V.S.Srinivasa Sastri (Part 21) - The Gentle Path


Srinivasa Sastri possessed several characteristic traits that won people’s heart and gained him their appreciation. Scholarship, oratory skills, boarded mindedness, generosity, profundity, ethical shrewdness and political stances – these were amongst the several different kinds of qualities he possessed. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he was largely unparalleled in these qualities.

I personally adored the compassion he had for all humanity. Man has his weaknesses, desires, confidentialities and intolerances. Most of these are usually hidden. It would seem as if they are almost absent in man. When such inherent human nature surfaces, the quality that makes the other not react adversely and gently brushes aside all human inconsistencies as something tolerable constitutes humanity. A certain quality that we are pointing out at the other, must also be hidden within us in a latent form, isn’t it? Under the right set of circumstances, they will manifest in an evident manner in us too, right? A man who thinks thus within himself and is considerate about the shortcomings of his fellow humans is considered to be possessed with the quality of humanity.


The Gentle Path

Compassion for humanity was a quality that was present in all its dimensions in Sastri and thus, he did not have enemies at all. How can I be sure that I will not commit the mistake that another has? There is a certain way to correct a mistake that has been committed. It is important to realise this gentle approach and follow it at all times.

One day, when about four or five of us were traveling with Sastri in the train, we happened to have a stop at some station. The stop lasted for about four to five minutes. One of our friends who was traveling with us chanced upon a turubu (a kind of hair-net/ hair-do) that one of the ladies who was on the platform had on her head. Her back was towards us and she was speaking to someone else. Sastri noticed that our friend’s sight was arrested by the turubu on the lady’s head.

The train started moving. Our friend’s face seemed to have lost its charm, slightly. Sastri said the following, as though he was speaking to everyone in general: “I think there are many floral gardens in this town. Beautiful jasmine flowers. The buds were not only beautiful, but there was some charm in the manner in which they were knotted together. You were looking at their charm, weren’t you? ..”

He poked fun in a lighthearted manner.



In another instance, a certain lady attended Sastri’s lecture in Mangalore. She not only attended the lectures delivered by Sastri, but also visited him at the house where he was staying as a guest. She had great respect for him. Sastri noticed that one of his close associates was constantly looking at this particular lady - a widow.

After quite a long time since our return from Mangalore, somebody brought up the topic of the widow. The lady was in Delhi by then. Sastri looked at his friend and said – “Now, the lady has become like a stick. She not longer looks smart and pretty like she was when you saw her in Mangalore. She has become very old”.

People who knew the context looked at each other’s’ faces and giggled below their breaths.


A Well-meaning Advice

Sastri often visited me when I was residing in Shankarapura. Whenever my father was annoyed or angry with me, he would let Sastri know and the latter took the opportunity to rebuke me. “The roots of this kind of behaviour are deep within your nature”, he would say.

When I was considering my trip to Delhi, Sastri told me the following – “Lad! You are going to Delhi. You will feel like meeting Madan Mohan Malaviya there and you would want to greet him. It is but natural to have such an inclination. However, I suggest you don’t spend too much time on it. It will take about two or three days for Malaviya to see you. If you get caught in his company, I don’t think you will return soon. You have very little time there. Don’t waste it”

Me: “Nothing of that sort is going to happen”, I insisted.

Sastri: “Don’t say so. Malaviya is a very revered person. I have great admiration for his character. You will forget yourself and sit listening to him.”

Me: “No, that wont happen”

What transpired finally?  I ended up spending about a week looking for Malaviya and in meeting him. This is exactly what Sastri had predicted as well.


Knower of Intentions

It appears that my father had shared one of his expectations with Sastri. If not for that, Sastri would not have insisted that I visit Prayaga and Kashi and bring a pot full of the waters of Ganga. Sastri knew very well how I would behave and react in various situations – he knew my heart just as my father did. I feel that this is one of the finest features of man. It is a great quality to understand and recognise the task performed by a person or words spoken by him. It is all the more a greater quality to grasp the inherent nature of a person. It is rare to find people who will understand your heart even when no word or action emanates from you. Sastri managed his worldly activities because of this nature of his – of knowing the other’s heart the best.



What can we, in sum, point out as “the achievement of Sastri” or as “Sastri’s special service to the nation”?

It is difficult to answer this question in a sentence.

Sastri’s life is like the fragrance of a flower. A flower is born out of great effort. “What is the fruit of a gardener’s work?” – if asked so, we can say – “It is the price that his flowers fetch in the market”. What is the achievement of a fragrant flower that is blossomed in a garden? It makes the environment pleasant. What does a lamp achieve? It spreads light around it. The light comes of great help to everyone.

This is exactly what a learned connoisseur like Srinivasa Sastri can achieve. He brought in pleasant fragrance all around him - he did so, just by his words and his presence. Fragrance is short-lived. Yet, it gives immense pleasure and comfort to people as long as it is around. What does a nice lamp do? It spreads light all around and gladdens the mind. It makes dirt and scars seen, enlightens and cleanses its surroundings.

Srinivasa Sastri’s contribution to the nation was of this kind. At the outset, he was recognised as the foremost of scholars who could understand all the layers behind a problem at hand. As the question gets complex, it will need more skill and expertise to unknot it. To untangle the knots and pull out the threads of the problem at hand is a quality that is very important. The solution to the problem lies in understanding the manner in which different threads are wound around each other. Sastri’s service lies in clearly delineating the nature of different problems and their inherent dimensions. It was a work of his brilliant mind.

The second most important quality he possessed was his ability to structure his words and sentences with gentleness and softness. This falls in line with what the sage Manu reckons as the best kind of speech.

satyaṃ brūyāt| priyam brūyāt||

“Truth must always be uttered and it must be done so in a kind manner”.

Kindness is a property of the heart. The Bhagavad-gītā says:

anudvegakaraṃ vākyam
satyaṃ riya-hitaṃ ca yat

Srinivasa Sastri had put these words into careful practise. This was yet another dimension of his service to the nation. His was a soft, convincing style of speaking. He would gain the trust of the opponent and convince him with his view. It is like the nature of jasmine. It pleases the mind and wards away all heat and spice. The Vedas say:

yathā vṛkṣasya saṃpuṣṭitasya dūrāt gandho vātyevaṃ puṇyasya karmaṇaḥ

Isn’t this an achievement?


To be continued...

This is the twenty-first part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

Prekshaa Publications

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