Rungacharlu was extremely careless about his clothing. He was always hasty. He wore baggy coats. Seeing him wrongly buttoned was not a rare sight. He used to roll his turban in whatever way his hand fancied. Unable to bear seeing his clumsiness any further, his wife Alamelamma once asked him, “Can’t you dress properly?”
Rungacharlu replied, “Am I Madhava Rao? At least he has to go about following English women and talk to them. I am not a Sogasugāra Puṭṭasvāmī (‘a man-about-town’).
Alamelamma herself told me this. For some reason, Rungacharlu would always be on his toes. He would set out to Mysore or to some other place after a moment’s thought. Those days, trains were still a novelty. The Dewan used to board the train and settle down, without anything close to a bed or a box of clothes. If somebody cared to notice him, those facilities would be provided for. If not, he would manage without any of it.
This opened up an opportunity for K P Puttanna Chetty, who was then an official [Traffic Manager] at the Bangalore Railway Station. He had brought a roll of bedding and a set of clothes from the Dewan’s residence and kept them ready at the station. In a few instances, when Rungacharlu set out on one of his impromptu journeys, his clothing reached the place of his visit. Surprised, he enquired, “Whose work is this?” and learnt the back-story. He was impressed to know that it was Puttanna Chetty’s doing; subsequently, Chetty went on to obtain a high grade job.*
The British writer G B Malleson, who knew Mysore intimately, had described Rungacharlu’s brain as a ‘dynamo’ – those who knew the Dewan well agreed that it was indeed true. Rungacharlu’s brain used to work tirelessly like a ‘dynamo.’ He was just fifty-two when he died.
Rungacharlu was swift by nature. If ever he witnessed laziness and lethargy, he would instantly fume and give out punishment. Even the Mahārāja knew this temperament of his and would fear him, too.
There is an incident that I heard. Rungacharlu lived in a house by name ‘Satyālaya’ (‘Abode of Truth’), which was located on the Bangalore Palace Road, about two furlongs from the palace. Till recently that house belonged to the Mahārāja of Soṇḍūru. Mahārāja Chamaraja Wodeyar used to camp at the Bangalore Palace for his education and also for training in kingship. Since Rungacharlu’s residence was nearby, the mind of the Mahārāja, who was still young, was filled with fright at the thought of Rungacharlu’s sudden visits to the palace at the most unexpected hours.
And so, an arrangement was made. Just when Rungacharlu was ready to set out from his house after tying the turban on his head, one of the servants signalled to another servant about five to six yards away with a hand gesture. In a similar manner, the second servant would signal to a third servant another five or six yards away. Like this, with the hand gestures of eight to ten such servants, the news would reach the palace and the Mahārāja would immediately wake up, bathe, wear his royal attire, and be seated in his office room. The Dewan would reach the palace within seven or eight minutes, and assuming that the Mahārāja was brisk and studious, he would express his appreciation. It took about a year for Rungacharlu to realize that it was all pretence!
Once, it appears that during Dasara, the festival of Vasantotsava was being celebrated in the Mysore Palace. During this time, while the crimson turmeric water was being splashed on one another in a festive sprit, the children of the royal family were apparently screaming, using language that was befitting the occasion [but inappropriate for their regal bearing]. Rungacharlu was sitting upstairs in the Jaganmohana Bungalow, occupied with some work; on hearing the loud noise, he ran down the stairs, set free his verbal weapons, spanked them once or twice, and had the chaos silenced.
Rungacharlu was not an ill-wisher. He was not someone who was honeyed outside and venomous within. When medicine has to be administered, one has to force-feed piquant and bitter pills. If not, the disease will never heal. This is the subtle secret behind Rungacharlu’s behaviour.
Admiration for Kannada
Dewan Rungacharlu was a native of Madras. The language used in his household was Tamil, not Kannada. And since he lived in the Telugu regions for a long time during his career, he was more familiar with Telugu. He did not come to Mysore of his own volition or efforts. It was the British authorities of that time who brought him here. Whatever and whoever may be the reason behind his coming to Mysore, the moment he realised that the most important duty of his life was in the Kingdom of Mysore, he became a Mysorean [i.e. Kannadiga]. The future of the Mysore Kingdom was his only goal. He wanted to be recognized as a Mysorean amongst the citizens of Mysore and decided to live like a native of Mysore. As long as he lived, Mysore became his homeland.
In Mysore, Rungacharlu strived for the development of Kannada language and literature with all his heart. Had his interest and encouragement been absent, the Kannada version of the Sanskrit play Śākuntalam by Basavappa Shastri would have never seen light of day; the Śākuntala Nāṭaka Company would have never been born; a collection of Sanskrit and Kannada songs titled ‘Bālikā Gīta Muktā Kalāpa,’ written with the excuse of its being valuable to the students of Mysore’s Maharani’s College, would not have been created. In the Bālikā Gīta Muktā Kalāpa anthology, Nañjanagūḍu Subbāśāstrī, Anantanārāyaṇa Śāstrī, Jayarāyācāryā, Giribhaṭṭa Tammayya, Sundara Śāstrī, and many other scholars have created beautiful songs, set to beautiful rāgas with lovely melodies. This is proof enough to demonstrate how Rungacharlu had made Mysore his motherland.
*Dewan Bahadur Puttanna Chetty served in many important positions including: Deputy Commissioner (1898–1906), Bangalore City Council member (1906–12), Bangalore Municipality President (1913–19), and Mysore Legislative Council member.