One can hardly forget V Si.’s extraordinary oratory skills. It was a celebration just to listen to him speak – he was fluent in giving lectures both in English and Kannada. Both the subject matter of his talk and the beauty of his presentation enraptured the audience. Lucid speech, broadminded thoughts, deep and wide study – all these came together to make him an eloquent orator. Even when he was given a topic only a few minutes before he went on to the dais, he would lecture as though he was prepared to speak on the topic from a long time.
V Si. never thought twice before subjecting himself to humour. I have shared earlier an anecdote connected with him reading out his own poem and sending waves of laughter in the audience.
There were only a few who could recite poems attractively like V Si. This was possible because he knew intimately the intent of the poet. It is hard to capture in words the impressive manner in which V Si. recited the poems composed by Bendre and K S Na. In fact, K S Na. himself would be amazed at the kind of analysis and interpretations V Si. would perform on his poems.
A Stalwart of the Navodaya
V Si. has left behind a huge number of literary works that make him immortal. Equally important is to keep in mind his contribution towards the literary renaissance of Karnataka. He actively participated in the Navodaya movement of Kannada literature.
Literature is not an area that can attract everyone. Among thousands only a few might give their time and heart to literature. The situation has remained unchanged till date. V Si. toiled to kindle interest in literature in several people. It is important to recognise this contribution of V Si. and his contemporaries.
Sri Ranga once said, “For a person like me, who never went through the works of Pampa and Ranna, it was V Sitaramaiah who provided inspiration to write on Kannada literature. This is how I ended up writing columns for Prabuddha Karnataka and Triveni.”
V Si. greatly supported the establishment of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat. He worked along with his seniors such as Bellave Venkatanaranappa and B M Srikantayya in shaping the institution.
There were not many who travelled beyond the frontiers of the old Mysore region for the propagation of the Kannada language. V Si. was well known beyond Karnataka for his multi-faceted work. Umashankar Joshi of Gujarat, Gulabdas Broker of Bombay, V Raghavan of Madras, G Shankar Kurup of Kerala, and others were closely associated with V Si.
During the days when people outside the Kannada speaking region knew little about the language and its literature, V Si. constantly wrote columns for The Hindu and other newspapers. He thus helped the Kannada flag fly high.
When Kuvempu (Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa) received the first Jnanpith Award for the Kannada language, he wrote a letter to V Si. (dated 5th June 1968) saying, “This recognition that Kannada has today got is only because of you all who worked for its sake.” In fact, it was V Si. who had strongly recommended that Rāmāyaṇa-darśanam composed by Kuvempu was a work worthy of receiving the Jnanpith Award. He was really happy when his recommendation was accepted and Kuvempu received the award. There were discussions about this for many days after he received the award. It is the fortune of the Kannada language to have had a person like V Si. who could speak so well and promote the works of Kuvempu. The Jnanpith committee had even written a letter to V Si. congratulating him for the manner in which he spoke on the Rāmāyaṇa-darśanam and expressed its gratitude to him for the same.
Writings of V Si.
Several scholars might exist around us and there might be many poets too; however, it is rare to find a person who is the right blend of a scholar and poet, imbued with a good heart and affection for the world. Whenever V Si. started speaking about Sītā of the Rāmāyaṇa or Kuntī of Mahābhārata, his voice would choke and his eyes would get filled with tears. It was from this tender heart that all his analysis of literary works emanated. It appears that this kind of connoisseurship is rare today. V Si. was a living example for Margaret Hungerford’s words – “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” He also reflects the famous statement – “We see things, not as they are, but as we are.”
V Si. has written in detail about several literary works – especially those pertaining to poetry and drama. Since he had a wide range of interests it was possible for him to pen creative appreciation and critical reviews on several works – many of them were occasion-driven and some were full-fledged works. While Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, and Śākuntalam were the works closest to his heart, he had special affection for Ādi-purāṇa, Pampa-bhārata, and Aśvatthāman (of B M Sri.) He engaged for the longest duration and in the deepest fashion with these works all through his career. He often quoted from the Pampa-bhārata even in everyday conversations. He had developed a special kind of bond with these works. It can be said that his analysis of these works emanated more out of his love for them rather than from quantifying their qualities using weights and measures.
V Si. wrote a long essay on Karnāṭaka-kādambarī for the Pracāra-pustaka-mālè of the Mysore University in 1957. Though it was set to certain restrictions by the publisher, he has brought in several nuanced details in his writing – he has examined the manner in which Nāgavarma has made use of the material from the original work of Bāṇa and also has written about the way the poet throws light on the eternal nature of the beautiful world. He has also delineated the relationship between Kādambarī and Candrāpīḍa. He also points out the fact that though such flowery descriptions were but natural to the poets of Bāṇa’s period, how the later poets overused the ornamentation in their language, thereby leading to rasābhāsa. In the episode where the parrot blesses the emperor Śūdraka with victory, V Si. observes that it is quite crude to wish for the widowhood of wives of the enemies. In fact, such descriptions were common in the works of the poets of that period; Paṇḍita-rāja Jagannātha says, jayatyakabaraḥ pṛthvīpatirūrjitavikrama: yenārātivadhūvargaḥ sarvoḍapyakabarīkṛtaḥ. It had almost become a cliché in the poetic compositions of the period. But V Si. would never accept anything that transgressed aucitya.
V Si.’s commentary and analysis of the play ‘Aśvatthāman’ is of fine quality. The original play composed by B.M. Sri is an interesting one and V Si.’s writing on the play is useful for anyone who attempts to go through the work. He helps us understand how B.M.Sri derived inspiration from the Greek work to compose the play Aśvatthāman.
In the 1970s, the India Book House (IBH) publications brought out a series called Kavi-kāvya-paramparè. V Si. helped shaped the series and worked with great interest in all the books in the series. His scholarship in language and literature is prominently seen in those works. The work authored by V Si. on Pampa-bhārata is brilliant.
Mahākavi Pampa was a work that V Si. first wrote in English in 1962 and he authored an enlarged edition in Kannada, which came out in 1975. It is a comprehensive study of the two works attributed to Pampa. As a preface to his study, he has written in detail about the tradition of the Jain dharma and this serves as a historical backdrop to the work. The work is filled with the highlights of both the poems. However, the best aspect of the work is the kind of insights V Si. has provided throughout. He tells us about the importance of the campū style that Pampa has used in his works. V Si. also throws light on the fact that the state of a Tīrthaṅkara needs to be acquired well within the lifetime of man.
V Si. identifies the aspects in the epic poems of Pampa, which reflect a sublime culture. He points out the following instances – Mādrī’s sorrow upon the passing away of Pāṇḍu, the incidents connected with the Rājasūya performed by the Pāṇḍavas, the dramatic element brought in the episode of Kīcaka’s killing, Karṇa’s state of mind when he realises that fate is not in Duryodhana’s favour, Pampa’s hailing of the virtues of Karṇa even after his death, Kuntī telling the Pāṇḍava’s about Karṇa’s real identity and Pāṇḍavas lamenting over the death of their brother. These and several other instances of Pampa’s work throw light on the poet’s understanding of rasa and V Si. does not fail to identify the best aspects of his work.
V Si. has also provided with an appendix that consists of analysis of characters, the dynamism in Pampa’s work, the alaṅkāras (figures of speech) used by the poet and Pampa’s place in classical poetry. In addition, V Si. has also discussed the human values and the societal dharma in the concluding segments.
V Si’s Versatility
V Si. had thoroughly read all kinds of literary criticism that had come out in Kannada, Sanskrit, and English languages. He had ingested and assimilated everything that caught his sight and reading. Just as V Si. could become one with the work he was reading, he could also enrapture his audience and carry them along with him, either as an orator or as a writer.
It is important to understand the value of V Si.’s writings today, especially because there seems to be a downward trend in the number of people taking to the study of classics. An integrated approach in looking at a literary work, keeping rasa always in sight, performing higher criticism – all these aspects come together in great proportions in V Si.’s literary criticism.
V Si. had the special quality of finding poetry in day to day activities. His travelogue Pampā-yātrè (which has also been translated into English by Prof. Dr. S. Ramaswamy) is of a special kind. It has risen above the genre of travelogue and has become a work of philosophical reflection. The annual conglomeration of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat took place in Belagavi in 1925. V Si., who participated at the event, decided to visit Hampi on the way back with others. Bellave Venkatanaranappa, DVG, T S Venkannayya, and M R Srinivasa Murthy were with him on the trip. He penned the work Pampā-yātrè to document their unique trip to Hampi and to record it in the hearts of those who travelled with him. V Si. shows us the different aspects of human life and also various facets of history. Pampā-yātrè drew the attention of many literary stalwarts of Kannada and Da. Ra. Bendre even wrote a poem on the work. V Si.’s writing remains green in the memory of the Kannadigas even today.