M G Varadacharya (Part 2)

Once, the great scholar, writer and speaker Romesh Chunder Dutt visited Bangalore. Several people who were enthusiastic about listening to his lecture sent a deputation with this request. Dutt had to decline due to his failing health. The unrelenting deputation told him that they would find another speaker and requested him to preside over the lecture. Dutt agreed to this proposal. The assembly started. The speaker of the day was a renowned scholar of history. He filled up his lecture with a great deal of content, presenting it with great effort and enthusiasm. But the result of this over-enthusiasm was boredom for the assembly. He spent around an hour and a half going through the dates, wives, and cities of the Kadamba, Pallava, and Chola kingdoms.  At the end, R C Dutt stood up and finished his speech in five minutes after saying a few encouraging words to the speaker. The audience was not satisfied in the least. The next day, Dutt went to Mysore. Once he returned to Bangalore four or five days later, another delegation went to meet him to request him to preside over another lecture; but this time, they said, it would be a young lawyer who would be speaking and he would finish within half an hour. Dutt agreed. The next evening, the assembly gathered. M G Varadacharya was the speaker and the topic was Our Economy. He took barely fifteen minutes to finish his speech. The gist of what he spoke was simply: “Our guest Sri Romesh Chunder Dutt came to Bangalore due to his poor health conditions. He might have known about the healing powers of Bangalore’s weather. However, at the same time, Bangaloreans are suffering from the hunger of knowledge. Dutt has the capability to eradicate this hunger. Getting good health from Bangalore and offering knowledge[1] in return is also an exchange business, isn’t it? We want to know more about industries and their business models as well as the unemployment problem of our educated youth. Sri Romesh Chunder Dutt has written scholarly articles on these topics. That is why he has the ability to cure our hunger on these topics.” By this time he said all this, Varadacharya had the audience flooding with laughter, four or five times; in addition, the crowd applauded four or five times. Dutt’s face became cheerful. This was the style of Varadacharya’s speech. In about twelve minutes, he returned to his seat after finishing his speech. Subsequently, R C Dutt’s appreciation of Varadacharya itself was impressive. Then, Dutt entertained audience by speaking close to an hour. By the time the assembly was over, people in the audience were discussing among themselves about which one of these two they would appreciate more.

People gathered in large groups and sub-groups to listen to Varadacharya’s speeches. He had the special ability to fill even boring situations with dignified humour. Whatever he would say, he would make it interesting to the listeners. When he told a story, he made the characters walk right in front of the audience’s eyes. His tone of voice itself had a special attractive quality.

Those days (c. 1912-16) Varadacharya wrote articles for The Karnataka, an English newspaper that was published twice a week.[2] The Karnataka would publish witty and satirical articles on many dignitaries of that time. These pieces made a few people furious but hundreds of others laugh wholeheartedly. Higher officials of the government machinery had an eye on this newspaper. The Karnataka had repeatedly mocked one of the clubs of the city for serving alcohol[3] lavishly to its members. This naturally became an obstacle for alcohol enthusiasts. Varadacharya was a member of this club. Once there was an extravagant annual celebration of this club. The dinner included a variety of vegetables, various sweets and exotic dishes, and colourful juices – all prepared with a view to cater to diverse interests. After dinner, the lectures began. One gentleman, who knew that Varadacharya was close to those who ran the aforementioned newspaper, shouted out his name and asked him to give a fitting reply to The Karnataka. Varadacharya happily accepted this offer and gave a speech in English which was as follows.

After a few initial comments spoken for the sake of formality, he said, “As for the rising and potent organ of…” and continued, “…it is for everyone to see that the main purpose of this paper is served so well here. This paper repeatedly suggests having cultural conferences that exhibit the best of both eastern and western cultures. Now, see here. Many of our members have progressed so much in this direction that their current situation itself is an indication of this. They have reached a state where they are unable to distinguish between east and west. Further, a few others, not being content with this higher culture, are crawling below the tables and chairs. There’s yet another specialty here. We not only erased the differences of multiple directions but are also creating unity among the animate and inanimate objects. Why won’t a genuine lover of culture praise the achievement of our club?”

He spoke for another five minutes in the same tone and tenor. There was not a single person in the audience who could hold back his laughter without clutching his stomach. After that, for almost a month, everyone discussed this episode in every club meeting.

Varadacharya’s client Hucchu Veeregowda[4] once came to his office. Veeregowda was infuriated because he felt that his opponents in a case were needlessly delaying the proceedings by pushing the matter forward by devious means. When he saw Varadacharya coming down a flight of stairs, he folded his hands in a gesture of respect and began roaring in his typical colloquial dialect: “Sir, he (the opponent) is a wicked fellow. He’s just postponing the matter. We should teach him a lesson. If it’s not possible for you, then tell me. I will do it myself. I’m no less wicked than him.” Varadacharya told him with a smile, “Gowda sir, should you be saying this? First of all, you are a Gowda [i.e. a short-tempered chap]. On top of that, you’re Veeregowda [i.e. a warrior-like short-tempered chap]. And as if that wasn’t enough, you are Hucchu Veeregowda [i.e. an insanely turbulent warrior-like short-tempered chap]. If someone sees the moustache dancing on your face, then there’s no need to mention your name also!” Veeregowda exploded with laughter and said in a loud voice, “Ho ho!” Only a line drawing can aptly describe his laughter, not words.

Not a single person in his friends’ circle was able to escape Varadacharya’s pun-shot. We all recall those lovely games quite often. He used to tease each one in a different way. Those who fell prey to this attack would love him even more. And Varadacharya too used to fall prey, with a smile, to the witty words of others.

To be concluded...

This is the second part of a three-part English translation of the third chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 1) – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru. DVG wrote this series in the early 1950s. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

Footnotes

[1] The original has ‘jñāna dāna,’ which means ‘an offering of wisdom’ or ‘a gift of knowledge (given in charity).’

[2] DVG was the founder-editor of The Karnataka, which he published from 1913 to 1921.

[3] The original has ‘madhuparka,’ which is a technical term in the dharmaśāstras for the traditional offering of food with honey to a special guest; madhuparka could include meat (samāṃsa) or be vegetarian (amāṃsa). In this context, it is a reference to alcohol with madhu (honey) being used as a euphemism.

[4] The literal meaning of the names are important for the story – ಹುಚ್ಚು (huccu) means ‘insane,’ ‘temperamental,’ ‘mad;’ ವೀರ (vīra) means ‘warrior,’ ‘fearless one;’ and ಗೌಡ (gauḍa) is a farming community, originally descended from kṣatriyas; they are typically the heads of villages and known for their short-tempered nature.

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)

About:

Raveendra is a software engineer based in Bangalore. His interests revolve around mathematics, poetry, philosophy, and Kannada literature.