Debates on Beauty
The members of the Mythic Society Bangalore, once decided to go on a study tour of the historical sites of Hampi. The team comprised of Fr. Tubbard, Mr. F J Richard (ICS), Prof. C Metcalf and a few other Europeans. Prominent Indians in the team included History Professor S Krishnaswami Iyengar, Venkatanaranappa, and a few others. After having visited all the important sites during the day, the team wanted to watch the sunset from the top of a hill. They hurried up a hill to catch a glimpse of the sun going down the horizon. On the way uphill, an argument broke out between Krishnaswami Iyengar and Venkatanaranappa – did the sunset appear better when viewed from the top of Rishyamuka hill or the Malyavanta hill? – this was the debate. One of the books had mentioned that the view from one of the hills was the best. None had the book with them at the moment and this had led to the argument.
As the argument ensued, their voices went up by a few decibels. They stopped hiking and started quarrelling mid-way. The others had already gone pretty far ahead. Metcalf and a couple of his colleagues (who were professors too) noticed that the two were stuck in their debate and were lagging behind them. He went up and fetched the walking sticks that Richard and Tubbard carried, and came back to the place where the two professors stood. He handed over one stick each to the two quarrelling parties.
Venkatanaranappa: What is this?
Metcalf: Fight with these sticks and resolve your quarrel quickly! The sunset is not going to wait for you!
The two professors understood what his intention was, let out a hearty laugh and went ahead to join the others. Venkatanaranappa and Krishnaswami Iyengar were great friends and continued to be so. Friendship for friendship, argument for argument’s sake. Both were intense!
After the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana at Chikkamagalur, about eight to ten of us decided to do a night journey to Bababudangiri. We were to visit the Dattatreya-peetha there and also see other places of interest. Thanks to the generosity of Deputy Commissioner K Mailarirayya, we got about four to five bullock carts ready. It was about nine in the night. We had ensured that our plan for the excursion and the preparations had remained confidential. Well, would anything remain a secret when there are hundred other people around you? Some people who had caught scent of our planned outing had got into the bullock carts even before we went to board them. There were not just men there. Their wives and women were also in the cart.
By the time the cart went ahead by a bit, the passengers started drowsing and started falling upon those who were seated by their side. A few of us felt this was disgusting and decided to go on foot. Venkannayya, Srinivasamurti, myself, and another person – the four of us got off the cart. We had lively conversations, sang a few songs and climbed up the hill.
As we went ahead a little further, full moon revealed itself. We went a bit further uphill and found that the carts which had started with us had stopped mid-way. Apparently, they had spotted a tiger or a cheetah in the vicinity. Once they were assured that they were safe, the carts continued going uphill. We didn’t take a break anywhere and continued on the trek. It was about five in the morning by the time we reached Kavikallukandi. At this spot, the route shifts from one side of the mountain to the other. Our legs started refusing to go any further. We decided to rest for a bit on the side of the path. The twilight of the dawn revealed the beautiful green stretch of the Jagar canal. We were rejuvenated a bit and continued our trek for about half an hour – we reached the Kemmannugundi bungalow. We halted there for the day.
Venkatanaranappa, the two Nanjunda Shastris and Pandit Hanumantaraya had their baths and took charge of cooking. They prepared coffee for us. After we had relaxed for a bit and had freshened up, a question waited upon us: Should we visit the Dattatreya-peetha after lunch or visit the peetha first and then have lunch? Yajamanaru (Venkatanaranappa) and Panditaru (Hanumantaraya) were to observe maḍi. Having our meal after visiting the peetha would mean that they will need to enter the maḍi mode once again. That was going to eat up time. Thus, we immediately had our meal. We then visited the Dattatreya cave and came back. It was around one in the afternoon when we returned.
Just as we returned, Venkatanaranappa called for the bullock cart drivers and said,
V: Prepare the carriages!
Me: Why do we need the cart now?
V: We need to head back!
Me: Aren’t we planning to stay back here?
V: Why stay here at night? To play with mud?
Me: Well, sir. We have come this far and shouldn’t we see everything in detail?
V: What did we do all this while? We saw places, right?
Me: Is this the manner in which we are to relish natural beauty, sir? Everything is hazy and harsh in this bright sunlight. There is no rasa during the day. Day is like prose. There is full-moon-light at night. Everything looks gentle, soft and beautiful at night. It is full of rasa!
V: That is all your imagination. On our way back tonight, keep your eyes wide open. You will be able to see the full moon light.
Me: Do you think we will be able to see the forest and the hill that way, sir?
V: Don’t you remember all that we saw on our way here last night? What will you do if there is a tiger or a cheetah around?
Me: Those animals terrify us only on our way. We can sit here in the verandah of this bungalow and breathe in the natural beauty. The beauty of the skies and the beauty of the earth!
V: Ok, ok. Watch it – once you get back home, you can enjoy all that by going through Rājaśekharavilāsa or Jaimini-bhārata.
As we were having this conversation, the carts got loaded and started to set out. Venkatanaranappa had made a comfortable arrangement for us. He got men and their women seated in one cart along with servants. He had reserved a cart just for the four of us who were sleepless the previous night (due to the trek uphill). We complained amongst ourselves – how beautiful the Bababudangiri would have been at night and what all we had to miss – the entire trip was in a hurry!
When I mentioned that the confluence of two oceans appears very beautiful in full moon light, Visvesvaraya had asked me – “What’s there in that?”
When I said that the hill, trees, and canals are beautiful in full moon light, Venkatanaranappa asked me – “What is there in that?”
How can we put it in words? There is something brilliant that can only be experienced and is beyond words.
Neatness and Attention to Detail
The Kannada Sahitya Parishad was in need of an assistant and I recommended a person by name … Rao. He had worked in about four to five places, had rubbed rough edges there and had lost his job. I thought he might have developed some humility now. I was also under the assumption that he was good at English. He was quite dominant in his character but was sincere.
One day, he came to me and complained that Venkatanaranappa creates unnecessary issues regarding petty matters. The next day, when I visited the Parishad, Venkatanaranappa spoke to me: “Look here! See what your friend has done!”
He placed three to four postal covers and cards that had been returned. The letters had come back either because the address was wrong or because they had reached the wrong person. I didn’t find anything wrong with that. “If they are unable to find the address, what else can the postal department do about it?” I asked.
Venkatanaranappa explained: “I'm not talking about the way the Post Office works. Look at the way your friend has stuck stamps on it!”
Our sire had stuck the stamp in strange and haphazard manner. Some of them were upside down and some were pasted at strange places in the card. I then gathered Venkatanaranappa’s intent. I said – “The Post Office only wants money and the money has been paid!”
V: “Yes, but the addresses need to be shown some respect! Do you think this clumsy arrangement would have made them happy? Does it look good to you? Tell me!”
This was the only reason for the assistant and Venkatanaranappa to develop disputes. The boy left the job soon after.
Visvesvaraya too was quite particular and disciplined in the manner in which he dealt with letters. Stamps were to be pasted only in the place designated for them, i.e., at the right top corner. It shouldn’t be upside down. There must be only about a quarter of an inch from the edges of the post card or poster cover. The spacing should be equal on all the four sides. The gum used to stick the note should not spill out from behind the stamp. This was a rule everyone was to adhere too – no deviations were tolerated.
Any work that was undertaken was to be performed with great care and was to be neat. There was a certain amount of discipline that had to be followed under all circumstances.
Venkatanaranappa liked consuming pickle made of ivy gourd (Coccinia grandis). He always carried pickles in his circut briefcase. To protect the pickles from getting spoiled, he would make a hole at the bottom of the every gourd and stuff in some preservative there.
To be continued...
This is the seventeenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough review.