Meeting with Arcot Ramaswamy Mudaliar
We have already seen how Shastri was instrumental in the establishment of a responsible government and during the agitation how caustic his writings were. One day he was called upon for a meeting in the dewan’s house which was at the Carlton Bhavan. Shastri went early in the day. He was already blind by then and he was received by the dewan himself. Mudaliar held his hand, helped him climb the stairs and made him comfortably seated on the sofa. After the usual pleasantries they came to the main topic. Shastri spoke in English and listed all the atrocities committed by the government. He fearlessly gave an account of how the government has become a cesspool of caste based politics and how even able officers have had their hands tied. Mudaliar listened patiently and also admitted some of his mistakes.
He also mentioned that he had followed Mudaliar’s writings as a journalist in the Justice magazine published by Justice party where he had written 750 ‘open letters’ highlighting the mismanagement of C P Ramaswamy Iyer and he took inspiration from that for writing his own ‘open letters’ to Mudaliar. He also said that Mudaliar had the reputation of being an able administrator and he respected him for that. In the end Mudaliar said that he knew Telugu and Tamil too and he was aware of Shastri’s speaking abilities in Telugu and Tamil and he asked him why he spoke to him in English during their interaction. Shastri replied that he wanted to give him the ‘upper hand’ as he deemed his own English to be substandard! Mudaliar replied saying that Shastri’s English was not bad. It was better than what Shastri assessed it to be. Finally when Shastri took leave, Mudaliar took out an envelope from his coat and handed it over saying, “This envelope has some important documents, you can examine them in detail once you are back home!”
Shastri came back and after opening the envelope he understood there were bundles of currency notes inside. Shastri promptly placed all the notes in a bigger envelope and along with a letter he sent it back to Dewan. The contents of the letter was as follows:
Along with this letter, I’m returning back all the important documents you gave me. I deeply regret that someone like you, deemed to be one of the brightest minds in the country, couldn’t gauge a person even after interacting with him for a few hours. I’d continue to be your friend. I know that you’ll not be staying in the state for a long time. I don’t hold any personal grudges against you.
After seeing the letter, Mudaliar realized that he had made a grave mistake and he told Shastri’s son, M. Ramamurthy, to inform Shastri that it was a great mistake and he sought his pardon. That was how it ended.
This profile would be incomplete without some examples to illustrate the verbal magic Sitarama Shastri possessed.
The People’s Conference that took place in Bangalore during the rule of Mirza Ismail was an exuberant programme those days. People from various parties had gathered – representing the government, the common citizens, the Muslims, etc. In one of the sessions K H Ramayya was about to say something. He said he would read a letter, currently in his shirt pocket, which he had received from someone. As soon as he started, the People’s Party opposed it.
“He is the government’s representative; he has no right to talk in this gathering!”
Some said he was permitted to speak while others said he wasn’t, leading to pandemonium.
Shastri stood up and said, “Let him speak, but on one condition.”
The members asked, “What is that condition?”
“The chairs on his right and left should be removed and the resulting space should remain vacant.”
“Why do you say so?” asked the members.
Shastri replied, “Ramayya is a passionate speaker. While speaking his hands go everywhere making animated gestures. While doing so there is a possibility that someone sitting on either side might get hurt.”
This led to waves of laughter. By then Ramayya had lost much of his enthusiasm to speak. When he had completed his speech, Shastri asked him, “Sri. Ramayya, I have a doubt. You should clarify this.”
Ramayya: said, “Please tell me. What is your doubt?”
“After the speech you shall keep the letter back in your pocket, right?”
Shastri said, “Then it’s fine!” Then turning towards the members he said, “Ramayya has just brought to your notice the contents of a private letter that he received. His opinion is not that it should be considered seriously by the gathering.”
Such events were innumerable.
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.