V N Narasimha Iyengar

One of the most popular personalities among the old Mysore citizens was one V N Narasimha Iyengar. He was also known as mīsè (mustachioed) Narasimha Iyengar. The reason was: Narasimha Iyengar was the one who started the tradition of growing a moustache, which was not prevalent among the Śrīvaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas. He was from the Hebbār Śrīvaiṣṇava community. In the era of British Commissioners, the few who could reach better positions, owing to their educational capability, were largely Hebbār Śrīvaiṣṇavas. The first who came into prominence was Sāhukār Garudacharya (Grandfather of Rao Bahadur Garudacharya), Paimastri Venkatacharya, Kolar’s Deputy Commissioner Krishna Iyengar, Bhakshi Thimmappa, Bhakshi Shingappa, B Venkatapathy Iyengar, V N Narasimha Iyengar, and others.

Narasimha Iyengar was knowledgeable in Sanskrit, was a great connoisseur, and had a fine sense of humour. During the tenure of Diwan Sheshadri Iyer he rose to the position of Deputy Commissioner and was the Controller of Palace for some duration. It was well-known fact that he and Sheshadri Iyer did not get along well. Iyer belonged to the Madras party, Iyengar to the Mysore party. Perhaps this was reason for Narasimha Iyengar not getting the chance to rise to a higher position. Apparently the government tried to sentence him when, on some occasion, he allegedly walked or rode a tonga (horsedrawn cart) on a railway line. In this situation, Narasimha Iyengar had to retire from the job. This is a story that I’ve heard. If someone can explain it in detail I would be grateful.

I can tell for sure that Narasimha Iyengar did not get depressed because of his retirement. It was my fortune that I got to meet him once or twice.

Mysore Times

His house was situated at the place where the United India building stands today, which is opposite to the Bangalore municipal office. It was a mansion. To the south of it, at the location of today’s Canara Bank, was S N Ramaswamy Iyengar’s house. Ramaswamy Iyengar’s son-in-law Shamanna was V N Narasimha Iyengar’s second son. Narasimha Iyengar and Ramaswamy Iyengar were friends more than in-laws. It was widely held that both of them were proficient in English. I was the Deputy Assistant Editor for the newspaper run by Ramaswamy Iyengar, Mysore Times. And so, I used to visit Ramaswamy Iyengar’s house twice a week. Once I had quoted a Sanskrit verse in one of the articles of Mysore Times.

Śloka

अस्ति स्वादयितुं सुधाऽस्ति वसितुं वासो नभश्चारिणां
धर्तुं सन्ति च भूषणानि शतशः न त्वस्ति धीर्जीवितुम्।
येनान्यानुपजीव्य सर्वसुलभे कर्मैकलभ्ये पदे-
ऽप्यायास्यन्ति वृथैव सेवक इति स्वामीति दुर्मेधसः॥ 

“How foolish are the devatās! They have amṛta to relish; the svarga-loka to reside; thousands of ornaments to wear. Wisdom to lead life is the only thing that is lacking! The position that they have received is something which anyone can earn. Nobody’s recommendation is necessary. The position is readily available if one performs good deeds. Thus, in a world that is devoid of anyone’s pity, these devatās are laboring by thinking – ‘That fellow is a king, this fellow is a servant!’ How foolhardy is this!”

(There is no equality in the svarga-loka as well. In reality, the fortunes of that world are based purely on merit – something that is received because of competence. It is not a result of recommendation or a result of a reservation based on faith. Even so, they have differences – Indra is the king and Agni is the messenger and so on. What sort of fools!)

Upon reading this verse, V N Narasimha Iyengar asked Ramaswamy Iyengar to introduce the person who penned this article. Likewise, it appears that he also told M Venkatakrishnayya of Mysore. Upon hearing this news I was elated. The next time when Narasimha Iyengar came from Mysore to Ramaswamy Iyengar’s place in Bangalore, the latter introduced me to him. By then I had heard a few stories about Narasimha Iyengar. When I met him in person, I could not muster the courage to speak much. My parents and elders had taught me to be courtenous and humble in the presence of elders.

Reformer

Narasimha Iyengar was a sort of social reformer. One of the symbols for this mindset was his moustache.

During those times, there was a big debate about whether or not it was appropriate to cross the seas [which was a taboo]. Both parties engaged in heated arguments. Narasimha Iyengar had argued that travelling abroad was a necessity and crossing the seas was not inappropriate.

Narasimha Iyengar was the Census Commissioner for a brief duration. Then, one of the groups—probably the viśvakarmas—had submitted an application to the government requesting for an order to include them among the brāhmaṇa groups. This was forwarded to the Census Commissioner by the government. Narasimha Iyengar, the then Census Commissioner, put up a notice in front of his office –

“Those who wish to explain their qualms about the census should come on Monday, the 15th at 11:00 am to the Census Commissioner’s office and meet him at the said time.”

The Verdict

As per this advertisement, on the said day and the announced time, a lot of people had gathered. The Commissioner’s assistant announced at the entrance three times, “The brāhmaṇas may enter now and meet the Commissioner!”

There was nobody who went in to see the Commissioner.

Later, the same assistant said, “Others may enter now.” A lot of people went in. The petitioners mentioned above [i.e., viśvakarmas] were also among them. As soon as these petitioners said, “Among the brāhmaṇa groups…,” the Commissioner said, “That topic is closed. Those who were brāhmaṇas had to enter earlier.”

Thus ended that question.

Flamboyant Speech

It is necessary to say a word of critique with regard to one of Narasimha Iyengar’s political speeches.

In 1908, Diwan V P Madhava Rao had established the Mysore Legislative Council. The government had nominated Narasimha Iyengar as a member of the Council. And in the first session of that Council they tabled the Mysore Newspaper Regulation Bill. The speech that Narasimha Iyengar’s gave supporting the bill served as a flamboyant voice favouring the obstacle of progress and citizens’ freedom. Narasimha Iyengar’s speech deserves the adjective ‘flamboyant.’ His high flown words—in the style of the English—were bitter, proficient, and strong in rebuttal. He had used bombastic words. Along with that he had mocked the journalists thus –

“What kind of people enter into journalism nowadays? Those who are half-baked, not complete scholars. Those who are only literate, not mature. There’s an old proverb –

भग्नाकृषिर्भागवता भवन्ति

(Those who fail at work become bhāgavatas!)

When all other jobs and professions are lost to them, for a livelihood they become harikathā bhāgavatas (bards) and sing heroic verses of others.”

Many rebuked Narasimha Iyengar saying that it was not in good taste to mock those who are pursuing this profession with genuine love for people and those who are working for the nation with a keen interest in service. Apparently, Narasimha Iyengar had laughed on hearing this.

A Tendency

When he was the Controller of Palace, a widow of a palace servant approached Narasimha Iyengar to tell her woes about losing her means of subsistence upon the death of her husband. He heard her story and said, “You’re still young. Why not remarry?”

She replied, “Who will like me? You alone should display large-heartedness.”

This is a story. I cannot tell if it is true or false. Even if we deem it as a story, those who like it may consider this as an indication of Narasimha Iyengar’s temperament or a certain tendency of his. It is a story that reveals his behaviour.

Narasimha Iyengar had a lucid style of English writing; people of those days appreciated that. He used to write descriptive articles in the Mysore Times under the title ‘Old Scenes Revisited.’ He used to describe the places where he had worked in the past and his experiences in those places. Among the articles published in a humble Bangalore newspaper, selected ones were republished in the famous newspapers of Bombay and Calcutta.

Among those, the newspaper run by K Natarajan in Bombay, The Indian Social Reformer was a popular one. In both style as well as taste, it was of a high standard.

Among those emotionally-rich articles, one was about a lady by the name of ‘Arabi Nanjundi.’ Narasimha Iyengar had described Nanjundi’s physical beauty in limited words and had painted her image in the reader’s mind. That lady had tattooed her arm with the words – “This body belongs to Gadipalya’s Shamarao.”

Gadipalya is somewhere in the district of Chamarajanagar or somewhere else. From the description of Narasimha Iyengar we get the imression that the lady by name ‘Nanjundi’ was an extremely chaste woman. Identifying a lotus in what appears as a swamp on the surface is the hallmark of a connoisseur!

With the thought that Narasimha Iyengar’s writings interest people for times to come, I requested a lot of his relatives to compile his articles and bring them out in the form of a book. His elder son was Deputy Commissioner Chokkanna and another son was Shamanna, an Assistant Excise Commissioner. I told his other relatives as well. But it did not bear fruit. Even today, if his writings were discovered and published, it would become a collection worth reading.

This is an English translation of the twenty-seventh chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 8 – Sankirna Smrti Samputa. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

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:

Shreehari has a master's degree (M.Tech) and works as an embedded software engineer in the automotive industry in Bengaluru. His interests are composing metrical verses in Kannada, literature, playing the flute, carnatic music, travelling, and sports adventure.

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