B.M. Srikantaiah was one of the members of the youth club of Srirangapattana. Other prominent members of the club were Vice Chancellor N.S. Subba Rao, Advocate M.G. Varadacharya, Professor Annaaji, Engineer Venkata Subba Rao and Forest Conservator Narasimhaiah.
There were two prominent features of that club: (1) Mutual friendship, (2) Admonishing any outsider who would oppose any member of the club.
Annaji: “Our Subbu’s writing is so articulate!”
Subbu: “I am nothing before Srikantaiah”
Srikantaiah: “Eloquence means M.G. Such a beautiful style!”
M.G.: "What is there in eloquence? Scholarship is greater. Look at Annaji.”
In this way, one would not give up on the other. Therefore, the team was given the name – “Mutual Admiration Society”. This was so named by the people of Nanjanagud and Bangalore. The Srirangapatna club did not disintegrate due to this.
However, it did not continue for long. With time, rifts developed. Is that not what happens to a tree? What initially is merely a trunk later grows to have branches, divisions and hollows. In this sense, Srirangapattana was unable to change this intrinsic human nature. As each person gets older, new desires dominate and attracts men to different paths.
Earnestness in Literature
Earnestness in literature was in Srikantaiah's blood by birth and perennially grew in him.
Srikantaiah had just completed B.A. and was studying for M.A. when Srirangapattana was hit by the infamous plague. He had great love for Wordsworth, an English poet. However, two poems of that poet namely, “Prelude” and “Excursion” were difficult to understand. The reason for this difficulty was its tedious length and sparsity. The poems lack action but the thoughts and insights of the poet are frequent, and the dialogues are abundant. No university would prescribe such poems in their textbooks. But they are famed work of a famous poet. Srikantaiah had pledged to read those poems at any cost. Every day, he took the book and sat on a French rock in Hirode Hills and would read the book till lunch time and then return home. He did this as he felt that the atmosphere at home was not conducive for his study. In this way, he achieved his goal within a month.
The above incident is only a hearsay. Let me illustrate one of my personal experiences with him.
During his stay in Bangalore. Srikantaiah and I met up at least once everyday. We often went for a walk. I would visit him at his place if he did not turn up at my doorstep on a particular day. One day, I went to his house around 7:30 in the morning. I stood in the veranda and knocked on his door. There was no answer. I heard intently. I could hear a voice singing. I knocked again but there was no response. The third time, I started banging on the door using a rod. (He was used to such mischiefs of mine). He then opened the door. It was apparent that he had not heard the first two knocks. Well, what was he doing? He had kept open Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ on a small table and was walking back and forth from one room to the other while trying to memorise the classic by reading the lines aloud. By that time, Srikantaiah was past 50 years of age and his pension days were nearing.
This is the sign of a born scholar.
स्वाध्यायप्रवचने एवेति नाको मौद्गल्यः
तद्धि तपस्तद्धि तपः
* * *
Before shifting to Bangalore, Srikantaiah had to visit Bangalore at least once a month on account of his official duty as the Registrar. He traveled in his motor car. He would inform me before hand as to when he would reach Bangalore and would directly come to my room from Mysore. After having some snacks with me, we would head to his guest house at Arnie Castle premises (Jayamahal). There I would read the chapters of Dronaparva, Shalyaparva, Karnaparva and Souptikaparva for him from the original Sankrit text of Mahabharata. He would make notes in between and would mark some portions. This was his preparation for the writing of his famous work “Aśvatthāman” – the play.
As mentioned earlier, I went for walks with him. We always went together for literary conferences too and often shared the same room. Our conversations would go past midnight and most of our chat was related to literature. Why is it not possible that the poets of Ramayana and Homer had stolen content from each other? Who was the one who stole among them? What was running in the mind of Keats, when he said, “Truth is Beauty”? Should we use the word “ವಿರಳ” in Kannada or retain the word “ಅಪರೂಪ” as an equivalent of the English word “Rare”? We discussed questions like these. Many times, it has given room to humorous and awkward instances. He would recollect the sūtras and dhātus of the words under discussion and enlighten us about thei etymology.
Worshipping prophets and leaders have created quite a chaos amongst our people. The practice of worshipping political leaders and religious mentors has increased, and it has, in a sense, crossed the limits of social propriety. It is natural to lose an independent mind with an increasing trend to blindly worship the leaders. It is important that independent thinking is developed among people, in addition to devotion and sincerity. When such a discussion was going on, B.M. Srikantaiah narrated a story from his childhood when he was a boy of about 8 to 10 years of age. There was a group of about five boys of the same age. A boy, who was senior to them by one or two years, came and joined them. He was taller and bigger in size compared to the other boys and was also quite adventurous by nature. He was nicknamed “Puṇḍā Māma” (Mischievous uncle) by the people of the town due to his naughtiness. Nobody knew his actual name. This group of kids to which Srikantaiah belonged, unanimously accepted Puṇḍā Māma as its leader. He was their leader wherever they went. He was the chief of all their tasks. Once, he said to his followers:
“Hey, let us perform some pooja to the God.”
“Oh, yes Sir! But, You are our God!”
After the nitty gritty of this arrangement was discussed, it was decided that Puṇḍā Māma should himself be made as the idol of the God. They decided upon a location within the premises of the court at Srirangapattana as the ideal place. They found a place where there was a small trench, which might have been caused due to rain. They dug that trench further and made Puṇḍā Māma sit in the trench. They then put mud around him and filled the trench and brought it to ground level. Puṇḍā Māma's face was visible at the top. Mud was filled till the neck. After doing this, the young devotees set out to the market to bring flowers, fruits and coconut for the pooja. Puṇḍā Māma sat in the trench with his eyes open.
Around 9:30 – 10 in the morning, the court staff and litigants started entering the court premises. Someone among them noticed the head of Puṇḍā Māma and got scared. He went closer and looked. It had become too difficult to even bat his eyelashes or to breathe. The man who saw it, unable to fathom what he saw, called his friend. The people that had gathered there started digging out the mud to examine what they saw. They thought, “A small boy. Someone must have done something to him” and called the doctor. The Doctor made Puṇḍā Māma lie down under the tree and was trying to fill his lungs with air.
At that time, these young devotees came there along with fruits and flowers. They started crying looking at the condition of their leader. They complained that the people gathered there had done something to their leader.
What should the people do? Should they console the boys? Or should they attend to Puṇḍā Māma?
People stood there, bewildered, unable to decide how to act amidst the chaos. The doctor’s efficiency brought solace to everyone. Puṇḍā Māma recuperated. The boys were happy and they ate the fruits that they had bought. People laughed it off and returned to their work. This was narrated to me by Srikantaiah.
To be continued....
This is the twenty-second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Kashyap Naik for his thorough review. Edited by Arjun Bharadwaj.