T R Venkatarama Shastri (Part 2)

Enthusiasm in Public Service

I have already mentioned that Venkatarama Shastri belonged to the tradition of Shivaswami Iyer. Both of them followed the same path in politics. It was a gentle path—the path of negotiation and persuasion—and neither revolutionary nor extreme. Both of them had a resolve to express their own views regarding any questions that arose in public matters. But the severity of that resolve was more pronounced in Venkatarama Shastri.

During one such episode, Venkatarama Shastri thought of publishing a statement. He immediately prepared a copy of the statement. Holding that in his hands, he set out to Shivaswami Iyer’s house. It was noontime, on a hot day, and the sun was scorching his head. Shastri had worn just a muṇḍu[1]. He did not have even a towel on his shoulders as he walked. One of his friends, who was driving down from the opposite direction stopped the car and asked, “What is this Shastri? Why are you walking like this? You are hardly wearing any clothes! The sunshine is intense.”

Shastri said, “Shivaswami Iyer’s house is quite close by, isn’t it?”

His friend said with a laugh, “Come let’s go in my car.”

“No, no. Why use the car for this short distance?”

Saying so Shastri walked ahead. What happened there is far more interesting.

Shivaswami Iyer was sitting in the veranda of his house. Venkatarama Shastri approached him hastily, walking briskly on the lawn. As he came closer, Shivaswami Iyer asked, “Shastri, didn’t you see the notice board over there?”

(The ‘notice board’ was written in big, bold, and coloured letters – “Walking on the lawn is prohibited.”)

Venkatarama Shastri made a face akin to that of a student getting scolded by the teacher in class and said, “I came in a hurry.”

“What is that? Have you written a statement?” asked Iyer.

“Yes, it is an important matter. I’m here to show this to you.”

“You should always be doing something, right? Otherwise your hands and legs may lose their warmth, isn’t it? Your clothes would get cold, right?” said Shivaswami Iyer.

“Once you review this, I will show it to Srinivasa Shastri.”

“So be it. And isn’t it Srinivasa Shastri who should correct the spelling and grammatical mistakes in this if there are any!”

Conversation between Teacher and Student

The above instance is just a sample. Such episodes would take place frequently.

Shivaswami Iyer had complete faith in Venkatarama Shastri’s motives and writings – and was also impressed by his work. But it was his practice to make fun of Shastri in the form of small objections. Shastri would humbly accept Iyer’s mischievous objections and give a slight smile.

Shivaswami Iyer was a connoisseur of music. He spent some time and effort learning the violin. He did not have much time to learn in the traditional way, refining his skills day after day. So he had to drop the idea of learning violin. But he had the desire to listen to good music. As an impediment to this, he had difficulty in hearing. Yet he would carefully listen to melodious music.

Once an accomplished musician was singing and Shivaswami Iyer was delighted listening to it. He whispered in the ears of Venkatarama Shastri who was sitting next to him, “I have listened to this; I have listened to it many a times. I know this well.”

Shastri replied, “Yes, yes. It is familiar to you. It’s always with you at home!”

That was Rāga Kalyāṇī. Shivaswami Iyer’s wife’s name was Kalyani. Listening to Shastri’s words Shivaswami Iyer laughed. Thus the guru-dakṣiṇā was paid.

This is how the teacher and student conversed.

Study of the Vedas

Like Shivaswami Iyer, Venkatarama Shastri too was a Sanskrit scholar. Those who listened to his convocation speech in Mysore University may remember that he quoted excerpts from the Taittirīyopaniṣad and had also structured his speech in a similar fashion.

One Saturday he was at Bangalore. I requested him for his august presence at a ceremony that was to be held at my place the following day. He replied, “It is my duty to be there at your place during an auspicious ceremony. And a pleasant duty at that! But now there is an obstacle for it. Tomorrow is Sunday. Along with my friend Bhaskara Iyer, I decided to resume the studies that we would undertake during our childhood. Bhaskara Iyer adorned the Chief Engineer’s post until the day before yesterday and he couldn’t spare time for studies but now he is retired. We want to study together as we did before. That is a vaidika-kārya (Vedic ritual). That which is going to happen at your place tomorrow is also a vaidika-kārya. Let us assume that our recitation of the Vedas in Madras tomorrow is a part of the vaidika-karma that you are undertaking!”

This is how he convinced me.

Venkatarama Shastri was born in a family of vaidikas. One of the branches of his family tree ran to the great and well-known scholar Appayya-dīkṣita.

His father was an āhitāgni[2]. Somehow he came to know that his death was imminent. He informed his wife about this bitter fact, offer her words of solace asking her not to wail or lament, and summoned some brāhmaṇas. After their arrival he performed some rituals like ātma-samāropaṇā as mentioned in śāstras and slept on a darbhāsana. When they completed chanting the Karṇa-mantras and were reciting the Upaniṣad-vākyas, he appears to have left his body. Probably Venkatarama Shastri was seven or eight years old at that time.

Faith in Śāstras

Shastri was brought up in such an environment. He never missed a ritual. I have seen him offering tarpaṇas on every new moon day without fail. Once it was a cold and cloudy day of December in Bangalore. That morning he came out of the room where he was performing āhnika,[3] asked me, who sitting in the hall –

“What is this, my man? Do pitṛs[4] come to your town wearing coats or shawls?”

I said, “Who?”

“The pitṛ-devatās!” he said.

“You could have started after the onset of some sunshine!”

Shastri said, “How can I ask them to wait because I am feeling cold? The first job on a new moon day is to offer tarpaṇa.”

That was the faith and belief Shastri had in rituals.

Longing for Knowledge

When he was nearing eighty, Shastri retired from his law practice and started learning Greek. He appointed a teacher for that. The study was methodical. In between, there used to be discussions on the similarities and dissimilarities between words and grammatical rules of Sanskrit and Greek. The doubts that arose during such conversations would be discussed further with other friends through letter correspondences. It was a matter of amusement and astonishment for people like me.

If I asked, “What’s with all the study of such things at this age?” he would answer, “There is no particular time for study. One should be a student throughout one’s life!” And to justify his words, he would quote from Vedas – “Yadeva vidyayā karoti &c.”[5]

Similarly, in his personal correspondences too, ślokas from the Bhāgavata and the Mahābhārata appeared frequently.

Venkatarama Shastri was benevolent. He helped many scholars and writers financially on a large scale but discreetly. His was a large family. It would always be teeming with sons, daughters, sons-in-law, grand-children, great grand-children, and relatives. He had a large house. And it would always be full of people. Along with that there used to be a daily gathering of friends in the house.

To be concluded.

This is the second part of a three-part English translation of the third chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 6 – Halavu Sarvajanikaru. Reviewed by Vaishnavi Naik and Paresh Nadig. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

 

Footnotes

[1] Akin to a dhoti; a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist in a casual manner.

[2] Refers to a brāhmaṇa who maintains and consecrates agni (sacred fire) in his house perpetually.

[3] Daily ritual.

[4] Ancestors (or manes).

[5] Chāndogyopaniṣad 1.1.10.

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)

Manjunath Hegde Balgar
About:

Manjunath Hegde Balgar is a student of science, literature, and poetry with deep interest in Indian culture and classical art.

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