Vīrakesari Sitarama Shastri: As witness, meeting Rahul Sankrityayan - Part 7

Problems escalated when the leaders of the workers were fired on flimsy reasons. The cases went to the high court, the leaders requested Shastri to be a witness in the case. The administration didn’t budge and appointed the then famous criminal lawyer from Madras, Mr. Norton. Mr. Norton had a stellar record when it came to winning cases he argued and used to charge an exorbitant fee of ₹10000 per day. The case came under the bench headed by Singaravelu Mudaliar. Shastri was the main eyewitness who was to be cross examined. Norton arrived with all his paraphernalia and started with a series of questions. He went on asking questions in English and Shastri would give answers in Kannada. After trying everything in his arsenal, Norton thought long and hard, and finally went for the Brahmāstra. He praised Shastri saying he is a journalist and an extremely intelligent person. Shastri retorted saying that he is very much aware of the tactics of Mr.Norton and by praising him, the witness, Mr.Norton is trying to make his account as a witness null and void. (A general rule is that the eyewitness should be an average person) He requested the judge to take note of this.

Justice Mudaliar was known for his courage and fairness when it came to judgements, a trait which was rare during the era of British administration. He gave a stern warning to Mr. Norton, “You are dealing with a highly respected man of Mysore. I ask you to behave yourself.” In no other court had Mr. Norton faced such humiliation! He just couldn't take it anymore and he ordered his juniors to continue and recused himself. This was a body blow to the administration of Binny Mills, they lost the case and the workers were victorious at last.

After a few months there was a similar situation in the Iron and Steel Company of Bhadravathi.

He also played a critical role in the court cases related to these events. All negotiations had failed and the Dewan Madhava Rao even declared a lockout, but even that didn’t solve the problem. The king Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV who had been declared as Rājarṣi by Gandhi was appalled to see such a situation and ordered the government to come up with a solution. When the dewan brought this up, Shastri offered his services. He shunned government arrangement for his travel and accommodation in Bhadravati and insisted he would go there, not as a government representative, but only as an individual. He also asked that he should be given full authority and independence to take decisions on behalf of the government. He insisted that in writing he should be vested all the powers which the dewan has! The dewan was in trouble, as no officials or individuals were given such powers till then. But Shastri insisted and said, “You just give me the powers in writing, I’ll just keep the letter, but I’ll solve this problem without even using it!” Such a letter was provided. He went to Bhadravati and refused to use the government facilities and stayed in the tourist guest house. After multiple rounds of negotiations, and his suggestion that both sides should compromise a little had its effect and a compromise was arrived upon. He ordered that the lockout should be revoked, and alleviated the fears of the police that revocation would lead to riots. The situation thus returned to normal and everyone praised his capabilities in solving such problems.

During the last week of September 1942, when Sri Guruji M S Golwalkar visited Bangalore, the Mysore Government imprisoned him without reason – on the rumours that he was a revolutionary. Sitarama Shastri and Advocate S K Venkataranga Iyengar were instrumental in talking to the government and convincing it that the imprisonment was bereft of logic.

Shastri always held his head high; never was he prone to self-pity and wretchedness.

It was not easy to run a publication those days. While the readers were aplenty, there weren’t any funds to make ends meet. Shastri had to take loans on multiple occasions. There were a few times when he was not able to repay the amount but he was courageous. He proactively approached the lenders and confessed, “You have done a great favour to me by providing money. Only due to your support we were able to publish the newspaper. But I’m not in a position to return your money. But I’ve not used even a single pie for my personal use. Everything has been spent for publishing. It has created awareness in people. You would deservedly gain puṇya for that. Please take that and make me debt-free.”

Thus the respect money-lenders had for Sitarama Shastri remained unshaken.

Meeting Rahul Sankrityayan

This event probably occurred in 1942.

The renowned scholar Rahul Sankrityayan came to Bangalore during his tour. Naturally he asked around for scholars residing here. He heard about Vīrakesari Sitarama Shastri and met him. In those days, Shastri’s publication (Renco Press) was in Sheshadripuram. Both were great scholars. There were discussions on various topics across disciplines.

Specifically Sankrityayan began a discussion about the pronunciation of Vedic mantras. The pronunciation prevalent in North India was more authentic or correct – was his argument. Shastri opposed it by claiming the Southern way to be correct. Sankrityayan was adamant by nature. He would vigorously promote the stance that he had arrived at, based on years of study and experience.

Shastri was no different! He said, “O scholar, if you can stay here for three days I shall be able to prove my claim that the Southern way is authentic and correct!”

Sankrityayan replied, “I’m a mendicant and I have no pressing engagements anyway. I’ll stay here for three days. Let us put this to the test.”

Likewise he stayed in Bangalore as Shastri’s guest.

Shastri invited many Vedic scholars like Venkatasubba Avadhani and Venkatachala Avadhani who were residing in Bangalore, along with others who came from elsewhere. They were all ghanapāṭhis and he requested them to recite from the four Vedas and had Sankrityayan listen to their recitation.

Sankrityayan said, “After listening to their recitations, for the time being at least, I must agree and accept your stand. It’s not currently possible to bring scholars of this calibre from North India. But during my further travels, I shall definitely study more and contemplate upon this.”

In that era, Rahul Sankrityayan was one of the greatest scholars. There were only a few scholars comparable to him. (Even physically he was rather imposing!)

As he was leaving Bangalore, in the railway station he told N D Shankar: “In my long travel I’ve seen innumerable scholars. But I’ve not seen such a scholar with in-depth knowledge and a sharp analytical mind such as Vīrakesari Shastri.”

The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīvaṭikegaḻu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Some parts have been adapted from the booklet titled - 'Virakesari' Sitarama Sastri - published as part of the series Mulukanadu Mahaniyaru. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits.

Author(s)

About:

Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.

Translator(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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