R Narasimhacharya (Part 1)

Prāktana-vimarśana-vicakṣaṇa[1]Mahāmahopādhyāya[2]Rao Bahadur[3] R Narasimhacharya was a close relative of S G Narasimhacharya. I remember to have first seen him during the period 1914–15. I was familiar with his name, however, about fourteen to fifteen years earlier. At that time, I had read both the volumes of R Narasimhacharya’s Nīti-mañjarī. I had become aware of his extraordinary scholarship in classical Kannada. In our North Karnataka’s colloquial slang, this would be described as agadhibhayankara—intimidating and fierce—scholarship. This impression disappeared after I spoke a few words with him in person. He was easy-going and simple; there was nothing frightening about him.

During 1914–15, he was the president of the textbook committee of the Department of Education. The government also included me in the committee. What I gained by being inducted into this committee was gettin introduced to leading littérateurs; Sosale Ayyashastri, M S Puttana, Tiravalluru Srinivasaraghavacharya, and other scholars were all members of this committee.

During the meetings of the committee, as soon as R Narasimhacharya entered the room, four to five members, rising from their seats, would offer their recommendations by saying – You should see this, let us examine this, this is good – and would place books in front of his eyes. He would smile and say, “Let us patiently see everything,” and occupy his seat. The members making the recommendations would open the book to a certain page and pointing at some passage, they would say, “Please read this! See here!” R Narasimhacharya would take up the book that was recommended so insistently and read a few lines from the book softly. In this manner, after making a great deal of reading two or three books, he would simply say, “Yes yes, it’s there. They have worked hard, poor chaps!” This would dampen the enthusiasm of the members who recommended the books. After this, the book would be reviewed and the committee would take a decision. R Narasimhacharaya was not harsh to anybody and never showed any favouritism.

Love for Literature

Narasimhacharya had the same sort of appreciation for the Sahitya Parishad from the beginning. During the special literary festivals held between 1933 and 1935, for every activity he would visit the Parishad twice a day. He was delighted to see the enthusiasm of the people. The office bearers of the Parishad too were excited to see such a senior and renowned scholar traveling from Malleswaram to Chamarajpet every morning and evening.

One morning he called me and asked, “For quite some years now I have collected the Indian Antiquary magazine and I’ve had them bound. I want to give it to the Parishad. Will it be useful?”

I said, “To receive such a donation from you, I will come walking on my head!” He was delighted and brought the books himself the same day or the next.

Śabdānuśāsana

Here’s another memory.

Copies of the first print of Śabdānuśāsana[4], the famous Kannada grammar book, were sold out and the book wasn’t available anywhere. Later, the second print of the book remained in the Government Press without making its way out. This second edition was edited by R Narasimhacharya. Writing of the preface for the book was pending. Although many years had elapsed, R Narasimhacharya could not find time to write the preface. This situation was known to Prof. Venkatanaranappa. How to bring out the book? It was improper to put the blame on R Narasimhacharya. A few friends—three or four of us—came up with an idea.

One afternoon Venktanaranappa, Nangapuram Venkatesha Iyengar, T S Venkanayya, and I – the four of us went to new public offices at Attara Kacheri[5], stood in front of the Archaeology Department, and sent a slip with our names through the assistant. When we went inside, Acharya stood up and asked with a smile on his face, “What’s all this formality?”

We controlled our laughter and stood there. Nangapuram Venkatesha Iyengar put a heavy garland around R Narasimhacharya’s neck. Venkatanaranappa gave him two big lemons. Venkanayya said, “We are a deputation.”

In a serious tone, I read out from the request letter that we prepared, writing it down on a large sheet of paper. The subject mentioned in the request letter: The Kannada literary world is suffering because of the non-availability of Bhaṭṭākalaṅka’s Śabdānuśāsana! Only Narasimhacharya is capable of relieving us from this problem. We know that he does not have free time to do this. Even so, he must somehow grant our wishes.”

Hearing this, Narasimhacharya laughed loudly and asked, “Why all this drama?” He then explained his difficulties and promised to write the preface at the earliest; and it happened.

Love for Music

R Narasimhacharya had immense love for music. He had a strong theoretical knowledge of melody and rhythm. One day we were sitting at a concert by Musiri Subramanya Iyer.

Narasimhacharya asked me, “Is this the singer who has sung the ‘Nagumomu ganalenikīrtanā in the gramophone record?”

“Yes.”

“I want to hear him sing that song live. What to do?”

I sent a message to Subramanya Iyer through a friend of mine. He sang the song as per the request. It was extremely beautiful and R Narasimhacharya was overcome with joy.

This is a story that he narrated to me once.

He was a lecturer at Maharani’s College, Mysore. There was an incident that happened at Darbar Bakshi Ambil Narsimha Iyengar’s house. It was the Bakshi’s responsibility to critically listen to various artists who wished to perform in front of the Mahārāja and then recommend the names of good musicians. For that reason, one day a concert of Gawai Barkatulla Khan playing the sitar was arranged at Ambil Narasimha Iyengar’s house. R Narasimhacharya was invited for that concert and he was in attendance. When the concert was about to start, the entourage of the great Gawai arrived. First came a coil of mattress. Ambil Narasimha Iyengar could not understand the subtleties and asked in Tamil, “What’s all this?” His face had become red. Narasimhacharya pacified Iyengar and said, “All this is needed. It is part of his paraphernalia.”

The music started after a few minutes. Gawai Sahab, started playing the sitar resting it on the coiled mattress. He was sitting and [partly] standing, while playing the lower and upper registers in the sitar. Getting up while playing notes in the upper register, sitting while playing the lower notes; and in between, he wiped and twirled his moustache. Once again, Ambil Narasimha Iyengar became angry; with a reddened face and bloodshot eyes, he shouted in Tamil, “All this is hooliganism. He doesn’t know the etiquettes of the Rāja’s Durbar.” Narasimhacharya pacified him saying: “You should not get angry. This is how the instrument is played. He is a great artist. Because there is a mattress below, it absorbs the vibrations. The notes become pure and we get to hear the melodious sound. This is how it works.” Bakshi exclaimed in Tamil, “Oh, is that so?” and calmed down.

This is the first part of the two-part English translation of Seventh essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra and Hari Ravikumar.

Footnotes

[1] A title meaning, someone adept in reviewing the ancient lore

[2] A great teacher, A title upon persons whose genealogy of disciples have three generations.

[3] A title of honour bestowed during British rule to an individual for their service.

[4] A book on Kannada grammar by Bhaṭṭākalanka in 17th century.

[5] Lit. 18 offices. Present high court building.

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)

Rashmi Canchi
About:

Rashmi Canchi works as an engineering technical writer at a leading product company in Bangalore. She has a master's in Microelectronics and Microsystems from Germany. Her interests include science and philosophy. In her free time she loves to travel and to cook.