BM Srikantaiah (Part 4) - Sanskrit, Kannada and English

No Hatred Towards Sanskrit

Rumours were afloat for some time that B.M. Srikantaiah did not have interest in and hated Sanskrit. I cannot say that these rumours were baseless. Poets before Srikantaiah had profusely employed Sanskrit in their Kannada poems. The works of Rudrabhaṭṭa and Ṣaḍākṣari are good examples. In the poem, “Śrīśailādi”, the only Kannada word used is “māḻke”. “Shreeman Nagendra...”, “Ariroudrankara” etc are also similar. B.M. Srikantaiah’s was bitter and fierce in his criticism of that genre of poetry. It would not be surprising if it appeared as hatred towards Sanskrit in the eyes of Sanskrit fanatics. However, it would be wrong to assume that sentences uttered zealously during a speech as a premeditated thought.

One day I went to a friend’s house around 3 PM. The friend was a Srivaishnavite and we  had visited him the day after his daughter’s wedding. As per tradition, a few rituals had to be conducted on that day and purohits had assembled to do the same. As I climbed the steps in the veranda and crossed the threshold, I overheard a priest saying in Tamil, “It seems Srikantaiah cannot stand Sanskrit.” After I went inside and sat down, I asked the priest, “What you said was because of what you have gathered from rumours spread by someone, isn’t it? That is an unjust allegation”. The Srivaishnava scholar was well known to me. He wouldn’t speak ill of people or make an unjust statement willingly. After I explained the facts of the matter to him, he took back his words and apologised for his impropriety. This shows how far reaching rumours can be.

* * *

            On a certain day, sometime in 1928, I delivered a lecture on the topic, “Literature and Science” in the Karnataka Sangha at Central College, Bangalore. A.R. Krishna Shastry who had great affection for me, took it down and published it in “Prabuddha Karnataka” newspaper. I had quoted of a few lines from “Prometheus Unbound”, an outstanding work of Poet Shelly’s as an example in my speech. Immediately after reciting those English lines, I had translated them to Kannada as it occurred to me at that moment. I had used more of Sanskrit in those sentences.

            A while later, perhaps in 1932, a book “Jeevana Soundarya mattu Saahitya” was compiled based on a series of lectures delivered by me. The aforementioned lecture was also included in the book. However, I had changed the translation of Shelly’s poem there and had used Kannada words more than Sanskrit.

            Krishna Shastry proofread the manuscript of this book. He did not agree to the changes made by me. He opined that the earlier translation which was rich in Sanskrit was more beautiful. He and I had a minor war of words. Finally, we decided that we should refer our dispute to B.M. Srikantaiah and agreed that his word should be accepted.

            Srikantaiah heard our arguments. Then he served us some snacks and said, “Please help yourselves and give me some time to think about it in solitude”. With these words, he went to his bedroom along with the manuscript.  After 15 – 20 minutes, he came to us and pronounced his decision. His words were in favour of Krishna Shastry.  “Shelly’s lines are splendid and brilliant. If they have to be brought out in our language, it is not possible without Sanskrit.”

That line has remained as per his decision.[1]

Srikantaiah loved Sanskrit. From time to time, whenever we met, he made me recite several poems, including a few chapters of the Mahabharata and genuinely appreciated and admired the greatness of literature.

Fluency

Initially, B. M. Srikantaiah had said that he was not interested in and was not capable of delivering a speech in Kannada and was at loggerheads with Sri Venkatanaranappa. However, out his passion and pride for Kannada, he gradually started giving lectures for 2-3 hours at a stretch. This was ridiculed by N.S. Subbarao and other friends as time killing ‘harikatha’ sessions. With practise, he was later able to deliver speeches, seamlessly for about 5 hours without losing force and passion. After listening to his speech for 45 minutes in Raichur, a friend and I went out to have some refreshments. When we came back to the lecture hall, the speech was still going on. We went out again for snacks and returned to the assembly after an hour. The lecture was still going on with great momentum. The topic was  Harihara’s Ragaḻe.

B.M. Srikantaiah was a good orator in Kannada. His English speeches used to be even more profound and absorbing. He had gained such mastery over the language that it felt that the English vocabulary was at his mercy. He would frame sentences having understood the nuances of the words and their usage. Since he had studied law, he had learnt the jargons of law well and blended his speech with Latin words. Once, I remember, it was perhaps the literary conference at Raichur – a member had used the term “ultra vires”. Srikantaiah had demonstrated that the word did not fit in the context. His understanding of Greek and Latin literature was quite evident to us when we met for English – Kannada dictionary work. Similar was his understanding of Tamil and Telugu. He was one of the prominent advocates who enforced the idea that the students of Kannada should also learn Tamil in their higher classes.

Once, he had delivered an eloquent speech on the great Tamil Poet Tiruvalluvar, at Central College, under the patronage of Karnataka Sangha. I was mesmerised by that speech and as a memory peg, got a line written by him in my pocket diary. He wrote a beautiful poem of Tiruvalluvar and gave it to me.

What can I say about Srikantaiah’s prowess in the English language? Once, he delivered about five lectures in the Dolly Memorial Hall of Mythic Society on the topic, “The Burden of Prophets” - All in English - The speeches were pregnant with rich vocabulary. He analysed the most important ideals propounded by the prophets of Yahudis, Christians, Muslims and Hindus in this lecture series and similarly presented the perceptions of other religions succinctly. In addition to that, he also give the summary of the values advocated in theosophy and on the future of mankind in the works of the modern poets such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning and Rupert Brooke. He thereby demonstrated the lofty form of human life. The style and profoundness of language and the generosity of the analytical vision of those lectures were both admirable and enjoyable.

 

Morality

The life of Srikantaiah was fraught with piteous incidents. During his middle age, problems arose one after the other. His house was enveloped in tragedy. The courageous and patient manner in which Srikantaiah endured those problems is a true testimony of his devotion to literature. It shows what kind of refinement and confidence literature can bring to a person. He was smitten by the grim plays of Greek Literature and had understood the play of destiny. Literature had taught him the varied ways in which fate creates extreme situations, and had contemplated on the same. He had not lost his balance and grit despite having experienced several difficulties. His mind was not disturbed. He had swallowed his grief and forgotten it in discharging his duties. That, in my view, is the zenith of morality.

Srikantaiah was simple by nature, pure hearted and generous. He found joy in being of help to others. His relocation to a different place during his final days on account of his ill health was not liked by some of us. It is the misfortune of Kannadigas that he was pulled elsehwere.

Concluded

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.

[1] “Jeevana Soundarya mattu Saahitya”, 3rd Edition, Kaavyaalaya, 1962, Page 79.

 

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

Vaishnavi Naik is a practicing advocate at Bangalore. She has deep interest in music, fine arts, and literature. She is a singer and is presently learning Hindustani Classical Music.