The Man who brought Village Life into the Precincts of Literature - 2

Connoisseurship

Gorur’s experiences in the Pension Office and his description of the splendorous Narasiṃhasvāmī jātrè[1] are rich with rasa.

Malligèhaḷḷi’s barber escapes from the village because his earnings aren’t sufficient. The alternative barber who had been arranged with great difficulty, after some time, became unyielding and obstinate owing to some reasons. The faces of all the village folk turn into forests. Joḍīdār[2] Narasiṃhācārya himself takes up the barber’s blade due to the unavoidable circumstances and begins cutting the hair of his near and dear ones. This goes on until once, owing to a false step, this secret arrangement comes out in the open and reaches the ears of his uncle. This episode from Hāruvayya Hajāmanāda (‘Brāhmaṇa Became a Barber’) as well as Gorur’s other portrayals of village life are among the finest writings in Kannada humour literature.

The kingdom of Gorur’s humour is packed with eccentric and interesting characters. In his Haḷḷiya Citragaḷu, the description of each and every detail is memorable. The grandeur of one of the vokkaligas of his village chewing betel leaf and betel-nut is described as follows: “Do you know how much of betel leaf would be used every time he decided to partake of tāmbūla? Half a betel-leaf, half a betel-nut and one that was aged. He places the betel-nut on a stone and with another stone strikes it with all his might. In this manner, after four or five hammer-like strikes, the betel-nut splits into two. When he takes that half, puts it in his mouth, closes his eyes, and bites hard with his teeth, at once the sound that emanates from his mouth resembles that of the cracking of nicker nuts. We would get a feeling that his eyeballs flew out of their sockets. There have been numerous times when I heard that sound and looked around in fear…”

“It is improper to oppose or contradict a boatman while in a ferry, a lawyer while he’s handling your case, or a barber while he’s shaving you.” (Haḷḷiya Citragaḷu); “The horse transferred its horsepower to me and increased my vitality and energy.” (Amèrikadalli Gorūru); “The geniuses who hung around with the village accountant were all avatāras of Goddess Sarasvatī. One was a mitākṣari (‘of limited letters’), one was hatākṣari (‘one who killed the letters’), another was akṣara lambaka (‘a vessel for letters’), one was a akṣara hiṃsaka (‘he who tortured the letters’), and yet another an akṣara bhakṣaka (‘he who ate the letters’). Not one of them could speak with a modicum of clarity. If you handed a stick-pen to one of them asking them to sign, that was simply the end of it. He will contort his face, making a sound from the stick-pen until the paper tore, and letting out a ‘roiy’ sound.” (Mèravaṇigè) – this sort of emotionally rich and aesthetically pleasing descriptions rooted in the reality of people’s life can be seen abundantly in Gorur’s writings.

Although Gorur’s writing style is plain and straightforward, it is such real-life details that add lustre and brightness. Starting from his Kanyākumāri and Usubu that were published more than three decades ago [c. 1950] until the recent Vaiyyāri and Marèyāda Māramma, around ten anthologies of Gorur’s short stories have been published. Each story has its own specialty and flavour; if one has uniqueness of character, another has oddity of circumstances, and yet another embodies a conflict of social values. In the four novels that he wrote—Vatsalè (this was later republished under the title Punarjanma), Mèravaṇigè, Hemāvati, and Ūrvaśi—one is unlike the other. The eight-hundred-page long Mèravaṇigè is a veritable aesthetic feast that is written in the style of creative nonfiction.

Pu Ti Na and Gorur

The President of this year’s [i.e. 1981] Kannaḍa Sāhitya Sammeḷana (Kannada Literary Conference), Pu Ti Na (P T Narasimhachar) had, to an extent, a role to play in bringing out Gorur’s Haḷḷiya Citragaḷu.

Among the essays that Gorur wrote describing village life, the first book that came out, some time in the 1930s, was Haḷḷiya Citragaḷu. It is an anthology of writings about various episodes such as the commencement of bus service to the Gorur village (that was the edge of civilization in those days), the 1924 Kaveri floods, and so forth.

Gorur wrote the first few parts of that work in the form of letters to Pu Ti Na. Some time later, Pu Ti Na sent those letters back to Gorur with a note saying, “It will be great if these can be published.”

Being a neophyte in the world of literature at that time, Gorur hesitantly showed it to Masti Venkatesha Iyengar. When Masti saw it, he was thrilled and at once wrote a foreword to the book with the assurance that it is publication-worthy. To print a thousand copies, the cost in those days came up to ₹240. It was a herculean task to put together that amount. It is only after Gorur’s brother-in-law stood with him as a security could he get a loan, after which he published the books.

Gorur in America

Amèrikadalli Gorūru, which won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (in 1980) is a travelogue based on his recent visit to the United States towards the end of 1977. Just as Gorur’s other writings, this too is filled with many interesting aspects. Prior to this, writers such as B G L Swamy, Shivaram Karantha, Prabhushankar, Y S Lewis, Krishnanda Kamath, Ganesh Mallya have written about their visit to the US and to this league of writings, Gorur’s work is a valuable addition. Riding a horse wearing a ‘cycle kaccè[3]; having got lost in some town, Gorur had to spent a night in jail; the lascivious behaviour of a young ox and a cow; a woman who was enchanted by the inability of this ‘ignoramus’ to understand the secrets of the elevator buttons told him, “You’re a dunce but you speak English so well!” – many such instances from the book are enjoyable and pleasing to the heart. Instead of pressing the button that opens the door, he pressed the fire alarm and the officer on duty shouted, “Because of your foolishness, I have lost my mental stability. I will file a case against you for damages.” In response, when Gorur told him the Kannada proverb “ಕೆರೆ ಒಡೆದವನ ಹತ್ತಿರ ಗೋಮಟೆ ಕಿತ್ತುಕೊಂಡರು” and explained the meaning in English[4], he bowed down to Gorur’s sense of humour and offered his salutations before departing from the scene.

Once Gorur went to a swimming club and demonstrated the yogic pose known as śavāsana[5] while swimming, thus baffling the instructors there. One of the swimming coaches said, “Become a coach with me, I’ll give you $60 a week.”

Countless such episodes must be read in Gorur’s own words and relished.

The Number 100 Cloth

For a while, Gorur worked in the Khādi Vastrālaya[6] of the Akhila-bhārata Caraka Saṅgha, Bangalore. An incident that took place then has been recollected by Gorur in the ‘Looking Back’ segment that he wrote for the Gorūru Gauravagrantha (Ed. Ha Ma Nayaka).

An elderly gentleman who was wearing khādi and had a dignified seriousness on his face came to the store and began examining the stuff. Let's hear from Gorur himself what happens next in the story:

“He asked, ‘Do you have a cloth that is softer than this?’ Enthusiastically I responded, ‘Oh yes, why not? We have Number 80, Number 100, and all that!’ I spread out a stock of a Chikakol (Srikakulam) cloth in front of him. He looked at it and said, ‘This is a Number 40 cloth.’ I said, ‘Who told you that sir? This is a cloth made from a Number 100 thread. Further, we have Number 200, Number 300, and so on.’ That gentleman spent a few moments in deep contemplation and then said, ‘The man who told you this is a cloth made from a Number 100 thread has cheated you.’ I said, ‘Now now sir, come on! This is khādi from that venerable patriot Konda Venkappayya’s centre.’ At once, the gentleman asked, ‘Did he tell you himself that this was a Number 100 cloth?’ Without hesitation I said, ‘Yes sir, indeed he said so. He said it a hundred times!’ (The attitude of a salesman!) Upon listening to my words, he fell silent as though someone gave him a tight slap on his cheek. Slowly recovering, he asked, ‘Have you seen Konda Venkappayya?’ I said, ‘Why not? Among the volunteers in the khādi field, we just can’t avoid seeing one another!’ He remained silent without uttering a word. Then I began showing our cloth to other customers. After a while, the old man got up to leave the store without having purchased any cloth-pieces. Upon reaching the door, he looked at me and in a soft voice said, ‘I am Konda Venkappayya,’ and walked away. For a moment, I was a man who wasn’t alive and wasn’t dead!”

Conclusion

Like they say, ‘Idam brāhmam idam kṣātram,’ Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar’s noteworthy accomplishments span both the intellectual realm as well as the societal sphere. His winning the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award is a joyful event for thousands of his admirers and followers.

This is the second part of a two-part essay that has been translated from an article published in the February 1981 issue of ಉತ್ಥಾನ (Utthāna). It was written when Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar (1904–91) was still alive. Heartfelt thanks to the author Dr. S R Ramaswamy for reviewing the translation. Thanks also to Arjun Bharadwaj and Raghavendra G S for their review.

Footnotes

[1] Village fair.

[2] Owner of twin villages; landlord.

[3] A particular style of wearing the dhoti that resembles the wearing of trousers.

[4] It basically means, “Taking away some insignificant thing to compensate for a huge damage done, because nothing else can be taken away!” For instance, if an aged beggar destroys an ancient piece of art, he may be fined a paltry sum of money because there is nothing else that can be done!

[5] A pose that mimics a corpse.

[6] A retail store selling cloth made from khādi (hand-woven natural fibre cloth).

Author(s)

About:

Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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