Once, there was a certain shortcoming in the functioning of the Servants of India Society. Sastri was the head of the organization. The English weekly “Servants of India” which was run by the society was lacking in funds. It was my desire to somehow keep the magazine running and let it survive. I therefore penned down a few suggestions on a sheet of paper and included it in a letter addressed to Sastri. My suggestions were as follows
- We must have advertisements in the magazine
- Those who bring those advertisements to us should be generously remunerated.
- We must identify big agents in different cities to help in the selling and circulation of the magazine
- We must also identify hawkers in bus stands and railway stations of big cities such as Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Bangalore where they can call out loud and sell the magazine.
- We will need to have pictures in the magazine
- We must have big posters stuck on walls at different places for advertising the magazine.
And the list went on…
Sastri wrote a reply in a tone of ridicule. “You are thinking about sales and breaking your head on it. Why do we need to worry about marketing? It is not our duty. It is only our duty to write and we must do so to the best of our capabilities. If the fools don’t buy, the greater fools they”. (sic)
Another similar incident comes to my mind. In about 1923-24, I had started a monthly called ‘Indian Review of Reviews’ and had managed to run about three to four issues. It was around this time that G.A. Nateshan, the Editor of ‘Indian Review’ visited Sastri at his residence in Bangalore. The two were very good friends and were quite informal in their conversations.
One morning, I was sitting in Sastri’s living room and was proof-reading the manuscript of his Kamala Lectures. Right next to the place where I sat was the room where Nateshan was put up. Sastri was sitting by the front wall of the living room on a carpet and was studying something. Nateshan came to me, expressed his appreciation for my journalism and said –
“You are very smart and you seem to work very hard too. However, you are probably bad at money. If you don’t bring together advertisements, your magazine will soon die away.” After having said this, he explained to me the method of acquiring advertisements, the manner in which they can be made attractive, what kind of paper needed to be used in different parts of the magazine – this and several other words of advice.
Sastri, who was listening to our conversation from the other end of the room, seemed to have a mark of displeasure on his face and remarked – “O Nateshan! Why are you telling him all this? You will not forget your methods and he will not learn them. He is like our Venkataranga Rao. He believes that success in business is a sin. That is his fate! Let him experience it!”
His words only showed the dismal attitude he had for marketing. He was hardly more capable than me at marketing. He had also tried his hand at several things and had his share of burns.
Trip to Hassan
Once, a team of people travelled with Sastri to Hassan and I was one in the team as well. We reached Hassan and stayed at the Travelers' Bungalow for the night. K. Mailararayya was the Deputy Commissioner of Hassan back then. The government had requested Mailarayya to make comfortable arrangements for the stay of Sastri and his team. The same day, however, the King of Mysore was performing a ‘Baraha Hazar’ offering to the deity in Subrahmanya in the Dakshina Kannada district and it was inevitable for Mailarayya to be present on the occasion there. There, he had requested his colleague V.S. Vasudevaraya, the Assistant Commissioner to take care of the needs of the hosts. Accordingly, Vasudevaraya visited Sastri that evening at the Bungalow. At the same time, we were heading towards the dining hall from the main building. A servant was walking ahead of us carrying a lantern in his hand. Right behind him were Srinivasa Sastri, Dr. C.B. Ramaraya, Vajapeyam Venkatasubbayya and others. When we were thus heading in darkness towards the dining hall, somebody rushed towards us from behind and conveyed his salutations to Sastri. It was hard for Sastri to identify the person in the darkness. He strained his eyes and tried to see the person’s face. He cupped his eyes with his hands, focussed his eyes on the person’s face and asked –
“Is it Vasudeva?”
The other replied in a humble tone “yes, sir!”
Sastri looked at me the very moment and asked “Have you ever seen a person who has swallowed two lakh rupees down his mouth?”
Me: “I did not quite get you, sir”
Sastri: “It was all worth two lakh rupees, sir. He has swallowed laddus, chiroti, ghevar, jilebi – and all this again and again. The net worth of the stuff he has stuffed himself with is two lakhs. That is the amount he has destroyed. Isn’t it Vasudeva?
V: (laughing) “Yes Yes”
Sastri: “I too have savoured the snacks prepared at his household. His native place, Kumbhakonam is about four to five miles from my village, Valangaiman. I used to have my morning meal at home and went to his house for afternoon’s snacks. Every day, there was idli, kadubu, savouries – which could serve twenty to thirty people. Eating this way on and on, the house got worn out. Tell me Vasudeva, does that house still exist?”
V: (laughing) “No, it is all gone.”
S: “Ah! How long would it have survived anyway if you glutton yourself and the others at that magnitude?”
Vasudevaraya who is mentioned here is the younger brother of V.S. Sanjeeva Rao, who was famous in the field of journalism.
On the following day, several prominent men of Hassan came to see Sastri. S. Venkateshayya and other leaders were among them. When so many important men had come to meet Sastri, (in fact, they numbered to about twenty in all), we thought it would be better if the rest of us did not interfere in their conversation. Thus, Venkatasubbayya and I sat inside the bungalow talking to the rest of our friends. We were able to catch some portion of the conversation that was taking place outside. One of the men there was talking about the problems encountered in the public life in Mysore.
“The people of Mysore have no freedom because of the law that has curtailed the press. People’s life has got degraded. Because of that evil, there is nothing called public here…”
They lodged this and other complaints with Sastri. The others were affirming this with their ‘hmm’s'
“Well, tell me – there seems to be no one who has used this law of having the journals curtailed. The law will see its death in the times of Visvesvaraya and other such stalwarts. The Diwans who followed him did not impose this law at all. If the law exists in the book, then it is the journalists who will need to be scared of it. Why do common men like you think that the law is an impediment for you to perform your tasks? Your words sound strange to me.”
Everyone shut their mouth listening to this argument out forth by Sastri. Silence ensued for a couple of minutes. Venkatasubbayya and I stepped out and joined them. Pleasantries were exchanged for a couple of minutes and the visitors got up. One of them called me aside, took me a couple of footsteps away from the crowd and said:
“I had to pay the subscription fees for your magazine for the last three to four years. I meant to get it sent now and then, but it somehow escaped my memory. I got reminded of it after seeing you now. Now, take this. Two or three notes in this bunch must have got spent. There must be about twenty two or twenty three rupees here. Let me know if there is something else that I need to pay. I will get it sent.”
Me: “Where is the hurry? Let this remain with you. I will look at the accounts and write to you once I get back to Bangalore. You may then send the money to me. Where will it go if it is in your custody?”
With these words, I gave back the pack of notes to him.
Looking at this, Venkatasubbayya seemed to be boiling all over his body. As soon as the visitor turned his back, he looked at me and said –
“You idiot! You are a great fool! You gave back the money that you were to receive long back!”
He reported this to Sastri.
Sastri – “Useless, sir, useless indeed! Money doesn’t stick to this guy’s palms. Is there another fool like him? How much was he to get?”
Me: “Four times eight, thirty-two. It was the subscription fees of four years”
Venkatasubbaya stretched the first three fingers upwards and said “paṅganāma hākiko - ಪಂಗನಾಮ ಹಾಕಿಕೋ” (Smear yourself with three nāmas – an idiomatic way of saying that you have fooled yourself)
Sastri: “If somebody ever hands over some money to you, the giver is certainly deceived. Instead of accepting whatever was offered to you, you perhaps thought – ‘let me collect it all together’. Ah! You filthy rich guy!” He chided me.
I would like to narrate another personal incident at this juncture.
This is the fourteenth part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.