S G Bindu Rao (Part 2)

Beginning of Bhārata-vācana

This group of literary and musical connoisseurs made it a routine to take turns and meet in one of the houses every day after work, once they freshened up. H Nagesh Rao was a tenant at Mirmira Rama Rao’s house on Arcot Srinivasacharya Road. I’ve been a part of this group meeting many times. Venkatakrishnappa would usually sing something. Someone else would chant a Śloka. Bindu Rao would recite the Bhārata. I still wasn’t acquainted with Bindu Rao back then.

Bindu Rao’s Bhārata-vācana began in jest amongst a group of friends. It gradually became his source of happiness. Eventually, it turned out to be his daily routine. Progressively it became his way of life and also a public-ceremony (ಲೋಕಸಮಾರಾಧನೆ) at the same time. It finally became the absolute fulfilment of his life (ಪರಮಜೀವನಸಿದ್ಧಿ). Bhārata-vāchana which started out as an entertainment, thus culminated as a spiritual contentment (ಪರಮಮಾತ್ಮಸಂತೃಪ್ತಿ).

Government Job

Bindu Rao was employed at the secretariat back then. He dressed according to the trends of the times. A flamboyant moustache, open collar coat, neck-tie, pyjamas, and other such extravagances were typical of him. He resembled a man attending a darbar (king’s court). People gossiped about the reputation as a no-nonsense guy he maintained in his office. 

On a particular day, a heated argument broke out between Bindu Rao and Assistant Secretary D’Souza. Bindu Rao rolled up the sleeves of his coat and clenched his fists like he was in for a wrestling match. He was then pacified somehow by somebody.

He was transferred to Mysore’s Dasara exhibition office after a while. Impressed by his diligence, B Sitaramacharya, who was one of the secretaries there, selected him to work for offices of Krishna Rajendra Mills and other factories. In this manner, after moving to Mysore, Bindu Rao’s proficiency in Bhārata-vācana matured and eventually grew to be his way of life (ಜೀವಿತವ್ರತ).

Venkannayya[1] and Bindu Rao’s friendship grew around this point in time.

Gamaka lessons at the Parishat

During the year 1933-34, the responsibility of serving as the Vice President of Karnataka Sahitya Parishat was bestowed on me.  Back then, the need for encouraging the practice of Bhārata-vācana had become evident to Venkannaiah, A R Krishna Shastri, Srinivasamurthy, and others. As a result of all of their efforts and consent, a decision was made to organize poem rendition (kāvya-vācana) or gamaka classes at the Parishat and it was also decided that Bindu Rao would conduct them.

I have loved the art of gamaka right from my childhood. I had seen Telugu vaiśyas usually practice ‘vācaka’ in towns like Mulbagal, Srinivasapura, Chintamani, etc. A vidvān would teach them Āndhra-Bhāgavata, Manu-Caritramu, etc. The selection of a suitable rāga for a particular situation of the storyline, rendering a rāga under different circumstances, levels of pronunciation, splitting of compound words, the extent of stress on the svarās – all these would be taught by the scholar. My father had earned a name for being a good ‘vācaka.’

This is how I developed enthusiasm about good poem rendition.

Bindu Rao was also fortunate to have got a good set of students under his tutelage. One of the first among those students was Smt. Shakuntalabai Panduranga Rao, who still mesmerises audience through her kāvya-vācana

Bindu Rao had already embraced Vānaprasthāśrama (retirement) to a large extent by the time gamaka classes were organised in Parishat. One meal a day; moreover, it came from swayam-pāka (cooking by oneself; only eating food cooked by oneself); utmost dedication towards pūjā, sandhyā-vandanā, etc. He observed complete fasting during ekādaśi [2]and other festivities.

I asked him when he was around ninety, “At least after the recital, can’t you partake some food?”

He said, “It’s one meal per day. I prepare some rice and rasam at about ten or eleven in the morning. A bit of palya or some pickle along with it will do. Some butter-milk, and a bowl of water if I’m fatigued. My ritual is as such. In case Bhārata-vācana is scheduled for the evening, if they offer me a glass of milk, I do take some. I don’t require any additional food apart from this.”

I then thought to myself: The reason why he’s physically fit even to this day is because of his frugal eating and discipline.

Resignation

I had known Bindu Rao by the time he switched from government employment to a private job. I too was one of those people who encouraged him to do so. Sitaramacharya and I had become fast friends by then. I thought that Bindu Rao would be a great asset to Sitaramacharya’s firm and that he would be pleased by the recognition and respect that he would receive there. This arrangement indeed went well for a couple of years.

Later, a tone of discontentment began to show up often in his words. It is but common to have many executives in a private organization. An employee is expected to obey the words of multiple superiors. This isn’t easy for people like Bindu Rao. Concealing facts and making entries by ignoring evidence at the behest of someone weren’t things that his mind would agree to. 

As a consequence of that he grumbled about it for a year or a year-and-a-half and finally quit the job when a dire situation came up.  

When his friends asked him, “What’s your plan to earn a living henceforth?” he recited a verse that Draupadī sang in deference of Kṛṣṇa and said, “Hari is our only resort!”

Five to six years after this, it took a lot of persuasion to make him write a letter to the government, requesting for his pension, which he was due to receive for his previous service. He wrote a letter with apathy. The government did sanction a bit of pension. It was utterly meagre; it wouldn’t suffice even for his day-to-day expenses.[3] Bindu Rao never disclosed his financial situation to anyone under any circumstances. Neither did he hint the slightest about it even for a single instant. To anyone who saw his happiness, his smile, and his joyfulness, it appeared like he had no insufficiency. While it was true that he faced paucity, it never seemed like he was experiencing hardships.

He had lost his wife a long time ago. His daughters were married off and stayed with their families elsewhere. Bindu Rao didn’t have a son. As his younger brothers had passed away, he was running their large family. Only now, after he has left this world, I can imagine how he might have endured such intense hardships for a prolonged period of time.

To be concluded…

This is the second part of a three-part English translation of the twentieth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Reviewed by Paresh Nadig and edited by G S Raghavendra.

 

Footnotes

[1] Taluku Subbanna Venkannayya (1885–1939). Professor of Kannada at the University of Mysore (1927–39)

[2] Eleventh day of the lunar month; on this day, typically, traditional Hindus observe a fast.

[3] The original has: ‘ಹುಣಸೇಹಣ್ಣಿಗಿದ್ದರೆ ಉಪ್ಪಿಗಿಲ್ಲಾ, ಉಪ್ಪಿಗಿದ್ದರೆ ಹುಣಸೇಹಣ್ಣಿಗಿಲ್ಲ’ (literally, ‘if one buys tamarind, there’s no money for salt; if one buys salt, there’s no money for tamarind’ – given that both are essential for preparing a meal).

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)

Kiran Prasad
About:

Kiran is a mechanical engineer by qualification who's habituated to the routine of learning and unlearning. He has an abiding interest in Indian culture, art, and literature.