Ramadasappa (Part 1)

Ramadasappa was my second teacher who taught me the English language. He was the first person to graduate with a BA degree from Mulbagal. I recall him coming there as the sub-registrar back in 1907. A sad incident occurred after 15-20 days of him assuming charge.  Ramadasappa was originally from Mysore. In those days, Mulbagal was a far-off place from Mysore. Hence, to help him get settled, his father Sanjeevayya and his family members accompanied him to Mulbagal. After staying there for fifteen days, on his way back to Mysore, by the time Sanjeevayya reached Bowringpet, he became ill and passed away at the station platform. Ramadasappa had to perform the last rites of his father in Mulbagal itself. For this purpose, when he was at Shankara-tirtha, my father too was present there performing the last rites of my grandfather. Thus, Ramadasappa and my father met each other at a crematorium. Their acquaintance turned into friendship. Ramadasappa was also our neighbor. Between his house and ours there was a choultry. He had to pass in front of our house while going to or returning from his office. My grandfather’s brothers thus became close to Ramadasappa.

Ramadasappa grew up under the influence of two famous personalities. First was Venkatakrishnayya and second was Periyaswamy Thirumalacharya. He studied English in Venkatakrishnayya’s school and Sanskrit under Thirumalacharya’s guidance.

Language Proficiency

It looks like Sir M N Krishna Rao and Ramadasappa were classmates under Thirumalacharya. Ramadasappa was very proficient in sanskrit; grammatically perfect. He enjoyed sanskrit kavyas. He understood the depth of the words used, their meaning, and their contribution to rasas very well in sanskrit kavyas. If a new shloka was recited to him, he used to repeatedly recall the beautiful aspects of the shloka and derive enjoyment from it. He had a good voice. He was familiar with music. His recitation of stotras or padyas was very melodious. This was how he had attained refinement of mind.

Style of English

Now I will tell a few words about his knowledge in English literature. My readers will probably agree that I have come across hundreds of English scholars and writers. Among them, I have not come across anyone whose English writings were more magnificent than Ramadasappa’s. I would have probably seen 10-15 people whose english writing is as polished as his. Not too bombastic, but at the same time not overly bland. He used to naturally find appropriate words and appropriate usage. I have heard his friends call him “Dr. Johnson” and used to jokingly describe his style as “Johnsonian style”. I cannot tell how he developed such a style. It seems to me that he had analysed the works of Shakespeare and Milton several times and had internalized the vocabulary and its usage from those works. I know of people who have read Ramadasappa’s works multiple times just for the sake of his style of sentence construction and have expressed the happiness that they have derived from it. His sentences were free from grammatical errors, improper use of language, or inappropriate vocabulary. He had written an essay about groundnut farming when he was either in Madhugiri or in Chikmagalur -- to be presented in some rural conference. I had sent the essay to a prestigious monthly journal called “Hindustan Review”. The editor of that paper had trust in me. He published the essay in their monthly journal. KS Nair was a capable journalist of those days (1910-11), who resided in Bangalore. His English writings were of good quality. I handed over Ramdasappa’s essay on groundnut farming that was published in “Hindustan Review” to him. He had kept the essay with him for about eight-ten days. He later commented about the essay: “This essay is beautifully written. Because of its impressive style, I read it twice or thrice and felt very happy about it.”

Encouragement from the Government

HV Nanjundaiah used to get essays written for the journal titled “Ethnographical Survey”. These essays dealt with topics concerning various castes and tribes. Ramadasappa was given the task of writing essays about the group of shaivas. Ramadasappa had published those works and wrote a concise biography of Basavanna in about four to five pages. I have read that work. That essay was not published. Ramadasappa could not complete that work because of health related issues, pressures from government work, unavailability of necessary books, and lack of help from scholars. In those days, there were at least a few high-ranking government officials who used to recognize and encourage the literary capabilities of other employees, lower in the hierarchy.

Institution

Ramadasappa was a devotee. A person of good conduct. In his house, every morning literary scholars would analyse issues related to kavya or shastra for a couple of hours. Some evenings there would be bhajans. There used to be harikathā performances on days such as Ekādaśī. Among the harikathā performers, Achyutadasa was the foremost. From time to time even Sheshadas from Bagepalli used to perform harikathā. Ramachandra Shastry from Hebbani used to recite puranas. I have already written elsewhere about music scholars of Mulbagal. For all these people, Ramadasappa’s house was indeed an institution.

Now I will talk about my experience as Ramadasappa’s English student. Formally, my English teacher was Ramaswamy Iyer. During his initial days at Mulbagal, he used to frequently travel to Mysore and to his birth place. Summer holidays used to make it easy for him to travel. One of those days when he was not in town, my Grandfather’s brother took me to our neighbor Ramadasappa and requested him to teach me. Ramadasappa agreed to the request happily and started teaching me from that evening for nearly a month. “Oriental reader” was our textbook. This was published by Macmillan Publishers. As far as I can recall, the syllabus prescribed to us was the third or the fourth part.

Ramadasappa used to first make me read the text. Correct my pronunciation. He would ask me to explain the meanings of those words. Later, he would explain the specific usages of the words and the language conventions; After this, I had to construct a few sentences. This was his teaching method. To a large extent even Ramaswamy Iyer used to follow a similar teaching method. In those times, it seems as though this teaching routine was very common.

This is the first part of the two-part English translation of the Eighteenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Sankirna smriti samputa. Edited by G S Raghavendra.

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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