In the history of Kannada revival, Panje Mangesha Rao (Maṅgeśarāya in Kannada) must be definitely remembered as an important scholar and a noble person. His zest in literature, his gentle behaviour, and his genuinely friendly nature, makes him unforgettable.
Long before I met him, I had heard about him from B M Srikantaiah. Towards Panje, Srikantaiah had deep respect and unwavering pride. Srikantaiah had shown me, with profuse admiration, the many poems that Panje had written under the pseudonym ‘Kaviśiṣya’ (student-poet). Thus I was eager to meet with him.
I’ve now forgotten where I saw Panje Mangesha Rao for the first time. It was probably during 1923-24. When I had visited Mangalore, I heard that Panje was also in that town and I went to see him at the place where he was staying. It must be around one-thirty in the afternoon. Lunch was in progress. Someone went inside and told Mangesha Rao that I had come. He enthusiastically called me, “Hey! Come on and join us. This food is excellent!” I had already finished my lunch before going there. I mentioned this to him and comfortably rested in the sitting area at the front of the house. There were a few magazines and periodicals including film magazines.
Mangesha Rao finished his lunch and came to talk to me. At that time I think he used to live in Madikeri. He was a Headmaster of a high school there. He had come to his hometown during the summer vacations. He took me to meet the various people whom I had intended to meet then. All through the walk, we had a lot of fun; peppered with a lot of humour, there were discussions on literary principles, poets, and their works. I didn’t realize how far we had walked and I wasn’t tired.
We first went to the house of the scholar Vidvān Muliya Timmappayya. I remember that his house was in the middle of a field. Another favourite of mine, Vidvān Kadangodlu Shankar Bhat was also present in the same house. Shankar Bhat was the nephew of Muliya Timmappayya, if my memory serves me right. Shankar Bhat had a bright personality; he was gentle and polite. He was a man of few words but whatever he spoke was pertinent and sans fluff. I was already aware of his writings. After seeing him, I felt a great affection towards him. Shankar Bhat was an accomplished Sanskrit scholar.
Muliya Timmappayya was a great scholar in Kannada and Sanskrit. His work Nāḍoja Pampa will ensure that his fame lives on. Timmappayya was generous by nature and a man of taste.
Mangesha Rao lightly teased him: “Muḻiya Timmappayya – Timmappayya never gets angry (The word ‘muḻi’ means ‘anger’ and ‘muḻiya’ could also mean ‘doesn’t get angry’).”
“Muḻiyada Timmappayya (The Timmappayya who doesn’t get angry).”
“Muḻiyuva Timmappayya (The Timmappayya who gets angry).”
“Muḻidiruva Timmappayya (Timmappayya who has become angry).”
He went on in this manner, playing on the word ‘muḻiya.’ While Mangesha Rao was trying to tease him, Timmappayya just laughed it off and remain calm. When Magesh Rao raised a question on literature, then Timmappayya’s speech began flowing. He spoke words that were scholarly, steeped in the knowledge of the śāstras.
Timmappayya followed traditional customs; he had a serious nature and was a man of good conduct. As soon as I visited his house, as per the local traditions he welcomed me and treated me with jaggery and water. We spoke for around an hour and a half.
Next, Mangesha Rao took me to the office of the Bālasāhitya Maṇḍala (Children’s Literature Circle). There I met the famous writers Ugrana Mangesha Rao and Ullal Mangesha Rao. Panje exclaimed, “Ho! Ho! Here’s an assembly of monkeys!” (The word ‘maṅga’ means ‘monkey’ and ‘maṅgeśa’ means ‘chief of the monkeys,’ an appellation of Hanūmān). Everyone laughed heartily. For a while we spoke about researching Bhārateśa Vaibhava and discussed the possibility of publishing it. I also learnt about the thoughts behind the creation of the Bālasāhitya Maṇḍala and its history.
Soon it was evening. We went to St. Aloysius College and spent some time in its cool environs. At that time, I learnt about some of the popular leaders of Mangalore and heard their stories.
When I sought permission from Panje to return home, I felt an indescribable emotion of suffering in my heart – a feeling of leaving an elder brother who nurtured me for many years.
After that, I must have met Panje Mangesha Rao four or five times. Whenever an opportunity was presented to see him in person, to listen to him, it was a festival for me. Lovely stories, a mouthful of laughter, a face beaming with friendliness – these were his attractions. He was quite a tall man with a fair complexion. While speaking, his eyes, eyebrows, lips, moustaches, cheeks – everything appeared to be dancing. Every nerve on his face would swell and dance.
In the literary conference of the Parishad (Kannada Sahitya Parishad) of 1934–35, Panje spoke about teaching literature. Just a day or two before that, the children of a school in Malleswaram, Bangalore had dramatised the traditional song Govina Kathe (‘The Ballad of a Cow,’ also called Govina Haadu) and enacted it. The school headmaster had trained them well and had got them prepared for the event. I’ve forgotten his name now. I had heard that he hailed from Devarayasamudra. If I have the honour of meeting him now, I would prostrate in front of him with respect. It is the brilliance of the headmaster which figured out that dramatic essence existed in the womb of that ballad. His second achievement was to set the poems of that song to contextually pertinent rāgas (‘melodies,’ in a sense). And the third great achievement was to get the children play various parts such as the cowherd, the cow, the tiger, and the calf, and then to have them render the right expressions and body language appropriate for their roles.
When Panje Mangesha Rao saw the dramatised version of Govina Kathe, he was overcome by boundless joy. He took the ballad as the subject for his speech, praised the children’s drama, and then quoted the lines from the poem. Taking up the poem of the ‘Golla Gowda’ (the cowherd) he detailed the life of cowherds, the cattle sheds, the Purāṇic lore of Śrīkṛṣṇa playing with the cowherd boys – he illustrated all these details by enacting it, making physical movements.
For the line
Cadura śikheyanu hākida
(The smart one tied his tuft of hair)
he raised his hands to tie his tuft of hair, showing it to the spectators; he explained the meaning with great enthusiasm through the recitation of those poetic lines and his physical movements that showed the decisiveness and fortitude of the cowherd. It would not be incorrect to term his speech as an articulated dance-drama performance!
This is the first part of a two-part English translation of the nineteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for reviewing the translation and offering valuable suggestions. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.