Masti Venkatesha Iyengar and D V Gundappa

Masti’s life was extremely organized; his work was meticulous, immaculate, and accurate; he kept a track of all his activities and an account of all his expenses. Once I happened to meet him in the bank and we got talking. He told me, “You know what, in the last forty years, I have spent —lakh and —thousand rupees for printing books. Until now, I have received —lakh and —thousand rupees from sales. I am left with books worth —lakhs.” Even his intake of food was temperate. His life and conduct reminds us of the Vedāntic statement ‘क्षुद्व्याधिश्च चिकित्स्यतां...’ [‘Treat the disease of hunger...’] One of the aphorisms that he commonly referred to was – “The extra morsel that you do not eat will not cause you indigestion.”

Ramachandra Sharma, a mutual friend, once described Masti as “a conservative of a superior calibre living among us.” Śrī-rāma-paṭṭābhiśekha, Navarātra, and other festivals were celebrated in Masti’s house with great fervour and these festivities gave him a lot of happiness. After the ritual pārāyaṇa on the day of Rāma-paṭṭābhiśekha, he would give not only pānaka and panyāra[1] but also gifts to the guests and dakṣiṇa to gurus of the three Vedāntic schools. Apart from that, he also gave donations that he had set aside as ‘Janaka-mahārāja-sambhāvanā’ to needy parents. If women or girls visited his house, he always sent them back with ariśina-kuṅkuma and also ‘kaṇa[2]along with a tāmbūla. He never gave up this practice for several years.

In this manner, Masti’s conduct included dharma, family, society, and so forth. He had an open mind without any discriminatory walls. Gaurish Kaikini said, “There is no trace of impurity in Masti’s personality and there are no flaws in his character.”

During his last days, when a physician visited him to enquire after his health and also to pay his respects, Masti said, “My time is up. I don’t think I’ll be able to do anything more! All of you please strive to do something for our dharma! I have absolutely no worries about myself.” In this manner, he always thought about the welfare of the country and the people; there was no space for anything else in his mind.

Pandeshwara Ganapati Rao said, “Purity of a seer’s life, the love of beauty in the poet’s eye, gentleness and magnanimity in the heart’s recess – if all these are to be found in a single person, that is only in Masti, the great writer and revered personage!”[3]

Masti and DVG

D V Gundappa, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Panje Mangesha Rao, V Seetharamaiah, V K Gokak, Shivarama Karanth, and others – the mutual friendship of these stalwarts was extraordinary, profound, and long-standing.

By about 1915, DVG and Masti had become friends. In general, Masti praised all undertakings of DVG. He often said, “Gundappa himself is a beautiful epic poem of humanity.”

In 1932, DVG was the President of the Madikeri Sāhitya Sammeḷana [Kannada Literary Conference at Madikeri]. After the conference, DVG, Masti, and a few others travelled back to Bangalore together. After they reached DVG’s house, just before stepping in, Masti told DVG, “Please remain outside [the house] for a moment!”

DVG asked, “Why?”

Ārati has to take place!” said Masti.

Tchey tchey, what is all this!”

Masti simply did not budge. He called some of the womenfolk from inside the house and instructed them, “Please perform the ārati. Then, dṛṣṭi tègèdu hāki. Sāvirāru janara kaṇṇu biddiruttadè[4].” And it happened according to his wishes. Forty years later, recollecting this incident, DVG remarked to me, “The whole thing looked thoroughly ridiculous!”

On 19th June 1972, the people of Bangalore showed their respect to Masti Venkatesha Iyengar by offering him a felicitation volume titled ‘Śrīnivasa.’[5] Although DVG was not in the best of health, out of affection for Masti he gladly went to the felicitation ceremony. As we were returning from the meeting, Masti asked the car driver to turn at a certain point on one of the streets. After the car turned thus, DVG asked, “Isn’t this a roundabout way?” Masti replied, “If we take the other route, it would amount to apradakṣiṇa (counter-clockwise movement)!” When DVG told me this story the following morning, he recollected the episode of 1932.

DVG was elder to Masti by about three years and he often playfully said, “You have to do namaskāra [reverentially bow down] before me!” but Masti was never one to wait for these words and would enthusiastically fall at DVG’s feet to seek his blessings. It was a veritable feast for our eyes and heart to see such sweet friendship between elderly folk.

Masti rarely went to public programmes that he was not directly involved with. But every evening, he unfailingly visited the Basavanagudi Union and Service Club (BUSC) [which was established by Prof. Bellave Venkatanaranappa]. Apart from that, on occasion he would go to public functions such as inaugurations. And even this was once in several months. He stayed away from ceremonies and gatherings. If he was forced to attend two or three public events in the span of a month, he would complain that his life was reduced to the state of a tramp.[6] But he visited DVG once every two or three months, which DVG eagerly awaited.

Upon DVG’s request, Masti happily agreed and gave a special lecture organized in the memory of T S Venkannayya. The topic of the lecture was – ‘Sāhityadiṃda āguva Kèlasa’ [‘The Purpose Served by Literature.’] We later published the transcript of the lecture in book form.

When I was in high school (1949–50), Masti was already famous. Since I lived in Basavangudi, it was no surprise that I knew by face literary giants such as Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, A R Krishna Shastri, M V Seetharamayya, and L Gundappa. But I first met Masti in 1955. By then I was frequenting DVG’s place. Circa 1950, upon the advice of DVG, my father used to visit GIPA (which was then situated near Nettakalappa Circle) to classify and document the books in the library. Since I often accompanied my father, I became intimate with DVG. In later years (after 1955), since I had bid adieu to college, I could spend more time with DVG. I was also introduced to Masti, who visited DVG often. Amidst all this, some of my other activities also proceeded.

To be continued...

The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020.


[1] Pānaka and panyāra – savouries given to devotees/ people who attend a event, especially that connected with ritualistic worship

[2] A cloth meant for stitching the upper garment of women, traditionally gifted during festivals and other celebrations; Called Blouse piece in colloquial usage in the old Mysore region of Karnataka

[3] ಋಷಿಜೀವನದ ಪಾವಿತ್ರ್ಯ, ಕವಿದೃಷ್ಟಿಯ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಪ್ರೇಮ ವಿನಯೌದಾರ್ಯದ ಹೃದಯಶ್ರೀಮಂತಿಕೆ – ಇವು ಒಂದೇ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಒಬ್ಬನೇ ಮಹಾಸಾಹಿತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಣಬಹುದಾದರೆ ಅದು ಪೂಜ್ಯ ಮಾಸ್ತಿಯವರಲ್ಲಿ.

[4] The traditional belief in many parts of India was that the ‘bad sight’ of onlookers, filled with jealously and greed would ‘fall on’ a celebrity. Such a ‘bad sight’ could cause him mental and physical harm. Such negative influences had to be ‘removed’ by a certain set of rituals. This was a beautiful way of finding solace, psychologically

[5] Masti Venkatesha Iyengar’s nom-de-plume was Śrīnivasa.

[6] “ಗುಡಿಸೆಟ್ಟಿಯ ಪಾಡಾಗಿದೆಯಪ್ಪಾ!”

 

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:

Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written more than fifteen books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He works in an advisory capacity with Abhinava Dance Company, Lakshminarayana Global Centre for Excellence, Pramiti, and Samvit Research Foundation.

Prekshaa Publications

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