I recall an incident when Shivaswami Iyer once poked fun at a group of people, calling them ‘Dharma-dhvajas.’ This was during one of his lectures at the Lions’ Institute in Bangalore. “A person who wants to help others—i.e., who wants to perform acts of dharma—and also wishes to make his humanitarian service known to the public is called a dharma-dhvaja by Manu. Basically, he wants his flag (dhvaja) of ‘dharma’ flying high at all times and that people should notice it.
Let me narrate another episode to show Shivaswami Iyer’s adherence to dharma. He was the founder of a high school in Thirukkaattupalli, his birth village. He has also built a students’ hostel along with the high school. It is only when one visits the place can he understand the care that Shivaswami Iyer had taken and the forethought he had for the well-being of the students and teachers of the school. In addition to making arrangements for boarding and lodging for the faculty, he had facilities for the children of the faculty to get educated; he had also made arrangements for some insurance that would provide for the basic needs of the teachers after their retirement.
He had built a magnificent house in Mylapore, Madras as his residence. There was a lot of space around his house and the building was beautiful. He donated all this to the school named Kalyani, which he had built in his wife’s name. The house was sold for a (princely) sum of two lakh rupees. The person who bought the house was also a wealthy man. He came to Shivaswami Iyer and said, “You’ve signed the sale deed. However, here is my request: You don’t have to give up the house. You may stay in the house for however long you want. It will not bother me in the slightest. You’ve got used to this house. I cannot see you going elsewhere – it will not make me happy!” The buyer pleaded with him. But would Shivaswami Iyer agree? By the time the house was sold, he had already signed the contract of a rented house. He headed directly to his new house from the sub-registrar’s office.
The Calculative Man
Shivaswami Iyer was a generous person. He was adept at keeping accounts and due to this, the credit that should have been naturally given to his generosity was eclipsed. Let me give an example.
Iyer was an advocate of having lesser number of children. Once he gave a lecture on limiting the number of children a couple should have. The lecture was arranged in the house of Rana Saheba of Nepal. The chief guest was Sir M Visvesvaraya. In the audience, there was a person with fourteen to seventeen children and another one with seventeen or eighteen children! This tickled our hearts again and again as we sat in the audience listening to Shivaswami Iyer.
On another occasion, Iyer delivered a lecture in Madras on bearing children and limiting their number. The transcript of the talk was brought out in the form of a book. A few days after the lecture, one of his friends visited him. Their lively conversation turned into an argument as the topic of the lecture was brought up for discussion. Shivaswami Iyer picked up the booklet on the topic that lay on his table and said, “You may have this book, if you want. Place four annas (twenty-five paise) on the table and the book is yours! I will need to handover all my income from these sales to the ‘Limit Your Children’ trust.”
He spoke with a tone of finality. He came be to be called a miser due to such episodes. Whenever Shivaswami Iyer travelled to different cities, he stayed in a bungalow for a couple of months. When he was to depart from the place, his car, packed with his belonging, would be ready to leave. Iyer would come out of the Bungalow and ask who the head of the maintenance staff was. When the head came, he would ask, “What is the staff count? How many women? And men?” Once he got the count, he would give fifty paisa per servant and a rupee to the manager. Immediately after he handed over the money, without giving a chance for a second word, he would get into the car and leave. “Is this all?” some servants would think. He was a miser, in this manner.
Once someone happened to inform Shivaswami Iyer that the servants were expecting a higher tip. In response to that he said, “Doesn’t the government pay them a salary? This is an extra income. Their salary must not go more than this!”
In this manner Shivaswami Iyer was calculative; he would act after a lot of consideration and his remarks were conclusive, not open to further discussions.
One of his students once went to Srinivasa Shastri asking for some material help. Shastri expressed his inability to be of any help.
Student: I don’t expect you to give me anything. I only hoped that you would make some arrangement and get me something from somebody else
Shastri: Who shall I ask for help?
Student: Shivaswami Iyer trusts your word. If you could write me a recommendation letter, I will take it to him.
Shastri agreed and wrote a letter: “The bearer of this letter is a student. His studies are getting hampered due to his financial incapability. Kindly help him.”
The student took the letter to Shivaswami Iyer. He enquired the student’s background and said –
Iyer: You are asking for a loan of twenty-five rupees. I shall give the money to you. However, you also say that you are poor. Thus I will consider half the amount, i.e., twelve and a half rupees as a donation and the rest as a loan.
Student: I will see you after a couple of months. Once the exams get over, I will go back to my town and make arrangements to repay the loan.
Iyer: That sounds good.
Two months passed. It was January. There was no trace of the student. February. No news. March came and went. The person was not to be found anywhere. It was April now.
Shivaswami Iyer went to Srinivasa Shastri’s house and said, “Please give me his address.” Shastri knew nothing of his whereabouts. Shivaswami Iyer was furious with him
“Sir! You are the great one who recommended him to me and you did not undertake a background check? I gave him twelve and a half rupees as a donation and doesn’t he care to pay back the rest? Why did he ask me for a loan in the first place? If he hadn’t uttered a word, this matter would not have bothered me for four months now!”
Shivaswami Iyer made it a point to remind Shastri in the next four to five meetings. Shastri, now scared of Iyer tried to avoid him. He had narrated his tale of sorrow a few times to me.
Shivaswami Iyer was particular about keeping time and scheduling his day. He usually had three watches on him. He had at least two, in the worst case. One was a wrist watch and another was a pocket watch with a golden chain that he kept in his waistcoat. Along with these, he also carried a watch in the front pocket of his coat. When he wanted to see time, he would look at all the three watches. If all the three indicated the same time, he would be satisfied. If two showed one time and the other showed a different one, he would think – why is the other not accurate? I will need to think over this! He would immediately try to see a public clock. Else, he would try to see if he can catch hold of a person he trusted. He would ask for the accurate time and tune his watch that had malfunctioned. He was extremely fussy in this manner. At times, we got irritated at his behaviour and at other times, we found it comical.
To be concluded…
This is the first essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Sarvajanikaru. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his edits.