T S Venkannayya (Part 2)

Venkannayya’s Whims

Venkannayya and I, for several years, were like members of the same family. During the summer vacations, his wife would visit her native town Taḻuku and other places. At that time, Venkannayya would practically be a part of my family. My father had great affection for him. My mother would look upon him as one of the children in the family. What should be prepared for dinner, what snacks should be made, which fruits to use – in these matters, my mother would indulge all these whims of Venkannayya, which he would express without any reservations. This would be a source of entertainment for my father because he too was a foodie. Venkannayya’s presence as a guest brought joy to the household.

During the avarekāyi season, Venkannayya relished various delicacies prepared from it. There was a time when I would suffer from bouts of stomach-ache during the evenings. The remedy that Venkannayya often recommended was tasty Brinjal sāmbār. It must be rich in lentils and must be accompanied with a generous helping of ghee.

“Just eat that once and see what happens man!” he would say. For indigestion, lentil sāmbār is a panacea.

Venkannayya’s Personality

Venkannayya’s physical frame was impressive. He was a tall man, perhaps a six-footer. He was lean and had particularly long fingers. A measure of my geṇu [handspan] would equal his coṭu [the distance between the tip of the thumb and forefinger when both are outstretched, almost creating a right angle between the two]. He had an attractive face. Radiant eyes. His words would flow smoothly and steadily in an unhurried manner. His voice was neither too shrill nor too deep; it had a medium pitch. A voice that was well-suited for music. He was also meticulous in the way he dressed. When he was a school teacher, he would wear a shirt. I have seen him wear trousers a couple of times. He would wear a turban on his head. It was a cloth with a thin border that he would use to tie the turban in an elegant manner.

It appears that Venkannayya lived in Dharwad for a while. There were a lot of typical Dharwad usages in his language. During the days he was studying law, he would tie a turban with a red coloured silk cloth in the Punjabi style, leaving a short piece floating on the shoulder; I too have seen him wearing a turban in that fashion.

All in all, his dressing sense was great and he always looked dapper.

~

Matters personal, speech informal—this is my state when I have to speak about Venkannayya. Whenever I remember him, my mind becomes turbulent. Where to begin, where to end, what is the right order, what to present, and what not to present – I lose the sense of discretion. We were two people whose hearts and minds were one for such a long period of time. In life, many friendships are like shirt and coat, merely external objects sticking to our body; it is only one or two friendships that become one’s skin and one’s flesh and bones, thereby becoming the very refuge of one’s life. Venkannayya was one such person; he was the inner essence of my life, not an extraneous object.

An Environment of Connoisseurship

Venkannayya’s birthplace was Taḻuku, a village near Challakere taluk, Chitradurga district. He was a Mulakanāḍu brāhmaṇa[1]. His mother tongue was Telugu with a smattering of Kannada. Venkannayya’s father Subbanna was renowned in those parts. He would produce plays and lāvaṇis (folk songs) for the entertainment of the people from the surrounding villages. Venkannayya’s mother would recite verses from the Bhārata[2] in a melodious voice. Their bīgaru[3], Chandrashekhara Shastri was a famous composer of lāvaṇis. Here is one of his compositions –

jhagajhagisuva nālku jagali–ī-
jagava nirmisidaṃtha brahmanè barali-
hariharara karètarali–jhaga…

bèḻagèrè paṃjāgdorkāvya–idu
iḻèyalla janarigè noḍalāścarya
phaḻaphaḻa kannaḍiyappaṃda
hòḻītadè idarali musuḍī pasaṃda
sòṭṭāpaṭṭe kalle ikki
nèṭṭagè māḍyavre
iṭigè cūrū maraḻū tikki
maṭṭasa taṭṭyavre–balu
maṭṭasa taṭṭyavre
suṇṇā gārè tikkī tikkī
nuṇṇagè māḍyavre–balu
nuṇṇaga māḍyavre
nuṇṇaga māḍyavre
kaṇṇigè caṃda noḍlikkaṃdā
rasikara cakkaṃdā

Here is another one of his compositions:

èṃgāyite pariśè–karisiddi
èṃgāyite pariśè
èṃgāytè pariśè-
raṃgappan jātregè
siṃgārāghodoru-
maṃgamaṃgāg baṃdraṃtè
cèṃgāvi sīrèyuṭṭu–o karisiddi
raṃgraṃgin kupasā tòṭṭu
baṃgārda mūgti iṭṭu-
cuṃgsèrgallāḍistā
kaṃgaḻaḍḍāḍisiddoru
maṃgamūrtiyādarallè

Chandrashekhara Shastri was a pure-hearted connoisseur. A lover of humour. One who had an understanding of philosophy. He was not only intimately familiar with the Upaniṣads but also had witnessed and withstood great worldly difficulties in his life. The intention of describing Shastri’s nature is to give a glimpse into the quality of the environment of Venkannayya’s circle of relatives and friends.

It was in this kind of an ecosystem of connoiss-eurship that Venkannayya was born to and grew up in.

A few years back, the people of Taḻuku had organised a festival in memory of Venkannayya. A team from Bangalore under the leadership of Nittur Srinivasa Rao went to attend that event and I too was a part of it. In addition to a procession with his portrait, meetings, lectures, kāvya-vācanas, etc. were the activities that were organised. People had come from nearby towns. It was a huge gathering.

I had the opportunity to meet Janakiamma, the (now deceased) daughter of Chandrashekhara Shastri, whom I have alluded to earlier. Janakiamma had composed richly emotional poems in simple, beautiful Kannada. Her premature death was a huge loss to Kannada literature. Her poems have been published in the form of a book.

Wanderings

After completing his basic education in Chitra-durga, Venkannayya went to college in Mysore and obtained his ba degree. After this, he went to Bombay to study law for some time, where he also worked in a post office for a while. Then he joined the Department of Education of the State of Mysore and became a school teacher in Doddaballapur. After a period of time, he moved to Bangalore and was a teacher in a school in the cantonment area. I’m not familiar with his varied professional experiences. The opportunity to talk about these things with him never came. Venkannayya’s primary work was in the university. He wandered about quite a bit before entering that field.

 

To be continued.

This is the second part of an eight-part English translation of Chapters 23 and 24 of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 3 – Sahityopasakaru.

Footnotes

[1] The Mulakanāḍu brāhmaṇas are a sub-group of Telugu-speaking vaidika smārta brāhmaṇas.

[2]  Possibly from Kumāra-vyāsa’s Kannada rendition of the Epic.

[3] There is no English equivalent for this term. It is the relationship between the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom. Chandrashekhara Shastri was the father-in-law of either Venkannayya or one of his siblings.

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:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written more than fifteen books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He works in an advisory capacity with Abhinava Dance Company, Lakshminarayana Global Centre for Excellence, Pramiti, and Samvit Research Foundation.

About:

Srishan Thirumalai is an Electronics Engineer who holds a senior position in the IT industry. He is passionate about Indian classical music and literature.

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