Kumbāra Guṇḍayya (Guṇḍayya, the Potter)
In one of the plays – probably ‘Vijayanagara Patana’ – one of the characters is a potter. That day Raghavacharya beckoned me and told me to sit in the first row, just next to stage. I declined. He insisted I sit there compulsorily. “If you don’t sit there, I will have to call out your name loudly and make you come there. It will be an unnecessary fuss.” Thus he cajoled me. I sat there as per his instruction.
A little later Raghavacharya came on stage wearing the costume of potter Guṇḍayya. The potter was my namesake and hence all that respect. Then was Raghavacharya’s song –
ಇದ್ದರು ಆಡೊಲ್ಲ ಪೆಂಡ್ಲಾಟ ಸೇಸ್ಕೊಂಟಿ
ಹಗಸಾಟ್ಲು ಪಡಲೇನು ಹಯಬಸವ
Singing this and pointing his finger at me he would say “Kumbāra Guṇḍayya!”
Raghavacharya had no training in music. There was no character whatsoever to his tunes. As the throat screamed and the mind saw fit, so was the tune. We had to imagine the pitch of the note from his finger signs. But then, his roles did not have much of music in them. As a comic relief, if the audience laughed at sentences such as above, he would also feel happy.
Raghavacharya’s sense of dressing was also similar. Generally, he used to wear a fashionable coat, trousers and a necktie. Just that on his head, there would be a muslim-type hat, sometimes a Punjabi turban – any costume he wore was befitting and looked natural.
Once while donning the selfsame ‘Pathan’ Rustum costume, in twirling the moustache, one half of it came off onto his hand. Immediately, holding it in front of him, he addressed it thus – “Hey wretched moustache, what use are thou? This useless thing leads to ruin…” So saying, he plucked out the other half. He was full of such ingenuity.
During the final performances of the drama in Bangalore, Kolachalam called me and said, “Raghavachari will get into a train in an hour to leave for Tadapatri. There is a wire just now saying his mother has taken ill. Would you, before he leaves, speak a few words about him?”
I agreed gladly and spoke a few words. Raghavacharya returned to his place and wrote a letter of gratitude. He opened up his heart in it. From then on, our intimacy grew.
Raghavacharya’s sister is the wife of my dear friend Anoor Venkatacharya of Kolar. Our friendship grew due to this reason too.
Two days before Kolachalam’s company left Bangalore, there was a big meeting at the theatre. On behalf of the citizens of Bangalore, a scroll of appreciation was proffered. It was a printed document. In it was praised the innate rasa present in Kolachalam Srinivasa Rao’s dramas and the theatrical talent of the acting group. There was also a reference to the benevolence of Sāhukār Netkallappa. That celebration brought great joy to all of us.
Around 1900, people from the Telugu region bordering the Mysore province used to come to Bangalore for higher studies. These Andhrites hailed from Bellary, Ananthpur, Kurnool, and other districts. These students had established an association called Ceded Districts Association (CDA). Beldoni Bhima Rao was one among them who was well known. As a famous advocate, as a people’s leader, and as a member of the Madras Legislative Assembly, he was a spearhead for Karnataka’s agitation. People from this association used to perform dramas now and then in Bangalore; mostly English plays. This is how Bellary’s Raghavacharya and his friends got the Bangalore connection; from what I understand, this was the beginning.
That association had established a library too. I have seen some of its books.
The association was of students who came from Andhra. But it included some people who were from Bangalore. One among those was K Bhima Rao, who was a chemist in the agricultural department. He was a student of Central College; Telugu was his mother tongue. An upright man. He was a dear friend of many of us. There was intimate friendship between him and Bellary Raghavacharya.
Over time, there was a decrease in the number of students from ceded districts in Bangalore. To fill the gap of that association at the time was born Amateur Dramatic Association (ADA). This association brought joy to people by performing English, Telugu, and Kannada plays during the period 1920–25.
I mention here a few of the important activities undertaken by the association.
1. Lalita-kalā-mahotsava – We had invited Ravindranath Tagore for this.
2. For the second conference we had invited Smt. Sarojini Naidu.
3. The third time around, we invited Cattimanchi Ramalinga Reddy.
4. Working towards reducing hardship due to spread of influenza around 1918.
5. Going to Mysore to perform plays.
6. Some Kannada publications (I remember Kailasam’s Ṭoḻḻu-gaṭṭi being one of them).
7. Organizing music performances.
8. Kālidāsa jayanti and other festivals.
In all these activities the main participants were Bellary Raghavacharya and K Bhima Rao; along with them were Motor Raghavachar, Bindiganavale Raghavachar, a person named Vasu, Venkatasubbayya, Venkoba Rao from the agricultural department, P Kodanda Rao, Himanshu Srinivasa Shastri, and many other gentlemen. Not all of them were actors. Only some wore costumes. The rest were participating in literary and social activities.
Motor Raghavachar was an Āndhra Śrīvaṣṇava. There were two interpretations of his ‘motor’ nickname – one was apparent, he was running a motor service; the second was a secret one – a tease that his voice was akin to that of a motor. He was a courteous and gentle person.
Bindiganavale Raghavacharya was a Hebbār Śrīvaṣṇava. He had a copious moustache. He too was a friendly soul.
I feel I should make a special mention of Kodanda Rao. During 1917–18, he was a lecturer at Central College. Even then, his natural interest was in national service and public service. I have seen with my own eyes the efforts he undertook during the time of influenza outbreak. Filling and capping with corks small bottles with thymol medicinal syrup for patients, pasting labels on them, getting ravè-gañji prepared, filling them up in right measure in bottles, capping those bottles; and then filling separate buckets with these medicinal bottles and ravè-gañji bottles, carrying these two buckets in each hand, going to various areas like Akkipete, Balepete, Ranasinghpete, enquiring the number of patients there, what their ages are, what their needs are, what their pains and problems are; and then comforting everyone, encouraging them, offering medicine and gañji; if necessary massaging their hands and legs, dusting their clothes, bringing the doctor – Kodanda Rao often gratified himself by performing many such services, like a sacred vow. He toiled thus not for name, not for getting elected into office, not for fame in the media. It was only to satisfy his soul, to serve the nation – reward for goodness is within the heart; a sense of fulfilment for doing what ought to be done. The colleagues of Kodanda Rao could have learnt this lesson.
I feel I have to remember the name of another young man who toiled at that time in aid of the public good. He is B K Ramaprasad, the electrical engineer. He was an MSc. student at Central College at that point. One day, his employment was arranged at the patients’ camp in Chikka Lalbagh. The job was that of a watchman – enquiring after all patients now and then, fetching a doctor’s help in case of an emergency, and supplying food and drinks. This being the arrangement, once, a patient was groaning. Our Ramaprasad was busy with a file, doing some accounts work. The patient who had been groaning breathed his last. Ramaprasad didn’t realised this. He was absorbed in his work. A couple of minutes after the groaning stopped, Ramaprasad went there, saw the man, and was startled. He had not encountered death yet. He was too young. After realising what happened, his sorrow knew no bounds. He was such a tender-hearted, noble person. Much later, he became a great scholar and was among the youth who brought laurels to the country.
During the later days too, the Amateur Drama Association carried out several valuable activities. It appeared that they went into slumber for a few years after that. I’m delighted to hear that recently there have been efforts to resurrect it.
This is the second part of the translation of the twelfth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrudaya Sampannaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.