My Ātma-guru: N Narasimha Murthy (Part 1)

My intention here is to write about my Ātma-gurus. Ātma-guru can mean several things: “The teacher of my choice”, “The teacher who taught me about the Ātman”, “The teacher of prime importance” etc. The meaning that I have in my mind is: “favorite teacher”. It is not that I found him because I specifically searched for him. Neither did I specifically evaluate his capabilities and hence acquainted myself to him. It is purely out of luck that we got to know each other. I was influenced by him and I thought to myself that I should see such a noble person as a teacher. If I had revealed this to him, he would have disagreed with me outrightly. I considered him as a teacher, but he never treated me like a student.

His name is N Narasimha Murthy.

Around 1907-08, I was living in Chamarajpet (Bangalore) at my in-laws house. The house was on the 3rd cross, between 2nd and 3rd main roads. That house was famous for music and harikatha. In those days, Narasimha Murthy lived on the 4th main road of Chamrajpet. He was working at the secretariat. His father had arranged a horse drawn carriage to facilitate the daily commute to his place of work. The carriage vehicle and the horses were a sight to behold.

One of the days at around 10 AM,  Narasimha Murthy routinely sat in the carriage vehicle and his turban that he wore around his head, fell down. In those days, the government employees did not goto the office without a head turban. What could Murthy do? Moreover, he did not know to tie the turban. However, he was acquainted with my in-laws family. Being a place where music was taught, it occurred to Murthy that there would always be some high society person who would know how to tie a turban. He stopped the vehicle near our house, got down from the vehicle, and requested: “can someone please tie my turban”. There were some “turban experts”[1]. They tied the turban beautifully and fastened the turban with pins at appropriate places to ensure that it did not come out again. Murthy, who seemed as joyous as the group of gods who found nectar after churning the milky ocean, conveyed his gratitude and left.

Precedent

The turban expert who helped Murthy felt thankful for being able to help. They also jokingly conversed amongst themselves: “What a scholar! What a big-shot! Despite passing MA, BL, and being so famous, he could not tie his own turban.”

At that time, Narasimha Murthy and I were not acquainted with each other. I had only seen him from a distance.

Narasimha Murthy’s father was from Nanjangud and his name was Subbarao. He had made his name as a lawyer in Srirangapatna. Murthy’s brother N Subbarao, earned fame during his tenure as the vice chancellor of Mysore University. His sister Shrimathi Kaveramma is married to Benne Subbarao, son of Benne Govindappa -- who is both rich and virtuous. In this essay, I might remember these great people again. Hence, I have mentioned their names here.

Subbarao’s friend by the name of Saligrama Subbarao, was working as a Government Pleader[2]. He was a famous lawyer. Saligrama Subbarao and Nanjangud Subbarao regularly visited M Srinivas Iyengar who served as the editor for the “Mysore Standard” newspaper. During one of those visits, Srinivas Iyengar introduced me to both Subbaraos. Since both I and Nanajangud Subbarao lived across each other's house in 4th Main Road of Chamarajpet, this provided an opportunity for our relationship to grow and mature.

Now let us turn to 1909-10. Narasimha Murthy had given a discourse supported by some literary group.The discourse was about the [William Makepeace] Thackeray -- foremost among english novelists. This was published in the “Standard” newspaper. I conveyed my appreciation to Murthy. That was the first time he spoke to me for a couple of minutes. He asked me:

Murthy: What do you do now?

Me: Whatever Thackeray did then.

Murthy: What do you mean by that?

Me: Thackeray had got a job as a correspondent in a Paris newspaper. He got married based on that. After a couple of months, the newspaper stopped. After that, he struggled to find a job. I started a family based on the job security provided by “Suryodaya” paper. The newspaper stopped. Now, I am struggling to find a job.

I still cannot forget Murthy’s laughter when he heard this statement. He repeatedly recalled this incident among his friends and laughed at it.

Friends’ Circle

I got enormous moral support from Narasimha Murthy when I started “Karnataka” - a biweekly magazine in 1912. He introduced me to his friends with a celebratory enthusiasm. His circle of friends was pretty large. The foremost among his friends were advocate MJ Varadacharya, advocate Suryaprakasham, Thiruvengadam Mudaliyar, CS Ananthapadmanabha Iyer, K Bhimrao, Dr. Kunhi Kannan. All these people had immense respect and love for Murthy.

Writings

By this time, Murthy had already authored a couple of erudite articles. One of the articles that I recall was titled “theory of sovereignty”, this was an essay in English. In that essay, he had consolidated the opinion of western philosophers such as [John] Austin[3], [John Stuart] Mill, [Thomas] Hobbes, [John] Locke, [Johann Kaspar] Bluntschli etc. He also had analyzed the arguments and counter-arguments of the aforementioned philosophers. This was published as a three or four part essay in “Mysore Review” -- A top-tier monthly publication. I had fallen in love with the erudition, clarity of arguments, and conjunctive approach exhibited in that essay. I would be grateful if someone could give me an essay with such qualities.

Murthy was not a prolific writer. He did not speak too much either. When it came to public speaking, he experienced stage fear. People who wanted to benefit from his scholarship, had to be attentive and ask questions in an informal manner. Then he used to answer. He quoted various books that were relevant to the topic and suggested: “please read these books”. He also summarized the arguments and counter-arguments presented in these books. This way the question would be examined from different points of views and ultimately the person who had the doubt  would arrive at the conclusion by himself/herself. This was Murthy’s mastery of exposition of “for and against” points of views. I would like to think that I was influenced by this mastery to a certain extent. Irrespective of the size of the lake, the amount of water that one can bring depends on the size of the pitcher one possesses.

This is the first part of the translation of the second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrudaya Sampannaru. Edited by Raghavendra G S.

Footnotes

[1]ರುಮಾಲು ರಸಿಕರು in original which would literally mean “turban connoisseurs”.

[2]Not too different from a lawyer, under section 2 (7) in Civil Procedure Code 1908, who is appointed by the State Government to perform all or any of the functions expressly imposed, by Civil Procedure Code 1908, on the Government Pleader and also any pleader acting under the directions of the Government Pleader.

[3]Not to be confused with John Langshaw Austin.

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:

Vishwas Rao is a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory. He has a PhD in Computational Sciences and is currently based out of Chicago, IL. He has an abiding interest in Kannada and Sanskrit literature.

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