I had heard the name of Sri. H V Nanjundaiah when I was still a student. I was told in my hometown about this legend – he had passed his M.A. (Master of Arts) and M.L. (Master of Law) by seeking alms and studying under street lights. I later learnt that it was just a story. It’s true that Nanjundaiah was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth but the remaining details of the story were the result of wishful imagination of some noble soul to preach to people like me.
By 1907-08, Nanjundaiah had gained repute among scholars, officials and administrators and in various other noble gatherings.
I’m told that in the year 1880, at his age of 20, after passing B.A., Nanjundaiah started working as the Sub Registrar in Kollegal. Later he became a clerk in the office of the Accountant General in Madras for a short period of time. He passed his B.L. in the year 1883 and secured a job with the Mysore Government in the year 1885. His first job here was that of a Munsiff at Nanjangud. The same year, he graduated with an M.A. The next year (i.e. 1886) he started serving in the Revenue Department. After having worked for some time as Assistant Commissioner at Hassan, Mysore, and Shimoga, in the year 1892, he returned to the judiciary and became a Sub-Judge. In 1893 he passed his M.L. In 1895, Madras University accepted him as a Fellow (Member) and felicitated him. Around the same time, Mysore Government appointed him as the Under-Secretary. In 1897, he became the Deputy Commissioner of Shimoga. In 1901-02, during the time of Diwan Sir P. N. Krishnamurthy, he became the Chief Secretary to the Government. Thereafter he rose to the posts of Chief Court Judge, Councillor (Deputy Minister), and Vice Chancellor in that order.
Despite his hectic schedules while discharging his duty in various capacities, he took time out to appear for various major examinations and passed with flying colours. During those times, attending college was not compulsory. There is no opportunity, however, for such adventures now. The universities of today have put a stop to all such adventures. Rote learning and running in the rat race have become the norm of the day.
People might have realised his extraordinary worth and merit when he was discharging his duties as a Sub Judge. I remember people pointing to a house in Aralipet and saying, “This is the house of Sub Judge Nanajundaiah,” long after he had risen to the post of Councillor.
Nanjundaiah’s study of literature was extensive. The joy gained from reading poems, plays, stories, and novels seemed to be the ultimate source of bliss in his life. Perhaps no one amongst his contemporaries in Bangalore seemed to have purchased as many books as he did.
Besides works of fiction, Nanjundaiah had mastered a few complex subjects as well. He was an authority on subjects such as Law, Political Science, and Economics.
The literary genius of Nanjundaiah was multifaceted. Other than English, Kannada, and Sanskrit, he had also learnt French. Nanjundaiah had translated several poems of the great French poet Victor Hugo and that collection was titled Tears in the Night. This work took its birth when Nanjundaiah was bereaved of his son. He has dedicated this work to the memory of his son. His style of English in this translation has flown effortlessly, poignantly immaculate, and delightfully.
English writing came as naturally to Nanjundaiah as that of his mother tongue. He could write several pages with unceasing ease, yet with simplicity, seriousness, and profundity without any hitch.
However, the same eloquence could not be found in the public speeches of Nanjundaiah. While standing on the dais, being engrossed in the subject, he would correct the sentences the very next moment after they were uttered and in the attempt to convey the subject as accurately as possible, the force in his speech would disappear.
In fact, his nature was never forceful – rather, it was the opposite of it.
He has not written any books of public interest in English. Several Government reports, notifications, gazettes, and essays on legislations show his prowess in the English language. Similarly, several judgments written by him show his style of English. This apart, he has compiled and edited a book series on the Ethno Graphical Survey of the Mysore State, regarding the description of various castes. He had also written articles for English newspapers. Nanjundaiah prepared and submitted a memorandum regarding the reforms that were required to be made in the governmental system, when the then Secretary of State for India, Edwin Samuel Montagu, came to India in 1917. All these demonstrate the lucidity and articulateness of his writings.
H V Nanjundaiah wrote books such as Lekhya Bodhini (Guide to Writing), Vyavahāra Dīpike (Guide to Law and Administration), and Artha Śāstra (Economics) in Kannada. The first work, Lekhya Bodhini, is equivalent to the English work Letter Writer. This book, through model letters, provides insight to the form and content of letters that a civilised man may want to write to his friends, relatives, and elders on various occasions in the backdrop of our traditional decorum and dignity. I remember that during the third and fourth editions of that book, the model formats of several important documents of conveyance were also included. In Vyavahāra Dīpike, the practical application and jurisprudence (theory of law) of various aspects such as legislation, government administration, court proceedings, judgments, etc. were explained by him. In Artha Śāstra, he had written about generation, source, and classification of wealth in the nation, income and expenditure of the State, circulation of currency, and such other economic subjects. To my knowledge, in these three classes of literature, the books of H V Nanjundaiah are the first of their kind in Kannada.
I do not remember how or where I was introduced to Sri H V Nanjundaiah. However, I do remember that since our very first meeting, his conduct with me was filled with ease and as though he had known me for a long time. My senior friend, Sub Judge Lakshmi Naranappa, was a confidante of H V Nanjundaiah. Perhaps through that contact Nanjundaiah knew a little about me.
I got acquainted with him in 1915. Karnataka Sahitya Parishad was founded in that year. About a year earlier, the government of Sir M. Vishveshwaraiah was contemplating the formation of that institution. At that time, there was a great institution called Economic Conference. The planning with regard to the Karnataka Sahitya Parishad was being made in the education committee of that institution. I was given importance by the chiefs Economic Conference probably due to the fact that I had shown interest in the subject matter (i.e., founding the Karnataka Sahitya Parishad). There were three chiefs – H V Nanjundaiah, Karpura Srinivasa Rao, Dr. P S Achyuta Rao. The Parishad was inaugurated in the auditorium of the present-day Intermediate College. I was included in the committee formed for the purpose of framing rules and regulations and a few other sub-committees. During this period, I got the opportunity to meet Nanjundaiah frequently.
The main qualities that I noticed in Nanjundaiah were: (i) Simplicity and coherence in language, (ii) Dynamic mind, or to call it otherwise, ‘common sense,’ (iii) Friendship and compassion, (iv) Good humour, and (v) Firm reasoning.
Being the President, Nanjundaiah delivered the inaugural address on the day when Kannada Sahitya Parishad was founded. His speech was in English. The assembly was packed to capacity. Famous scholars and representatives from Dharwad, Belgaum, Mangalore, Sollapur, Bellary, Bijapur and such other places had graced the occasion. I think that the scholarly gathering of that calibre remains unparalleled even to this day and I do not think I have seen such a confluence of scholars ever since. The world of titans of our Mysore Province had gathered there. The President rose and commenced reading his English speech while the audience waited curiously. Sri. Bellave Venkatanaranappa who was sitting at one corner of the first row turned to me and whispered, “What is this nonsense, I say. Utter nonsense, that is all!” Probably this caught the ears of Nanjundaiah. A brief smile appeared on his face. He completed reading his speech. As that session ended and the audience were dispersing, Nanjundaiah came to Venkatanaranappa and asked him, “Which language is the word ‘nonsense’?”
Venkatanaranappa could not understand that for a moment. Although the speech was delivered in English, since the content was profound, thought-provoking, and delightful, Venkatanaranappa had himself forgotten the objection raised by him, being engrossed in the appreciation of the speech. In order to remind him, Nanjundaiah asked, “Isn’t there ‘nonsense’ in the Kannada language?” It is then that Venkatanaranappa remembered what he had said. He then told Nanjundaiah, “Your speech was excellent! However, my desire was that it would have been even better if it had been in Kannada.” Nanjundaiah replied, “Perhaps. Let’s do that henceforth.” They both laughed and ended the conversation.
The next day, there was debate on the appropriate name to be given for the institution. Several scholars indicated several names. Several peculiar names were suggested, and the proposers gave long speeches to buttress their suggestions. ಕರ್ಣಾಟಕ ಸಂಸದ (Karṇāṭaka Saṃsada), ಕರ್ಣಾಟಕ ಮಹಾಸಭಾ (Karṇāṭaka Mahāsabhā), ಕರ್ಣಾಟಕೀ ಪರಿಷದ್ (Karṇāṭakī Pariṣad), ಕನ್ನಡ ಕೂಟ (Kannaḍa Kūṭa), ಕನ್ನಡಿಗರ ಕೋಟೆ (Kannaḍigara Koṭe), etc. were some of the names suggested. Half a day was spent in deciding the name. The debate continued on the next day. Around 10 in the morning, Nanjundaiah said, “Now we have to make a decision. Shouldn’t we retain at least some energy to do the work when we have expended so much energy for deciding a name? I will stop the discussion at eleven o’clock and will take votes on the suggested names. The name ought to be decided before noon and the morning session should be concluded,” and then he did as he said. Accordingly, the name ‘ಕರ್ಣಾಟಕ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ ಪರಿಷತ್ತು’ (Karṇāṭaka Sāhitya Pariṣattu) was given to that institution. After a lapse of twenty to twenty-five years, who replaced the ‘ಣ’ (ṇa) with ‘ನ’ (na) is a topic of controversy. The person who pulled up this modification and started the debate was Venkatanaranappa. The result of this debate was the disappearance of the very word ‘ಕರ್ಣಾಟಕ’ (Karṇāṭaka) from the name of the institution and substitution of the word ‘ಕನ್ನಡ’ (Kannaḍa) in its place. Be that as it may.
During the inaugural meetings of the Parishad, on the evening of the second day, a war of words came about between Nanjunadaiah, who was convening the meeting and M. S. Puttanna, who was sitting in the first row. Puttanna got furious over something said by Nanjundaiah. He rose suddenly and left the meeting hall. Nanjundaiah was smiling as usual. Venkatanaranappa went to him and said, “I will bring Puttanna!” Nanjundaiah answered, “Our Puttanna right! I will bring him myself.” The session ended fifteen to twenty minutes later. Nanjundaiah sat in his vehicle and headed straight to Puttanna’s residence. They were bosom friends; one had understood the other. The next day, Puttanna came to the assembly cheerfully, as if nothing of consequence had occurred the previous day.
When Nanjundaiah was in Shimoga for a short period of time, an incident occurred in Bangalore. A young man had passed B.A. and was struggling to secure a government job. He had even made an application to the High Court. One fine day, the Chief Officer of the High Court invited him to attend the interview. The young man came and talked about his grievance. The Officer asked him, “Which caste do you belong to?”
Young man: “I am a śrauti.”
Officer: “Oh, is it? Has anyone from your caste held a high post?”
Young man: “Nobody.”
Officer: “Is it? Very sad. It’s ok, please come next Saturday, I will let you know.”
After the young man left, the officer asked M. S. Puttanna, who was then his colleague in the Chief Court: “Sir, which caste is śrauti?”
Puttanna: “Śrauti means Śrotriya. ‘Śruti’ means Veda. Brāhmaṇas who are well-versed in the Vedas and those who follow the Vaidika tradition are usually called Śrotriyas.”
Officer: “So you are saying they are Brāhmaṇas?”
Puttanna: “Isn’t it? In fact, they are Brāhmaṇas of a high standard.”
Officer: “Alright. I casually asked as I did not know.”
The conversation thus ended.
The young man met the officer the next Saturday. On the same day, the officer had invited another candidate for interview. The officer first asked the śrauti, “Do you know how to read Kannada?” He replied, “Kannada is my mother tongue. How can I not know Kannada?” The officer said, “Then read this letter, let’s see,” and handed a letter, which contained Kannada words and letters that were joined and scripted in an undecipherable manner. The śrauti found it a little difficult to read the script. He stammered as the letters were intertwined with each other.
Using that as excuse, the officer remarked, “What is this! You do not know how to read this letter and you say Kannada is your mother tongue!” and handed another letter to the other prospective candidate and asked him to read it. The other candidate was also a young man; he had also passed B.A., but his caste was different. He read the letter given to him easily and fluently. He got the job.
The śrauti somehow learnt that Puttanna had clarified the doubt of that officer. He became infuriated with Puttanna assuming that it was he who was responsible for his present state. However, Puttanna never knew who this śrauti was and did not even know that he was trying for a job. He had not the slightest hint about it. Nanjundaiah learnt about the misplaced anger that the śrauti had against Puttanna. Nanjundaiah then wrote a letter to Puttanna and conveyed the following: “It is natural for the śrauti to be angry with you. Why did you not provide a different meaning when that Officer asked you for explanation? Śruti refers to the tonal reference (produced by a Tambūri) that is heard in the orchestra. Catching the śruti (pitch) means playing the musical pipe. Therefore, śrauti is the caste that ekes out its livelihood by playing instruments at weddings. You should have thus provided the meaning. If so, he would have secured that job. You averted it. What is the point of making someone lose a job and help retain his caste?”
To be concluded…
This is the first part of an English translation of the fifth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 1 – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru. DVG wrote this series in the early 1950s. Thanks to Kashyap N Naik for his review. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.