The Karnataka Sahitya Parishat was originally founded by four people: 1. H V Nanjundaiah, 2. Karpura Srinivasa Rao, 3. Dr. Achyuta Rao, and 4. R. Raghunath Rao
Dr. P S Achyuta Rao was then (1915) the senior surgeon of the Mysore Kingdom. Diwan Vishveshwaraiah directed the student body of the [Mysore] Economic Conference to cogitate upon the various activities that had to be undertaken for the development of Kannada. The result was the decision to establish a Sahitya Parishat (literary academy). To take the necessary steps in that direction, he created a sub-committee and one of the members chosen for it was Dr. P S Achyuta Rao.
This came as a surprise for people like me who didn’t know Dr. Achyuta Rao closely at that time. Although he was a Kannadiga by birth, he never showed any signs of having expertise in the language or enthusiasm for literature. He was a capable doctor, affectionate with people, and a friendly and humorous person – everyone knew this. However, it wasn’t easy to detect in these traits the seed of his service to literature.
The renowned Kannada scholar and language enthusiast R Raghunath Rao was a close friend of Dr. Achyuta Rao. It was quite natural that Raghunath Rao was at the forefront of the Sahitya Parishat activities. Perhaps needing support in his work, Raghunath Rao might have recommended his friend Achyuta Rao’s name, and perhaps succumbing to Raghunath Rao’s gentle pressure Achyuta Rao might have agreed to come on board – this was my guess. Regardless of what the reality might have been, Dr. Achyuta Rao’s enthusiasm and devotion to the work was no less than any other enthusiast; I was an eyewitness and participant during the time the spadework happened as a run up to the establishment of the Parishat. I was fortunate then to see Achyuta Rao’s great affection and that made me joyful. That was when I became close to him.
If I have to relate an instance that portrays Achyuta Rao’s behavior, it would be this: Our age difference was over thirty years. In matters of worldly experience and the awareness that comes from it, as well as in matters of authority or recognition, I stood nowhere in comparison. In spite of this all-round difference in status, he always considered me as a peer and saw me as a friend. During our conversations, he was intimate and open-hearted. Just as he would visit his other friends, he would frequent my humble abode and my workplace.
After his retirement, he’d go on regular walks in the morning and evening to get some fresh air and on occasion, would seek me out and ask me to join him. When we walked together, perchance I had some personal work – a visit to a Society, or a shop, or the bank – and I mentioned this to him, he would say, “Go there, finish your work, and come back. Till then, I’ll be wandering about here. We can proceed when you return.” If I responded with, “Oh, but won’t it be a bother for you?” he would console me by saying, “What sort of bother, man? I’ve set out for a walk. If I wander about here, isn’t that also walking?” This humility, this basic human simplicity – this was the crown jewel in the necklace of Achyuta Rao’s good qualities.
When the plague first made its appearance in the Mysore district, the government, in a bid to crush it, imposed upon the public many measures—inoculation was one of them. But the common people didn’t think it was right. People believed that plague was a curse from the Goddess Mariamma in her angry form, that it didn’t have a cure, and that we might further anger the goddess if we made any attempt to cure the disease – akin to the remedies offered for syphilis. For this reason, in several places, people began protesting the government’s attempts at inoculation. In places like Srirangapattana, Ganjam, and Chikkaballapur, people went as far as fomenting riots. The kingdom was subject to such confusion and fury, however, in the place where Achyuta Rao lived, due to his personal goodness and name, the inoculation process went on fairly decently. A poet of those days apparently sang a song that went thus –
achyutam chucchutam [Achyuta, poking]
hacchutam hecchinim [applying lots]
becchagaagidda mai – [warm body]
gikkutam tikkutam [rubbing]
[Roughly: Dr. Achyuta pokes with a needle the inoculation, applies the medicine; the warm body becomes cool again with the rubbing, and the disease is cured.]
The rest of the poem has been partly erased from my memory. And what remains cannot be published.
Achyuta Rao was compassionate, generous, and a friend of the poor. To many, he would give medicines and say, “You need some nourishment, man! Your disease will be cured if you have some milk, fruits, and a bit of comfort.” If the patient replied that he was poor and couldn’t afford it, the doctor would take out five or ten rupees from his pocket, give it to him saying, “Eat good stuff,” and only then send him off. Hundreds of people received help from him thus. And particularly during the time of contagious maladies like plague, such episodes would occur at least once or twice a day with him.
The Upanishad says that a wise person doesn’t harbor aversion towards the world (tato na vijugupsate). Achyuta Rao was not one who had read texts on Vedanta. Even so, he never harbored any dislike for the world. He was a person who wanted to smile and wished to see smiles in the world. His eyes would bloom when he saw a flower; and when he could reach out to it with his hands, his lips would part in order to consume the nectar. Thus with both hands, he savored the honey of life. He felt neither shame nor pretense to suck the cream of life. He believed that the almighty created the tongue on the one side and honey on the other, merely so that man may bring them both together. He had no patience for feigning austerity. He never tried to come across as a puritan.
One evening, we were going for a walk near the Idgah maidan in Chamarajpet.
Achyuta Rao: “I will show you a house around here. Can you go inside the house and take a look?”
Me: “What’s there inside?”
A: “Whatever is there, see for yourself.”
Me: “God knows whose house it might be!”
A: “Now the person who stays there is a punyatma, someone who has never committed a sin. People talk about me as one who has done something that none else would do! Let it be; I might be a sinner. People often call Dr. — as utterly orthodox and puritanical, right? Now, unless one sees with his own eyes what is going on inside how can he know the truth?”
Me: “I don’t need any such evidence. I’m far from the ideal person to engage in a review of punya and paapa. Who has seen or known which living being finds solace where? How can I interfere in a task to be undertaken by the almighty?”
That the doctor was impressed with my words was evident.
Achyuta Rao had a large family; he was the nourisher and the benefactor for an extensive group of friends and dependents. By the standards of those days, his salary was substantial. However, he didn’t accumulate riches. He earned and spent with both hands. [This is reminiscent of the dictum in the Atharva Veda: “shatahasta samahara sahasrahasta samkira.”] What he has left behind is a beautiful memory – a good name that will never get erased from the hearts of those who knew him.
This is the sixth chapter from D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 1) – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru. Translator's notes in square brackets. Thanks to Sandeep Balakrishna for his detailed edits and suggestions.