Two Venerable Individuals

1. Veeresalingam Pantulu

The stature that belonged to R Narasimhacharya[1] in the history of Kannada literature was earned in Telugu literature by Kandakuri Veeresalingam Pantulu.  

Veeresalingam Pantulu has written the history of Telugu poets[2]. He has written a few novels as well. I’ve heard that he has also composed a few poetical works. A few of his novels have been translated into Kannada:

1. Satyavatī Caritre – It was translated into Kannada probably by Nanjangud Anantanarayana Shastri. Some say it is an imitation of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. According to me Satyavatī Caritre is an independent work.

2. Rājaśekhara Caritre – This was translated into Kannada by Bellave Somanathayya.

3. Satyarājana Deśayātregaḻu – This was translated into Kannada by Benagal Rama Rao.

All three are good novels. The plots of these novels are familiar to all of us – portraits of the household and social lives of our middle-class people. The structure of these novels, i.e. the kathā-saṃvidhāna, is interesting. Satyarājana Deśayātregaḻu had quite a few strange situations and humorous sequences as per my recollections. I regret that good works like these are not prevalent anymore. Both in terms of their subject and their writing style, these works have appealed to everyone.

Veeresalingam Pantulu was regarded as a great scholar in his time. For long, he served as examiner for B.A. and M.A. classes at the University of Madras. He was considered an authority in Telugu for various education related programs of the government.

Being a scholar and a writer accounted for only half of Veeresalingam Pantulu’s fame. The rest was related to his social work and reforms. He dedicated his life for the empowerment and upliftment of women in Hindu society, especially for the cause and support of widow remarriages. His wife Rajalakshmamma was extremely supportive of him and always took part in such causes and activities.

Veeresalingam’s beliefs with regard to religion were similar to a large extent to that of the Arya Samaj. I’ve heard that he had a hall built for the Brahmo Samaj in Aralipet. I have seen members of Brahmo Samaj from surrounding areas gathering and singing bhajans in that hall. Today, a primary school runs in that building. The Brahmo Samaj today is not as strong as it was then. 

My Paurohitya[3]

Veeresalingam held as many as forty-five to fifty widow remarriages. Of those, I know of three that were held in Bangalore. I was involved in the ‘paurohitya’ of those widow remarriages.

The other person who was with me for paurohitya was a person by name Sharma. He was an Āndhra-brāhmaṇa and belonged to the Arya Samaj. He was working probably as a vaccinator in the Sanitary Department or in some other Department. Because he was from the Arya Samaj, he had learnt the mantras. Since I knew some mantras in part, Venkatavarada Iyengar, the person in charge of the widow remarriages, used to appoint both us for paurohitya. I was enthusiastic about such events.

It was decided to hold widow remarriages in the Cantonment area. I shall tell you the reason for it. In those times, the Widow Remarriage Act was existent only in those parts of the country directly ruled by the British. Since Mysore was a princely state, widow remarriage was not legally recognized, unlike in the areas were directly under the British rule. As the Cantonment area came directly under the British, the laws of British India were applicable there. Therefore, all the widow remarriages of those times were held in the Cantonment area.

I must confess that these social reforms were not as successful and satisfactory as we expected it be. Generally, widows who would get re-married – at least half of them – were adults and were matured, which might have made it difficult for the couple to get along. I have heard few such stories of anomaly (i.e. break-ups).

Along with this, the societal circumstances have also been changing. The practice of child marriage has declined. The age at which women are getting married has been increasing and so the number of cases of child widows is on the decline. Apart from this, there has been a decline in the female population. Due to lack of employment and lack of wealth, the age at which men and women are getting married has gone up and the desire for marriage is also decreasing. Due to various reasons, the problem of child-widowhood has reduced to a large extent although it has not disappeared completely.

There’s always the question of Who defines the age of ‘childhood’? It seems that the society has decided to better leave it to the judgment of individuals.

Veeresalingam Pantulu and his wife Rajalakshmamma ran an abalāśrama (a destitute home for women) probably in Rajamahendrapura. At the āśrama, child widows as well as destitute and orphaned women were provided food, shelter, and certain training with the intention of making them earn an independent living.

An Accusation

Once, a serious accusation was levied against Veeresalingam. The accusation was that he was being ‘served’ by a woman who lived in the āśrama. The accusation was published by Tanguturi Sriramulu. He was a barrister and ran a paper called The Carlylian. His elder brother Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu was a famous leader in Andhra, who ran the newspaper Swarajya and served the Madras Presidency as a minister and then as Chief Minister.

The accusation levied against Veeresalingam by Sriramulu came before the court. At that time, upon enquiry it was releaved that during his old age, Veeresalingam had developed wrinkles on his back, which had turned into blotches in parts, causing him much pain and trouble. To treat it, the doctor had prescribed some medicinal oil to be applied. Someone had to apply the oil on Veeresalingam’s back every day. Since Rajalakshmamma was old and weak, she had assigned the task of applying the oil to a woman in the āśrama. It was true that the woman was doing that service. Just because of this, to speculate that an improper, immoral act had been committed would be an unjust accusation. This was the pronouncement of the court. 

A few old guards like me—few and far between—might vaguely remember Tanguturi Sriramulu’s name. However, memories of Veeresalingam Pantulu are elaborately and firmly etched in my mind.

When I saw Veeresalingam, he was already old. He wore knee-length woolen socks as he was suffering from arthritis in his leg. The hair on his head and face had considerably greyed and were prickly, probably evoking fear in the hearts of those who saw him for the first time! However, if one spoke to him, one would realise how humble and courteous he was.

Veeresalingam Pantulu owned a house in Bengaluru. It was situated in the corner of Chamarajapet’s First Main Road, to the north of Idgah Maidan. As far as I know, it was recently bought by former Deputy Commissioner Syed Taj Peeran[4].

In India’s social reform and intellectual worlds, a high position will permanently be reserved for Veeresalingam Pantulu.

~

2. Dayaram Gidumal

Aren’t there hundreds and hundreds of ways to help the world? One among the hundreds of ways is accepting a (false) accusation. This is the story of a great individual who willingly embraced the accusation unjustly hurled on him and endured its consequences in order to save the life and dignity of another.

This incident is from fifty-five to sixty years ago. In 1912–13, in the Sindh Province lived a great person by name Dayaram Gidumal. He was a District Judge in a place by name Sakkar or Shikaripur.

At that time, in our educated class, patriotism had taken the form of social reforms. Gandhi had not shot to fame by then. His predecessors like Raja Rammohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, and Mahadeva Govinda Ranade’s views on social reforms were prevalent everywhere. Political tumult had not yet begun. Dayaram Gidumal had accepted the ideas and ideals of social service. Even his wife was a part of these efforts.

Anāthālaya

Dayaram and his wife had established an anāthālaya (home for destitutes, orphanage). Widows, destitute women, and orphan girls were given food and shelter; and arrangements were made to provide them education and training in crafts and other skill-oriented fields so that in the course of time they could lead a dignified life on their own, independently; to facilitate them in such ways was the main intention of Dayaram and his wife. The anāthālaya grew well. The public applauded its functioning and helped it wholeheartedly. Everyone appreciated the couple’s noble intentions and commitment towards duty.

At this juncture one day, a lightning struck from the clear skies. Dayaram sent out a release. The release stated that he would retire from public life and that he would completely abdicate all his relationships with all public institutions. This news spread far and wide across the country. Newspapers speculated on different grounds. One such speculation was that a lady was missing from the anāthālaya. Another speculation was that she had been impregnated and the third one was that Dayaram was the one who impregnated her.

Silence

Dayaram didn’t respond to any of the speculations. He did not give any explanation to the newspapers. No one knew the whereabouts of Dayaram and his wife.  For about two years, everyone was puzzled and curious. Nobody came to know anything about the matter. Nobody was there to enquire if Dayaram was alive or not. Even if enquired, there was no way to get any response. Such was the strange situation.

After two more years passed, the mystery unraveled bit by bit. It was true that a woman in Dayaram’s āśrama was pregnant. It was also true that she had even thought of committing suicide. Nobody knew the man behind her plight. This must have taken a week or two before it came to Dayaram Gidumal’s notice. It gradually reached his ears through his wife.

A Fruitful Name

Dayaram and his wife became anxious. They contemplated about what needs to be done. Thus they decided: What can be done knowing the details of the man behind the woman’s misery? If we don’t extend help to her, she might even take an extreme step. Her life must be saved. But before that, her dignity and honour must be saved. If it could be established that her doing was not an illegitimate affair, she could drop the thoughts of taking an extreme step. For this to happen, someone had to own up that he was the reason for it and accept her as his wife. Whence can such people be found? Is it a commodity that can be bought? Even if someone agrees to do it for money, will he firmly take the responsibility?

After such deliberations, the husband and wife finally decided that Dayaram Gidumal would take the responsibility. The responsibility that belonged to someone else was borne by Dayaram due to [the couple’s] empathy towards a woman. Dayaram said: Doesn’t matter if people hurl accusations on me; if that leads to the salvation of someone, we should be prepared to bear the harsh consequences. He lived up to his name ('the epitome of compassion'); it became fruitful.   

patītapāvana sītārām

This is the thirteenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Sarvajanikaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar. Thanks to K K Subramaniam for his review and pertinent suggestions.

 

Footnotes

[1] Mahāmahopādhyāya R Narasimhacharya (1860–1936) was a renowned savant of Kannada literature and a multifaceted scholar. Apart from his erudition in Kannada, Samskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and English, he earned respect as a writer, editor, and archeologist with a deep interest in inscriptions and classical Kannada works. DVG has written about R Narasimhacharya in the third volume of Art Gallery of Memories.

[2] R Narasimhacharya wrote the history of Kannada poets in three volumes titled Karṇāṭaka Kavi Carite. It is a seminal work and is considered one of the first and best attempts of its kind.

[3] A ‘purohita’ is an officiator of a Hindu ceremony, like marriage for example. Paurohitya refers to the profession of the purohita; in general ‘paurohitya’ means ‘concerning purohitas’ or ‘related to purohitas.’

[4] There is a passing reference to Syed Taj Peeran in the 21st chapter of the third volume of Art Gallery of Memories.

 

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:

Jayasimha currently works as part of a think tank under the Government of India. Previously he worked as a journalist with The Hindu. Prior to that he was a 'Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament' (LAMP) Fellow at PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi. His interests include literature, philosophy, history, politics, and polity.

Prekshaa Publications

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