M G Varadacharya (Part 3)

Although legal practice was the means for his livelihood as well as his wealth and success, his inner interests solely lay in literature. During the time we stayed in houses that faced each other—on Chamarajpet Fourth Street—he and I, along one or two other friends, would spend time late in the night, often past midnight, appreciating poets and their work. During those discussions, suddenly he would remember something and then say, “It’s already late for me. There’s a lot of work tomorrow in court. I have to prepare a statement in an important case.” And he would leave in a hurry. And then, the next day, when I would go to his house, I would see an English poetry book open on this table – it may be Tennyson’s In Memoriam or Byron’s Don Juan, Browning’s Pippa Passes or Shakespeare’s sonnets, or something of this sort. Then I would ask, “What’s this? Were you writing your statement or were you reading this?” He would reply with a smile, “Let the statement go to hell! What is a statement in front of these works?” He would then sigh and complain that he wasn’t getting enough free time to study poetry. Over the years, such experiences were repeated time and again.

Varadacharya was a fine critic[1] of poetry. When he intended to do a master’s in literature, he had written an essay on Browning’s (mostly) Paracelsus (or it may have been Rabbi Ben Ezra, I have forgotten). I’m positively certain that it’s worth publishing now, if we can locate it somewhere.

Not less than his love for poetry was his empathy for all beings and his compassion for life. He was the first to think about arranging a dinner on every Dīpāvalī for patients suffering from leprosy and other incurable diseases, staying in various hospitals on Magadi Road, along with other poor people. He executed this plan secretly for a few years at his own expense. After that, the then Health Officer of Bangalore Dr. R Subba Rao continued this arrangement. Two to three years after that, Varadacharya and four or five of his friends carried forward this service in their own way. Their arrangement was as follows: every Yugādi and Dīpāvalī, they distributed fruits and sweets, incense sticks and other scented items, vests and dhotis for men, saris and blouse pieces for women, and spent time with them singing devotional songs. Varadacharya was pivotal in fulfilling financial needs for this project. In addition, it is my duty to recollect here the contributions from many well-off merchants of the Bangalore Market – Mandi Hirannayya, Sajjan Rao, Adappa, Venkatamunayya Shetty, Subbayya Shetty, Lakshmayya Shetty, and others. Varadacharya and his friends managed a few organizations, libraries, schools, and a study group[2] for about five years. His sincere support for such efforts meant a lot to us and gave us a shot in the arm. Anyone who reached out to Varadacharya for financial help for the purpose of social good, for any sort of social service, or for any public society, would never return empty-handed.

Varadacharya was fond of cricket, football, and all such sports. He was interested in card games and chess as well. That did not mean that he would always win. For him, playing the game was more important than victory or defeat.

For a few years, we both stayed in the same second and fourth streets of Chamarajpet. There was once an occasion when we both had to travel in the same train to Mysore during Dasara [i.e. Navarātrī]. He told me, “I will send the vehicle. Come after packing your luggage. Then we shall pack my luggage and go together to the railway station.” Accordingly, when I went to his house, he was packing his luggage. He took out a few handkerchiefs from a corner. One, then two, three, and then a fourth one, and then a silk turban – four or five in all. Then, shirts – five pairs, waist coats – four to six, suits – five to six, and then a few walking sticks – seeing the handle, he said, “Ah, this is made of ivory, let me carry this, and oh that one is made of sandalwood, so let that be there as well, and hey, this is an English stick, it will look good.” Saying thus, he packed four or five sticks, cricket bats, leg pads, and tennis racquets. All in all, his luggage filled up five trunks, one hold-all, and one suitcase. He asked me, “Where’s your luggage?” I took him outside and showed my luggage – there was one rolled-over bed and nothing else. He told me, “What man! Are you practising advaita here too? You’re carrying a single luggage for travel!” I replied, “You’re going to stay there for two or three days but you’ve packed your luggage good enough for a complete month!” He said, “Well, my viveka (wisdom) is rooted in virakti (detachment) but my svabhāva (nature) is in saṃsāra (worldly life).”

This was indeed correct. The primary source of his enthusiasm and his confidence was his devotion to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Even when he had to relocate his residence and stay alone in a friend’s house or in a rented room due to the plague epidemic or for some other reason, he never stopped his practice of keeping the photos of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda next to him nor did he stop offering prayers to those photos twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. On special occasions such as the birth and death anniversaries of Ramakrishna or Vivekananda, he always visited the Ramakrishna Ashrama, perform seva, accept the prasāda, and return. He was ever-ready to give a talk on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. In these lectures he often and often quoted a statement of Ramakrishna that was related to renouncing lust and gold – kāminī-kāñcana-varjana. Varadacharya and I engaged in friendly debates on four or five occasions regarding this. My argument was: “A young lawyer like you should not be giving such a sermon!” He would counter me by saying, “Should I not at least give utterance to those which I consider as good. Will it not get converted into a habit if I keep saying many times?” My opinion remained with me.

Varadacharya had built a vast book collection. He had well-known books of poetry, drama, fiction, history, Vedānta, and encyclopaedias. He was fond of books that were beautifully printed and attractive to look at. Even when he possessed an earlier edition of a book, if he saw a new edition that was published with a new decoration, he would purchase it, paying no heed to the cost.

The same is true with regard to works of art. A good painting was as good as a jewel to him. By all means, he would try to acquire them. After purchasing a replica statue of Jesus originally sculpted by the famous Danish sculptor [Bertel] Thorvaldsen, I vividly remember him enthusiastically explaining to me all the special features of that work of art. The central hall in his house was adorned by many ivory statues, sandalwood images and sculpted silver idols, which were arranged in shelves with glass doors. In my estimation, it was worth nearly seven or eight thousand rupees in those days.

Varadacharya was passionate about music too. I know him to have supported many musicians by hosting them in his own house. When it came to drama, his enthusiasm was unbridled. He was one of the leading persons in their amateur drama troupe. The famous drama artist Naṭa-śiromaṇi Raghavachar of Bellary was his close friend. On two or three occasions I’ve seen Varadacharya don the costumes, act in dramas, and entertain the audience.

He had a deep interest in physical exercise as well. A boxer and strongwoman named Lady Sandow would display her strength in exhibitions and shows; all his friends knew very well how much he admired and respected the shows of Lady Sandow.

His mind would easily surrender to any form of beauty – whether in music, sculpture, painting, literature, in human nature, in brilliant scholarship, or anywhere else. He would be happily willing to pay any price for that.

After the death of his first wife, Varadacharya’s family life was not joyful. Influenza was the cause for her death. The gathering on the day of the last rites appeared like a gathering for the death of a patriot-warrior. It was a source of deep sorrow for all who knew Varadacharya intimately and it is a never-ending sadness. Sorrow is the echo that destiny gives Love. His was a life that was capable of earning such love. The memory of that life, hidden deep in the womb of sorrow, is both lovable and sacred to us.

Concluded.

This is the third 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 ‘sūkṣma vimarśaka;’ sūkṣma means ‘fine,’ ‘subtle,’ ‘delicate’ and vimarśaka means ‘analyst,’ ‘examiner,’ ‘one who carefully studies something.’

[2] The original has ‘vyāsaṅga-goṣṭhi;’ vyāsaṅga refers to ‘focussed study’ and ‘goṣṭhi’ means ‘assembly,’ ‘society,’ or ‘fellowship.’

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.