K V Ramaswami Iyer (Part 3)

English Reader

In doing so, Iyer would also explain the classification of nouns in English, the usage of tenses, structure of singular and plural forms, and also additionally mention their Kannada equivalents. Among the concepts in English, the toughest is the usage of prepositions. This is a special feature of the English language. The root word ‘get’ associates itself with different prepositions to form idioms like ‘get in,’ ‘get on,’ and ‘get up.’ This is a special characteristic of the language. Ramaswami Iyer would not only quote examples for these prepositions but he would also involve students and ask them to illustrate a few.

The New Oriental Reader published by the Macmillan Company was a common textbook used in those days. And along with that, grammar. The Christian Literature Society of Madras had published a series of grammar books. The first one—called ‘primer’—was a children’s volume. The second one—called ‘manual’—was a ready reckoner for the middle school. The third—called ‘advanced’—was for high school students. It is my opinion that a grammar book as good as that never come out afterwards. It was a book written by scholars of English and was intended to suit the needs of Indian students. Ramaswami Iyer taught us from those books. 

I tried very hard to secure a copy of these books. As in Kannada, likewise in English – hundreds of such valuable books have been washed away in the flood of scholarship.

Teaching in the class constituted only a third of Ramaswami Iyer’s teaching. Another element was conversation practice and its correction. He would typically talk to students in English and expected them to reply in English. He corrected our mistakes. He would show us examples of good usage of English. In our time, a major portion of this conversation practice was included in the curriculum as the ‘conversation lessons.’ 

Additional Study

The third element of Ramaswami Iyer’s exemplary teaching was the additional study – i.e., study of supplementary literature as per the recommendations made by the Department [of Education]. Ramaswami Iyer followed this systematically. Typically, four or five students gathered every evening at his house at about seven. One of us had to read aloud a piece of literature for about an hour while the others listened.  When things seemed difficult, the teacher—who would be right there—stepped in to ease the situation. I remember three or four of the works among the ones that we studied in this manner –

1. Evenings at Home[1]

2. Robinson Crusoe[2]

3. Swiss Family Robinson[3]

4. Sandford and Merton[4]

I really liked Evenings at Home.  A family relaxes around a campfire, warming themselves on a leisurely evening. One of them comes up with a story that he can think of. Those stories are interesting because of their exceptional storyline. Amidst the fascinating plots, a moral or tenet was hidden. One of the stories was ‘Eyes and No Eyes.’ We walk on the streets with our eyes wide open and yet we fail to make many important observations – these were the kinds of stories it contained. 

What’s wrong with our country? Why don’t we preserve such works by keeping them in circulation? 

An Intimate Friend

Ramaswami Iyer’s influence wasn’t limited to books; it wasn’t confined to the classroom. He was like a companion to his students. During the vacations, he would make a group of three or four of us and take us hiking up the hills. After reaching the summit and descending from the hind part of the hill, he would take us to the water canal and the grassy fields around it. It was a delightful experience for us. He drew our attention towards the plants and trees. He showed us the spectacle of germination and the charm of water. He would open our minds to the beauty of nature. Indeed, beauty lies in nature. But the statement that our eyes stay open to them isn’t so true. Someone must force open our eyelids and turn our focus towards beauty. Ramaswami Iyer was a person who did this. Trees bearing pagaḍè flowers or pāṭala flowers would be spotted on the hills or in some other place. Ramaswami Iyer was passionate about Śrī-rāma-navami festivities and about Śrī-rāma-mūrti in general. He would be delighted if students collected pāṭala flowers or pagaḍè flowers and presented it to him in the form of a garland. He proudly dedicated it to a framed painting of Śrī Rāma, claiming it to be a ‘service by the students.’ While roaming around the fields near our town and during times when we climbed to the hill-tops, he introduced us to several English words. He is the one who instilled the practice of speaking in English. He also taught us etiquette in talk and in behavior. This was his remarkable virtue. 

* * *

Ramaswami Iyer often had to face miseries in his personal life. He remarried after his first wife passed away. She too passed away within a year. His elder brother and other relatives pressured him to marry yet again. He did not agree. It was during this time that he turned towards the Upaniṣads. But Chandrashekhara Shastry, along with my father and my great uncle, compelled him into another marriage. It was from this marriage that he had children. 

A Gentleman

What’s there to write further about a schoolteacher? Ramaswami Iyer was disciplined in matters of finance. He was uncompromising in matters of school admissions, promotions, and in the dignity of teaching. There were occasions when a few people were upset due to these attributes of his. But he was never bothered about this anger of others.

Ramaswami Iyer was a devotee of the Supreme. He would be at the Someśvara Temple during the dīpārādhanā without fail. During that time, Chandrashekhara Shastry would recite the mantra-puṣpa and he was eager to listen to that Vedic recitation. At times, he would also attend the harikathās by Accappa-dāsa. In addition to being gentlemanly, he was also a friendly person. A tall portrait of him speaking Tamil-studded Kannada descends upon the porch of my memory every now and then.

Concluded.
 
This is the third 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] Evenings at Home (1792–96) is a collection of six volumes of children’s stories written by John Aikin and his sister Anna Laetitia Barbauld.

[2] A 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe.

[3] The Swiss Family Robinson (German: Der Schweizerische Robinson) is a novel by Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812.

[4] The History of Sandford and Merton (1783–89) was a best-selling children’s book written by Thomas Day.

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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