‘Hṛdayavanta’—a person of good heart, one with refined taste—is perhaps the best way one can capture the personality of V Sitaramaiah (V Si) in a single word. It is hard to conceive of a person who has a heart better than his.
In 1970, a public thanksgiving ceremony was organized for V Si. Several littérateurs of eminence occupied the stage. The Town Hall (in Bangalore) was filled with the fans and students of V Si. One of the speakers said the following – “Experts in medical science say that the heart is situated in the chest – to the left, to the right or elsewhere. However, V Sitaramaiah is a person with his entire body being his heart.”
This isn’t an exaggeration – that is exactly how V Si was.
B. Shivamurti Shastri called V Si an ajātaśatru—‘one who has no opponents.’
Viśva-bandhu: A Kinsman to the World
V Sitaramaiah (2nd October 1899 – 4th September 1983) not only extended his love to other humans but also to plants and animals. He had a great bonding with them.
Whenever he visited Lal Bagh, he made it a point to see a few trees in particular. He would sit down for a while and savour the sight of the trees. He would describe how the tree appears in different seasons to the person who was with him – many times, it was Motaganahalli Subrahmanya Shastri. About one such tree, he used to say – “That tree has haunted me for thirty-five years.”
For several years, he took a stroll in the hot afternoons and walked along the Krishna Rajendra Road. Seeing the trees that were over a hundred years old, now fallen one after the other, as though taking turns, he was greatly pained. He perceived the ups and downs in man’s life in the life-cycle of a tree.
Once Ku. Shi. Haridasa Bhat had come to invite V Si for a certain ceremony. V Si said, “It is good that you invited me now for this event. I will certainly be there!” Haridasa Bhat asked, “What is so special about this particular moment?”
V Si said, “My children have decided to get an out-house constructed behind this house. They are getting the jackfruit tree behind our house uprooted. I would not like to be here when such a ruthless activity is going on. That is why I said that I would happily attend your event!”
I was always stunned when I saw the love and compassion that V Si had for his people – including servants and assistants. It was quite natural for him to be so and he never considered it to be a special feature. That, however, appeared quite special to us. Why don’t we get this kind of feeling in our hearts? Thus we would be led to think and would feel ashamed of ourselves. Within our minds, we bowed down to his generosity.
Once every three or four months, a barber came to his house – a person who V Si had known for several years. V Si paid him much more than what he would earn elsewhere. What’s more, V Si offered him coffee and shared an affectionate conversation as they both savoured the coffee. Each time he said, “You have been coming here for these many years to cut my hair. What else can we give you? May God keep you and your family in good health!” With such words of blessings he would send him off every time.
Ever so often the barber would tears in his eyes. “You are great! Even when the times have changed, you have continued to call me and have put me to your service. Who else, indeed, talks to us in such a friendly manner, sir?”
It was this quality of his that helped establish a deep bond with V Si.
He was the Principal of a College in Chikkamagalur for about two to three years in the 1950s. He took care of his attender there with great affection. He often visited his house and asked after him well-being. A few years later, the son or the daughter of the attender was getting married, Though V Si was no longer in Chikkamagalur, he went there blessed the couple and came back. The attender often said, “I have seen several Principals in my life. He is the only one who even stepped into my house”
In 1960, when V Si was the Principal of the new college at Honnavara, he worked in an extremely friendly manner in close association with his assistants. For those who worked in his house, he not only provided good monthly salaries but also rewarded them often with a sari and a blouse. He got this done through his family-members.
It was probably mid-1971. I went to V Si’s house at around eight one night. As it was Nāga-pañcamī that day, I was given a kaḍubu, which I ate with relish.
V Si appeared to be dull. There seemed to be something bothering him. I asked him what was wrong and then came out the truth.
For some petty reason, V Si’s children were, apparently, upset with the maid servant. They ordered her, “Go away! Don’t come to work here ever again!” The lady said, “Look here, I am going!” With these words she headed towards the gate. V Si then came out of the house and learnt of the matter. He consoled the maid and brought her back. He said, “As long as I am here, you should not quit working at my house. You have taken care of us for fifteen years. If the others don’t want you, let them make an alternative arrangement. You will need to stay back here.”
He then called his children and said, “What rights have you got, to send this lady away who has been with us for fifteen years? If you are kicked out of your jobs all of a sudden in your factory, will you go away silently? You wish to have all kinds of comforts in the factory. For the ‘great’ job that you do there, you expect them to provide you with bonus, medical facilities, and also a notice of several months if they want to remove you from the job. You also expect retirement compensation and also vacation whenever you demand. Have you even given a tenth of the privileges that you get at your factories to this poor soul? She has worked so much for you all. It does not matter to her if it is night or a Sunday, a festival or any other day – she brings groceries from the store, milk, curds, and vegetables from the market, washes the dishes, cleans the house – she does all this as though it is her personal work. Is this what you give in return to her efforts? Should man have no gratitude at all?...”
In reality, V Si’s children did not lack generosity. What transpired that day was merely owing to the daily pressures. Thereafter, everything was smooth.
Magnanimity was in V Si’s blood.
Even during his days at Central College, he gave tasty treats to his students and colleagues under some pretext or the other. Once, the designated lecturer had not completed the syllabus for the M.A. students, so V Si went early to the college and conducted special classes. He had to leave home early in the morning and breakfast wouldn’t be ready by then. He would arrange for breakfast – dosa and coffee – to be served there [at the college] and would savour it along with his students. My friend Magadi Gopalakrishnan was one such person who was privileged to be his student.
V Si displayed such generosity at every juncture in his life. In the 1950s, he worked in the Bangalore Akashavani Centre and even there he arranged for feasts of savouries for his colleagues and assistants from time to time. On some days, he had to stay back beyond the working hours. Under such circumstances, V Si would escort everyone present to Woodlands or some other nearby restaurant and buy them dinner at his own expense.
Anyone who came across V Si was moved by his friendly nature, which was wholehearted and devoid of blemish. These are the qualities which have remained in the minds of all his associates.
Once I had written an article mocking V Si’s innocence and certain characteristic features of his. I had poked fun—in a lighter vein—at his helplessness, irritations, and sensitive nature. Once it got published, I gave a copy to V Si as well. He went through it. In a certain episode that I had narrated, V Si had stood as a guarantor for a loan taken by his friend and when the latter did not pay back the amount borrowed, V Si paid it out of his own pocket. I had not named the people involved in the event.
Upon going through the article, V Si remarked, “What would you have lost, if you had skipped this incident? Poor fellow – won’t he feel bad going through this?”
He did not utter a word about his own personality traits that I had ridiculed.
The words which are usually in vogue for expression of anger or abuse shocked V Si. He was a sensitive person. Once, when the phrase ‘ಸಿಗಿದುತೋರಣಕಟ್ಟುಬಿಡುತ್ತೇನೆ’—“I will tear you apart and make a festoon out of you”—occurred as a part of casual conversation, he said, “Aha! What a beautiful imagery! We will first need to put the person in front of us on a carpenter’s saw. We should then break him apart into small pieces. The pieces will then need to be strung together and should be used as decoration for the entrance door. We should derive pleasure out of seeing it. Beautiful, extraordinary! What kind of an award should we give to someone so imaginative?”
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.