K V Ramaswami Iyer (Part 1)

I have already written about my Sanskrit teacher, Kashi Raghavendracharya elsewhere.[1] I shall now move on to reminiscences of my English teacher.

It appears that Mulbagal secured the benefit of English education during 1900. Before this, there were only two or three people literate in English apart from those employed by the Post Office. One of them was Ramachandracharya from Kaveripattinam. I have made a mention of him earlier.[2] Another one was an assistant teacher at the Telugu School by name Māraśèṭṭi. He hailed from the baṇajiga[3] community. The members of this community were among the disciples of a certain Śrīvaiṣṇava ācārya. One S Rangacharya was the Inspector of Sanskrit schools in Mysore. This Rangacharya’s elder brother was Vèṅkaṭācārya. He was a great scholar as well. Our Māraśèṭṭi and his ancestors were among the numerous disciples under Vèṅkaṭācārya’s tutelage. Māraśèṭṭi’s father Muniyappa, out of his regard for Vèṅkaṭācārya, had sent his son to Mysore for education. Māraśèṭṭi had learnt a bit of English during this time. It seems like he had completed an equivalent of Matriculation[4] that was in existence back then.

No one in our town was familiar with English besides these two. Even the government officials weren’t highly educated. The first person to come to our town as a government official who possessed a BA degree was Sub-registrar Ramadasappa. This was around 1901. Let’s revisit this topic later.

Fruits of Incessant Efforts

My father was among the forerunners who repeatedly wrote petitions to the government about the need for Sanskrit and English teachers at Mulbagal. Typically ten to twenty people signed on those petitions. Yet his friends mocked him with: “Isn’t all this for your son’s sake?” My father would respond with: “Today, it’s for my son; tomorrow, it will be for your son. What’s wrong with it?” And so, as the fruit of these incessant efforts, the government blessed the middle school by appointing an English teacher. The first teacher to be appointed thus was K V Ramaswami Iyer. 

K V Ramswamy Iyer hailed from the Coimbatore region. His wife was a Mysore lady. His father-in-law was a śirastedār (government official) at the Sub-Judge’s court in Mysore. This śirastedār was friends with Venkatasubbayya, a lawyer who belonged to my community – mostly because both of them were working in the same court. It turns out that Śirastedār Iyer shared his plight with our Venkatasubbayya and requested for his help. 

“Sir, I spent a lot of time looking for a groom and married off my daughter to him with great difficulty. He had passed his FA [Intermediate][5] and was looking for employment as he couldn’t afford further education. I put in a word with everyone I knew. By the grace of god, he has landed a job as a schoolteacher. But in a faraway land. I heard that there’s a place called Mulbagal in Kolar district. That’s a province we’ve not even heard about! My son-in-law knows neither Kannada nor Telugu. How will he manage there? I’m worried. If you have any acquaintances in that region, would you please be able to write a letter to them? My daughter cannot go there for another two or three months. Some arrangements for his food and shelter have to be made. Will you be able to do it?”

Acquaintance

In response, Venkatasubbayya said, “How’s that any difficult! Sheshagirayya, a relative of ours, lives in Kolar. He is a lawyer by profession. Providing food to a guest for a family that’s as big as theirs is a trivial matter. They’ll happily agree. I’ll hand a letter to your son-in-law.” Thus he assured him. He also wrote a letter about this to my younger great uncle in Mulbagal with the details.  K V Ramaswami Iyer first met with my grandfather in Kolar and then came to Mulbagal.

The day he arrived in town, there was a festive atmosphere at home. It was a joyous occasion to many others in town as well. Our headmaster Chandrashekara Shastri and Ramachandracharya were guests at our place for lunch that afternoon. In the following two to three months, Ramaswami Iyer stayed with us and became one of the mmebers of our household. There’s no need to mention that this became an additional convenience to my education.

By then I had passed the Kannada Lower Secondary[6]. My elders felt it was necessary for me to learn English going forward. By that time I had begun learning English under Ramachandracharya. In the days of yore, Garthwaite’s children’s book was the prevalent one. Ramachandracharya had taught us from that book. A particular instance still comes to my mind. In the first four or five chapters of the book, there was a line that said, “He saw me. She saw me. They saw me.” While reading it, repetition of the phrase ‘saw me, saw me’ [which sounded like sāmi, sāmi] provoked my laughter. 

“He-saw-me enu āsāmi!”[7] I said.

Ramachandracharya knit his eyebrows. But my great uncle, who was sitting right there, laughed out loud at my joke. Looking at him, Ramachandracharya also burst out laughing. Quite often such amusements about English usage cropped up in our study. 

Owing to this sort of meager acquaintance that I had with English, Ramasway Iyer decided that I should be admitted to Class 2 of English. Then began Ramaswami Iyer’s teaching.

Divine Intervention

Ramaswami Iyer hadn’t willingly chosen teaching as a profession. He was just in search of some job he could find. His elder brother was a postmaster somewhere. Ramaswami Iyer had also worked as a substitute postmaster for a while. It must be said that it was only due to divine intervention that he landed a job as an English teacher in the Mysore province. Whatever others might have to say; for me, it was a divine grace. I’m saying this from the bottom of my heart: All that I know in English even to this day is only as much as what Ramaswami Iyer taught me. This isn’t an exaggeration. However, Ramaswami Iyer is too far away now to listen to my glowing words of praise.

For someone who worked only as a postmaster and never ventured to attend BA classes, I’m unsure how such great insight and proficiency of teaching English made its way into him!

To be continued...

This is the first part of a three-part English translation of the sixteenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Sankeerna Smruthisamputa. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

Footnotes

[1] See Art Gallery of Memories, Volume 4.

[2] See the episode on K A Krishnaswami Iyer in Art Gallery of Memories, Volume 1.

[3] A sub-sect of the liṅgāyata community typically comprising traders.

[4] An equivalent of today’s eleventh standard.

[5] Completion of the ‘Intermediate’ was the prerequisite to get into a BA course.

[6] An equivalent of today’s eighth standard.

[7] The word ‘āsāmi’ is a colloquial word that means ‘chap’ or ‘fellow.’

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

Kiran Prasad
About:

Kiran is a mechanical engineer by qualification who's habituated to the routine of learning and unlearning. He has an abiding interest in Indian culture, art, and literature.

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