Masti Venkatesha Iyengar - The Respected Guest and his Short Stories

‘Respected Guest’

The early life of Masti was filled with poverty and travails. His fight with penury, his days of vārānna[1], and other biographical details are as touching as a creative story or poem.[2] Masti, who travelled the length and breadth of Karnataka for activities related to the Kannaḍa Sāhitya Pariṣad and happened to mingle with people from all walks of life, once exclaimed, “In all these homes, the Divine filled my stomach, showed me respect, and protected my very breath with great affection! I, who was ravaged by poverty in my childhood and ate at seven different households every week, ended up becoming an honoured guest in my own home during later years despite having sufficient food to eat!”

Following the decade of 1920s, the spark of Navodaya was kindled and it rose to a peak. On the one hand, there were ‘missionary’ attempts to bring people together to engage with literature and on the other hand a new genre, a new bāṇi (style) of literature emerged. One cannot deny the pivotal role played by the indefatigable Masti in all this. Although the short story was his forte, he worked across genres, be it composing sonnets and versifying in saraḻa ragaḻè, [3]translating works from English and Sanskrit to Kannada, composing creative commentaries, or writing literary criticism.

Short Stories[4]

It is unnecessary to debate whether Masti was the progenitor of the short story genre in Kannada.[5] It is indubitable, however, that the said genre found widespread appeal because of him. His short stories won the hearts of not only the Kannada-speaking people but also readers in various languages who read his writings in translation. His short story Masumatti was translated by C Rajagopalachari into Tamil.

Villagers and townsfolk whom Masti encountered in his own life provided the inspiration for the characters in his short stories. His literature is a sublimated presentation of the happenings and events of the real world.

~

Masti once travelled to Mysore for a session of the Prajā-pratinidhi Sabhè [‘Citizen’s Representative Assembly’]. He had placed on the table a freshly completed handwritten manuscript of a short story. Chikkamagalur Srinivasa Rao, who was there perchance, asked, “May I have a look at this?”

“Of course,” replied Masti.

As he read the story and was engrossed in it, he began sobbing uncontrollably. He forgot for a moment that it was just a story. There’s hardly a soul who has read the story of Subbaṇṇa and not shed a tear.

Masti’s short stories captured the life and livelihood of the average middle-class person in an engaging and emotional way. The characters of his stories have been imprinted on the minds of an entire generation of readers – Mosarina Maṅgamma, the seller of curds who is highly cultured though she doesn’t belong to the higher echelons of society; Nāyinda Veṅkaṭaśāmi, who falls for a dommarāṭa [a sort of folk dance filled with acrobatics] girl; tales of men attracted to women in Bīdiyalli Hoguva Nārī; Raṅgappa, who tries to teach his wife the art of writing love-letters (Raṅgappana Courtship); and so on.[6]

Veṅkaṭarāyana Piśāca is a story that bears testimony to Masti’s love for humour; in fact, tasteful comedy is an integral part of his short stories. “At the first instance I tried to see if the child resembled my husband Veṅkaṭiga. The next moment I thought, ‘Why should I enter into examining something that my husband himself hasn’t cared to do?’ Thinking so, I remained silent.” This is what Masti says when Veṅkaṭiga’s wife sees her baby for the first time. We see several instances of such witty nuances in his writings.

The law is different from justice – this harsh reality is depicted well in his Jogyora Añjappa.

Stories such as Sāriputrana Konèya Dinagaḻu and Hemakūṭadinda Bandamelè truly belong to the genre of poetry.

Masti must be counted among the greats not just as a revolutionary who inspired a movement in literature but also as a great writer and poet who contributed to literature directly.

M V Seetharamayya once remarked, “In his daily conversations too, he was a storyteller. His short stories are also a sort of intimate conversation.”[7]

The Background of Masti’s Learning

Masti never paid heed to extreme ideals. He was deep-rooted in reality and in the present. He stayed away from the tendency of oversimplification of philosophy and spirituality. He believed that any great ideal should naturally emerge from one’s daily life.

Cènna-basava-nāyaka is the story of a brilliant and noble hero who was caught in the tribulations of fate. As a stark contrast to this, Cikavīra Rājendra[8] imbibed within itself all the dark machinations of evil. In this tale, we find the description of the decline of two royal families. Though these novels are historical in nature, Masti has paid great attention to throwing light on the characterization of basic human nature rather than making it a series of historical events. One of the most attractive features of Cènna-basava-nāyaka is the manner in which he has portrayed the influence that history, culture, tradition, and environment can have on the life of a common person.

In his plays such as Yaśodharā, Tālikoṭè, Kākana Koṭè, Śivacchatrapati, and so on, it is his empathy with characters and his profound knowledge that attract us. He also composed plays about mendicant-minstrels like Kanaka-dāsa and Purandara-dāsa who touched the lives of the common folk through their poetry.

Masti wrote a work titled ‘Kannaḍa Janatèya Saṃskṛti’ (The Culture of the Kannada People) both in English and Kannada to help the masses understand the culture of Karnataka. In his ripe old age, he wrote the work Antargaṅgè, [in 1982, when he was ninety-one], which captures the cultural tradition of India.

Just as he had great regard for the best of English and Sanskrit literature, he also had deep reverence for Kannada. Once when Shivarama Karanth said, “Pearl S Buck has captured the aspects of her society very well,” Masti immediately said, “Do you think our people cannot accomplish this? A Masti and a Karanth can!” This was the confidence that he had in himself and in other Kannada writers.

Masti had great regard for the compositions of Vālmīki, Vyāsa, Kalidāsa, Shakespeare, and so forth. He wrote several works based on the creative works of these stalwarts. As for the Rāmāyaṇa and the Bhāgavata, they were treatises that he read and recited every day, as part of his nitya-pārāyaṇa. When George Barker’s statement—“When Shakespeare met the English language, she was a virgin. When he left her, she was the mother of half the universe.”—was alluded to, Masti exclaimed, “Why half the universe? The entire universe!”

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] During the 20th century, it was a common practice for families in South India to support young students (typically boys) by inviting them for dinner once a week. These students would identify seven such households to take care of their food requirements for the entire week.

[2] See his three-volume autobiography titled Bhāva (‘Emotion’).

[3] A metrical pattern used in Kannada poems

[4] Masti Venkatesha Iyengar was awarded the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award in 1968 for his short stories.

[5] Masti Venkatesha Iyengar might not have been the first person to write short stories in Hosagannaḍa or poetry in saraḻa ragaḻè. It is merely a matter of academic interest to find who first wrote in these genres but without doubt, it was Masti who popularized them, bringing them into the mainstream, by writing copiously in these genres.

[6] Short stories like Raṅgappana Dīpāvalī, Masumatti, Veṅkaṭarāyana Piśāca, etc. that Masti wrote before 1925 are popular even today, close to a century later, and they have remained relevant. Similarly, his poems such as Binnaha and Aruṇa have retained their freshness even after decades.

[7] “ಮಾತಿನಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಅವರು ಕಥೆಗಾರರೇ. ಅವರ ಕಥೆಗಳೂ ಒಂದು ವಿಧವಾದ ಮಾತುಗಾರಿಕೆಯೇ.”

[8] Masti Venkatesha Iyengar received the Jnanpith Award in 1983 for this work.


 

 

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

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...