One more instance to exemplify Shastri’s verbal prowess.
In a village near Bangalore, K— had taken some money as a loan from R— saying that he would return the money the very next day. But even after months he did not return it. Later once somewhere in the Gandhinagar locality of Bangalore they met each other by accident and the topic of money came up immediately and resulted in heated exchange of words.
Shastri meanwhile happened to pass by and R— asked him for help to settle the dispute. Shastri settled it as follows.
R. “This fellow took two hundred rupees from me saying that he’ll give it back the next day. Six months have passed ever since. If I ask him now he says, Where would it go? I’ll give it back sometime; hasn’t God given you enough prosperity?”
V. “Please hold on R—, don’t get agitated. Let’s take this slowly, let’s sit somewhere and decide it. Why such a hurry? It’s sunny here, let’s go somewhere else.” (They went inside a shop. At R—’s expense they had sumptuous food and coffee.)
V. “Now tell me about the dispute.”
R. “What else is left to be said sir – as I’ve already told you, he borrowed two hundred rupees with a promise I’ll give it back tomorrow.”
V. “Is it so K—?”
K. “Yes sir. I was in dire need.”
V. “What is your accusation R—?”
R. “He has conned me by taking away my money sir.”
V. “Hold on. K—, did you con R— and take away his money?”
K. “Where does this come from sir? I took money by asking him in the right royal manner saying that I needed money.”
V. “You didn’t steal from him, right?”
K. “Definitely not sir! I can prove it. Ask him if you aren’t convinced.”
V. “R—, how is this cheating? He was in need of money. He asked you. You gave him. He took it. How can this be called conning?”
R. “What are you saying sir? He took my money with the promise of I’ll give it back tomorrow and hasn’t returned it for six months. What should this be called other than deceit?”
V. “Hold on, let’s think this through slowly, R—. Let us examine the circumstances right from the start. He was in a bad situation and he needed money, right?”
R. “Maybe sir, but…”
V. “To come out of his difficult situation he had no choice but to ask you for money, right?”
R. “Maybe sir but having said that he’ll return it the next day, he should have done so, right? Not doing so – isn’t that cheating?”
V. “You are right R— but let us look at the situation calmly. He was in immediate need. You had the money. Your money would help him to overcome his difficulty. If he had not said, I’ll give it back tomorrow, would you have given him the money?”
R. “No sir.”
V. “That is why I said this isn’t cheating. If he desperately needed money don’t you think he should tell something that would make you give him the money? Isn’t that his dharma? If he had instead said, I’ll return it after six months or a year, you wouldn’t have given the money at all. Then he would be at a loss, right?”
R. “I can’t argue with you sir. If this goes on, in the next five minutes you’ll prove that it is me who has to give him money! Being an old friend and someone known to both of us, I called upon you to resolve this and ended up making a fool out of myself. You will use my own words against me and have me trapped!”
Shastri laughed and convinced him; he then pleasantly spoke to K— and told him to give back the money as soon as possible.
His Last Days
Sitarama Shastri’s sharp intellect, extraordinary memory, and retentive prowess are mind boggling. Even though he became blind, his intellect was always awake. Even after crossing seventy years, he would make someone read the newspapers and gather information through listening. Even though fifty years has passed since his studies, he could quote random passages of Vedānta from memory without missing a syllable.
One of his ambitions was to write a treatise on the Bhagavadgītā spanning a thousand pages. But it remained unfulfilled due to poverty and worldly worries.
Whie he had collected a lot of material about the kings of the solar and lunar lineage, he was not able to write anything due to loss of eyesight. Whenever this would bother him, he would quote the famous adage, “utpadyante vilīyante daridrāṇāṃ manorathāḥ [The desires of the helpless ones are created and destroyed in the mind itself, they won’t find fruition]” and would console himself.
If his journalist friends or youngsters would ask him about successes and failures in his life he would narrate his favourite story from the Daśa-kumāra-carita of Daṇḍin:
A prince, on a hunting expedition, lost track and got separated from others present in his group. His friends roam around searching for him everywhere in vain. They find that there is a hermitage nearby, the Muni who resides there knows everything about the Past, Present and Future and he is not bound by any spatio-temporal constraints and he would be able to help them. After reaching there, they find someone and ask him about the Muni who resided there. The man, in deep thought replies, “That Muni whom you all are seeking, the one who knows everything about the Past, Present and Future, it's true that he resided here! But he is now devoid of austerities and the powers he had because of that. Actually I, who am in front of you, is that Muni”.
He would compare his situation with that story and would end the conversation.
When I met him a few days before his demise, he brought to my notice that he had counselled the then Jagadguru to stay away from politics and so forth, and instead focus inwards and become more sage-like. In that situation Shastri’s interpretation and insights about the concepts of Vedānta brought forth the maturity and profundity of his mind.
While taking leave, Sitarama Shastri quoted Appaya-dīkṣita’s words, “Vayāṃsi mama saptater-upari naiva bhoge spṛhā” [I’ve crossed seventy; I have no desire to enjoy] and said, “Even I am in that state now!” His only desire left was to build a Janārdana Temple and he said he was contemplating about the features of the mūrti to be sculpted.
One main quality of Sitarama Shastri that I admire is calmness, equanimity. Irrespective of how agitated his opponent would sound, he never lost his composure. He would sift through the opponent’s words to grasp only the meaty parts and then say, “Your argument mainly consists of these three points. I’ll try to address them one by one. Firstly…” Thus he would categorically and logically conduct himself. As a youngster his studies mainly involved tarka (logic) and mīmāṃsā.
Shastri also wrote a treatise. He gave it to another ‘Shastri’ (i.e. a well-read scholar) for reviewing the manuscript. That eminence published it under his name instead. Sitarama Shastri did not make a hue and cry about it and put up with it in silence. Once when I reminded him of that he said, “Let it go; good riddance! To make me cultivate the quality of patience and restrain, I think fate itself made such an arrangement. After all, what did he gain? And what did I lose?”
He had to endure a great calamity during his twilight years, which none should undergo. In their farm in Talaghattapura, while supervising the digging of a well, his eldest son M Ramamurthy had descended in the pit. The huge mound of soil that was dug up, collapsed on him and his family, burying all of them alive. Even in such a helpless situation, during such a calamity, Shastri kept his equanimity and cooperated with government officials and took care of everything related to the incident.
After leading an eventful and courageous life of seventy-seven years, Vīrakesari Sitarama Shastri left to the heavenly abode on 7th January 1971.
In general this means ‘examination’ or ‘investigation’ but in this context it refers to one of the six classical schools of Indian philosophy that deals with the textual exegesis of the Vedas with an emphasis on the ritualistic portions.