Sri K.T. Appanna and The Hindu Coffee Club

Sri K.T. Appanna hailed from the Aruvelu Brahmin sect. He was originally from Kollegal. His father was Sri Tirumalaswamayya working as a First Division Clerk at the Bangalore General Post Office, earning about ₹ 70-80 a month. This was a big salary in those days. But he had a family big enough to match it. Tirumalaswamayya’s wife’s elder brother Sri Ramaswamayya and his wife and children, Tirumalaswamayya’s sister-in-law (a traditional widow), two or three other sisters-in-law, their children…the family was indeed large. And then there were guests and visitors from time to time.

Sri Tirumalaswamayya

The family lived in a large house in an alley near the bathing ghat in Chickpet. Sri Tirumalaswamayya lived in one portion and Sri B.S. Ramayya in another. The latter belonged to the Brihatcharana Brahmin sect. He worked as the head accountant at the Barton Company. Sri Ramayya’s family was also large. His elder brother’s son-in-law was Sri Sheshagiri, who worked at the selfsame General Post Office. In this manner, the families of Sri Tirumalaswamayya and Sri Ramayya developed a close bond as if they were from the same family.

And so, they lived in utmost harmony in that large house for many years. Then plague stuck Bangalore, perhaps in 1898. It was the first plague which claimed thousands of lives and extinguished thousands of homes. One such extinguished life was that of Sri Tirumalaswamayya. Some time later, his colleague Sri Sheshagiri also succumbed to it.

Sri Tirumalaswamayya’s eldest son was Sri Appanna aged seven or eight. He hadn’t undergone his Upanayanam yet. So who would take care of the family? Then Sri Tirumalaswamayya’s friend, Sri B.S. Ramayya thought long and hard and decided that it was best for Appanna to start a hotel.

Beginning of a Hotel

Towards this end, he took out a loan of ₹ 300 and purchased the necessary utensils and other items. The widows in the family would cook. The well-built Ramaswamayya would serve the customers and supervise the operations. Accounts were maintained in Appanna’s name.

For the building, they selected the property located at the eastern portion of Dr. Gundanna’s Reliance Medical Shop. This building lay at the turning of Old Tharagupet on Arcot Srinivasacharlu Street. Because of the plague epidemic, scores of Brahmins employed in Government service had sent their respective wives and children to their native places and stayed back alone in Bangalore.

Appanna’s hotel came in handy for such people. The cost of one meal in those days was two annas [about 15-20 paise]. The cost of all meals for a day was four annas [25 paise]. Permanent customers would pay ₹ 7 per month. And so, a good customer base developed. Because it was home cooked, the food was extremely hygienic. I heard that every evening, Appanna would sit on the verandah outside his hotel and make plantain Bondas priced at two paise [Kaasu] per Bonda. Apparently, the Bondas were massive in size and really tasty. Later, Appanna lamented with me that that golden era was gone.

Hindu Coffee Club

Business grew. After about two years, Appanna’s hotel shifted to Chickpet. In those days, Sri Arava Munishi Krishnayya’s house was famous. The alley leading to the bathing ghat passed right in front of his house. Opposite Sri Krishnayya’s house was a line of business establishments. The Hindu Coffee Club was located two or three shops down this line.

Sri Appanna’s fame spread when he began to run his hotel from this location. The public developed affection and respect towards him for his integrity, courteous behavior and the way he treated everyone with respect. By 1908, Sri K.T. Appanna’s hotel had blossomed into a cultural centre. Vidwans, scholars, musicians, public personalities, and people from all walks of life would regularly gather there. Every evening between six to seven-thirty, a friendship club of sorts would assemble. The classical music Vidwan Sri Dakshinamurthy Sastri gave it a name: Independent Board. I asked him to explain its meaning. He said, “Total freedom my boy! Your tongues have absolutely no restraint or restriction. Whatever you shout becomes music.” He included himself in the group as well.

A few folks who came there daily included the teachers Sri M. Venkatappayya, Sri A. Narayana Iyengar, and then for some time, Vidwan Balasaraswati, Vidwan Venkatacharya, and Sri Pattabhirama Iyer from Malleshwaram. In all, about ten or fifteen folks. There was no topic that we didn’t discuss there.

It was the era of the Swadeshi and Swarajya Movements. In 1906, the Indian National Congress met at Surat and split into two distinct groups: “Moderates” and “Extremists.” All newspapers and magazines were rife with debates regarding the infighting in the Congress. Writers and thinkers wrote copiously. Thanks to all this, our Independent Board got an endless supply of topics for discussion. Added to this was the news emanating from the world of the Mysore State’s administration, riots and violence in the city, analysis of music, discussions on Sastra…an ample supply of such fodder.

Sri Guruswamayyar

On occasion, one of our “Board” members, Sri Guruswamayyar said something in English. He was originally from Madras and wasn’t really conversant in Kannada. But he was gentle, kind, and spoke with great mirth and humour. He was liked by everyone for this reason.

I suggested a few corrections regarding the usage of an English sentence he had spoken. I was still a boy back then…under 20. Sri Guruswamayyar was about 50. And so it was quite natural that he felt a little upset at this. I shouldn’t have been so hasty. However, Sri Guruswamayyar didn’t show his displeasure or anger. After I finished speaking, he pulled the border of his Uttariya across his lips. Then he didn’t utter a word for the rest of the evening.

The next day, he arrived at our gathering as usual. Smiling, he sat down with us and ate some tiffin. When he was spoken to, no response came from his mouth; he responded with his fingers, eye gestures, and the curve of his lips. Only Sri Appanna knew the real import of this. He kept grinning continuously. This went on for two more days. On the fourth day, I asked Sri Appanna the meaning of all this. But by the time he replied, Sri Guruswamayyar himself stepped in.

Appanna: “What’s the matter Exalted Sri Guruswamayyar?”

Guruswamayyar placed two fingers on his lips and indicated, “please do not speak to me.”

A: “But why?”

G (blocking his mouth entirely with his right hand): “The Grammarian has arrived! Now we dare not breathe!”

Everyone laughed at this. I felt slightly jittery. This unfortunate occurrence was because of my haste.

That night, I took Sri Appanna with me to Sri Guruswamayyar’s house. He had just sat down for his Sandhyavandanam. I held both his feet, prostrated and sought his forgiveness. He smiled and said, “What’s all this? I fully understand. You’re still a boy. I know how to take the words of young lads in a spirit of humour and enjoy it accordingly. Don’t I have sons and boys of your age in my house?”

I felt relieved. From then on, till the time Sri Guruswamayyar was in Bangalore, he treated me as a close friend and showered affection.

To be continued               

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:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.