It’s impossible that anyone who has seen Dr. Gundanna will ever forget him. So magnificent was the mark left on the mind by his personality. For a period of twenty-five to thirty years, his name was uttered with fondness and reverence in customary conversations in hundreds of households every day. Remembering him wasn’t limited to occasions when people grew sick, but during all instances of human interest when one usually thinks of a close friend. It is true indeed that he was a popular medical practitioner; he had earned great reputation in his chosen profession; however, his presence is commemorated to this day largely due to his human goodness.
Gundanna passed away at the age of sixty-four on 10th March 1938 and it was a great personal loss for everyone who knew him.
His real name was S R Narasimha Iyengar and he hailed from the well-known lineage of Setlur.
Gundanna was characterized by four of his innate qualities: 1. Affability, 2. Sense of humour, 3. Love for literature, and 4. Benevolence.
Gundanna’s presence meant a congregation. Perhaps there was no point of time, day or night, when he was alone; at least a couple of friends were around him at all times. Only a small portion of visitors at his ‘Reliance’ clinic were there for medical consultation; the rest—a majority of them—were around to savour the pleasure of his talk, enjoying his very presence.
Gundanna was popular for his sensitive and intricate techniques he employed to diagnose the illnesses of his patients. He studied medicine in Bombay but wasn’t able to earn a medical degree; he couldn’t qualify for the final round of examinations to graduate as a professional practitioner despite a couple of repeated attempts. He was still courageous enough to start his Reliance Clinic. Although he earned a job with the Government Medical Stores two or three years down the line, he eventually had to resign a few months later when he was transferred to another place, yielding to the plea of hundreds of people who deeply believed that they would have lost their saviour had he moved to another town.
Gundanna’s ingenuity and competence lay in precisely reasoning out the cause of a patient’s illness after having carefully studied the symptoms, inquiring about their medical history, and upon eliminating various other possible causes for it. I’ve heard a lot of learned elders compare Gundanna’s treatment methods and techniques to that of a judge in a courthouse, who after carefully listening to the various arguments put forth by both parties, independently weighs in on the truth behind each of their claims before arriving at final judgement by employing sagacious caution and incisive intellect. There were at least a couple of young doctors, fresh out of college, under the tutelage of Dr. Gundanna. They were first class graduates and extremely capable. They usually came to him for two reasons: a. to grasp his diagnostic techniques and b. to learn the nuances in his manners, which he adopted while handling his patients.
Gundanna typically came to his clinic every day at around half past eight or nine in the morning after completing a round of visits to his patients’ homes. A crowd of about twenty to twenty-five people would have already assembled in front of the clinic by then and he usually began his day at the clinic by talking about a topic or two that elicited a healthy round of laughter from the gathering. The way in which he catered to each patient and the humour he displayed in addressing their concerns would remove signs of illness and ailment from the air. While he attended to his patients, on and off, he closely watched with a clinical perspective the facial expressions and body movements of all other patients. This general observation would sometimes last half an hour or even up to an hour at times; he never prescribed medication without sufficient observation and examination.
One evening at about seven, a wealthy Muslim gentleman landed in a decorated private horse-drawn carriage, howling with pain as he entered the clinic.
Wealthy man: (in Hindustani) Unbearable pain, doctor! Unbearable pain!
Dr. Gundanna: (responding in Hindustani) Where does it hurt?
Wealthy man: Finger, Sir! My Finger!
Gundanna: What finger? Which finger is it, dear sir? (Laughter bursts out in the clinic)
WM: (Points to his left hand) This middle finger!
After visually examining the finger, Gundanna switched on a large electric lamp to take a closer look.
G: Please come back tomorrow morning sir; it doesn’t seem all that clear now under the lamp.
WM: I’m dying now. I don’t think I’ll make it till tomorrow.
G: You won’t die! I assure you; you’ll survive until tomorrow morning.
WM: The issue, sir, is that I’ll be boarding the next train. I won’t be here by morning.
G: Oh! Then please shove that finger up your a**
Everyone around burst into laughter; the wealthy man grew angry.
WM: You know, I’ve trusted you for so long. You’ve even come to our house several times and now you’re publicly shaming me this way!
G: Don’t be furious sir! I haven’t said anything wrong. Those fools who’re laughing aloud don’t quite get the intricacy of the issue. There’s a foreign growth in your finger, which requires three things in the right measure—Heat, Moisture, and Pressure—for it to be subdued, and this can be found only in the place that I suggested.
The wealthy man started laughing too, and he agreed to reschedule his travel to a later date. The doctor then asked him to apply some heated poultice to the finger overnight.
Once I was continually haunted by stomach ache that recurred at about four every evening. I assumed that the reason for this was indigestion caused by the liberal intake of protein-rich Śrīmadbeḻehuḻi and Hayagrīva in the house of one of my Mādhva friends. A few days of self-medication using pastes, powders, and kaśāyams yielded no result. This failure further added to my hesitation in consulting Gundanna; I shied away from it. But the pressure from my household kept growing on me to visit him.
One fine day I landed at Reliance Clinic at about nine in the morning and ended up paying the penalty for my prolonged absence by becoming the butt of Gundanna’s jokes. I explained my problem to him while he continued to keep me waiting. The clock ticked. It became 10. 11 am. 12 noon. And yet, Gundanna’s attention did not turn to me. Well after twelve, he stood up, put his hand on my neck, and dragged me to his place for lunch.
“Why did you leave me high and dry for so long? You made me wait a great deal,” I asked.
“How’s the diagnosis complete without having thoroughly examined all the skewed faces you made? How can I determine that you have indigestion if I don’t see you crunching your stomach,” he replied.
“You haven’t given me medicine yet!” I said.
“How can I prescribe medication without auditing the way you eat?”
I think it’s necessary now on my part to mention another respectable person who often accompanied Gundanna, almost like his extended self: Amrutur Srinivasayyangarya, whom Gundanna and his friends fondly referred to as ‘Narada.’ Srinivasayyangarya was a man whose life experiences were profound. He was a wise and benevolent man, well-versed in Sanskrit, friendly and compassionate. He frequently travelled to Bangalore to stay with Gundanna and was with him almost at all the time. Gundanna took no major decisions without consulting him. Whenever Gundanna had to take call, he would turn to his friend and ask, “Narada, what do you think about this?”
Narada was a humorist who cleverly blended English words into his talk, intentionally erring in the choice of the word to make it seem like the utterance of a dunce; he did this just to create an air of fun. For example, he would say, “ಗುಂಡಣ್ಣ, ಇವರನ್ನೇ ಅಲ್ವೇ ನೀವು ಆ ಹೊತ್ತು ಬಹಳ simpleton ಎಂದು ಕೊಂಡಾಡಿದ್ದು?” (Gundanna, isn’t this the same person whom you glorified as a ‘simpleton’ the other day?) Although the intended word was ‘simple’ he would instead used the word ‘simpleton’ feigning ignorance of the real meaning of the word. This would evoke great laughter from everyone around him.
Gundanna radiated optimism and zest for life in the people around him. He often cooked food for his family with the sole purpose of attaining contentment in doing so. He usually cooked food before he left to work in the morning and returned home for lunch at about noon after completing his work. When preparations were made at lunchtime, twelve to fifteen banana leaves would be spread out. Every day, he must have four to five friends or guests to join him as sat down to partake lunch; this was in addition to his other family members, particularly children.
Dr. Gundanna’s was an ancient home surrounded by small houses of close relatives on all four sides; these houses were occupied by his nieces, his father’s younger brother’s children, his grandfather’s younger brother’s grandchildren, his elder uncle’s sons-in-law, as well as the purohita. All of them knew the schedule of Gundanna’s lunch and they awaited their names to be called out aloud at mealtime each day. After serving food on plantain leaves, Gundanna called out to his relatives using their pet-names; he had given a nickname to all the womenfolk of his extended family. He yelled out their names in succession: “O Daḍāli!”, “O Bojji!”, “O Kāḻi!”, “O Māyi!”, “O Mutte!”, “O Māri!”
As soon as they heard his voice, they brought along a vessel with them that had some food they had cooked that day. While one of the women said, “Today it’s bitter gourd gojju,” “Pudina chutney,” said another. “I’ve got some Beans curry,” said yet another woman, while the fourth one said, “Just pāpaḍ today!” All of them served just enough to tickle the taste-buds. He distributed that among everyone who was with him for lunch that day. Later he’d return the vessels, upon filling them up with some of his homemade food. This exchange of food multiplied affection and love between people in addition to generating humour and laughter, which were bonuses exchanged in parallel with the food. These are some of the treasures earned by means of tenderness in life. The prime essence of life is nothing more than affectionate exchange of pure love. This was Gundanna’s belief.
He was exposed to a wide array of Sanskrit and English literature. The soft radiance of rasika saṃskṛti—cultured connoisseurship—that he had gained from reading these works was reflected in the affection that he displayed towards friends and family during instances such as sharing his lunch.
Continuing from where I left off earlier, i.e. the day I went to visit Gundanna, Narada was also with us as we walked from Reliance Clinic to Gundanna’s house. Upon reaching his house, all three of us washed our hands and legs, and sat down for lunch. I was told that Gundanna had himself cooked lunch that day. Two to three types of curry, gojju, pickles, along with rice were served on our leaves. Before we began eating, as usual, Gundanna yelled out to all the womenfolk in his extended family, using their names and nicknames. They all came with delicacies that they had prepared in their homes; we had supplements like curry, greens, chutney, pāpaḍ, crunchies, and so on. Gundanna distributed them among the three of us. We started eating. First came the tovve [curry of cooked lentils and steamed vegetables]. Being afraid of indigestion, I said no to the tovve.
“Why?” asked Gundanna.
“Lentils are difficult to digest,” I said.
“Narada, what do you think about this?” Gundanna asked. Narada began singing:
ಚಪ್ಪು ದೆಬ್ಬಲು ತಿನಿ।
ಪಪ್ಪೇ ತಿನವಲೆರಾ-ಮಂಚಿ ಕಂದಿ-
(Even after taking all kinds of loans, even after getting beaten by slippers, can’t you eat pappu – nice, smooth, brown pappu?)
I had to abandon my obstinacy.
As I rounded up my lunch, Gundanna saw some vegetables leftover on my leaf and said in a threatening voice, “Finish up all those. I’ll stuff any leftovers into your mouth!” Without making a sound, I ate all the leftovers. We then went to the bedroom. Gudanna ordered me to take a siesta. “I don’t get sleep in the afternoons,” I said.
“Oh! Then stay awake and go to hell!” he cursed me and went off to sleep till about half past two. Upon waking up, he lowered the baskets hung from the ceiling. Those baskets contained several pieces of snacks in them like chakkuli, koḍubaḻe, and sphere-shaped sweets. He offered some of it to me. I politely refused. He said, “If you don’t want this, then no medicines for you!” I gobbled them up out of fear. Then coffee was served. I gulped it up as well, except for some sediment that remained in the cup. Gundanna looked at the cup as he gestured at Narada. He then handed the cup to Narada as he firmly gripped the back of my neck. I opened my mouth wide, yelling in pain, while Narada did the honour of pouring into my mouth the coffee slag that remained. It was about half past three by this time. It was nearly time for my stomach ache to show up again.
Gundanna owned a fancy vehicle: a carriage drawn by a fine steed. The three of us got onto the horse carriage and drove towards my house in Shankarapuram. By the time we reached, it was well past four. And yet there was no sign of stomach ache. As I stepped off the carriage, I asked, “What about my medicine?”
“They’re all administered along with the food,” he replied.
“What about medicines for tonight?” I asked.
“Don’t have dinner if you aren’t hungry. That is the medicine,” he said.
The stomach ache that I was relieved of that day hasn’t come back to haunt me till date. I still am unable to decide if it was a result of Gundanna’s affection or of the peculiar treatment method. But I can say for certain that I was relieved of the pain that very day.
To be Concluded…
This is the first part of an English translation of the fifteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 1) – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru. DVG wrote this series in the early 1950s. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
 A tangy lentil soup.
 A lentil sweet
 Pappu (also called Tovve) is a curry made from lentils (dal) and vegetables.