K Shankaranarayana Rao, an epitome of positive values, is one of my favourite people. I first met him when he was an advocate in Shivamogga. He was not only an excellent lawyer, but was also well known in social circles. In those days, Shivamogga was one of the administrative centres of the Mysore Presidency. All diplomats went there because it was one of the major headquarters after Mysore and Bangalore. People of Shivamogga had a Nagara-sabhā and carried out their political discussions under that banner. Shankaranarayana Rao was a prominent name among the people who belonged to the Nagara-sabhā.
Shankaranarayana Rao faced difficulties from time to time. Due to his good nature, he would trust anyone who came to him and there were several instances where there was a breach of trust and he got cheated. Thus, though he had a handsome income, about half of it was wasted in these phony cases. He used half of the remaining amount for social causes and for helping the needy.
Shankaranarayana belonged to The Theosophical Society. He was a great devotee and performed pūjā, pārāyaṇa, and vrata regularly. Thus, it was easy to beguile him.
He was an expert in law. He feared none when he had to take a stance on the side of the truth. Judges and lawyers were impressed by his arguments. He was a wonderful orator.
In 1908, the freedom of press was snatched away and Shankaranarayana Rao was one of the prominent people who opposed the law. S R Balakrishna Rao was the primary person opposing the law. I heard Shankaranarayana’s name for the first time in this period through the lectures he delivered condemning the law. I was also introduced to him around the same time. During 1914-15 Shankaranarayana Rao gave up his profession as a practising lawyer and came to Bangalore as a district judge. Thereafter my acquaintance with him grew deeper.
I shall narrate a couple of instances that reflect his character.
Shankaranarayana Rao always lived in palatial houses. The house was full of people at all times. His extended family, relatives, friends and others lived together.
One day, a certain letter reached Shankaranarayana’s hands. The letter was written by a woman. She had written as follows – “My husband came to Bangalore looking for a means of livelihood. He tells me that he is under your care. I have not heard from him for about two to three months now. I know nothing about his well-being and I'm really anxious. Does he work for you? How is he? Please let me know!”
When the letter fell into Shankaranarayana Rao’s hands, he was heading out to his office and was in a hurry. He called his wife, handed over the letter and said “This is a letter written by a woman. Write an appropriate reply to it” Saying so, he left for work.
Another month passed and he received another letter from the same woman. This time too, Shankaranarayana Rao handed over the letter to his wife and thought that the matter ended there.
After the third month, yet another letter came from the same lady and as usual, he handed over the letter to his wife. His wife came up with a plan – she told her husband that he was to be at home at lunch the following Sunday and had to join the others in partaking of his meal. Accordingly, a grand lunch was arranged. There were about 20-25 people who shared the meal. His wife stood next him, pointed at someone and said, “Look there. You see a man in the row in front of you. He sits at the fifth position starting from the far end. His wife has been writing to you. You may dig into the rest of the details.”
Later on, he enquired: Who was this person staying at his house for the last four to five months, eating at his house everyday? Why had he come here? – Shankaranarayana Rao did not go into too many details. He considered it a Śiva-satra and everyone had a right to take his meal. Shankaranarayana Rao considered everything to be a manifestation of Śiva.
I know of another person who had similar characteristics. There lived a famous lawyer by name L V Govindaraghava Iyer in Mandras. He had received several honorary titles such as Diwan Bahaddur. He was an excellent speaker and a great scholar of law. He was well-versed in Sanskrit too and had worked as a professor for philosophy for some years. He visited Bangalore during the summer and went to Hampi now and then. After having his bath and completing daily rituals, he would climb up the second storey of the Virupaksha temple’s gopura. He would spend time until noon studying books – he especially read the Upaniṣads and parts of the Vedas.
His house too was a dharma-satra, and it was for the students, in particular. Anyone could come and sit before the plantain leaf at lunch time in his house. He never asked – Who are you? What is your occupation? It was the duty of the servants and the kitchen assistants to lavishly feed any person who was at lunch. This went on till his last days. A poet says that a person who has been reduced to poverty by donating everything he has to the poor and the needy, is a great one. His life is beautiful.
During 1938-39, there was a new fear in the residents of Bangalore. The German military ship Emden was sighted near the coast of Madras and it was potentially harmful for the country. No one knew when, where, and how the Germans attacked and this caused a lot of fear in the people. When there was an external attack and the city life was disrupted, it was also possible that unruly gangsters would make use of the circumstances and create havoc in the city. This added to the worries and fear of the people. To protect the interests of the people and to instil courage and confidence in them, a few got together to created an institution called Prajā-ātmarakṣaṇa-samiti in Basavanagudi. The main activity of the organization was to have about four youngsters roaming around the city at night, instilling courage and creating awareness in people.
A few facilities were needed for the execution of this task – each youngster who went on patrol at night needed to be given a stick, each group was to be given a lamp, and tea or coffee was to be arranged for the youngsters to drink, in case they were tried after going on rounds in the night. We decided that we had to raise some money to make these arrangements. Accordingly, we wrote to some eminent people of Basavanagudi with two requests:
- Donation to meet the expenses
- One youth from every household to join the patrol group
This letter reached the hands of Shankaranarayana Rao and several other eminent people. We did not receive any reply from any of them. A few of our boys lost patience and said, “What is this, sir? You call them ‘great men’! What is great about these people? If they are not going to join hands with us, why should we go to guard their houses?”
They started shouting in this manner.
Commitment to Nationalistic Causes
A month after my letter was dispatched, I received a reply. It read as follows, “I was not in town when your letter arrived at my doorstep. I came back yesterday and saw the letter. I am replying now, kindly pardon the delay. What you have planned is essential today and you have ventured into a commendable task. I have attached a cheque with this letter. Please accept my donation and use it for your expenses. If the amount is not sufficient, please feel free to approach me for more. You must not stop the good work due to lack of financial resources. I have asked my son to join the patrol team. If you think I will be useful, I am ready to join the team myself. Whenever you need any help, do not hesitate to order me.”
This was Shankaranarayanaraya’s nature.
To be continued....
This is the seventh essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Sarvajanikaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his edits.