Bharat Ratna Mahāmahopādhyāya Dr. Pandurang Vaman Kane (1880–1972) was born on this day 140 years ago. We present a six-part essay (published over the next six weeks starting today) with various stories and episodes from his life. –Editors
19 August 2019. A sunny Monday morning. I was in Pune with my friends Hari and Raghavendra, walking towards an old apartment complex in Shivajinagar. I looked at my watch. It was five past nine. It took us a while to find the exact location. Five minutes late, but that should be fine, I told myself. The security guard in the basement guided us to the first floor apartment. An old-fashioned name-plate bore the name ‘Dr. Shantaram Kane’ in golden letters.
A lean, tall, fair-skinned, elderly gentleman opened the door and we rightly guessed that to be Dr. Shantaram Kane. After exchanging pleasantries, he guided us into his drawing room. This was the first time I had ever met him. A year earlier, I probably didn’t know of his existence.
From October 2016 to April 2019, a group of us had studied Dr. P V Kane’s five-volume magnum opus History of Dharma-śāstra under the guidance of the renowned polymath and Sanskrit poet Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. We read fifty pages every week, met at Dr. Ganesh’s house Wednesday night at 9, and discussed the writing of Dr. Kane. During the course of our study of the History of Dharma-śāstra, I happened to enquire with senior advocate Mr. Himanshu Kane of Mumbai, if he knew the anyone from the family of Dr. P V Kane, given that he shared the surname. At once, he told me that he knew Dr. P V Kane’s grandson personally and would introduce us. And the time had come. To my good fortune, when I called Dr. Shantaram Kane, mentioning that I was in Pune and would like to meet him, he was enthusiastic. We had no agenda for the meeting, except to know more about the man who wrote the six-thousand-five-hundred-odd pages of the History of Dharma-śāstra.
The home was typically Maharashtrian. On an old-style glass cupboard attached to one of the walls of the drawing room was placed a photo of the well-known painted portrait of PVK wearing a bandgala black coat and a Maharashtrian headgear, so typical of the Citpāvana-brāhmaṇas. Just like the unassuming character of PVK, his photo lay alongside other elders of SK’s family, without seeking any grandeur or special attention. SK offered us tea and then asked about us and our interests. He spoke about his professional life, his special interest in the field of Āyurveda, and his innovations in the preparation of certain āyurvedic medicines. After about half an hour into the conversation, he started speaking about his grandfather. Being the eldest (patrilineal) grandson of PVK, he spent much of his childhood closely interacting with his grandfather since they lived under the same roof.
Having read PVK’s magnum opus, we naturally started enquiring about his work life, his study, his habits, his personal life, and so forth. SK understood in less than five minutes that we were longing for some anecdotes of his grandfather that were hitherto unavailable in the literary world and he started filling our plates with story after story.
PVK would wake up by 5:15 or 5:30 every morning and by 6, he took a stroll at the Malabar Hills in Bombay. He would climb up the hill, walk atop the hill, and then descend to his home by 7. Then for an hour and a half he would study the Dharma-śāstra texts or other legal commentaries, or at times read the journals he had subscribed to. He got ready by 9 or 9:15 and leave for court after an early lunch. He would be available in his chambers till 10:30 in the morning to meet his clients; he would be preparing for the day’s matters. He would attend court from 10:30 till its closure at 5 in the evening and return to his chambers. During the free time at court, when he was not arguing a matter, discussing or preparing for a case, or meeting clients, he would be seen at the High Court Library studying. At times, when there were very few matters in his docket, he would head to the Royal Asiatic Society Library in the Fort area and study the subjects of his interests, including Dharma-śāstra texts.
He would then meet his clients and prepare for the next day’s work sitting in his chambers till 6:30 in the evening. Then he would return home, take a short tea break and start working on his monumental work – History of Dharma-śāstra from 7 till about 9:30, only to break for dinner in the midst of his work. This was his routine for at least thirty-eight years during which time he wrote more than 6,500 pages that make up his pièce de résistance. While he was at work, if the children or grandchildren made noise or if there was any bustle about the house, he would simply raise his voice and say, “Hey!” or “Silence!” and resume his work. He had the ability to concentrate on his work amidst the din of family and profession.
I asked SK if his grandfather privately conversed with family members, particularly with his grandmother (i.e. PVK’s wife). He immediately nodded his head and said, “Yes, yes. Of course. My grandfather would speak and share quite a lot. Dinner-time was meant for family. At home, we all used to eat together, be it in the morning or at night. During dinner, he would mostly listen to us and speak less. He would ask us about what we did that day, take stock of the happenings in our lives, and would ask us to share our views. When specifically asked, he would give his advice on certain matters in a crisp and decisive manner.”
SK continued, “My grandmother was a very pious lady and took care of the entire family. Those days, the woman of the house was not as demanding as the present day with respect to the time her husband gave her. My grandfather hardly interfered with household affairs and left it mostly to his wife. She was more than happy.”
We thought he had finished but he started again; perhaps something struck him. He said, “And… yes! My grandfather also used to take the entire family out during summer vacations of the court. Not once did he miss taking the family out during summer. Most of the vacations would be at hill stations. Sometimes it would be in faraway Ooty in the Nilgiri hills. At other times, we would end up going to a nearby hill station in Maharashtra.”
Having understood the man and his love for work, I had to seek a clarification. I asked, “Sir, when you say vacation, did Dr. Kane spend his time at leisure or would he be reading there as well? And, how long did these vacations last?”
SK smiled and said, “Vacations would be for fifteen to twenty days typically, sometimes a week, depending on how far we went. And even during vacations, my grandfather would spend part of the time reading or studying.”
To be continued...
My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Shantaram G Kane, the grandson of Dr. P V Kane, for sharing so many wonderful anecdotes about his grandfather with me and my friends. Further, he promptly reviewed the present essay, offering wonderful suggestions as well as fact-corrections. I wish to express my thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. S L Bhyrappa for encouraging me to record the highlights of my meeting with Dr. Shantaram Kane. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough editing of the essay. Thanks to K K Subramaniam for his suggestions.