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A Benevolent Patriarch (some reminiscences of a son) by Prof. S. Naganath

Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri with family (early 1960s)
Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri with family (early 1960s)

He was a good teacher, a great scholar and a loving father combined into one. When I was seven years old he suffered a paralytic stroke and became bedridden. After a few months he recovered his health and resumed teaching in Maharaja's college, Mysore. Though all the post-graduate departments had been shifted to the new Manasa Gangotri campus (Jayalakshmi Vilas Palace), he was given special permission to engage M. A. classes in Maharaja's college by the then Vice-Chancellor I often escorted my father in the Tonga to the college and was in the habit of peeping into his classroom to see what was going on there. I usually saw him seated in a chair ether delivering a lecture or dictating some notes in a staid manner. After thirty-six years of successful teaching career the first D. Litt scholar of the Mysore University had been made a full fledged professor of History during the last six months of his tenure. He had accomplished this despite his physical infirmities like poor eye-sight, deafness and paralysis, which had affected the left leg, hand and to some extent speech in the initial stages.

He had grown bitter in life and disillusioned with the quagmire politics of the university. There was already a perceptible decline in academic standards. The university had assiduously denied him with the professorship almost till the end of his service.

At one point of time the university authorities had serious doubts about his physical fitness. So they referred him to the chief physician of the K. R. hospital. The experienced doctor was aghast that the university was subjecting a reputed scholar to all this needless humiliation. It is pertinent to remember that all this happened a few years before he suffered from a stroke. The good doctor of course certified that he was competent to teach as he was physically fit. At this juncture it is relevant to remember how the well known scientist Stephen Hawking, who is suffering from motor-neuron disease has been retained at Oxford university as a Lucasian professor. The great scientist is wheel-chair bound and has lost his power of speech.

Scholars he Admired

Professor S. Srikanta Sastri became the first U.G.C. scholar of the university after his retirement in 1960. During this period he completed "Sources of Karnataka History" Volume-II. His personal physician had advised him to take an evening walk everyday as it was good for his constitution. Escorting him was a duty performed by one of his children every evening. During these walks I would shout a question loudly into his right ear and it always produced a long scholarly in-depth lecture on one topic or the other.


Prof. M. Hiriyanna
Prof. M. Hiriyanna

In our walks one would pass in front of R. K. Narayan's bungalow or M. Hiriyanna's old residence on Dewan's road or Dr. A. Venkatasubbaiah's corner house in Narayan Sastri road. My father would tell me how he learnt intricacies of Indian philosophy from Professor M. Hiriyanna in his student days by visiting his house. I am told that the great M. Hiriyanna taught these students in the backyard of his house while he was washing his clothes.

He would often tell us about Dr. A. Venkatasubbaiah's trip to Geneva and how he was able to complete his Ph.D. thesis which he wrote in six months time in German language. This renowned scholar returned to India in 1905 only to discover that the local Brahmin priests had excommunicated him from the Brahmin caste as he had travelled on high seas.

My father could not suffer fools and sycophants. He assiduously avoided attending the formal religious functions such as upanayanams, marriages, gruhapraveshams and obsequisces as they infringed on his precious time. He was blissfully unaware of prices of commodities and never ever shopped in his life. When were young we would demand chocolates from him and he was often dismayed to discover that he never carried any money in his pockets as his wont.

Teacher all the Way

In his walks if we stumbled on a temple or an ancient structure he would draw our attention to it's special features. He had a long explanation for the Ashoka pillar installed in the centre of a fountain in front of the Maharaja's college, how the three animals below the Lions statue were pushing the Dharma wheel against each other. The Shilpi had committed a blunder. He got that circular stone replaced with a correct one. The discarded stone still lies in the college quadrangle. He would also tell me how a young student of Hardwick high school by name S. Ramaswamy had been shot by the police during the freedom struggle near Vice-Chancellor's house. Though my father was hard of hearing, it did not completely prevent him from listening to National Programme of music on Saturday nights loudly on a H.M.V. radio. His only complaint as a connoisseur of Carnatic music was that the mandarins in Delhi broadcast one Carnatic music concert for every three Hindustani Classical music programmes.

I must say in retrospect that he was ahead of his times, when compared to his contemporaries. He had bought a H.M.V. gramophone and would often listen to great Carnatic musicians. He also had paper shellac records from Hollywood, which included famous American singers of the forties and fifties. He loved to hear 78' rpms of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. In his youth he was an amateur photographer, who went around with his Kodak Bunny camera shooting important events.

Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri's Remington Typewriter
Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri's Remington Typewriter

He was specially found of his portable Remington typewriter (made in U.S.A.) on which he typed with a single finger all his articles and books. He had imported from Germany a cumbersome hearing aid, which was of little use to him.

My father was comfortable in both Indian and western dress. He had a special fondness for pin-striped dark coloured suits. Once his favourite student Y.G. Krishnamurthy came from Bombay to see him. A leading industrialist in Bombay wanted to import either some chemical or ore from Italy during II world war. The regular sea-routes were blocked by allied ships. My father offered a solution and told him how he could import through a neutral country, the required ore and by such and such a sea-route. This resulted in huge profits for the industrialist. This grateful industrialist sent my father an American tweed suit material, a gold nibbed Parker pen-set and an imported toilet kit with shaving accessories.

My father did not relish Indian melodramatic and romantic films. He was an avid English film goer and relished good historical and literary Hollywood films. Because of his poor eye-sight and hearing, he preferred to sit in the front rows of the cinema halls.

Insight into Western Literature

T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot

When I chose to major in English literature instead of history for my B.A. course he was disappointed. But he did not force me to change my mind. He relished reading nineteenth century English novels, romantic poetry and Bernard Shaw's plays, which I regularly brought home. Once I could not understand a few lines of T.S. Eliot's 'Hollow Men', I approached my father for clarification. He told me "going round the mulberry bush" was taken from an English nursery rhyme. Even today many English professors are unable to understand the last but one stanza of William Blake's 'Tyger'. He told me how the lambs represented Christ and tiger represented the Romans. The last stanza dealt with the crucifixion of Christ. The last four liner lines are poignant, the poet questions God as to whether he was smiling, when his son Jesus Christ was being crucified.

When the stars threw down their spears,

And water'd heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

My respected teacher Padmabhushana Dr. C. D. Narasimiah told me when I joined the university for my First Year M. A. in English course, that in the 50's he had delivered a lecture on Mysore Akashavani on T.S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets'. Prof. S. S. Sastri was the only other professor who had read the 'Four Quartets' at that time in Mysore University. My father congratulated Prof. C.D. Narasimiah over his lecture and discussed finer aspects of T.S. Eliot's poetry in detail in the corridors of the Maharaja's college.

Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri was an early riser. He would begin his day at 5.00 a.m. with a recitation of hymns composed by Sankaracharya. After a cup of coffee he began reading "The Hindu" newspaper with a pen. He would underline sentences, correct sentences and sometimes write comments in the margin. I often borrowed from my friends the 'TIME', 'NEWSWEEK', 'LIFE' and 'THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS' magazines. He not only read these magazines with avid interest but also collected articles on history and archaeology and treasured them in his scrap book.

Tragedies in Life

Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri had his share of tragedies in life. His first born child was blind and did not survive beyond six months. His second son aged seventeen died due to a heart attack. His beloved wife died an unnatural death when he was sixty eight.

During the last decade of his life financial constraints had imposed severe restrictions on better health care. His life was not too comfortable, but his philosophical outlook helped him to retain a healthy optimistic attitude towards life. Throughout his life he remained unaffected by slandering gossip. He had a healthy contempt towards mediocrities. One night in 1968 he suffered his first heart attack. All the family members panicked and my mother started rubbing the ashes on the soles of his feet. My father very calmly asked us whether his feet were going cold. The equanimity of his mind reminded me of Socrates' reaction to death. He survived this heart attack and lived for six more years, before succumbing to his second heart attack in 1974.

Prof. A. B. McIntosh (1943 - 1944)
Prof. A. B. McIntosh (1943 - 1944)

He remained a gracious and generous host till the end. In the 1930's and 1940's he helped poor meritorious students by feeding them once a week, it was then known as Vaaraanna in Kannada. A student who arrived late to Prof. Macintosh's class was asked "Why are you late?" The poor boy told the Scottish teacher that he had gone for his weekly meal. The horrified professor asked him, "What, do you eat only once a week?, my dear chap here have a five rupee note and do eat everyday" was his advice.

Unpublished Works

Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri's Unpublished Manuscript
Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri's Unpublished Manuscript

My father would be extremely pained to learn all his works languishing either unpublished or out of print. During the centenary year at least all the members of Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri's family must break this jinx and see that his works are published. Some of his  manuscripts got lost in the sands of time, to name a few-Kannada Dictionary (1920), translation of "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens - missing (1960), English translation of Ishta Siddhi (1930-1932), Dynastic History of Karnataka (1940), Religious History of Karnataka (1940), English translation of Kalpasutras (1958) and English translation of Taittariya Aranyaka and Brahmana. A recent discovery has been Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri's works having been listed on 12 websites including that of Harvard and Oxford. Even to-day his English articles such as "The Aryans", "Studies in the Indian scripts", "Harappa town-planning", "Proto-Indic Religion", and "Tantric Hieroglyphics" are popular on these websites.

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