V Si.’s World of Riches
H V R Iyengar, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India had immense respect for V Si. ‘Fate has not dealt too kindly with V Sitaramaiah’ – was the sum and substance of the worldly life of V Si.
While talking about a person’s life we often use the terms ‘ups’ and ‘downs.’ But it would not be wrong to say that there were no (economic) ‘ups’ in V Si.’s life. He constantly ‘went down’ in his finances. He did not seem to have any kind of financial stability – the Divine did not bless him with any stability on that count. When seen as a whole, he never had comforts that went beyond the daily struggles for a bowl of rice. It would have been good if he had procured resources as much as the magnitude of his fame. That it did not happen so is an irony. But that did not affect the liveliness of his personality. Even under dire circumstances, which might have subdued others into great desperation, he never lost heart. He constantly worked on all his scholarly activities. Recalling this aspect of his life affords us a glimpse into the greatness of his personality.
Several years ago, Masti had written down V Si.’s ‘planetary disposition’ in an unforgettable manner – “Though he traversed such an arduous path with a will as strong as a diamond, he would fade out like a flower and melt like butter whenever he found someone in a difficult situation.”
This way of life is possible only for a person who has great philosophical culturing. He did not disempower his intellect due to the daily tribulations. Many a time, his difficulties would end with the following hope – “May my words, my character, the light in my eyes, and the transparency of my heart be helpful to a few other people, to find light and instil courage – a conviction of this sort would be good”.
V Si. went once to a certain town and gave an impressive lecture on the economic development of the country. In the canals through which his thoughts flowed, denominations of money in the magnitudes of millions, billions, and trillions knew no bounds. “For the modernization of a country, of what value is a mere penny or two?” he had argued.
After the lecture was over, Subba Rao (or Srikantayya) who was seated next to V Si. asked him, “You spoke quite a few inspiring things. How much money do you have in your pocket right now?”
V Si. said, “If you could please lend me some money for bus fare, I will go back home!”
This was V Si.’s world of wealth.
V Si. used to get the airmail version of the magazine The Economist from London even when he had to struggle for every morsel of food. In addition to this, the Listener, Times Literary Supplement, and New Statesman were akin to V Si.’s breath; they were essential for his life.
Often, at the occurrence of incidents connected with his extravagant spending, I would suggestively say, “You are a medallist in economics!” He would react by saying, “You are a killjoy. What kind of arch cynics you all are!”
V Si.’s group of friends who knew well about his habits chanced upon a certain event that evoked immense laughter. One of the friends asked me, “Did you hear the joke of the year?”
“No, I did not? What is it?” I said.
“V Si. is delivering a lecture tomorrow. Guess what the subject is?”
“What is it?”
“Simple living!” he said.
Let’s say there was a seminar or a conference in Delhi or Bombay. It is customary to reimburse the travel expenses of the participants. Irrespective of the presence of such an option, visiting places would kindle childlike enthusiasm in V Si in no small measure. Over and above this, if he heard that the rail fare would be provided, it would be like two steps away from heaven. Immediately he would send someone to Rammohan Company and have a to and fro flight ticket booked. By the time he attended the conference and returned, he would have spent three times the amount that the company would have promised to reimburse.
Printing and Publishing
V Si. always desired to have his books published in an attractive manner. “Who can do Morocco binding here? Can anyone do the Vellum Binding?” he would go around enquiring.
There was quite a competition between V Si. and P Srinivasa Rao in getting letterheads done. While the latter got it done on bond paper, V Si. got it done on parchment paper. Srinivasa Rao got it done vertically, and V Si. got it done horizontally.
Many works of V Si. did not see print for several years and were slumbering in his cupboard – this was the tragedy of his life. There were a large number of instances where he underwent financial loss in getting his book printed. A couple of times, publishers who had promised that they would bear the printing cost slid away from their responsibility in the last minute – this gave V Si. sleepless nights as he thought about filling up for the printing cost.
Many collections of his poems too needed several decades before they found a reprint.
There were instances where the publisher of V Si.’s book did not even send him a copy. One of the wings of the government got a certain book written by V Si. After about three to four years, I happened to spot copies of the work in a shop in Balepet. As I had assisted him in the preparation of the work, the printed book naturally caught my attention. V Si. came to know about the publication only then.
V Si. had to review a work for its re-publication. But he did not have even a single copy of the book. He asked his son Satyanna to do a thorough search in the shops. After two days, Satti [Satyanna] said, “Did not find it anywhere, Māvayya – I searched all shops”
“Did you rummage through the waste-paper shops too? Who safe-keeps my books in houses, after all? It should be found at the waste-paper fellow’s store.”
“Only if they have bought your books, in the first place, would they have an occasion to dispose it. What if no one ever bought it?”
V Si. recollected Satti’s reply and laughed about it for quite a few days.
Affinity for Humour
This is an incident from 1971. V Si. was looking for something he had written long back. He searched through the cupboards on his left-hand side and those behind him. I had a copy of it because he had asked me to do the writing. When I gave it to him, he was delighted and exclaimed, “Thank you! What nuggets may have been lost but for your thoughtfulness!”
V Si. often brought to his mind episodes such as these and laughed, letting us laugh too. It was a great gift from God – he would analyse his own life and laugh at it. He was able to put up with several ups and downs in his life because of this quality.
V Si. once spoke at GIPA about the unrealistic depictions of poets who have neither seen nor experienced wars but are enthusiastic to write about them. He gave one such example and kindled waves of laughter in the audience. Once the laughter subsided, V Si. said, “I wrote these lines myself thirty years ago!”
The laughter that this statement caused rose to higher peaks than the previous one.
When V Si. observed that the younger generation had forgotten his works, he once told me, “Unwept, unhonoured, unsung – this is my current state. I wish people would at least weep my songs!”
The publication of V Si.’s works was certainly a matter of some worry – this was because of his handwriting—which was largely illegible—and also because of the number of changes he would introduce at each stage of the review of his work. It was highly probable that there would be inconsistencies in the idea to be expressed, sentence formation, usage of words, the shape of the letters that would enter the paper through his hand, matters related to gally and page once the keys of the movable type were arranged, and the final printed copy. Therefore, there was a huge possibility of printing errors creeping into V Si.’s works at different stages.
Once a gathering was arranged to express gratitude to Narasimha Mallya of the BBD Power Press. During his inaugural address A R Krishna Shastri mentioned in passing, “Some writers cause great difficulty to publishers by adding a lot of corrections while proof-reading works.” V Si. was seated right at the front as he spoke these words. At once, Krishna Shastri and V Si. exchanged meaningful glances. (Both were guilty of that and Mallya had been at the receiving end!)
After the event, Krishna Shastri and V Si. teased each other – “You are no less!” “Are you any better?” and had a hearty laugh.
For the errata page in one of his books, V Si. had given the title ‘Some Printing Errors.’ Looking at this, someone apparently remarked, “Let the list of the other mistakes be published as well – we will then buy the book!”
When the second edition of V Si.’s Śākuntala-vimarṣā was to be printed, our mutual friend G P Rajarathnam noted down the corrections indicated by V Si. in a separate copy to reduce the publisher’s trouble. Even with this, there was no dearth of mistakes in the proofs.
To be continued...
The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīvaṭikegaḻu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits.
 Masti in Sītanna.