Masti Venkatesha Iyengar - The Generous Gentleman

Generosity of Personality

Masti was not particularly affluent. His earnings were not much compared to what government officials earn today. He felt that whatever he had must be spent for society and as a result, he had cultivated living a simple life. He kept aside a large portion of his savings for the sake of public welfare. He led a life along the ideals laid down by Kālidāsa in his Raghuvaṃśa, “त्यागाय सम्भृतार्थानां...” (One who ‘accumulates wealth only so that he might offer it in charity...’)

Masti performed what can be termed as ‘dohada,’ – i.e. he provided the impetus for the nourishment of the creative ventures of numerous writers and poets: G P Rajarathnam, Da. Ra. Bendre, Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar, and so forth. He helped them get established. But he was never one to say or even think, “I helped them!” That was his nature.

He was not only a great storyteller himself but also inspired several other short story writers to take shape: A N Krishna Rao, Bagalodi Devaraya, ‘Ānanda,’ ‘Bhāratīpriya,’ and so on. In the blossoming of such budding writers, his contributions were remarkable. This sort of service to literature is rare. Nurturing the talents of others can be as important as one’s own writing.

Whenever he saw goodness in another, he would be satisfied only after uttering a mouthful of praises. He not only profusely praised a small essay that I had written on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday but also told many other people: “Ramaswamy has written well!”

No matter how much one discusses about Masti’s writings, one must concede that his personality stood far above his excellent creative compositions. T T Sharman once remarked, “It was only because Masti was a noble soul that his literature also attained greatness.” Natural goodness of personality, magnanimity of vision, nobility of thoughts, tenderness of behaviour, affectionate conduct that didn’t discriminate based on age, and more than everything else, his enthusiasm for life, spiritual outlook, and devotion – he was a beautiful blend of these traits. These were his constant features – at no point in his life was he a bookworm; he spent a greater part of his day with his family, friends, and grandchildren amidst fun and frolic. He never missed visiting the club in the evening and playing a half-hour of cards even in his advanced age (however, this never graduated into an addiction or an obsession). In sum, his life was pure and radiant.

Whenever he learnt that someone was in difficulty or was suffering from some disease he made it a point to extend a helping hand. A couple of times, I too was privileged to be a messenger of such largesse. In most cases, he would specifically command me, “Please don’t mention that I have given this.” Such was his gaurava-prajñā [loosely, ‘sense of dignity.’] The sense of commitment that drove him can be summarized as follows – “The society has been responsible for nourishing me and helping me grow, so I must help the society.”

To the extent possible for him, he used to financially support students who came to his house. Moreover, he would tell his family members that such students must not be employed for household chores and should be treated with great respect and affection.

In 1957–58, during the days that I was unemployed, he often asked me, “What’s up young man? What are the ‘arrangements’ made for your daily meals? And what about your coffee expenses? Let me know if you need anything. Don’t hesitate!” I never had the situation to seek his patronage but can I ever forget the fatherly affection he displayed towards me?

B M Srikantayya once remarked, “Masti was young amidst the youth and he was so even amidst the elderly.” During his ritual evening walk from his house in Hanumanth Nagar to K S Iyer’s club in Gandhi Bazaar, Masti would stop to hand out toffees or chocolates to any and all children he encountered along the way. Neither did he know any of the children nor did they know him except for identifying him by the epithet ‘Chocolate Tāta’ [‘chocolate-grandpa’]. He was a living example for the adage ‘आत्मवत् सर्वभूतानि यः पश्यति स पश्यति’ [‘He truly sees, who sees all beings like his own self.’]

An elderly cobbler would often visit Masti’s house. Masti always gave him his old slippers for ‘repair.’ The cobbler would stitch it and hand it back to Masti, who rewarded him with two or three rupees, a shirt, a towel, and something more. In reality, Masti never used these slippers that he had got repaired. He tried to give money to that cobbler under some pretext or the other. When he didn’t see the cobbler for an extended period of time, he would ask about the cobbler, “Hasn’t the old man come here?” The cobbler’s children would criticize Masti and say, “He has taken to drinking because of the money you gave him!” And yet, he never gave up his practice of rewarding the cobbler.

Until I got employed in 1959, I was in a state of chaos. In the three or four years preceding that, I spent most of my time with DVG. I frequented V Sitharamaiah who was also known to me. I also visited Masti’s house a number of times. At the same time, I hesitated to simply show up at his place without purpose. After 1959, Masti himself eased my hesitation. I often bumped into him at the Canara Bank that was near my workplace. On one such encounter, he told me, “How come you haven’t come home in a long time? Every now and then, do drop by.” And it was so.

During each of my visits, the most important conversation that happened between us was driven by the questions that he raised about the well-being of DVG and V Sitharamaiah, and their writings. Invariably he would ask me, “Which book are you reading now? What good book did you read recently?” and so forth. A few of my stray, short writings also came to his notice. Without fail, he would utter words of encouragement such as, “You’re on the right track!”

Conclusion

People with multifaceted talent like Masti were called ‘Renaissance men’ in the past. If this multi-dimensional brilliance was on one side, the other side was his internal richness that included qualities such as natural goodness, simplicity, generosity, devotion to the Divine, and compassion.

As early as the 1930s, Panje Mangesha Rao called Masti as ‘Kannaḍada Ravīndra’ [‘The Tagore of Karnataka’]. And around the same period Gokak famously said, ‘Māsti Kannaḍada āsti’ [‘Masti Venkatesha Iyengar is the treasure of Kannada.’] Mysore University conferred upon him an honorary doctorate in 1977.


Masti’s writings didn’t remain as printed words within the covers of a book but entered the hearts of millions. More than a generation of readers has passed since Masti’s death and yet he remains a favourite. The MVJK Trust, presently managed by his grandchildren, is doing great service in keeping his memory alive.

Herblock, an American cartoonist, had drawn a famous cartoon about Einstein. It had the solar system with its planets and on the earth, there was a sticker that said, “Albert Einstein lived here.” When we think about Masti, a similar emotion is evoked. Those in our generation who had the opportunity to interact with this cultured literary giant are truly blessed. I offer my salutations to his memory.

Whenever I think of Masti, these lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar come to mind –

            A peace above all earthly dignities

            A still and quiet conscience.

Concluded

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.

 

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.

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