The Vampire of Doubts
V Si. had doubts at every step. “If I put it this way, this question crops up. If I say it that way, another question arises!” – This kind of uncertainty crept into his writings as well.
To this, DVG had said, “Questions keep popping up, but answers too must come up, right?”
I happen to recollect one such incident.
A certain individual who had met V Si. in a public programme invited him to an event that was to take place the following evening – it was connected with the publication of a book. The next day, the vampire of doubt caught V Si. He constantly thought from morning –
Inner voice #1: “Why do you have to pay heed to the invitation of some random person whom you met on the street? When there is no formal invitation, why do you need to go there?”
Inner voice #2: “Aren’t you going to be the loser if you don’t go to this event, which will include many other dignitaries too?”
Inner voice #3: “Isn’t this an occasion for people to know that you are still a currency in circulation?”
and so forth.
Both K S Na. and I told him that it was unnecessary to go. He temporarily decided that would be so. When there was just thirty minutes remaining for the commencement of the event, V Si.’s decision suddenly changed. He impetuously got up, “I will go there and be back,” he said and got ready to leave. Now, another question cropped up. Should I shave or not? Important people are going to be present at the event, right? Confusion started yet again. He started shaving his face. There were only a few minutes left.
The shaving did not go well. He lost control over his hands and cut his fingers. It started bleeding. “This is an ill-omen; please don’t go, māvayya!” said the eldest son Kitti, planting the seed of fear in his ear – Kiviyòḻubittidanubhayava! The words of Kitti were like the proverbial feeding of a monkey with asafoetida. It was akin to asking a millipede – “Which foot do you put forward first?” and confusing it with the question.
Finally, V Si. hopped on to an autorickshaw and went to ahead to conquer the worlds.
Situations of this kind constantly bothered V Si. Often K S Na. and I taunted him by making fun of his compositions; it was our favourite pastime. In a certain gathering of poets, V Si. and K S Na. – both composed poems on Purandara-dāsa (1484–1564) and read them out. V Si.’s composition was a torrent of astonishment, emphasis, and questions. The next day, there was a review. V Si. told K S Na., “You virtually portrayed Purandara-dāsa’s lines as your own!”
In response, K S Na. said, “You were asked to write a poem on Purandara-dāsa and you ended up posing many questions to him! ‘What?’ (‘enu’), ‘How much?’ / ‘How many?’ (‘esu’) – you cornered him with such interrogation; you even brought ‘esu’ (Jesus Christ) in your poem!”
Thereafter, whenever V Si. composed something afresh, K S Na. always asked him, “You have brought ‘esu’ in your composition, haven’t you?”
V Si.’s mentality of constant questioning could be seen even in his lectures. One of the topics V Si. had chosen for a talk that he delivered at the Gokhale Institute was ‘Facts and Values.’ Before his lecture, we were chatting with him about the topic. Prof. K Sampadgiri Rao asked Venkatesh Das, an engineer who was next to him, “What is this wall built of, Mr. Das?”
“It is built from bricks, sir!”
Turning towards me, Rao said, “Look – this is a fact,” and then looking at Das, he asked, “How much does a truckload of bricks cost?”
“Sixty rupees, sir.”
Again, looking at us, Rao said, “This is a value!”
After the lecture, each one had a different reaction – “Alright, tell me, what is the import of the lecture he just delivered?” This was the question posed by two of them. “He speaks so fluently!” said a couple of others.
Another friend said, “This, for some reason, was like the flute concert of T R Mahalingam!”
The World of Imagination
Such reviews and criticism reflect the waves of differences that existed between V Si.’s imagination and the harshness of the everyday world. This imaginative journey of his mind added great charm to his personality. “If you want a camel, it will certainly come along with its hump, isn’t it?” he often said.
I visited V Si. when he was sick and admitted to the hospital. An X-ray of one part of his body was taken. When I was looking at the X-ray, V Si. said, “Ah! What fate is this? Where else, other than in our own occupation can we find so much of happiness? We can read good poetry, can see beauty and listen to music – what a blessing!”
How can we not appreciate someone who possesses this kind of attitude? The untainted joy that V Si. always felt and the empathy he had for everything caused immense pleasure to us and were lessons for culturing our own minds. I spent innumerable days in casual and lively conversations with him. His whimsical mind, which seemed to be filled with contradictions, added charm to his personality and endeared him to us. Being in his company was a celebration for us all. V Si.’s imaginative mind had an effect on his daily pursuits and transactions. In his hurry to grasp the essence and in trying to get a wholesome perspective, he would miss out on minor details, calculations, nuances, dates, and records. These always slipped through his fingers.
Once he wrote a letter to someone – the letter contained some matter of great importance. He waited for the reply. There came no answer even after several days. After about five or six months, as V Si. was looking through his suitcase, he found something. It was the letter he had written! The importance of the letter and all its details occupied his mind so much that he forgot the pedestrian job of posting the letter.
In one of the meetings of the Rotary Club, someone complained that letters were not being delivered by the postal department in a timely fashion (V Si. too was a part of the meeting). Sarangapani, who was then the head of the Indian Posts and Telegraph Department said, “Well, unless you post the letters, it would be rather difficult for us to deliver them, you know!”
On another occasion, V Si. failed to notice the details of a certain letter and ended up writing a book of about two hundred and fifty pages in English. It was to be written in Kannada, as per the request of the publisher.
He and I often had debates regarding the usage of words, pronunciation of English words, and so forth. While I pronounced the word harass as ‘hyaraz,’ he would say it more like ‘haraas.’ I pronounced embarrassment as ‘embyaras,’ he said ‘embaraas.’ We would be unable to solve the problem even after consulting the dictionary and V Si. would jump out of the dictionary. “This is how you have to pronounce if the meaning of this sentence needs to come out effectively” – he often ‘argued’ with me. Seeing him ‘hop’ from here to there in this fashion gave us ample opportunity to taunt him.
During his student days, he had once spelt the word dramatic as ‘drammatic,’ in accordance with the manner in which he pronounced it. His professor sat with his hands over his head and exclaimed, “You have my utmost sympathy, young man. But etymology comes down upon me!”
Whenever he got a chance to spot a mistake of mine, he would say like a small child, “You are caught now! It compensates for yesterday! (i.e., it evens out my mistake)” Once, in a hurry, I had written Bhavabhūti instead of Kālidāsa. He exclaimed, “Now I have caught you on the lip!”
I had used the word ‘compendious’ in one of my English essays. He caught hold of my writing and taunted me with great enthusiasm. Though it was not wrong to use the word, it was not in vogue in colloquial speech; it was largely a bookish term.
Whenever the occasion arose, my taunts aimed at V Si. always ended up being educational to me. K S Na. and I craved for V Si.’s company for this reason especially.
If he did not have the capacity to see himself apart from his own self, V Si. would not have been able to bear with the vicissitudes that stuck his life. The difficulties were so hard that they could make even the strongminded ones feeble. His good nature caused him great losses at several
K S Na. once remarked, “A nation will not evolve just by writing books. A community will not get nurtured just by giving lectures. They will grow only because of good culture. V Si. was one such representative of sublime culture in the literary circles.”