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t. s. venkannayya
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T. S. Venkannayya
T. S. Venkannayya and
A. R. Krishnasastry
Maharaja College Group Photo: L - R: Seated - ?, T. S. Venkannayya, B. M. Srikantaiah, ?, ?
L - R: Standing in previous row: ?, ?, T. N. Srikantaiah, D. L. Narasimhachar
L - R: On floor: ?, G. Venkatasubbiah
Tarunara Dandu - Maharaja College (K. V. Puttappa, A. N. Murthy Rao, B. M. Srikantaiah, D. R. Bendre, T. S. Venkannayya, D. L. Narasimhachar, T. N. Srikantaiah and G. Venkatasubbiah)
Maharaja College (L - R on chairs: ?, ?, B. M. Srikantaiah, T. S. Venkannayya, ?, ?)
Standing in row behind: L - R: ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, Kuvempu
Maharaja College (L - R on chairs: ?, ?, T. S. Venkannayya, B. M. Srikantaiah, M. H. Krishna, S. Srikanta Sastri)
Standing in row behind: L - R: ?, D. L. Narasimhachar, ?, T. N. Srikantaiah, ?, ?
D. L. Narasimhachar
T. S. Shama Rao (Venkannayya's younger brother)
Mysore Maharaja College Karnataka Sangha Group Photo (22 – 2 – 1928)
Standing Row – Top Most (L – R): G. C. Shankarappa, P. Narayana Iyengar, A. K. Puttaramu, K. V. Puttappa, D. L. Narasimhachar, T. N. Srikantaiah, L. Gundappa, K. Narasimhachar
Standing Row – Second from Top Row (L – R): Rama Rao, M. Subba Rao, H. Ramanna, K. G. Sampathkumaracharya, G. Krishnaswamy Iyengar, Sri Thandaveshwara, D. M. Seshagiri Rao, N. Anantarangachar, K. Narahari
Standing Row – Third from Top Row (L – R): M. S. Basavalingaiah, N. S. Narayana Shastry, B. Venkoba Rao, A. N. Narasimhayya, K. Ramanarasimhayya, Ralapalli Ananta Krishna Sharma, A. M. Doreswamy Iyengar, S. V. Ranganna, A. N. Moorthy Rao, V. Seetharamaiah
Seated on Chairs (L – R): M. H. Krishna, S. V. Krishnaswamy Iyengar, C. Narasimhayya, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, N. S. Subba Rao, B. M. Srikantaiah, Sali Ramachandra Rao, T. S. Venkannayya
Seated on floor (L – R): V. K. Srinivasan, B. Krishnamurthy, V. Venkatachar, K. Gopala Krishna Rao
Kuvempu with Masti Venkatesh Iyengar
T. S. Venkannayya (Kannada: ಟಿ. ಎಸ್. ವೆಂಕಣ್ಣಯ್ಯ) was born on October 1, 1885 at Taĺaku village, Challakere taluk, Chitradurga district, Karnataka to parents Subbanna and Lakshmidevamma. They belonged to the Mulukanadu sect of Telugu speaking brahmins who originally hailed from Venganadu. They were ardent devotees of Rama and were spiritually inclined. Venkannayya was named after his grandfather.
While on his deathbed, Venkannayya’s grandfather had presented his son Subbanna his much-treasured volume of Ramayana. Giving the book, he had remarked that it was the only thing of any real consequence that he could bequeath to him and that it’s daily recitation and reading would keep generations in good stead! Subbanna promised to stay true to his father’s wishes and descendants since have carried on this unbroken tradition. T. S. Venkannayya’s father Subbanna was a poet in his own right and was known to compose poetry impromptu. He was well versed in ‘Gadugina Bharata’, ‘Jaimini Bharata’, ‘Rajashekhara Vilasa’ and ‘Jagannatha Vijaya’.
During the time of Palegars, once a bull fight was arranged in this village. Both the bulls were ferocious and wouldn’t easily relent. The fight culminated in the bulls interlocking their horns. They couldn’t unlock the horns and ended up staying like that for a long time! Thus, the palegar watching this sight thought of naming the village as "Taĺaku".
T. S. Venkannayya’s grandmother Hanumakka had prayed to Lord Venkateshwara for a grandson. She was ecstatic at Venkannayya’s birth and nicknamed him ‘putta’. She took much trouble to familiarise him with ‘Mahabharata’, ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Bhagavata’ at a young age. She made sure that Upanayana and such time bound initiations (shodashakarmas) were done at the right time for the young boy.
At five years of age, Venkannayya was admitted to Coolimutt. He was a student of Narasinga Raya. Venkannaya was the youngest member to sit the exams at 12 years of age! After his preliminary schooling, Venkannayya joined A. V. school at Challakere and had to stay at a relative’s house there for a while. He passed his Kannada lower secondary in 1897 and his English lower secondary exam in 1899.
When Venkannaya was still 14 years old, his grandmother insisted on arranging Venkannayya’s wedding! Hanumakka’s concern seems to have been that she wanted to see him married while she was still alive! And so, a wedding was arranged between fourteen-year-old Venkannayya and an eight-year-old Bhagirathamma in 1902.
Thankfully, this early marriage did not impede Venkannayya’s education and he successfully completed his matriculation exam in the same year. As he turned 18, he was sent to Mysore to pursue his further education. This was admittedly a drain on the family’s meagre financial resources.
Venkannayya joined Maharaja College, Mysore and passed his first year F. A. exam in 1903. For his second year F. A. exam, he sat for all subjects except Mathematics. When the Mathematics teacher and Principal Prof. J. Wier asked Venkannayya as to why he skipped the exam, Venkannayya was not forthcoming with a reply. The Principal wouldn’t relent until he got an answer. Venkannayya finally blurted out that, no matter how hard he tried he could not understand Mathematics and hence not wanting to fail, he decided it was in his best interest to skip the exam altogether! Prof J. Wier was not amused in the least and demoted Venkannayya to first year F. A. Feeling helpless, Venkannayya got himself transferred to Bellary’s Wardlaw college. Here, he received much needed help to tide over his fear of Mathematics. He passed his second year F. A. in flying colours in 1904 and was presented with two hardbound volumes of The Bible as prize! He returned to Taĺaku from Bellary for his summer holidays.
Venkannayya returned to Mysore to pursue his B. A. course. Here, he ran into Prof. J. Wier again. Thankfully he bore no grudge towards Venkannayya. On the contrary, he helped Venkannayya by halving the fees! This was most helpful for Venkannayya’s family who were already struggling to make ends meet. History Professor Thomas Denham always had a soft corner for this bright young boy and decided to help him all the way through. He wrote to the University Registrar’s office and convinced them to waive the fee altogether. Venkannayya and his family were much relieved. Denham however was not done with Venkannayya yet. In return for his act of generosity, he asked Venkannayya to take part in some games that had been arranged as part of the annual college function. This was no mean asking – especially to someone of Venkannayya’s disposition. He always shied away from sports and games of a competitive nature! But this time Venkannayya could not muster up the courage to say no to his benefactor. The game he took part in was one that tested one’s memory. It involved Prof Denham laying out several random objects on a table. Each contestant had to see them for one full minute and then the objects would be covered. The contestant had to then recollect from memory the list of objects he or she had just seen! Much to Denham’s joy, Venkannayya won this game and beat all the nine other contestants. Denham awarded Venkannayya with a beautiful hardbound volume of “Life of Samuel Johnson” by Boswell. Venkannayya treasured this volume till the end. Venkannayya passed his B. A. exam in 1908.
By now, T. S. Venkannayya had had two children. Though he was looking for a stable source of income, his uncles were insistent that he pursue further studies. Yielding to their demands, Venkannayya travelled to Bombay to do his degree in law. While in Bombay, he stayed at the ‘Shwethambara Free-boarding & lodging’ hostel to save money. To save more, he decided to skip day college and instead opted for the subsidised course in the evening college. Even this was not enough to make ends meet. Finally, he took up a part time job as an attender in a government office. Inspite of all these constraints, his grades in the first year F. L. exam were good (1909). He effortlessly sailed into the second year (B. L.). Unfortunately, his superior at the office where he was working was less than favourably disposed towards Venkannayya or Kannadigas in general. His all too frequent taunts and jibes were much too insulting for Venkannayya’s tastes. He finally quit the job & the B. L. course (1910) and returned at once to Taĺaku. Having lost out on the B. L. degree, Venkannayya now felt that doing a M. A. was his best option. With this in mind, he returned to Mysore from Taĺaku.
At Mysore, Venkannayya learnt Kannada and Telugu from Thimmappayya Sastry and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma at Maharaja college. Around this time, a gentleman from Chitradurga had come to Sanskrit college to clear his Vidwat Parikshe (exam). Venkannayya and this Sanskrit student (by the name of Srikanta Sastri) struck a cordial and long-lasting friendship. They would spend hours discussing finer aspects of Eastern & Western Philosophies. Srikanta Sastri completed his Sanskrit exam and left Mysore in 1912. He went to Anandavana Ashrama in Dharwad where he met Seshachala Bhagavan. He settled there and spent his time teaching Sanskrit to discerning students. Srikanta Sastri’s exit from Mysore robbed Venkannayya of a good friend. This sense of estrangement was so strong that Venkannayya decided to relocate to Dharwad as well! With this in mind, he approached his long-time acquaintance Jnana Kannan, who was then head-master of Basel Mission High School in Dharwad. Kannan was overjoyed to hear from his friend and decided to introduce him to the school Principal - Muller. Muller was readily impressed with Venkannayya’s demeanour and stature. Muller decided to entrust History teaching to Venkannayya and offered him a salary of 60 Rs. Jnana Kannan would introduce Venkannayya to such luminaries as Alur Venkata Rao, Muduveedu Krishna Rao, Kadapa Raghavendra Rao and Uthangi Chennappa. Venkannayya eventually became famous as Taĺaku master! Principal Muller slowly entrusted Kannada & English teaching work as well. It was thanks to Venkannayya that the local populace began to accept the school as part of their community and hence readily send their children to it. Till then it was perceived more as a center for evangelical activities and the more orthodox residents steered well clear of it!
Venkannayya left for Madras in 1912 to pursue his M. A.. Here, he stayed with his friend A. N. Narasimhayya who was then preparing for L. T. exam. He finished his M. A. exam in 1913 and went to Agadi. The sole intention of heading to Agadi was to meet his friend Srikanta Sastri. Sastri introduced T. S. V to Seshachala Bhagavan, whom Venkannayya later described as the very personification of Shiva! Venkannayya spent a few weeks at the ashram and finally took leave to return to Dharwad. At the time of departure from the ashram, the Swamiji blessed him and impressed upon him the indispensable need to always tread the path of truth & truth alone. Upon his return to Dharwad, T. S. V. was summoned to the principal’s chamber where he was handed a communication from Madras regarding his M. A. examination. Venkannayya had passed his M. A. in first class (1914)! The principal congratulated him and offered to raise the remuneration from Rs. 60 to Rs. 75/-. The entire school rejoiced at Venkannayya’s success.
T. S. V. stayed at Dharwad for a period of three years before returning to Bangalore. Here, he joined St. Joseph’s High School as a history teacher in 1915. With a further raise in his salary, Venkannayya could now afford to rent a slightly larger house in the cantonment area and thus invited his wife, children, his aunts and his brother Krishna Rao (who had just then passed his SSLC) to stay with him. Krishna Rao secured a job in Attara Kacheri, further easing the family’s financial prospects. For a while, even A. R. Krishnasastry’s family stayed with T. S. Venkannayya at this house.
A. R. Krishnasastry and T. S. Venkannayya were best of friends and were known as Ashwini Devas (ಅಶ್ವಿನಿ ದೇವತೆ) of Kannada literary world (as these celestial gods moved in pairs!). Once when A. R. Krishnasastry was sick and ailing, Venkannayya, who was not one to offer prayers for favours, made an exception by requesting that a fraction of his lifespan be set aside for his friend. As if by miracle, A. R. Krishnasastry made a miraculous recovery soon! Krishnasastry always recollected this with great affection & gratitude.
In 1917, the Mysore Government decided to start four high schools in Kannada medium of instruction. Venkannayya was appointed as head-master for one of these schools in Doddaballapur. A few months later, he was transferred to Bangalore’s Collegiate High School as an English teacher. This government job, augured well for Venkannayya and gave him the much-needed sense of security in the coming years.
A Strange Incident!
Once in Doddaballapur, an unknown brahmin visited T. S. V. and expressed his desire to eat chirottis (ಚಿರೋಟಿ)! Venkannayya was known for his generosity and charitable temperament. But on this occasion, he found himself in a bind and apologised to the brahmin that he neither had the money to buy him chirottis nor the wherewithal to prepare them. However, the brahmin wouldn’t budge and remained stubborn. At long last, T. S. V. took a loan and arranged for a small basket full of chirottis to be prepared and supplied to him. The poor brahmin ate the whole basket and did not leave even one chirotti for Venkannayya! At the end of this feast, the satisfied brahmin looked to T. S. V. and said that a long-standing wish of his would soon be granted. As luck would have it, in the days to come, T. S. V. heard news of A. R. Krishnasastry’s transfer from Central College, Bangalore to Maharaja College, Mysore and that he would now be offered A. R. Krishnasastry’s former position at Central College, Bangalore instead. A. R. Krishnasastry’s exit was indeed a loss for Venkannayya. However, Venkannayya’s family were ecstatic at news of this University job.
By 1918, T. S. Venkannayya’s father was on his deathbed having contracted the Spanish flu. After his father’s demise, the responsibility of the entire family (five brothers & five sisters) fell on Venkannayya’s shoulders. Even though the family owned a few properties, there was significant outstanding debt as well. T. S. V.’s mother, now a widow, decided to spend her remaining years in her eldest son’s house. Venkannayya now decided to shift residence from Doddaballapur to Malleshwaram in Bangalore. He had rented a big house for his large family. One of his sisters came to deliver in this house and died during childbirth. This tragedy followed close on the heels of his father’s recent demise. Venkannayya decided to shift his residence yet again and hence moved to Basavanagudi.
The Kannada Sahitya Parishat was founded in 1915. The Central College Karnataka Sangha was also started around this time. T. S. Venkannayya and A. R. Krishnasastry were both interested in strengthening the Kannada movement and therefore approached D. V. Gundappa to seek his support and guidance in impressing the youth to join the cause. D. V. G.’s poem ‘Vanasuma’ was among Venkannayya’s favourite and he persuaded A. R. Krishnasastry to adopt it as the prayer song of the Karnataka Sangha. In fact, D. V. G. was so impressed with Venkannayya’s oratorical skills that he records in his writing that he ‘spoke like one possessed!’ D. V. G. furthermore described Venkannayya as a man blessed with a ‘unique feel for literature’. They were indeed best of friends. While in Bangalore, Venkannayya stayed with D. V. G. for a brief time. Venkannayya’s meticulous attention to detail in cooking was amusingly noted on many occasions by D. V. G. From the use of ghee and pepper in avarekalu uppittu (ಅವರೆಕಾಳು ಉಪ್ಪಿಟ್ಟು) to proper method of preparing ambodes (ಆಂಬೊಡೆ), Venkannayya was a walking repository of recipes!
Prof. Bellave Venkatanaranappa was the secretary of the Karnataka Sangha around this time. Under the auspices of the Karnataka Sangha, a book was published about Muddanna and his birth anniversary was celebrated in a befitting manner. The Quarterly Journal – ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ took shape during these years. After A. R. Krishnasastry left for Mysore, Venkannayya took over the responsibility for managing ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’. Under his able stewardship, ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ succeeded in bringing to light many works of V. Seetharamaiah, K. S. Narasimha Swamy, G. P. Rajaratnam and P. T. Narasimhachar. As editor, Venkannayya helped bring many old works of Kannada poetry back into print once again. In fact, Bellave Venkatanaranappa who was involved in the editing and reprinting of ‘Pampabharata’ repeatedly acknowledged T. S. Venkannayya’s priceless contribution to this project For the Kannada Sahitya Parishat conference in Bijapur, there was some controversy with regard to who would chair the meeting. More than one candidate was vying for the post! Venkannayya defused the tension by sending Tirumale Thathacharyasharma to Bijapur first and then to Mangalore to resolve the matter amicably. On more than one occasion, Venkannayya was offered the chairmanship of a forthcoming Sahitya Parishat meeting and every single time he assiduously turned it down, on the premise that there were more senior and better deserving candidates than himself for the post! T. S. Venkannayya’s popularity among students was a well-known fact. A. R. Krishnasastry once likened T. S. V. to a jaggery ball which attracted ants by the hundreds! Owing to ever increasing responsibilities at the Karnataka Sangha as well as at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Venkannayya relocated yet again from Basavanagudi to Shankarapuram.
Venkannayya’s wife Bhagirathamma passed away in 1924. Two years later, he married Rukmini. In the same year i. e. 1926, he was appointed as assistant professor at Maharaja College, Mysore. In 1926, B. M. Srikantaiah was the Registrar of the University and Sir Brajendranath Seal was the Vice Chancellor. The Kannada B. A. Honours course had just been started. B. Krishnappa was the assistant professor at this time and he was due for a promotion. Sadly, weeks before the promotion, he passed away. This, now vacant post, had to be filled as the Honours program was already underway. B. M. Srikantaiah and N. S Subba Rao felt that T. S. Venkannayya was the right choice for the post. But Venkannayya would hear nothing of it as he felt that his good friend A. R. Krishnasastry was senior to him and hence deserved the promotion. B. M. Srikantaiah however did not see it that way. But neither N. S. Subba Rao nor B. M. Srikantaiah could convince Venkannayya to accede to the post. Finally, they wrote to Metcalfe at Central College, Bangalore. Metcalfe summoned T. S. V. to his office and a three-hour long discussion ensued! Venkannayya was thus compelled to become University of Mysore’s first Kannada Professor!
Maharaja College had a common room where everyone assembled to converse & exchange notes. Venkannayya was a regular participant in this arcadia and had a large fan-following among students and peers alike. A. N. Murthy Rao records that, although T. S. V. joined the common room as a member (and remained one all throughout), he was for all practical purposes, it’s undisputed leader and rest of the bunch, his humble followers had the least bit of enthusiasm to rebel or break free from his ever-loving embrace! T. S. Venkannayya was the founder of the ‘University Teachers’ Association’ which was a forerunner to ‘Prasaranga’. These and many more such initiatives were collectively described by Rollo as the ‘Mysore Experiment’. J. C. Rollo not only appreciated Venkannayya’s ideas and initiatives, he was often the driving force behind many of them.
T. S. Venkannayya’s Students
Venkannayya’s relationship with his students was always one of friendship and love. He was always seen surrounded by a bunch of students who were more than eager to listen and learn from their mentor! In fact, Venkannayya was described as a walking pot of jaggery eternally mobbed by an army of hungry ants.
T. S. Venkannayya moulded and shaped K. V. Puttappa who became Kannada literature's future beacon. There was once a story writing competition held in the college. Puttappa had sent in his entry to the competition. It was adjudged as the best entry in the competition and the first prize was awarded to it. Puttappa could not attend the award ceremony personally. T. S. Venkannayya took it upon himself to receive the prize and deliver it personally to the discerning young boy, who by then was resident at the Ramakrishna Ashram in Mysore. This gesture from a senior member of the faculty captured Puttappa’s heart. Years later, Kuvempu would record this incident in his diary (transl. from Kannada) – ‘He (T. S. Venkannayya) was ever ready to nourish and nurture a true talent when he came across it. It was in his maternal embrace that I found myself overcoming my otherwise cold desolation, on more than one occasion’. Kuvempu further records that Venkannayya’s teaching style was such that every student in the classroom felt convinced that he (or she) was indeed the centre of Venkannayya’s attention and hence felt elated! Venkannayya served, in Kuvempu’s words, as a bridge between Kannada & English poetry as he was able to discuss both with effortless ease. He held both literary worlds on the same plane and was masterly in this comparative teaching technique. Puttappa’s participation in various literary events, competitions and conferences were at Venkannayya’s behest.
Puttappa once addressing a small gathering used the Kannada word ‘Nirankushamathigalagabeku’ (ನಿರಂಕುಶಮತಿಗಳಾಗಬೇಕು) in a rather disparaging tone. This created some controversy and some senior teachers & writers retorted back with some bitterness. B. M. Srikantaiah asked T. S. Venkannayya as to what had to be done to address the issue. Venkannayya assured B. M. Srikantaiah that, by then corrective measures had already come in from all sides and he (Venkannayya) as a father to a son could not have asked for a better way to mend matters! Venkannayya had the unique quality of correcting mistakes without hurting the sentiments of his students. In the same vein, he never once missed an opportunity to praise them whenever he could.
In his later years, T. S. Venkannayya would frequent Kuvempu’s house and spend hours listening to his poetry and other writings. On one such occasion Venkannayya spent half a day listening to Kuvempu recite his poetry. Tired, Venkannayya took leave in the afternoon. Just before he got up to leave, Kuvempu offered to read few lines from his latest work – ‘Ramayana Darshanam’. Venkannayya promised that he would make another trip in a few days’ time and had to head home as he was feeling fatigued. The next evening Kuvempu found himself seated in his bedroom giving the final touches to his book. This task preoccupied him completely into the late hours of the evening. Around 11 PM in the night, he distinctly heard a knock on the door. He impatiently stood up, walked to the door and was surprised to find no one outside! Perplexed he stood there for a while and then closed the door in disbelief and made his way back to the table. Then, he distinctly felt another presence in the room, almost right behind him, seated on his bed. This greatly unnerved him. Nonetheless he gathered his spirits, remained calm and tried to rationalise the experience in his mind. He was giving finishing touches to his ‘Ramayana Darshanam’ and completed it by dedicating it to his guru T. S. Venkannayya in the very first page. Exhausted and famished, he went to bed. He woke up next morning to the sad news of Venkannayya’s demise the night before! While in life, Kuvempu never got an opportunity to show ‘Ramayana Darshanam’ or read verses from it to his guru, it was almost as if, Venkannayya in his final moments had decided to visit and peruse this work himself before departing from this world! Kuvempu also acknowledged Venkannayya as his inspiration for his novel ‘Kanooru Heggadithi’ set in Malnad. T. S. Venkannayya undertook a tour of the Western Ghats to enjoy the lush environs of the Malnad region, as described in his students’ novels.
D. L. Narasimhachar and S. V. Parameswara Bhatta
Venkannayya was instrumental in guiding D. L. Narasimhachar (D. L. N.) through the basics of editing old palm leaf texts. D. L. N. remembered this till his very end with great gratitude. S. V. Parameswara Bhatta (S. V. P. B.) records in his memoirs that Venkannayya always made it a point to feed his students well before beginning one of his impromptu discourses! Once during a college competition arranged in the Karnataka Sangha, S. V. P. B. performed very well and yet missed out on the prize. Venkannayya who was there in the audience realised that his student may feel dismayed at this unfortunate turn of events. He at once instituted a prize and presented to his student! S. V. P. B. treasured this prize well into his later years – a volume of Basavarajadevara Ragale.
Venkannayya inspired and guided a whole genre of writers and litterateurs of his time – T. N. Srikantaiah, K. S. Narasimha Swamy, M. V. Seetharamaiah, C. K. Venkataramaiah, K. Venkataramappa and G. Venkatasubbiah.
When Venkannayya’s younger brother T. S. Shama Rao was studying B. A. Honours at the college, there was some paucity of funds for the second-year fees. This prompted Shama Rao to approach J. C. Rollo for assistance. Rollo was eager to help and wrote to the office to release a grant from the B. M. Sri Scholarship fund to T. S. Shama Rao. Relieved, Shama Rao went home and decided to share the news with Venkannayya. Next morning, when Shama Rao came to college, to his horror, the accounts office informed him that the B. M. Sri Scholarship fund had now been reassigned to another poor M. A. student! Stunned, Shama Rao at once skipped class and went to Rollo’s office. Rollo invited him inside and explained to him that this reassignment was done at Venkannayya’s behest and that he had already paid his younger brother’s second-year fees to save him from trouble. Even though the payment of fees was now settled, Shama Rao was fuming inside. He made his way back to class and thence back home in the evening. In their customary evening walk, the brothers did not speak much. Venkannayya sensing the lull in conversation asked if everything was alright. Then there was an explosion of uncontrolled anger from Shama Rao. Venkannayya kept quiet and allowed his younger brother to vent his anger, before he could interject. At long last, Venkannayya explained that he was in a position to pay his tuition fees and that such a scholarship could better help another deserving student, who had no such benefactor. Furthermore, Venkannayya apologised to his brother that he probably should have informed him before effecting such a change. Shama Rao had tears in his eyes and realised what a generous heart his brother possessed!
Manvi Narasingha Rao
R. Narasimhachar, B. M. Srikantaiah and T. S. Venkannayya were conducting the viva voce exam for Manvi Narasingha Rao during his M. A. finals. Rao had to travel back to Hyderabad in the evening. After the examination, Rao was about to make his way back to the hostel to get ready for the journey. Venkannayya caught him outside the examination hall and implored him to visit him at his residence for a few minutes before embarking on a journey to Hyderabad. Perplexed, Rao agreed to his teacher’s request and visited his house that evening. To his surprise, Venkannayya came out of his room dressed in traditional attire carrying a silver plate full of coconut, betel leaf, arecanuts and some token of cash in it. Presenting this plate to him, he kept a beautiful red rose on top of the ensemble and congratulated Rao. By now Rao had little clue as to what was happening. Venkannayya gave him the good news that he had indeed passed the exam and furthermore had done so in first class! He embraced Rao affectionately and bid him adieu from Mysore. Rao remembered this show of affection with great relish in his memoirs decades later.
M. Shivaram (Ra Shi)
M. Shivaram known better by his pen-name Ra Shi is remembered for his years as the editor of ‘Koravanji’. A student of Central College, Bangalore, he and his friends during their student years had chosen Sanskrit as their second language as it was believed that it was an easier way of scoring good marks. But over time, they learnt from their friends that their respective Kannada classes under T. S. Venkannayya’s tutelage were superlative both in quality and content! Shivaram and friends felt left out. With this in mind, they approached Venkannayya and requested that they be taught select portions of the Kannada syllabus as well. T. S. Venkannayya thought for a moment and with a smile on his lips readily agreed. Shivaram writes in his memoirs that these classes by Venkannayya on ‘Gadayuddha’ were a most memorable experience for these part-time Kannada students!
T. S. Venkannayya – his persona
Venkannayya was in excess of six feet height and was of lean built. His face had an unmistakable square jawed countenance, with a thickset moustache and sported a rather contemplative look. He was always affable in his general demeanour towards everyone. A Melukote dhoti and a black coat completed his usual attire. Owing to his towering height, he was known to slouch a bit at the shoulders and was most often seen to have his hands clasped behind him. He would perform Sandhyavandhane daily followed by a reading of few verses of the Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita.
His son’s death
In 1931, Kannada Sahitya Sammelan was conducted in Mysore. As part of this celebration, various events were also organised. A Gamaka recital was arranged and the participants were invited to lunch at Venkannayya’s residence. Venkannayya’s close friend Rajeeva Lochanam was also present. Just before lunch was to be served, there was a loud shriek from downstairs. Venkannayya rushed downstairs to find that his ailing son of four years age had passed away. He had been sick for a while and had been shown to many doctors and treatments provided for. But it was all in vain. T. S. V. was heartbroken and had tears in his eyes. He composed himself and requested his brother and son-in-law to make necessary arrangements to carry out the funeral. He washed his face and with a solemn resolve made his way upstairs to make sure that lunch was served as planned! After every invitee was fed to his satisfaction, they took leave of him. Rajeeva Lochanam stayed back to enquire as to why he didn’t see Venkannayya’s wife during lunchtime – normally she served everyone her tasty payasam. Then Venkannayya had no option but to tell his good friend what had happened. He tried impressing on his friend the correctness of his decision in going ahead with the lunch, as there was little to be gained by upsetting the august gathering with this ill-timed news. After all, no effort had been spared in sufficing medical aid to his ailing son and he had succumbed. Furthermore, he smilingly said that, as ardent readers and followers of the Bhagavad Gita, it was of vital importance that the essence of the Gita be practised in everyday life and that every effort should be made to become a sthithapragna against all the travails of life! Rajeeva Lochanam had a look of incredulity on his face and was positively livid. He shouted at Venkannayya that he was not a human being in any sense of the word and walked out!
His views on caste
Once, Venkannayya was playing host to a very orthodox relative of his who had just then returned from a long pilgrimage. This relative’s views were strongly conservative. On a particular morning, after he had finished his morning ablutions, he came across a book on Upanishads by K. V. Puttappa. He immediately summoned Venkannayya to the puja room and questioned him in a condescending manner as to who this Puttappa was? Venkannayya spent some time explaining that he was a Kannada poet and lecturer hailing from the Vokkaliga community and that he was staying at present in the Ramakrishna ashram premises at Mysore. His uncle interrupted and quipped ‘so he is not a brahmin?’. Venkannayya answered that he was a 16 anna Brahmin in the fullest sense!
Spirit of Generosity
A poor law student once mailed Venkannayya requesting for some financial help with regard to his fees. Venkannayya immediately took whatever little money there was in his bureau and then requested his brother to contribute by an overdraft from the local co-operative society. Furthermore, he requested his brother to mail the money order to the discerning student at the earliest. He also added that on his way back from the post office, he ought to destroy the mailing receipt so that one would never be able to remember the student’s name!
Turning down a Royal invitation!
HH Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar sent word to Venkannayya inviting him to the Mysore Palace to teach Kannada to Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. This invitation came with the promise of daily transportation and perks added to it. Venkannayya considered it for a while and instead suggested T. N. Srikantaiah for the job!
Addiction to snuff!
Venkannayya was known for his attachment to snuff. When chided by many for this, he said we consider Tulsi or Spinach leaves with much respect and even adoration, then why not these Tobacco leaves, which give one much needed comfort and solace.?
A matter of height!
The famous Gamaki – Anantha Padmanabha Rao had invited Venkannayya to his house in Mercara. Rao’s house was an old-fashioned wooden house with a set of doors too narrow and low. Venkannayya being very tall tried entering the door stooping down. Even this effort ended in his turban being knocked off! When the people inside the house rushed to his aid, he reassured them that he was indeed fine and that, once in a while, it was necessary for every man to feel humbled!
Similarly, T. P. Kailasam, who was short in stature, on one of his visits to Venkannayya’s house turned his head up and asked Venkannayya as to how things were up there in heaven?!, to which Venkannayya looked down and replied with another question – What’s new in the recesses of the underworld?! (pathalaloka).
Venkannayya never missed an opportunity to visit V. Seetharamaiah at his Bangalore residence. Seetharamaiah’s house was again one of those old-fashioned ones with a dwarfed entrance. Seeing Venkannayya bow down every time he entered, Seetharamaiah went out of his way to get the entire door frame replaced with a larger and taller one! Such was his affection & regard for Venkannayya.
A poor student once came begging for food in the early hours of the morning. Venkannayya’s mother asked the boy to move on and possibly come later in the day. Venkannayya who was speaking to one of his colleagues ran out of the house and stopped the student from walking away. Then he turned to his mother and asked her if cooking was not yet finished? She answered that it was indeed over, but the first offering of food to God was not yet done and hence she was unable to feed him. Venkannayya immediately quoted the Ramayana where the Great Rama himself did not mind the half-eaten fruit which he received from Shabari! He made sure that the poor student was indeed fed first, even if it meant that it preceded the daily customary offering to God during the morning rituals.
Once, Venkannayya visited the Khadi Kendra to buy a "Rumalu" for his Turban. The glistening silk work in the material made it quite expensive. He felt that because of its extensive usage the cost had consistently escalated. He suggested to the shop attendant that instead of using the silk for the entire width of the material, it would look much nicer, if it were to be used for the fringe or border (ಜರಿ). Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar who was also there immediately said that the idea was indeed a novel one and it was surprising that it had not stuck anyone before. Thus, was born the ’Venkannayya Rumalu’!
The 1931 Mysore Kannada Sahitya Sammelan was indeed a grand success and it’s arrangements were good thanks in part to Venkannayya’s endearing leadership and resourcefulness. Alur Venkata Rao was it’s presiding secretary. At Venkannayya’s behest, the ‘Aswathaman’ drama was enacted and Bidaram Krishnappa gave a concert. With Venkannayya’s characteristic attention to detail in cooking, nearly 350 people were fed at this meet in Mysore. He was also instrumental in Chidambara Ashram coming into existence in Gubbi.
Venkannayya’s literary output was small, but what little was written was of a superlative standard. Kuvempu describes Venkannayya’s writing as neither meant for accolades nor monetary benefits, but instead meant solely for reading pleasure! Kuvempu further attests to the fact that Venkannayya’s endearing contribution to Kannada literary landscape was not with his own writing, but instead in recognising and nurturing budding talent across three decades!
Venkannayya, along with A. R. Krishnasastry learnt Bengali while at Central College. This enabled Venkannayya to read various Bengali works in the original and eventually translate them into Kannada, often for the first time. Among these, Venkannayya was the first to bring Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s biography into Kannada. This was followed by a Kannada translation of the first part of Ramakrishna’s ‘Leelaprasanga’ into Kannada. Later he translated Tagore’s literary essays into Kannada as well. His translation of Bankim Chandra’s ‘Shakunthala, Miranda and Desdemona’ remains a seminal work to this day. Bana Bhatta’s works and Nagavarma’s introduction to Bana Bhatta’s works were generally perceived to be very difficult pieces of Kannada literature, even for seasoned readers. T. S. Shama Rao credits Venkannayya for making these almost inaccessible texts lucid and easily understandable to the layman.
‘Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsara Charitre’ (along with A. R. Krishnasastry) - 1919
‘Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsara Leelaprasanga’
‘Prachina Sahitya’ - 1927
Venkannayya undertook editorial responsibilities of ‘Kumaravyasa Prashasthi’ and ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ for some time. These are some of his chief editorial works:
‘Harischandrakavya Sangraha’ (with A. R. Krishnasastry) - 1931
‘Kadambari Sangraha’ - 1933
‘Basavaraja Devara Ragale’ - 1930
‘Siddharama Charitre’ (with D. L. Narasimhachar) - 1941
Many of these appeared in ‘Kannada Sahitya Charitre Mathu Ithara Lekhanagalu’ volume.
‘Kannada Sahityada Charitre’
‘Hathaneya Shatamanada Karnataka Sahitya Charitre’
‘Hanneradu Hadimuru, Hadinalkane Shatamanagala Kannada Sahitya Charitre’
‘Kavirajamarga granthada karthru yaaru?’
Contributions to ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’
Contributions to ‘Kannada Sahitya Parishat Patrike’.
‘Kannada Kaipidi – Vol. IV’ (along with B. M. Srikantaiah)
‘Kannadadalli Boudha Sahitya Vithe?’
‘Nizam Karnatakada Surupuru Lakshmeeshana Oore?’
Contributions to ‘Sadbohachandrike’
T. S. Venkannayya introduced student poetry journals at Maharaja College titled ‘Kiriya Kanike’ and ‘Taĺiru’. He initiated drama troupes to enact such plays as ‘Nagananda’, ‘Saavina Samasye’ and ‘Ashada Bhoothi’. He was instrumental in organising ‘Kumaravyasa Jayanthi’. He encouraged famous Gamakis like K. Krishnarao, S. G. Bindu Rao, K. G. Sampathkumaracharya and Mayi Gowda.
His last days
Bellary Sahitya Sammelan had just wrapped up in 1939. There was an ongoing debate about which spelling to use for Karnataka (n or ń i. e. ನ or ಣ)! Venkannayya had grown disenchanted with this seemingly absurd debate. After a day-long debate, a tired Venkannayya left Bangalore late in the night and reached Mysore in the morning. By his own admission he was not feeling well. That night, i. e. on 14 February 1939, Venkannayya passed away. There was an exodus of students, former colleagues, litterateurs and friends from Bangalore and various parts of Mysore to take part in Venkannayya’s funeral. Notable among these were Masti Venkatesh Iyengar and Kuvempu.
As a Professor in the University, Venkannayya was drawing a decent remuneration. But his over-arching generosity meant that he was most often in debt, even at the time of his death! There was a severe crunch of funds required for the necessary funeral arrangements. J. C. Rollo stepped in to help. He at once wrote to the University to release two months’ worth of salary, albeit posthumously. He even added that this was to be done keeping in mind the financial crunch that the family was facing with respect to the ongoing funeral arrangements. B. M. Srikantaiah and N. S. Subba Rao joined in on this endeavour and Rollo’s request was met with a favourable response from the University.
There was a three-day memorial event held at Taĺaku spearheaded by Nittur Sreenivasa Rao, Belagere Chandrashekhara Sastry, Belagere Janakamma and Belagere Krishnasastry. These events were later remembered as the ‘Nittur circus’! There was even a plan to build a memorial in Venkannayya’s name at his native place – sadly this was not realised for the next three decades! T. S. Shama Rao with his hallmark tenacity saw this unfulfilled dream to fruition in 1989 with the help and assistance of Devaraj Urs and Rural Development Panchayat Minister Abdul Nazeer. This was called the Venkannayya Smaraka Granthalaya. T. S. Shama Rao donated Rs. 30,000.00/- worth of books to this library!
T. S. Venkannayya and T. S. Shama Rao were fond of long evening walks where they discussed, often for hours, about everything from history to theology and literature to religion. On one such walk, the discussion turned to Lord Krishna. Venkannayya spoke for nearly two hours leaving Shama Rao spellbound. At the end, T. S. Shama Rao implored Venkannayya to put in writing that which he had just delivered extempore. Venkannayya immediately asked his brother as to what was to be achieved with such an endeavour? Shama Rao explained that such profound depth of knowledge and perspective should be shared with generations to come, thereby leaving a footprint in the sands of time. Venkannayya smiled and spoke after a long silence. He said that when such people as Rama and Krishna were scarcely remembered today, why must mere mortals like us expect to be remembered in the future? Shama Rao recollected this incident with Kuvempu at Venkannayya’s funeral. Kuvempu answered that he was in agreement with his teacher. However, he added that a man’s legacy lies often not in what he said or did, it lies more so in the impression he had on people around him, and in the way he nurtured future generations who came under his influence – and in this aspect, Venkannayya could never be forgotten! Lastly, he added that the greatest tribute he could give to his teacher was a dedication in the very first few pages of his forthcoming book – ‘Ramayana Darshanam’. As long as mankind read this great epic, they would remember T. S. Venkannayya’s name.
T. S. Venkannayya: A Short Biography – Edited by Dr. T. V. Venkatachala Sastry (Mulukanadu Sabha, Mysore) – 2000.
T. S. Venkannayya: A Monograph on Modern Kannada Writer – by Ramegowda – Sahitya Akademi, Delhi - 2017.
T. S. Venkannayya by T. S. Gopal (Ed. Dr. Na. Someshwara) – 2015.
Vinnayónnati – Festschrift Volume honouring T. S. Venkannayya – 1986.
Savinenapu: Divangata Prof. T. S. Venkannayyavara Smaraka Grantha – 1970.
Extracts of Kuvempu’s tribute to his teacher T. S. Venkannayya from ‘Ramayana Darshanam’.