Non-Entities - A Less Known Organization

I will now talk about a small organization that lived only for a few years starting from about 1916-17. I also happened to be a member of the organisation. The name of the organisation was Non-entities. In other words, 'anonymous.' I don’t know the exact nature of circumstances that caused its birth.

Bangalore was consumed by a rage of influenza in 1918. There were efforts put, here and there, to bring the disease under control and to cure those afflicted by it. I've written elsewhere that Puttanna Chetty was the President of the City Legislative Assembly and Dr.  Subba Rao was its Vice-president. Dr. Subba Rao had great inclination for bolstering medical assistance for people in need. I, as his young friend, was eager to contribute as much as I could for the cause. At that time, I was running Karnataka, an English magazine that was published twice a week.

One day, a friend of mine gave me a cash packet, saying that it would help me in my social service activities. It was an amount between Rs. 1,800 and Rs. 2,000 – I've forgotten the exact number. The person who gave me the cash packet also told me that I should maintain strict confidentiality and shouldn't reveal anything about the donor. There might have been several reasons for this. One of the reasons was that the donor was a government employee. It could also give birth to criticisms or unnecessary comments. He had warned me about all this.

Today, that donor and my other friends have all left us; it is only one friend and I who are surviving. So I think I can reveal his name and it would certainly not harm anyone. The person who gave me the cash packet was S G Shastry

S G Shastry

S G Shastry was a renowned scholar in Mysore. We were classmates at one point and that is where our friendship started and grew.

Shastry belonged to a great lineage of scholars. His grandfather was Sri Garalapuri Shastry, a big name in Mysore and he belonged to the king’s court. He had authored several works in Sanskrit – both kāvyas (creative literature) and śāstras (academic texts). His son was Kavitilaka Ayya Shastry. He wrote Śeṣarāmāyaṇa and Vikramorvaśīyam in Kannada. My friend S G Shastry had translated a few plays of Ibsen into Kannada. He had also authored a few short stories and novels in Kannada.

A few months after the aforementioned incident took place, Shastry told me about the Non-entities organization. He wanted me to be a part of it and I accepted the offer with a heart filled with gratitude.

It was probably Shastry who founded the organisation. He often got such ideas and put them into action. I'm able to speak with certainty about his nature as I knew him since his younger days.

Shastry went to London for his higher studies and upon his return to India, he landed up in a good job. Chemistry was his area of specialization. He founded the Government Soap Factory and took care for it for several years.

One day, a thought crossed his mind: “There are a handful of people like me, who have had their higher education in foreign countries, have returned to Mysore and are getting a handsome pay. It is not impossible for us to join hands together and raise some money to help the education sector here. We can also financially support the publication of a few good books. We are indebted to our nation and we can try to put in our best to at least repay one per cent of what we owe to the country.”

Shastry communicated his thoughts to some of his close friends and associates. Probably everyone was in agreement and there wasn't a single note of discord. I think they were about fifteen to twenty people in all. I will name of a few of them:
1. Dr. B K Narayana Rao
2. M S Ramachandra Rao
3. B V Rama Iyengar
4. Dr. B N Iyengar
5. N N Iyengar
6. H S Narayana Rao
7. S B Iyengar
8. Dr. A Subba Rao
9. B Puttayya
10. B Sreenivasa Iyengar
11. Dr. M V Sampatkumaran

There were a few others with them too.

Among these, some contributed twenty to twenty-five rupees per month while some others contributed fifteen to twenty rupees. There were a few who could spare about ten rupees a month.

B Puttayya kept track of all the income and managed the accounts.

Disputes

As soon as about thousand or two thousand rupees got accumulated, some minor disagreements cropped up. Someone expressed their wish to go to England or Germany for their higher studies. They would speak of their distress and their needs to Shastry. The matter would then be discussed with the others. The person in need would then be given assistance. Most recommendations and requests of this kind came from the family circles of the people who belonged to the organization. This usually heated up the discussions. However, it cooled down pretty quickly too. There were such minor disputes and disagreements from time to time and got sorted out eventually.

In sum, the Non-entities made foreign education possible for about fifteen or twenty people. They helped in a few social service activities too.

It is not uncommon for such dissents to crop up in matters where money is involved. Some people stopped contributing money to the pool. There were others whose complaints saw no respite. There were others who argued that helping their nephew or cousin for foreign education and drawing money from the pool was a form of service to the country too. Some even drew a loan of five to six thousand rupees and seemed to give no thought to the repayment of the debt.

After a while, everyone felt they had had enough. It was inevitable for the organization to see its end. The funds that remained at the end was given back to the contributors, proportional to what they had put in.

Some who got back the money spent it for social activities instead of using it for their personal benefit. One such person was B K Narayana Rao. He donated his share to Lal Bagh to make arrangements for a kids’ play area.

Scholarly Meetings

The aim of the organization was not merely to gather funds and redistribute them. From time to time, usually, once a month, we all met in one of our houses for dinner. The friendly conversations peppered with our scholarship gave great delight to everyone. Our discussions touched upon topics such as – global progress, the nature of India and foreign countries, the social shortcomings in India, loopholes in our education system, and the development of native literature and culture. (It was during one such meetings that I cut off my tuft of hair – śikhā).The people who took part in the discussions were those who had visited several foreign lands and were well-versed in a wide spectrum of different subjects. There were people employed in varied fields too. Therefore, several different perspectives were given to each topic taken up for discussion.

It was a great learning for me to be a part of such scholarly discussions regarding our country and its culture. Everything has an end in this world. Friendship too sees its end at some point in time. As long as it is alive, it is only due to the grace of the almighty. Thereafter, the fragrance of the flower will diminish. However, the fragrance leaves behind a deep and pleasant impression on our being, which will come as a part of us in different lives too.

This is the twelfth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Sarvajanikaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his edits.

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:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. He research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.