While referring to Sri M. Venkatakrishnaiah we should first respectfully acknowledge the small number of his disciples who were serving him with utmost dedication. That highly devoted bunch extended much needed assistance promptly in the matters of his food, his health, and his public programs. In my opinion, it would not be possible for Sri M. Venkatakrishnaiah to have led such an able and long-lasting life without that devoted resourcefulness of the disciples. From where they came and what their whereabouts are now is unknown. They recognized the greatness and served. Salutations to them.
I met Venkatakrishnaiah for the first time in 1902. I had heard his name before that and had been aware of his fame. In 1902, I was a student of the fourth forum in the high school division of Maharaja College of Mysore. That was the time when India was under the viceroy Lord Curzon. An association based in Mysore, Literary Union, had arranged a series of lectures from an English scholar Moulton (or maybe Cuthbert, I do not remember) in the memory of Barrow. That was in Rangacharlu memorial hall. I had gone to the lecture on the last day. The auditorium was jam packed. I somehow managed to get in and stood near a window. I did not have the required proficiency in the English language or general knowledge necessary to understand that lecture. I went with the fancies of tender age. I simply followed some of my friends to the event. I liked his style, flow and the forceful delivery. He elaborated on the benefits that are being provided and to be provided in the future by the British government to India. After the completion of the discourse, someone got ready to deliver the vote of thanks. Someone stood up and called out “Mr. Venkatakrishnaiah please”. Few more voices joined. Here is the gist of Venkatakrishnaiah’s speech. “These lecture series came out well. Good language, good oratory. Our folks should learn from it. The speaker elaborated on the benefits to India from the British government. We agree to this in a broader sense. But, it is natural for Indians to aspire to grow, to govern themselves based on their strength; it would have been better if the speaker had touched upon the thoughts of the British government in this regard”.
It was a speech of four to five minutes. From all corners of the hall, claps rained on Sri Venkatakrishnaiah. The same hangover lasted a month; people talked about it. The students who had listened would discuss it in awe, “What a retort! he gave it back properly”.
One of my relatives Sri Lakshminarayanappa was a Munsif at Nanjangud. He had a deep friendship with Sri Venkatakrishnaiah. Sri Padmanabhayya, son of Sri Lakshminarayanappa was my classmate. We stayed in the same room. As a routine, we used to visit Sri Lakshminarayanappa once a week. Then Sri Venkatakrishnaiah was staying in a magnificent Villa named ‘Padmalaya’. Behind the house was the printing office. There, the English paper ‘Mysore Herald’ and the Kannada paper ‘Vṛttānta-cintāmaṇi’ was printed. That was where I learnt about the untidiness of a typical newspaper office, paper and ink scattered all over the place. My mind was full of respect and fear towards Sri Venkatakrishnaiah. I did not take liberty with him or try to be close to him as I also feared him. I only observed him from a distance.
Sri Venkatakrishnaiah’s frame was pleasing to the eye. Tall, proportionately built. Dull white when it comes to complexion. Pleasant and serious face. Neither too long nor too round. Still appeared somewhat round in some places. Shining eyes. In my opinion, he would have been counted as handsome in his youth.
Though he was well known as an orator, he wasn’t talkative. He spoke less. He spoke whatever was required. He was more interested in listening to others than speaking himself.
He never used harsh language during friendly discussions. He would not raise his voice. His tone would be mild but a serious one. He used adjectives such as ‘puṇyātma’, ‘devaru’, ‘maharāya’, ‘mahānubhāva’, quite often. He used these adjectives to refer to one and all. He never used objectionable language.
Very rarely he used to get angry. In such instances, the anger was especially reflected only in facial expressions and never in words. Screaming and scolding was not his way.
He would not disappoint anyone. When he visited Bangalore, he had to cope with many hosts offering breakfast. He would not miss breakfast at Sri Lakshminarayanappa’s place. Then he would go to Sri Shyamarao. He could not say no to coffee there. He would complete the ritual of drinking coffee there. Then visit H. V. Nanjundayya. They would invite him for lunch. Excuses such as “Sri Lakshminarayanappa would be waiting”, would have no effect, “Taste the food a little here”, would be the reply. Then he would visit Sri Lakshminarayanappa and administer enema before lunch. He managed the desires of his friends this way. He used to advise enema treatment to others as well. Even I got that advice.
I do not know his opinion on the matters of religious rituals. I can for sure say that he had unshakable devotion towards god. It did not appear to me that he followed any rituals. He did not flaunt vibhūti nor adhered to a daily routine involving japa, pūjā, and śāstrakarma. It appeared that he had a conviction that rituals are for oneself and need not be advertised in public.
Sir M. Visvesvarayya did not advertise his orientation towards religious practices, like Sri Gokhale. But they were not atheists, they did not make fun of people who followed rituals.
Sri Venkatakrishnaiah on the cover page of the ‘Vṛttānta-cintāmaṇi’ would publish the following every week as if it was an expression of his inner voice.
श्लोकार्धेन प्रवक्ष्यामि यदुक्तं ग्रन्थकोटिभिः ।
परोपकारः पुण्याय पापाय परपीडनम् ॥
I will declare the import of millions of texts in half a verse.
Helping others is for merit and causing trouble to others is for sin.
By 1909 my education had ended. I was unemployed and was wandering about in Bangalore. That year the Congress party had split into two in a meeting at Surat, people who advocated extremists and people who were moderates. At that time the whole nation was concerned. I took up an adventure. I wrote an article in English ‘samyukta and united India’, and sent it to Sri Venkatakrishnaiah. Not only did he write back to me in appreciation but he also published it in the ‘Mysore Herald’. It was also reprinted in the form of a pamphlet. That was one of my naive writings. I mentioned it here to show Sri Venkatakrishnaiah’s affection and nothing else.
Magnifying tiniest virtues of others to mountainous proportions...
This was his nature.
This is the first part of the translation of the fifth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavu Sarvajanikaru. Edited by Raghavendra G S.