M R Srinivasamurthy: Littérateur and Connoisseur

Although he was sixty years old, he was like a thirty-year-old in mind and body – my dear friend, Srinivasamurthy.[1] Even now, whenever I reminisce about him, my eyes well up with tears. Srinivasamurthy grew up amidst comfort and happiness. His father Ramachandra Rao was an Amaldar.[2] Just like Ramachandra Rao, Srinivasamurthy too was handsome, generous, and belonged to a large family. He grew up with the love and respect of his parents.

Srinivasamurthy was thin and tall. His complexion was radiant like pure gold. He had an ever-smiling face and sparkling eyes. When he spoke, appropriate to the context his speech would be sensitive, strong, or humorous. At any rate, his words were captivating and filled with rasa.

After he became famous as a good orator, one day he was ready to leave home to become a lecturer in some institution. Then his father Ramachandra Rao pulled his son aside and counselled him in Telugu (his mother tongue): “Murthy, you have a good personality. That has to become even better. Wear this gold-bordered dhoti and this gold-bordered śalya as an uttariya.[3] Hold this walking stick in your hand, you will look more charismatic.” So saying, he forced his son to decorate himself.

When I first saw Murthy, he was pursuing his higher studies in Central College. Even at that time, he wore a zari-bordered dhoti. The fingers were adorned with rings and his ears had ornaments. His words had gravity. This was the time when he wrote the story Śyāmū.

T S Venkannayya and A R Krishna Shastry had a great liking for Murthy. It was only Murthy who had the intimacy to tease Krishna Shastry and make him an object of ridicule. None of us had that kind of rapport with Krishna Shastry.

Half the reason for this was the respect that Venkannayya and Krishna Shastry had for Murthy’s efforts in the field of literature. Murthy was well-versed with all the best Kannada poems published in his time. He could recite from memory and expound several poems in Haḻagannaḍa (Classical Kannada). And as for Śṛṅgāra-kāvyas[4], he was a veritable treasure-trove.

Once, at our guesthouse in the Sāhitya Sammelana (Kannada literary conference; probably the one held in the city of Raichur), four or five of us had to take a bath and were waiting outside the bathroom for it to get vacant. We had removed our shirts and had worn a towel around our waists like a small dhoti. Krishna Shastry poked me and asked, “Did you see Murthy’s chest?”

Murthy said straightaway, “Shastry, what’s clouding your brain? Don’t you know the bhramara-kīṭa-nyāya?”

(Once, a bee catches an insect for its food and keeps the insect in front of it. That insect stares at the bee scared out of fear. In this manner, by concentrating fully on the bee the insect becomes like the bee. This is an ancient poetic convention – whatever we focus our minds on and think deeply about, we become that.)

Listening to this reply, Venkannayya, Shastry, and I drowned in an ocean of laughter. This was Murthy’s connoisseurship – full of rich retorts.

Some years earlier, the poet Ranna’s millennial anniversary was celebrated in the [Kannada Sahitya] Parishad. Murthy gave a speech on that day. In the beginning he pointed to me and said, “Look at how this gentleman has come on this occasion. He has a zari-lined turban, he’s wearing a gold-bordered dhoti and a kurta with an air of royalty. Isn’t this how we must show respect to our emperor of poets? To Kannada literature lovers, the emperor is Ranna – Ranna of Gadhayuddha fame, Kavi-cakravarti Ranna.”

Saying many such things, he roused the spirit and curiosity of the gathering. Afterwards, he described Draupadī and Bhīmasena’s words and mental state in an impressive way that touched everyone’s hearts. The attendees were delighted. In the end, in my presidential address, I mentioned that Murthy’s speech was beautiful.

Murthy got up and said, “Sir, please see who is seated there. If such people are in front of me what else will a speech be, if not beautiful?” So saying he pointed his fingers at someone. It was his wife.

Murthy was such a person.

In the early days he worked as a High School teacher. By participating in the ceremonies of the Boy Scouts and other activities, he was regarded as the friend of students. He had also written scouts songs. His play Kanṭhīrava-vijaya was written for the scout teams to enact. The shows of that drama became successful.

After some years, he became the principal of Normal School. In 1934-35 he was a principal of Normal School, Malleswaram. Every evening by six, he would come to the Parishad without fail. Fifteen minutes before that, he and Krishna Shastry would partake of some light refreshment (typically fruits) and come prepared to work. Between six and eight they would prepare the library catalogue. Krishna Shastry would call out the name of the book and Murthy would write that down and add details. Like this, twelve to eighteen months passed by.

Murthy was a man of extraordinary competence. In the morning he himself prepared upma[5] and coffee. As soon as he finished distributing it, he would write down the story or play that he would have mentally conceived until then. In the afternoon, a peaceful lunch. Often he would join the banter and eat leisurely. After that he would write a couple of pages on grammar or prosody. In the evening he would give lectures about the Śiva-śaraṇas. In the night he would compose a song or a poem. All this was effortless for him. There was no exertion in any of these activities.

Murthy came from a large family. The growth in the circle of relatives does not guarantee friendly faces. There are several situations that pained Srinivasamurthy. Many a times, his eyes moistened upon recalling and contemplating about the dilemmas that he faced. Since he had abundance of experiences of happiness and sorrow, he had a tender heart. His insights were corresponding profound.

Murthy earned a great deal of fame due to his scholarship in Vīraśaiva literature. He belonged to the vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇa sect. For such a person to not only grasp the essence of Vīraśaiva principles and perceive it correctly but also to expound it in a way that earned the appreciation of Vīraśaiva scholars stands testimony to the sharpness of his brain, his generosity, and his large heartedness.

He wrote treatises like Bhaktibhāṇḍāri and Vacana dharmasāra with such sincerity and ease that it rivalled the manner in which a born Vīraśaiva might expound the ways of his sect.

Many Vīraśaiva maṭhādipatis (pontiffs) bowed to Srinivasamurthy’s scholarship, insight, sincerity, and compassion and as a sign of their happiness, gave their blessings of ‘bhasma rudrākṣi’ and other prasadas (holy offerings). Among the people who shed light on Vīraśaiva literature, Ra Narasimhacharya was the first and Srinivasamurthy was the second person.

The way Srinivasamurthy came upon his death brings dishonour and disgrace to our country’s system of public hygiene. He died of cholera. This is an incurable disease. If the food items and water of a town are unpolluted, cholera will not affect such a place – this has been proved by scientists. By some misfortune, that bacteria surfaced in the place where Srinivasamurthy lived in Bangalore. For five or six days Murthy experienced great discomfort in the hospital on Magadi Road and then shut his eyes. For people like me, the desire to live shrunk by half.

This is an English translation of the twenty-sixth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 3 – Sahityopasakaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

~

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Footnotes

[1] See Episode #10 of the first volume of Jñāpaka-citra-śāle

[2] Chief Revenue Collector

[3] Dhoti is a garment wrapped around the lower body and uttariya is wrapped around the upper body; śalya is akin to a shawl

[4] Poems that have śṛṅgāra (loosely ‘romance’) as the theme

[5] Upma, uppumāvu, or uppiṭṭu is a breakfast delicacy typical to South India

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:

Arun is a software professional with a keen interest in dramatics, writing, Indian culture, and emerging technologies. He is usually short on time with work and family but always tries to squeeze time for his interests.

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