When this incident occurred, I was not yet formally acquainted with Shivaswami Iyer. I am speaking of a story that is 45 years old now. Shivaswami Iyer, apparently was curious to know what kind of a person I was, before he spoke of my article [while delivering his lecture at the Madras University]. He wrote a letter to his friend Diwan Mokshagundam Vishweshvaraya to ask about me. By then, Vishweshvaraya had retired from his post of Diwan. He wrote back – “I know the person you are speaking about. If you happen to come to Bangalore, I will make you both meet and introduce each other”
Accordingly, Shivaswami Iyer came to Bangalore as Vishweshvaraya’s guest. He arranged for a lunch meeting for the two of us. Those days, he lived in a bungalow by name ‘Uplands’. The people who joined us for lunch that day included Vishweshvaraya’s younger brother Mokshagundam Ramachandraraya and also his elder brother’s son Mokshagundam Krishnamurthy.
As soon as we entered the dining room and sat down to eat, Shivaswami Iyer asked me –
S: I have heard that you are a brhaccharana [a community of the Iyers – a Tamil Brahmin sect]
G: Yes sir, I belong to the community.
S: Which sub-community do you belong to? They say that there are several sub and sub-sub communities among the brhaccharanas
G: Our sub-community is called Manjaputtur.
S: Where is Manjaputtur?
G: It is in some part of the Thanjavur district. I have never been there. My ancestors have resided in Mysore for a few generations now…
S: Do your women observe the Varamahalakshmi-vrata?
G: Yes, they do
G: Of course
S: Your women wear their sarees in the Koshampadave style? (This has folds near the feet)
G: I don’t know how our women wore in the past. Currently, we have adopted Mulakunadu traditions…”
When I said this, Vishweshvaraya and others let out a hearty laughter. In fact, all these questions had tickled the people who were listening. Shivaswami Iyer continued to question:
“You shouldn’t laugh because I asked prying questions. I just wanted to know the character and background of this person. We are shaped by several minor and insignificant aspects of our life and culture. I asked only for this reason. Today, it is easy to gain fame through newspapers and by being a journalist. However, it is hard to maintain the image. One may show off his scholarship in the newspapers through clever means. It does not, necessarily, tell us much about the person’s real calibre. Only when we meet a person and have a one-to-one interaction, will we know his reach nature.”
This was the justification he gave.
This conversation was followed by lunch. As we ate, he now and then, asked about current state of affairs. When I was answering a certain question, I used the phrase – “With the possible exception of …” He caught hold of the phrase and said –
“You have used the word ‘possible’. Why? What are you trying to suggest?”
I have forgotten the details but I realised that I had to be very careful whenever I spoke to this person.
After this first meeting, he invited me to his house several times and discussed political issues. In fact, it was I who benefited from the discussions. He would tell me the limits of the definition of a technical term, the problems with certain opinions and law, the kind of obstacles an endeavour may encounter and such other things. This only enriched my knowledge, widened my horizons and gave direction to my thoughts.
During the Second World War, the British government was putting efforts to increase the strength of the Indian army. Shivaswami Iyer delivered a lecture stressing on the importance of strengthening the army – he said that it was primary duty of all Indians. This was in a university. These are the words he spoke there:
“We wish to be independent. Don’t we need to equip ourselves to fight other nations and stop their domination over us? Until we have our own army, we will not be independent if we will need to have the army under our control, we will need to have the most educated and learned ones join the forces. The people who think they are at a higher pedestal, consider the work of the military to be that job of lowly people, .ie., those who are incapable of other kinds of jobs, unemployed ones, those who are useless for the society. If those who are in respectable professions look down upon the job of a soldier, it will never get the dignity it deserves. Scholars and reputed people should join the army.”
This is the summary of the lecture. The next morning, two educated young men met Shivaswami Iyer. The two were his friend’s son. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, the conversation went ahead as follows-
“We attended your lecture yesterday”
“The lecture was very insightful and inspiring”
“We are invigorated”
“We have thought of joining the army”
“May God bless you. If you have arrived at this decision independently, you need not inform me. If my lecture has motivated you to make this decision, I don’t want to own the responsibility. Please make decisions on your own, independently, without getting influenced by anything or anybody”
The Never-ending Debate
In another instance, a young person who had heard Shivaswami Iyer’s lecture met him later and said the following – “I heard your lecture. It was very nice!”
Shivaswami Iyer was heading elsewhere and recognised him as his friend’s son, stopped and paid attention to what the boy was saying. There was another friend of his who was walking with him then. As soon as Shivawasmi Iyer heard the boy’s words of appreciation, he joined his hands as a salute above his head and said
“I am really grateful to you”
With these words, he walked away briskly. The friend who was with him asked – “Why did you do so?”
Shivaswami Iyer – “ He is my friend’s son. I know him since his childhood days. He thinks that he is now capable of analysing the positive and negative aspects of my lectures and wants to pronounce his judgement. There is nothing wrong in this. However, I do not want to get into debates and discussions with the youth of today. It will lead to a never-ending debate!”
To be concluded…
This is the first essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Sarvajanikaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his edits.