My Ātma-guru: N Narasimha Murthy (Part 3)

Amaldar[1] Sitaramayya

Another instance.

Both of us were walking on the 3rd cross road of Basavanagudi. We heard someone singing when we came near a house. We stood there for a second and listened to the song. We do not know whose house it was. As I was looking around to ask someone, Murthy knocked on the door. Someone opened the door and asked

“Aren’t you Srirangapatna Subbarao’s son?”

Murthy then recollected that the person who opened the door was Sitaramayya, a former amaldar of Srirangapatna. Both of them recalled some old memories. Both of us were seated in the hall. The person who was singing was Sitaramiah’s son Gangadharayya. One of his brothers was playing the violin and the other was playing the mridangam. Two other relatives were also present. They were Sanketis. Sitaramayya had great interest towards music. He used to organize music concerts every week by naming it “bhajans”. That day, he sang well.

For sometime, we used to go there every week. I narrated this story to show Murthy’s love for music.

A Vidwan

Once, I had been to Mysore during the Dasara festival season. One afternoon, I went to Murthy’s home. I stood near the main door and called out his name, “Murthy!”. At the same time, someone else came to his house too. I had worn my dhoti appropriately. He stared at me from head to toe and vice versa a few times and asked

Him: Are you a singer (in Tamil)

Me: No

Him: Why not, don’t you have a throat?

Me: Is it sufficient to have a throat?

Him: You have also worn your dhoti properly?

By this time, Murthy came out and opened the door. Both of us went and sat on the platform[2]. There was a veena (a string instrument) on the platform. That unknown person sat in front of the veena and told:

Him: You sing, I will play the veena.

I pleaded “Please believe me, I do not sing.”

As the conversation was underway, Murthy was laughing to himself, closing his face with his dhoti. Then, that unknown person told “I will sing, you listen”. He started singing in Rīti-gauḻa. By mistake, I appreciatively uttered “Bravo!”. He said

Did you see how you dodged?

I turned to Murthy and asked him “Somehow I am unable to recognize this person”.

Murthy (Smiling): He is NV Raghavan, Auditor General of India.

I was taken aback. During those times, the auditor general job was the highest post in which an Indian could be employed. There was such a post only in three cities. NV Raghavan was one of those three Auditor Generals. It was well known that he was proficient in fields such as English literature, Sanskrit, Philosophy, and Mathematics. He was deeply, madly in love with music. Raghavan and Murthy were close friends, I had heard about Raghavan many times from great scholars such as Srinivas Shastry, Venkataram Shastry.

Murthy’s Music Lessons

Murthy’s interest in music cannot be exaggerated. He was learning veena for a very long time. He never played it independently because of shyness. He was hesitant to utter a single word or a single tune. Vīṇā Vishwanath Shastry and Vīṇā Gopala Rao were his teachers for some time. He was very hospitable towards them when they came to teach. When they told “Let us resume the lessons”, he closed the windows and doors of the room. He did not want to be seen learning music. Not only that, he did want his practice sessions to be audible to others. If there were holes/cracks when the doors were shut, he used to cover it up with clothes -- I have literally been a spectator to these events.

He barely used to touch the strings for a few minutes before requesting the teacher:

“Can you please play today, you play very well -- I will listen”. The scholar would play a Kṛti and later would have a chat.  Murthy would end the class by saying “Let's study the remaining parts tomorrow”.

Maḍi[3]

Along with being shy, he was also prudish. Topics related to Śṛṅgāra was unwelcome.

“Sārasa”

“Sarasuḍa”

Whenever such words appeared, he would ask me the meanings. It was Music’s good luck that he did not understand Telugu. Whenever he asked me, I immediately said

“These words are used to praise the gods. Sārasa means Mahā-lakṣmī: One who is beloved to Lakṣmī, that is Mahā-viṣṇu. Sarasuḍa means divine in the form of a connoisseur.

Thus, I would put him at ease.

Murthy’s favorite Kṛti was the rendition in Ānanda-bhairavī:

Mānasa guru-guha-rūpaṃ bhajare
māya-māruta-jani-hṛt-tāpaṃ tyajare
Mānava-janmani santṛpte sati
Paramātmani niratiśaya sukhaṃ vrajare

He loved to listen to this. He made me sing this repeatedly

One day, we had a music concert in my friend Advocate D Raghavacharya’s house. Kolar’s Nāgaratnā-sāni was singing. Murthy, MG Varadhacharya, and a few other friends were present. Thanks to my ill-fate, I was seated right in front of her. Since she was from Kolar, we also knew each other. After introduction, elaborating a few ragas etc, in raga Śaṅkarābharaṇa she sang:

man-da-hā-sa
va-da-na he-kṛ-ṣṇa ||

She started with that stanza. Out of habit, I was counting the beats. She was happy about it. In between all the singing, she made eye contact and smiled a little. I was scared -- because Murthy was next to me. Finally, Murthy couldn’t help but ask --

“Why is she seeing you and smiling?”

“Murthy, that is Bhakti. Krishna is smiling. She is indicating it through her acting.”

“Phew! You asked the right person!” Varadacharya, sitting on the other side, made fun of it.

I had been to Murthy’s house during the Navarātra festival. His family members were at his wife’s maternal home. I asked:

“Murthy, what snacks have been prepared at your home for the festival?”

“Come, let us see”

Thus he took me inside the kitchen. On the way, I could see the dolls arranged in the hall. He saw me standing and repeatedly slapped his forehead with regret. Because, among the dolls present there -- one of them was a couple. A small doll was on the bed. Accordingly, the setting summed up the context. 

Murthy: “What is this: even the gods aren’t spared in this game!”

This is the third 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]Generally revenue collector.

[2]ಜಗಲಿ.

[3]No exact equivalent word in English, in this context, prude, puritan would be close enough.

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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