Sri. Hebbani Sheshacharya belonged to an era when thirty-five ounces (roughly a kilogram) of rice was available for just a rupee and six tender coconuts could be bought for a single paisa. He was highly learned in Sanskrit literature and Dvaita philosophy. He was already old when I first saw him. Even at that age, his personality was a sight to behold. And he spoke affectionately as well. That is the reason his memory is vivid in my mind.
The only mundane assets that Sheshacharya possessed were a kaccha house and around seven to eight acres of land. That piece of land was situated in a village ten to twelve miles away from the town where he lived. Other than usufructs received from that land, the income he had was from: a. the honorarium he received from his patrons for narration of mythical stories and legends, and b. the scholar remuneration received through the yearly membership from the Sriman Madhwa Siddhantonnahini Sabha in Tirupathi. Sheshacharya never sought any favour from anyone; never bothered that his income was insufficient. He was a widower; there were children, grandchildren, and other relatives in his house. He never showed revulsion in looking after his family. He never troubled his body or mind for that purpose.
He was tall and had an ivory-coloured complexion. His face exuded calmness; his speech was polite, friendly, and interlaced with humour; and he was pure inside out. Due to this, Sheshacharya was loved and respected by all in his town.
The main asset possessed by Sheshacharya was his mental strength. He had believed one thing firmly. That was Bhagāvata. He was so thorough with this vast and beautiful poem that he could recite any section from it, without looking at the book. The most valuable item that could be found in his house was an old wooden trunk. There was a book made of dried palm leaves in that trunk. It was the Bhagāvata in Sanskrit. Along with that he had also earned a printed non-detailed Bhagāvata book. He would keep these books wrapped in embroidered shawls of a good quality. He would receive embroidered shawls as gifts at least twice every year. The shawls so received were used for wrapping these books. He neither gave those shawls to his children nor used it himself. Once I told him that I wanted to see his books. Sheshacharya happily agreed and opened the trunk and showed me those books. Each book was wrapped up in a towel, a śalya, and a shawl. He removed each layer and showed me the embroidered design and the delicate craftsmanship on them. I joked impishly, “Is the Bhagāvata feeling so cold?” Sheshacharya laughed and said, “Why are you talking like an idiot? Bhagāvata is God incarnate, have we seen any other Gods? Whenever we receive anything good, we should dedicate it to God. What is the need for vanity to this aged body? Isn’t the cloth that I am wearing enough for me? Look, this is also good.” The clothes worn by Sheshacharya were neat and clean. It was beauty without pageantry.
Sheshacharya was brilliant in narrating stories from the Purāṇas. His narration used to be extremely interesting. His speciality was picturing the bizarreness of modern civilisation. The Bangalore of those days could not be compared with the present-day Bangalore. Areas such as Basavanagudi and Chamarajpet had not yet been born. The Bangalore known to Sheshacharya was from Upparpet to Siddikatte. Sheshacharya would narrate with graphic details, the life in Bangalore of men that came from a small village and eked out their livelihood by doing a job, or beggary, or some business using their ingenuity and how they supported their family. This would be his narration. The house rent was ten rupees. That itself was exorbitant at that time. There were four families in that house. All these families shared a common living room, toilet, and confinement room for women. Each family had two rooms. Of that one was the kitchen and the other was the drawing room. On each wall of the two rooms there were five racks, and racks within racks, three-stepped shelves. He would describe how in those shelves, people kept containers, vessels, and jars and how they hid grocery items in those jars and containers; the cunning manner in which they entertained the guests; and drown the audience in waves of laughter.
Once, Sheshacharya found it difficult to make ends meet. He had not received the rent from his land. His farmer had not paid him for nearly three to four years and evaded the payment on one pretext or the other; and when the money was demanded, he would talk disrespectfully. Sheshacharya was fed up of the nuisance created by that farmer. At that time, a person by name T R Mahadevaraya was posted to his town as Amaldar. Mahadevaraya hailed from Harihara. It is said that he belonged to the caste of tailors. Mahadevaraya was known to be honest, able, and strict. An incident occurred which stood testimony to his character.
The Amaldar got the news that certain miscreants roamed around in the town at night and create a nuisance. A few incidents of theft and destruction of property were also reported. Mahadevarya felt that there may have been indirect support from the Policemen to encourage these mischief-makers. Therefore, he disguised himself and went on rounds at night. He disguised himself wearing a turban, a thick blanket to wrap his upper body, a knee-length loincloth, and a hose. One night when he was doing the rounds, someone identified him. Within ten to fifteen days of that incident, the police inspector and the head constable were transferred to another town. The nuisance stopped. Sheshacharya also heard about this incident.
Sheshacharya felt that the trouble created by his farmer could be resolved by the Amaldar and so one fine morning, he went to the residence of Mahadevaraya with a coconut and in his hand. It was two months since Mahadevaraya took charge as Amaldar of that town. Mahadevaraya welcomed Sheshacharya with respect and made him sit and asked him what the matter was. So Sheshacharya chanted a verse from the Bhagāvata and explained its meaning. Then he handed the coconut and mantrākṣate and blessed Mahadevaraya. The verse that he chanted went like this:
दयावान् सदा वासुदेवादराढ्यः
जने यन्नदेयं मुदेयं मम स्यात्॥
“The only one that can eradicate all the problems caused by farmers to brāhmaṇas is Mahādevarāya. He is compassionate. He is always devoted to the omnipresent deity Vāsudeva. Through him, let me derive the happiness of receiving what I deserve to receive from others, but have not yet received.”
Mahadevaraya was overcome with sympathy when Sheshacharya described and narrated the nature of his farmer and his ulterior motives while explaining the meaning of the verse. Soon Mahadevaraya summoned the clerk of Hebbani Hobli. Upon seeing him, he asked in a commanding voice, “Who is the Shekdar of this Hobli? Let him come here by evening; let him learn about the grievance of Acharya and make sure that the farmer clears all of Acharya’s dues latest by tomorrow evening. I should receive the report tomorrow that this matter has been resolved. He will be penalised in case of any delay.” Accordingly, the problems of Sheshacharya were resolved.
There was no other incident in his entire life when Sheshacharya showed his dissatisfaction towards someone. He had fully devoted himself to Bhagāvata and had complete faith in the almighty. The verse that he used to chant frequently was this:
क्षेमं विधास्यति स नो
“The one who takes care of our well-being is the omniscient Supreme. When that is the case, what is the point in worrying and analysing?”
Sheshacharya was the one that people used to go for advice when they were overcome with illness, bereavement, conflict, or difficulties. He would narrate stories to them and convey the above message through those stories. On listening to those stories, those people would be filled with new hope and courage to face their difficulties.
This is an English translation of the eleventh chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 1 – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru. DVG wrote this series in the early 1950s. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
 Kaccha (or Kutcha) houses are made from mud, thatch, or other low-quality materials as opposed to Pukka (or Pucca) houses, which are made from high quality materials throughout, including the floor, the exterior walls, and the roof.
 The legal term 'usufruct' refers to the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another's property short of the destruction or waste of its substance.
 Bhagāvatapurāṇa, one of the eight Mahāpurāṇas.
 Śalya is a single-piece cloth (like a sash or a stole) worn across from the shoulder to hip, which would cover the upper body except the right shoulder and right hand.
 Rice grains soaked in vermilion powder; typically used in rituals and also by elders to bless the younger ones (by showering a bit of it on their heads as they bow down in respect).
 The last line of this verse has a variant: जने यन्नदेयं प्रदेयं मम स्यात्॥
 Note the dual meaning attached to the name ‘Mahādevarāya’ and the term ‘Bhūdevatā.’ 'Mahādeva' is a name given to Śiva, who is the deity that protects the Mother Earth (bhūdevatā) from all evils and ‘rāya’ means 'king' or 'ruler.' This verse praises the power of Śiva, but because the name of the officer was Mahadevaraya, Sheshacharya sung this verse.
 Hobli is a unit bigger than a village that has the administrative and revenue jurisdiction over other smaller villages. A group of villages make a Hobli. A group of hoblis make a Taluk.
 Shekdar (village accountant) is the officer in charge of collecting revenues in the village, as per the directions of the higher officers like Amaldar, Tahsildar, and so on.
 While writing about Bhagavata Sheshacharya, it is noteworthy that DVG has mentioned the role that revenue officers like Mahadevaraya played during those days to ensure that the rule of law prevailed, unmindful of the limitations of power set on them by the law. It is rare for an officer to undertake any task that falls outside his ambit of work or jurisdiction. Sagacious officers like Mahadevaraya ensured compliance of law and order even in private disputes instead of getting financially weak people such as Sheshacharya to litigate and recover money from the courts who alone had the authority to settle financial disputes of private parties.