitaramappa…”
VC: “How are you sir?”
DVG: “Look at me. I’m like this. I’m looking forward to the fall of this body as Partha said.”[i]
VC: “That will happen on its own. What should you do for that?”
DVG: “Why do you say that, my man? “looking” is also a job, right?”
(There was no dearth of sarcastic irony even in these words of DVG. The aforementioned line occurs in Kumaravyasa’s Mahabharata in an episode where Arjuna disguises himself as a Sanyasi and says, “Suffering the chain of fruits of this mortal life with all its Karmas, We are now looking forward to the fall of this body.” After speaking such lofty words of renunciation, Arjuna elopes with Subhadra.)
A Trait Inherited from his Father
It can be said that the trait of DVG fussing over everything was inherited from his father. I will narrate what he used to say about his father, in his own words:
“My father’s nature was to fuss over things. My grandmother’s (mother’s mother) annual death rites fell in the month of Vaishakha. For these Vaishakha rites, my father’s commotion would begin right in the month of Chaitra. “Oh! It’s already here! The ceremony will begin tomorrow itself!” He would start his rigmarole a month earlier. We would discuss among ourselves that the moment any death ceremony was on the anvil, it was the onset of troubles for my mother. My father would put his hands on his head as though the sky had fallen on his head and ask his wife – “What do you say? It’s fast approaching, right? What all will you prepare?” She: “There! You started your grumbling again – there’s still twenty days left; what’s your hurry now?” But he would grumble further, “None of them have any concern about this. Nobody takes it seriously in their minds.” Two more minutes of complaining in this fashion, he would again ask his wife: “What sweet delicacies will you prepare?” She: “I’ll prepare some Obbattu. What else should I make?” My father: “Che! Only Obbattu! Can’t you make anything else at all?” She: “It’s the death ceremony of a pious wife. It is said that one must prepare only Obbattu. It is auspicious. That is the tradition of our home.” He: “You prepare Obbattu to keep up with the Sastras. Prepare something else for the satisfaction of the Brahmanas. Can’t you make Chiroti?” She: “I don’t know how to make it. How can I prepare something that I’ve never seen, something whose name I’ve never heard? If you want that, get someone else to make it. What I prepare are the traditional dishes.” By the time the rites were complete, such arguments would be repeated at least five or six times.
“Overall, death rites would be performed with great enthusiasm. One can say that the grandeur of death ceremonies had an upper hand over that of festivals. All those folks lived their lives with great Shraddha. Akin to a proof of this conviction, my father died passed away on the day of his mother’s annual death ceremony. He was not in a position to perform her ceremonies – extreme illness; he couldn’t get up from the bed. The ceremony was performed by his cousin Surappa under the aegis of the Purohita, Sri Rama Sastri. My father would repeatedly ask Rama Sastri in sign language, “Is it done?” After all the ceremonies were complete, Rama Sastri took the Mantrakshata and sprinkled it on my father’s head. Lying on the bed, my father enquired, “Was everything done properly?” Rama Sastri said, “Oho! It went on really well. Nothing was lacking.” My father: “Who performed it?” Rama Sastri: “Surappa.” After this, Rama Sastri had his meals and left. Within an hour, my father passed away.”
Even if DVG had to say something minor or trivial, it had to be said in a high pitch. The lessons that he used to teach to his daughter’s son Naati (Nataraj) at his home would reach everybody’s ears. The word “urgency” was absent in DVG’s dictionary. The lesson on just one sentence would not be complete even after an hour had passed. In the end, a fatigued Naati would stand up, spread both his hands upwards and shout, “I have understood.” Only then would the vehicle of DVG’s lesson would move forward.
Recently, my elder friend, Dr. B.P. Radhakrishna’s biography of V.C. (titled Fruitful Life) was launched (28 May 1997). On this occasion, Nittur Srinivasa Rao remarked amidst a conversation: “None of us have heard V.C. speaking in a loud voice. Nobody has ever heard D.V. Gundappa speak in a soft tone!”
Be it speech, writing, snacks or meals—DVG was expansive in everything – unconstrained, confident, hearty. He would take even the most insignificant episode, clothe it with grandeur, expand it, and describe it in a high pitch. This quality was embedded in his nature. His voice would envelop his entire surrounding.
Some beggars would obstinately remain rooted at the spot even after they were given money or other stuff. If they had to be sent on their way, DVG would roar at his sister-in-law, “Should I come? If you tell them in such a soft tone, they won’t go.”
Once when the Working Committee of the Gokhale Institute met, the topic of a certain gentleman came up. The person in question was completely deaf. Our Committee member, Sri Rama Chaitanya said, “He is stone deaf. Perhaps he will be able to hear only if our Chief [DVG] speaks.”
Be it an incident, episode, short story, a Sanskrit Sloka, a quote from someone – everything had to be said in a full-mouthed fashion. Every alphabet had to be expressed with the right amount of force.
This was the rule that DVG followed not just on stage but in everyday conversation.
Once Masti was delivering a discourse at the Gokhale Institute. In between, he quoted Bommera Potana’s famous verse, bAla rasAla sAla navapallava to elucidate the context. After reciting a couple of words, Masti himself felt that he was reciting it in a rather plain fashion. He looked at DVG seated next to him and said, “You recite it.” DVG recited the verse with extraordinary force, the entire hall reverberating his voice.
To be continued
[i] The line ending with “Partha” is drawn verbatim from Kumaravyasa’s Karnatabharatakathamanjari. Partha is another name for Arjuna.