Meeting Once Again!
That summer, Srinivasa Sastri had taken residence in a house named Seetaalaya in the B.P. Wadia Road in Basavanagudi. Sastri’s sixty-first birthday occurred during his residence in Bangalore that year. Many relatives and friends from Madras and other regions thronged his place. As a gesture of welcome and respect for these guests, Srinivasa Sastri’s friends in Bangalore arranged for a party for them. Mirza was also invited for the occasion and he had let us know that he would come by five in the evening. When I got to know of this, I thought that it would be inevitable for me to face him if I were to be in the cappara in the court yard. Thus, I went to the interior-most section of the insides of the house, i.e., to the kitchen area. There, I sat in the company of Sastri’s wife and children, engaging in casual conversations with them.
Amidst our conversation, Sastri called out for me – ‘Hey, Gundappa. Come here, come quickly. Come quickly!” Friends who were around me held me at both my biceps and pulled me along. Mirza Ismail was having a hearty laugh and Srinivasa Sastri was laughing all the more vehemently. When we are brought face to face with each other, would our past bitterness have any scope? We shook hands. We behaved as though there had been no misunderstanding between us.
It seemed like Sastri’s mind was not entirely free of doubt. He took the opportunity to scold me during the night’s dinner. He gave me a mouthful of scolding. I will name two to three people who were present there during this incident – Dharmarakṣāmaṇi Balasubrahmanya Iyer, the famous lawyer from Madras - Vakil Diwan Bahaddur, K.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and the revered L.V. Govindaraghava Iyer. I, the rascal, got scolded for my ridiculous behaviour!
It did not end there. The following day, there was a grand feast arranged for Sastri in the Century Club. Sastri spoke on the occasion. Though he did not bring up either my name or Mirza’s name, I again and again felt that he was referring to me when he spoke. He said – “Friendship is important. It is more important than our individual opinions. It is our duty, at times, to change our opinions. An opinion is, after all, a matter of the intellect. As the intellect gets fed with more and more information, it can keep changing its opinion. Sneha – friendship – is a matter of the heart. It always contributes towards the elevation of our soul. A life without friends is like a life in penury. We have become very political in our country today. Our rage and anger in this area is bearing a negative influence on all other pursuits of our life as well. We should not forget humanity amidst the political differences that we might have. Let our differences in opinion remain as they are. Sneha-rasa is the only medicine that can heal the injury that our differences have created.
Sastri often ridiculed my strange mannerisms and characteristics. I had great regard for the writer John Morley. He is, essentially, a writer of history. He has written the biographies of political geniuses such as Gladson and Cubbon. He has also written about Francis Rousseau and Voltaire. He has documented the life and works of Italian stalwarts of politics such as Machiavelli and Guicciardini. He was a great scholar and an independent thinker. His is a serious style of writing, that is filled with emotion and is thought provoking. We feel as though there is a light flowing in our body when we read his sentences. I quoted Morley from time to time.
Under one such occasion, when I quoted Morley, Sastri got enraged that I am overdoing it. He too was fond of Morley. However, he felt that my admiration for Morley was out of bounds. He teased me a bit. He then said, in Tamil – “Some people, when they spot a monkey, they say – ‘You are Āñjaneya’ and slap on their cheeks (with devotion)”. (He imitated the manner in which people slap their cheeks)
Everyone who was gathered there laughed and so did I.
Reverence for a Literary Work
Sastri continued speak and said – “I am not looking down upon Morley. I have always wanted to buy the Complete Works of Morley which has a ‘De-luxe’ binding. But, money? The collected works run to about twenty or twenty-two volumes. Each volume cost 21 guinea. How can I dream of such an amount?”
Someone asked - “Why is it so expensive?”
Sastri replied –“Apparently, only five hundred sets of the ‘De-luxe’ version of the volumes are prepared. It is printed on high-quality paper. The print is beautiful and the letters are big. It is bound in a nice and thick board. Every copy contains the signature of Morley. The list of buyers was prepared even before the copies of the particular edition were printed. Those who were late in asking for a copy never got one.
Let me tell you something special. Mahārāja Ranjit Singh was one among the people who booked a copy of the set. He is the king of Junagarh Province. He not only bought the special ‘De-luxe’ volumes of Morley’s works, but also got the covers removed and got new ones done by a special binder. The new binding has golden pictures, is embedded with ruby and other gems and is studded with pieces of diamond here and there. It is dazzling, colourful and has caught people’s eyes. “
Me: “Seems like Ranjit Singh is a great scholar. He must have good knowledge of history and politics if he has got such great regard for Morely”
Sastri – “You are mad. Does anyone buy a book to read it? People buy books to display them in their cupboards so that people who visit them can take a look at them. The white-men have crave for such dazzling objects. Women feel amazed looking at it”
Another person: “In that case, is the book only being used as a display object?”
Sastri: “Morley is the Secretary of State of India. He is one of the ministers who has great influence in England. Don’t forget this fact. It is not a rare phenomenon to find our kings to have an inkling towards winning the affection of the British ministers”.
To be continued...
This is the twentieth part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.