V Sitaramaiah - The Ideal Teacher

At the Sarada Vilas School, Mysore

Students today might find it difficult to believe the state of Sarada Vilas School when V Si. joined as a teacher, in his first job. Sarada Vilas School was located above the Lansdowne Building back then. People called it ‘taḍikè-śālè’ (School of ‘planks’) in derision. This was not a euphemism alone; there were planks – quite literally. There were broken bamboo planks (and mats) between classrooms, where walls were supposed to be. V Si. often recalled that it was inevitable to speak in a voice louder than the teacher in the neighbouring classrooms. This helped him in developing his voice.

V Si. said the following about the poverty of the Sarada Vilas School – “For some unknown reason, all the institutions I’ve been associated with, have had the same fate. Once I left the institutions, their condition improved!”

The teachers received only about fifty or sixty rupees as salary. The Headmaster got an astonishing salary of one hundred rupees. The school did not have enough money to pay even these meagre salaries. Whatever amount was received in bits and pieces from time to time, everyone shared it amongst themselves.

Apparently, the teachers along with ten or twenty students, went around staging dramas to raise funds for the college in the summer vacations. In these plays V Si. donned the role of a sūtradhāra (loosely, ‘stage director’). The teachers—including V Si.—conducted special classes for a couple of hours early in the morning for students who had failed the ‘entrance’ exams. The teachers would then share the fees collected from these classes.

Although these were the circumstances that prevailed, V Si. recollects his time at the Sarada Vilas School as his golden days. In his own words, “In my tenure as a teacher, which spanned forty to forty-five years, I never found the kind of love, affection, simplicity, discipline, sincerity, and generosity that I found in the students of that high school. We never discriminated between the students – he is a brāhmaṇa, the other is not, and the third is a Muslim. We were just teachers at the school and each one studying there was our student. My heart has noted down the pure love they gave us.”

Fifty years later, recollecting his time at the school, V Si. writes, “…… the devotion, dedication and sincerity of the students of this school is unmatched. In my career as a teacher, I have not found any other community of students that included those who were ready to sacrifice even their lives for the sake of the school and their teachers. The sincerity they displayed has been a great source of inspiration for me throughout my life – it gives me immense pleasure to say so…" .[1]

N S Venkata Subba Rao, who was V Si.’s student at the Sarada Vilas School recollects the lovely times with his teacher – “We did not have separate classrooms. It was a long hall and classrooms were artificially created using mats made of bamboo sticks. They were not sound insulators like regular walls. When a teacher was on leave, the sort of chaos in the classrooms need not be separately mentioned. V Si., who was teaching in the neighbouring classroom rushed into ours on one such occasion. He wrote a few lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitāñjalī on the blackboard and commanded us to write its poetic meaning. He then went back to his own classroom. This was the environment in which we studied.”

During the period V Si. was employed at the Sarada Vilas School, he got married to Sarojamma, a lady with divine qualities. It is also during this time he became close to D V Gundappa, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, and other seniors.

~

Speaking about V Si.’s positive influence on students, Rajarathnam said, “If V Si. had not told me in my early days that it is not sufficient to read only Kannada and English works and one should be acquainted with all languages of the world, if he had not reviewed and helped correct some of my early writing with great patience, if he had not bolstered me with kind appreciation in the later days, I’m not sure if I would have ever studied so much! I don’t know if I could have written as much as I have done today.”

Shivarama Karanth remarked, “V Si. had all the attributes required for a professor with a holistic vision. He was a complete person.”

Speaking about the ideal style of teaching V Si. once said, “I feel that a teacher should not teach every aspect of the subject by himself, i.e., he must not spoon-feed the student. He must leave some segments for the students to fill up by their own calibre and from the background of their learning. We must help students understand the width of the subject at hand. It should trigger their thoughts and make them ask us tens of questions. This probably would be a good way of teaching.” V Si. invariably followed this model. He helped blossoming the minds of his students.

There are instances where the school management had assigned V Si. to a certain section and the students of the other sections had vehemently requested that V Si. should teach them as well.

~

During the early 1920s, when V Si. enthusiastically entered the field of Kannada literature, the state of the Kannada language was rather pitiable. It was no different in the universities as it was in the society. There was no dedicated building for the departments of Kannada and other regional languages. All the work related to Kannada department had to take place in a building with tiled roof next to the public toilet. People who worked for the Kannada language were ridiculed as “Little Kannada men, the Kannada Knights.” The gathering of the (University) Council too had ridiculed them once – “keḻu janamejaya dharitrīpāla, iṣṭe tāne nimma kannaḍa?" [2]
“Listen, Janamejaya, O king! Isn’t this your Kannada?”)

Even under such circumstances there were a few who passionately taught Kannada and helped students fall in love with the language. They wanted a respectful stature for the Kannada language. Among the people who strived for the cause, the contributions of Bellave Venkatanaranappa, B M Srikantayya, DVG, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Shivarama Karanth, Panje Mangesha Rao, and V Si. are noteworthy. We, who are working for the sake of the language today, should call ourselves as their upajīvis – inheritors living off of their yeoman service.

A R Krishna Shastri started the Prabuddha Karnataka newspaper as an extension of university education. Along with him, B M Sri., T S Venkannayya, Ti. Nam. Sri., V Si., Kuvempu, and others worked hard to help the growth of the journal. V Si. took up the task of shaping the Prabuddha Karnataka and helped in its sustenance for over two decades.

~

Skill at Teaching and Affection for Students

The fame V Si. gained as an excellent teacher is enough to make him immortal. Even if he had not authored any work, just his profession as a teacher would have made him a person who we can never forget. The kind of affection and admiration he received as a teacher could make another feel jealous of him. One of the reasons for the admiration he gained was his skill at teaching and the other was the love he had for students. As mentioned before, he made sure to treat his students with coffee and snacks whenever he was having them. Thus, it was not merely theoretical lessons that students received from him – it was the sweetness of his noble company along with pampering.

V Si. never felt that these were special gestures. It was all quite natural to him. V Si. set the best example for the kind of relationship that teachers and students should share with each other. Back then, there were not many who taught in a passionate way like V Si. did. There are hundreds of people with us even today whose minds got cultured, having been taught by him.

V Si. never limited his lessons to the textbook only. He never had the attitude that he would stick on only to the topics assigned to him. He never thought twice to fill up for the shortcomings of his co-lecturers. He also guided students in subjects other than Kannada.

Once it so happened that the Śānti-purāṇa was a text for the Degree examination. The lecturer who was handling the subject was able to engage only a couple of classes and then went on a long leave because of personal constraints. What’s interesting is that in the couple of classes that the lecturer taught, he had only spoken about the nine rasas and also had told them that the Śānti-purāṇawas about ‘śāntirasa. The poor fellow had not even gone through the text. After this, V Si. took special classes for several days and taught the Śāntinātha-purāṇa.

H.Y. Sharada Prasad has said the following about the richness in V Si.’s teaching:

“His classes were unpredictable, but his sustained eloquence was predictable. We were always curious to see what he was going to speak about. One day, he would talk about why the German poet Goethe was so greatly influenced by the Śākuntalam and as he spoke on the topic, he would compare the entire literary landscape of India and Europe. On another day, he would speak on the manner in which Kālidāsa has portrayed nature. Talking about the scene in Duṣyanta’s court, he would elaborate upon the kind of relationship kings had with their subjects and go on to talk about the concepts that existed in different time frames in different lands. We almost used to get confused about whether it was a class of Kannada literature or of polity. Some students did not have enough patience. Such students often said – this man goes from one place to the other – will this all be useful at all for our exams? However, V Si. always strived to instil an inquisitive nature in the students and also to kindle their curiosity in the subject. ‘ī mātu bartadaೆ noḍi..’ (‘See, this is what is said…’), he would start off like this and make several connections across languages, quoting examples from Kannada, English and Sanskrit literature.”

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. The article also integrates several other writings of S R Ramaswamy on V Sitaramaiah. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits.


[1]Hiriyaru Gèèyaru (1980)

[2] "ಕೇಳು ಜನಮೇಜಯ ಧರಿತ್ರೀಪಾಲ, ಇಷ್ಟೇ ತಾನೇ ನಿಮ್ಮ ಕನ್ನಡ?" This is a play on the words of Kumāravyāsa, a great Kannada poet

 

Author(s)

About:

Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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