A Worshipper of Sweetness
V Si. had great respect for life. He wanted to find grace in life and in literature. He picked out graceful and sweet elements from works of art and it was this quality that shaped his life too. In V Si.’s view, a work that lacked direct connection with life was not a literary work at all.
He gave more importance to the internal quality of life than the external parameters. One needs a special kind of ability to identify the subtle aspects of character in another. V Si.’s fussy behaviour was usually because he was quality-conscious. In many instances, it might not have demanded heavy expenses either. It is not uncommon for us to spend a lot of money and energy on things of low quality. We must simply be happy that V Si. did not have the misfortune of witnessing the consumption of junk food that is rampant today.
For several years, many of us ridiculed and laughed at V Si., who at times, appeared to fret about silly things and have great affection for useless objects. Shivarama Karanth once said, “Instead of paying attention to neat and formal clothes and the ancient majestic outfits of old Mysore, it would have been better if V Si. paid more attention to putting on ten kilograms of fat.” Amidst all that good-natured fun, however, we must keep in mind the affinity to profundity that he always had. When we see it in the backdrop of the mechanical life that has today become the norm, we can only humbly bow down to the peaks of his personality.
Our friends who saw T S Venkannayya and V Si. taking a stroll together often called them ‘the long and short of Kannada.’
Thanks to V Si., Kannada became prosperous but Kannada did not help fill V Si.’s stomach.
Gratefulness flowed in V Si.’s blood. He had immense respect and gratitude to those who helped him overcome his days of difficulty. He was from a very poor background and there were many who had been of great assistance during his school days. A N Subba Rao, Kanakanahalli Varadacharya, M Hiriyanna, S Radhakrishnan, C R Reddy, and others were his teachers during the college days. He remembered them with utmost reverence and gratitude until his last breath. V Si. fondly recollected the goodwill of people who had hosted him years ago during his travels. He never forgot a good deed of others.
V Si.’s Pen portraits
V Si. was a transparent person within and outside. He has written captivating pen portraits of his seniors and contemporaries. Those are signal contributions from the perspective of the history of our society. It was V Si.’s ability to grasp the best aspects of another person that made him author such works. Sri Ranga often remarked, “V Si. is adamant about showing positive qualities only!”
The people about whom he has written were all famous. There must have been hundreds of people who came in contact with those stalwarts. But the kind of details that V Si. provides are like none other; they are not available elsewhere. Such writings not only require a skill at writing but also a special culturing of the mind. Such culture was abundantly present in V Si.
B M Srikantayya, Bellave Venkatanaranappa, T S Venkannayya, M Govinda Pai, Panje Mangesha Rao, Shivarama Karanth, M R Srinivasa Murthy, Da. Ra. Bendre, G P Rajarathnam, Motaganahalli Subrahmanya Shastry, P V Joshi, K V Iyer, Dr. M Shivaram – V Si. considered all these people as a part of himself.
V Si. can be hailed as a Renaissance Man. Classical literature was his favourite but there was no subject that he was not interested in. He had put in efforts in all different genres of literature: poetry, drama, literary criticism, travelogues, Lalita Prabandha (being inspired by English essayists of Romantic Period. ‘Creative Non-fiction’ - writings filled with humour, profundity and at times, anecdotal).
He enjoyed Carnatic music, Hindustani music, and also Western classical music. He had understood the heart of classical and modern painting and could speak with conviction about them. He knew the nuances of polity, law, economies, and ethics; he had dived deep into these areas.
He had consistently toiled in all areas of his interests. He authored articles on Sanskrit and Prakrit chandas [prosody], mātrā-gaṇa and akṣara-vṛttas, aṃśagaṇas, etc. He published one such article in 1952. V Si. not only strove to understand the metrical patterns in Kannada, English, and Sanskrit but also in understanding of Greek and German poetic meters. He had learnt the Bengali language and had gone through the works of Rabidranath Tagore and others in the original.
Even at a time when Karnataka was populated with several such stalwarts, it was rare to find a person with V Si.’s versatility.
Dedication to Tradition and Dharma
Whenever we met, V Si. always told me, “You are a fossil!” or “All your Vedas, Purāṇas, and Śāstras are mumbo-jumbo!”. I often retorted by saying that his was meaningless prattle. These kinds of exchanges had almost become the norm between the two of us. Whenever he had to introduce me to another person, he would say, “Here comes a grammarian. He stands for systems and codification. I am the opposite. I say, blast all your systems!”
It was also the norm for these debates to end in laughter and light-hearted humour. V Si.’s ethical and dhārmic values were deep-rooted. His atheistic conversations were only at the surface level. He never gave up the śikhā behind his head, performance of ācamana, pariśecana and citrāhuti on a daily basis or visiting a Śiva temple every Śivarātri. His devotion to the divine was intense.
One night, he appeared to be greatly agitated and low on energy. He was a bit unwell. As I stepped into his room, he placed his hands over his head and I heard him humming the last caraṇa of the composition Tèra tīyagarādā in the rāga Gauḻipantu. The words of the last caraṇa are – Vāguramanitè-liyakamṛga-gaṇamulu... [The import of the entire line is 'Owing to the veil of my ignorance, my mind is caught by evil, just as ignorant beasts are trapped in the hunter's net]. He had tears in his eyes. He asked me to sit down and started praising the spiritual heights Tyāgarāja had reached. We sat silent for a while. Then he said, “I have been feeling very insecure about my life since morning. All the while I keep talking some nonsense; I keep demeaning the deities. I felt very weak in the afternoon, felt as if I will collapse. I recited the Śivāparādha-kṣamāpaṇa-stotra. Yet my mind is not gaining back its equanimity!”
That night I too could not sleep.
Whenever I think of V Si., myriad thoughts flood my mind as I walk down memory lane. I have written down a couple of them. All my friends know the high respect and regard I had for V Si. I thank the almighty for blessing me with the company of Sri V Sitaramaiah.
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. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020.