A Blossomed Heart
I had the privilege of knowing V Si from intimate quarters for about twenty-five years and I have been the recipient of the extraordinary love of his family. In the context of helping the preparation of a few of his works such as Pampa-mahākavi, Moby Dick, Bhāratadalli Yojanè, Rāṣṭrakūṭaru, and Viśveśvarayyanavara Jīvanacaritrè, I perhaps doubled his troubles. He ignored the forty years gap in age between himself and me and treated me like his equal. He welcomed the troubles caused by me, my frequent taunts and ridicule with a magnanimous heart and displayed unbiased love towards me. He helped me feel the ‘jananāntara-sauhṛda’ that Kālidāsa only mentions.
V Si’s service to literature is of world renown. His six compilation of poems Gītagaḷu, Dīpagaḷu, Neḷalu beḷaku, ‘drākṣi-dāḻimbè’, ‘hèjjè-pāḍu’ and ‘aralu-baralu’ as well as works such as ‘Sohrab Rustum’, ‘āgraha’, ‘śrīśaila-śikhara’, ‘Pygmalion’, ‘Major Barbara’ plays, ‘haṇaprapañca’ on economics and several essays on literary criticism – are not only exemplary contributions to the literary world, but are also matters of prestige to the Kannada speakers. Compositions such as ‘Manètumbisuva hāḍu’, ‘Èllavanu nānèṃdu’ and ‘Śabari’ which were composed by V Si about six to seven decades ago have fallen on the ears of Kannadigas, though they might not have heard of his name. Yet I am convinced that the statement ‘Much of V Si consists in what he has not written’ holds true about him. It is my fortune to have heard his ‘unheard songs.’ His recognition of beauty at all instances, youthfulness of heart, and high-spirited enthusiasm at all times are features that were contagious. His thoughts, like a fawn, would leap from classical literature to economics, from Ayodhyā to Athens and from Kharaharapriya to Cubism – this richness of heart is something that is not seen before. V Si often told us the difference between ‘character’ and ‘personality.’ Richness in positive qualities and greatness in character – these are the features I found to be prominent in V Si.
V Si’s skill at poetry and his intellectual acumen do no need certification from me or anybody else. However, I would like to highlight some aspects of his beautiful personality that are not directly evident from his writings. It would not be out of place to portray the different shades of his personality.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – the proverbial statement can well be applied to V Si’s persona.
V Si led a simple life. Beetle leaves, coffee, turban, dhoti, and eating in restaurants – no one would call this a luxurious lifestyle. However, his simplicity was, at times, quite expensive just as Mahatma Gandhi’s was. (Incidentally, both Gandhi and V Si were born on the same date, thirty years apart). The beetle leaves that V Si desired to chew was to come from the ‘Phalāne Aṃgaḍi’ in Baḻepeṭe [a market area in Bangalore] and from nowhere else. Similarly, the coffee powder was to be invariably from Anantaramayya’s Flavor Coffee Works in Vishveshvarapuram.
V Si was a coffee addict. He taunted me with the words, “You don’t drink water comparable to the amounts of coffee that I drink!” The coffee that he drank was supposed to be good in its quality and quantity. Whenever anyone visited V Si – be it his students, friends, media people or those like me who went to his place largely to pull his leg – within five minutes of their arrival, V Si would call out “Noḍu… [look here]”. This ‘noḍu’ was a technical term there. It served two purposes – 1. It was his way of addressing his wife Sarojamma and 2. It was to alert her about the arrival of guests and to serve them coffee. Within a few minutes of his calling out, coffee would arrive in a large cup – the size of a pāvu (a beaker used as a standard measure).
His children poked fun at his ‘noḍu’ calls. Once when V Si asked, “Who is in the bathroom?” his youngest daughter Usha said, ‘noḍu’ is there!”
Fussy About Clothes
V Si preferred that his turban was made of the best quality of muslin cloth. Whether it was for his turban, shirt, or dhoti, V Si never desired that the material used for its making was anything less than muslin cloth. When I had been to Madras with V Si on a certain occasion, we both roamed several streets in the city looking for muslin cloth.
A mere comment on his turban, stating that it does not appear to be proper would be sufficient to cause him immense pain. There was nothing that was more painful than this to him. Once somebody remarked, “Your turban does not seem to be in its usual shape. Why could it be so?” For several days, the wound that these words had inflicted on V Si’s mind did not heal. He constantly kept saying, “Look! He said so to me...” and was upset over and over again.
Once, V Si went to purchase a dhoti. Accompanying him was Prof. P Srinivasa Rao, a physics professor. The two roamed around the streets in Baḻepeṭe. V Si examined every variety that was available and made comments such as, “This is too thick,” “The texture is not great,” “This is not smooth,” and “The ‘count’ is not sufficient.” [‘Count’ is a measure of the quality of the cloth]. With such comments, he kept going from one shop to the other to examine the clothes there.
Finally, at a certain shop, he spotted a pair of dhotis and decided that they were not that bad after all. (It is to be noted that his legs were aching and it was getting late as well). He asked the shopkeeper how much it cost. “The pair costs forty rupees,” was the answer. V Si checked his pockets. He only had ten rupees with him. Let alone a pair, even to buy a single dhoti, he needed ten more rupees. He asked Srinivasa Rao, “If you have ten rupees with you, will you please lend it to me? I will give it back to you soon.”
Checking his pockets, Rao said, “Indeed, I can lend it to you, Sitaramaiah, no problem. But, is there an urgency to buy this right away? Can it not be bought tomorrow or day after?”
“No! It is really quite urgent, Srinivas Rao. There seems to be some event in the school tomorrow. They have invited me to chair the function. How can I go wearing an old dhoti to the event? A new dhoti will be bright and dazzling. And so I’ll need to buy it right away.”
Shivarama Karanth and V Si were two extremes – while the former hardly cared for his dhoti and turban, the latter was extremely fussy about it. At times, Karantha would merely be clad in a banian and a towel over his shoulders – he would set out for a stroll with V Si in such attire. This used to embarrass V Si greatly. Once, Karantha asked him, “What is it? You look troubled?” V Si , who could not contain himself, said, “If we set out like this, people will think that we are heading towards the cremation ground.” Without batting an eyelid Shivarama Karantha said, “Oh then you may just tell people that we have set out to a graveyard.”
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.