Featured > V. Seetharamaiah
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Venkataramaiah Seetharamaiah (Vi. Si.) was born on 2nd of October, 1899 in Budhigere, Devanahalli. He was second of four children. His parents – Venkataramaiah and Doddavenkamma were a devout couple, who came from a lineage of priestly class of Smartha Brahmins. Vi. Si. spent his first six years growing up in the care of his grandmother and his mother’s younger sister at Budhigere. His father, a priest used to work more often in Bangalore. Unfortunately, Vi. Si. lost his father when he was just eight years old.
He was then sent to Bangalore for further schooling in 1906. He joined the Municipal school in Chamarajpet, Bangalore where he got a double promotion. He was then sent to Anglo-vernacular school. Some of his notable classmates in school were K. V. Iyer, T. P. Kailasam and C. S. Venkatachar. Among his favourite teachers were the likes of Pandit Jayarama Venkatacharya and Doddabele Narayana Sastry. During these school years (1906 – 1916), he had the rare privilege of listening to Rt. Hon. V. S. Srinivas Sastri’s lectures, whose eloquence in English and large turban captured Vi. Si’s imagination at a young age.
Vi. Si. loved watching Cricket matches. While he loved playing Cricket as well, his frail constitution meant he could not keep it up for too long. Residing in Chamarajpet, Vi. Si. attended concerts of famous musicians of the time like Veena Sheshanna, Bidaram Krishnappa and Mysuru Vasudevachar. His favourite artists of the time included the likes of M. Venkatappa and A. V. Varadachar. This was in addition to his keen interest in attending Vedic recitals, Poetry recitals, Gamaka recitals and a few literary meets locally. He completed his Intermediate (S. S. L. C.) in 1916.
After schooling, many of his seniors routinely went to either Madras or Pune Universities for higher education. Vi. Si. sadly could afford neither. Fortunately for him, around this time, University of Mysore came into existence. Mysore was close by! He sat for the entrance examination to gain admission to University of Mysore. This exam was held at Bangalore Collegiate High School. One of the valuers of these answer scripts – J. Tate while correcting Vi. Si.’s English paper is said to have remarked thus: “Not bad, pull the young fellow’s nose and ask him to write simpler English & keep his sentences shorter” (This was high praise indeed!).
Vi. Si. had heard of Prof N. S. Subba Rao who taught Economics. He was greatly impressed with Prof Rao and it was his desire to become a student of this famous economist. N. S. Subba Rao was educated at Cambridge University, England under the eminent economist Alfred Marshall. While at Cambridge, he was a classmate of another influential economist John Maynard Keynes. It was this crop of professors and teachers, under whom Vi. Si. wished to nurture his academic leanings. Vi. Si.’s yearning to be at University of Mysore was handicapped thanks to lack of financial resources. To make ends meet, Vi. Si. worked for a while at the Mysore Government’s Education Department.
With his meagre savings and a favourable result in the University of Mysore’s entrance examination, Vi. Si. managed to secure a seat in the new University. In fact, he holds the distinction of being in the very first batch of the nascent University!
His teachers during his Bachelor’s degree at Maharaja College, Mysore included the likes of M. Hiriyanna and S. Radhakrishnan. For his Bachelor’s degree, his chosen subjects were Political Science, Philosophy and Economics. He completed his B. A. in 1920 and was awarded the ‘Sir Seshadri’ Gold medal for highest marks in Economics.
Even though, Vi. Si. had a keen interest and an undeniable aptitude for Philosophy and Literature, he was compelled to take Economics as his chosen subject for his M. A. Regrettably, it was his poor financial situation, which yet again, played a part in enforcing this decision. M. A. in Economics had a far greater probability of earning him a scholarship than did any other stream. It was the scholarship which dictated his choice. Yet, he did not mind it in the least. He always harboured a secret desire to be a student of Prof N. S. Subba Rao, someday.
However, his choice of Economics in M. A. did not go down well with his Philosophy lecturers. In fact, S. Radhakrishnan is rumored to have remarked, “Look at this fellow. He has deserted us for Economics. He has prostituted his intellect.”! (Of course, they meant well, but were bitter at losing him to a stream different from their own. Vi. Si. was a coveted asset, no doubt.).
Vi. Si. taught for a while at Sarada Vilas High School, Mysore. This was to supplant his income during his M. A. course at University of Mysore, which he eventually completed in 1922. University of Mysore was synonymous with Maharaja College and in Vi. Si.’s own words was “Oxford of Karnataka”! It’s faculty line up, during his student days was thus:
•Principal: Prof. C. R. Reddy
•Economics: Prof N. S. Subba Rao
•Philosophy: Prof M. Hiriyanna
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan
Prof. A. R. Wadia
•English Literature: Prof J. C. Rollo
Prof B. M. Srikantaiah
•Kannada: Kanakanahalli Varadachar
During this time, Vi. Si. came into contact with other intellectual giants like T. S. Venkannayya, A. R. Krishna Sastry and Ralapalli Ananta Krishna Sharma. All these personalities are fondly remembered with the greatest reverence and affection in Vi. Si.’s later memoir “College Dinagalu”. In this recollection, he describes his days at Maharaja college and more so Mysore in the words of William Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven”. After completing his education at Mysore, Vi. Si. felt that a Law qualification would ensure a more robust financial situation for him in future. With this in mind and with some money saved from his earnings, he set sail for Bombay to complete his L. L. B. degree. For maintenance in Bombay, Vi. Si. secured a part-time employment at the office of ‘Deputy Comptroller of Currency’.
This being a Government job, there was an assured income for a while. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, upon hearing this remarked: “He ought to hang on to the Government job, considering how difficult it is to get it in the first place”! However, Vi. Si. was destined to neither complete the L. L. B degree nor hang on to the coveted Government job. A bout of Malarial fever unrelenting in its intensity saw Vi. Si. give up everything and head back home. After a prolonged convalescence, Vi. Si. was yet again, ready to head back to Bombay. This time, his longtime mentor and well-wisher T. S. Venkanayya interjected and convinced him about his talents, interests and his sense of belonging here in old Mysore presidency as opposed to having to start from scratch in Bombay amidst complete strangers!
Vi. Si. agreed to this suggestion and he dropped his “Bombay plans” altogether. These recollections of his days in Bombay are written with nostalgia in his later book “Mumbaivasa: Nenapugalu”. He again joined Sarada Vilas High School as a teacher and continued on their faculty from 1923 till 1928. It was in these five years, young Vi. Si. forayed into writing poetry and prose in Kannada. His writings would see the light of day through publications like “Prabuddha Karnataka”, “Aruna”, “Rashtra Bandhu” and “Artha Sadaka”. B. M. Srikantaiah, even though an English teacher by vocation, always nurtured a love for Kannada in his heart. Way back in 1911, B. M. Srikantaiah had penned an article (Eng. Transl.) titled “Let the Kannada language raise its head again with pride”. He was also among the pioneers of Hosakannada writing. In 1927, B. M. Srikantaiah became Registrar of University of Mysore. Among the many things he did as Registrar, he took it upon himself to introduce “Optional Kannada” subject, start a separate Kannada division/ department in the University and eventually a M. A. course in Kannada. T. S. Venkannayya was among the first of the Kannada teachers to teach in this department.
Even though Vi. Si. was an Economics man, B. M. Srikantaiah felt Vi. Si. would do greater justice in the Kannada department and thus appointed him as one of its teachers. This appointment was not in Mysore but in Bangalore Central College! Vi. Si. left for Bangalore and from thence, his teaching activities were spread out between Intermediate College and Central College at Bangalore from 1928 till 1942.
Following a promotion in 1943, he was transferred back to Maharaja college, Mysore, where he stayed on till 1948. For the next two years, Vi. Si. was requested to head the Intermediate college at Chikamagalur first as Superintendent and then as Principal. From 1950 onwards, Vi. Si. headed the Kannada department at Central College, Bangalore till his retirement in 1955. During these four decades of teaching, his colleagues included the likes of G. P. Rajaratnam, A. R. Krishna Sastri, K. V. Puttappa, T. N. Srikantaiah, D. L. Narasimhachar. M. V. Sitaramaiah and Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri.
Vi. Si.’s classes were always packed with students. Even though scheduled at the very end of the day, there never was any dearth of students in the class. His lectures invariably went beyond the mundane confines of the prescribed ‘syllabus’. Always purpose based, morally endowed and laced with rich literary references - his classes were much treasured by his students. His one hour long lectures would even visit upon such topics as ‘geopolitics’, ‘history’, ‘political science’ and of course his favourite ‘economics’ without necessarily straying too far from the topic at hand. Gripping and comprehensive is how many a student is said to have described his lectures in later years. An otherwise soft spoken, gentle soul, Vi. Si. also had an assertive streak in him, which meant he could put the odd student who was either too presumptive or obnoxious in their rightful place! This has been beautifully chronicled by B. G. L. Swamy in his “Panchakalasha Gopura”.
Among his illustrious students were B. G. L. Swamy, R. K. Laxman, A. K. Ramanujam, H. Y. Sharada Prasad, S. V. Parameshwara Bhatta, H. M. Nayak, G. S. Shivarudrappa, L. S. Sheshagiri Rao, H. M. Shankar Narayan Rao, J. Varadaraja Rao and Smt. Chi. Na. Mangala. Vi. Si. maintained frequent correspondence with many national and international scholars of repute. To name a few – J. Maynard Keynes, C. D. Deshmukh, Uma Shankar Joshi and V. Raghavan.
Following his retirement, Vi. Si. joined Bangalore Akashavani as producer for the “Spoken Word” series. Here he worked from 1956 till 1958.
Vi. Si.’s love for coastal Karnataka’s scenic beauty and abundance of natural flora & fauna attracted him to a post retirement tenure at Honnavara in Uttara Kannada district. He was invited to be the first Principal of the newly opened Arts and Science First Grade College. This was in 1964. In 1968, he was recalled to Bangalore at the insistence of ‘India Book House (IBH)’ which persuaded him to take on the Editorship of “Kannada Kavi Kavya Parampare” – a compendium of 30 books encompassing all of Kannada language’s rich legacy and tradition of poetry and poets. This massive almost encyclopaedic project covered Kannada poetry from Kaviraja Nayakara (Nrupatunga) to Navodaya’s Muddanna. Vi. Si. completed this Herculean enterprise with the greatest dedication and religious fervour possible. This series, to this day, remains a testament to his Editorial skill and perseverance.
Vi. Si. was a man of short stature and frail constitution. His typical everyday attire would include a neatly pressed white dhoti (Kache Panche), a woolen coat, Mysuru rumalu (turban), black rimmed spectacles and a soft pair of sandals. Always genteel in his manners and soft spoken, Vi. Si. was described best by D. V. Gundappa when he remarked “He is goodness personified”.
Vi. Si. was groomed by some stalwarts, who were the guiding lights in his academic journey. T. S. Venkannayya occupied a special place in Vi. Si.’s life. A tall man, Venkanayya was a regular visitor at Vi. Si.’s house. As the entrance to the house was short for Venkannayya’s tall frame, he always used to bow down while entering the house (to avoid striking his head against the wooden frame of the door)! T. S. Venkannayya for Vi. Si. was teacher, mentor, friend and guide all rolled into one and he bowing down every single time he visited the latter’s house was simply unacceptable. So, Vi. Si. got the entire door frame removed and a bigger, wider one put in its place – just for his mentor! Such was his nature. One of his close friends had this to say about Vi. Si. - “He is generous to the extent of ruining himself ”!
Vi. Si.’s love for animals and plants was well known. It is said that on the day his backyard Jack fruit tree was felled to make space, he was nowhere to be found. Then someone realised that he had locked himself inside the house and was in tears. He could not bring himself to see that gigantic tree of years disappear under his very eyes. Though Vi. Si. achieved great heights in terms of the acceptance and love that his readers bestowed on him, he had an enduring sense of bitterness deep within.
This probably stemmed from his difficult childhood, continuing economic hardships, repeated denials of academic opportunities at work (for one reason or the other) and a less than robust state of general health. Much of these sentiments find voice in many of his poems time and again.
Vi. Si. married Sarojamma in 1925. They had seven children. Their fifty years of marriage came to an end in 1974 when Vi. Si. lost his wife to ill health.
Vi. Si. travelled widely within India. He visited Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan as well. His lifelong dream of visiting the land of Shakespeare, Milton and Johnson came true with the help and guidance of Mathur Krishnamurthy in 1974. But as luck would have it, as soon as Vi. Si. reached London, he suffered a debilitating stroke and was hospitalised! He was well attended to by the local doctors and the Kannada speaking crowd in London. But sadly, this meant that Vi. Si. could see precious little of England he had so zealously admired. He returned to India a disappointed man.
In 1938, B. M. Srikantaiah and a few others decided to bring forth an anthology of Kannada poems titled “Kannada Bavuta” to be published through the Kannada Sahitya Parishat. B. M. Sri invited Vi. Si. to select Kannada poems for this collection. His selections were commended by one and all for their variety and fairness. However, B. M. Sri was a bit irritated because he was the first to find out that, not a single poem of Vi. Si.’s had been included. Vi. Si. had assiduously avoided selecting even a single work of his! B. M. Sri quickly included a few of Vi. Si.’s poems in that anthology.
A similar strain in his character was evident a few years later, when he was at the helm of affairs of the “Prabuddha Karnataka”. During all his years of Editorship there, he never once published his own articles! Even when he was on the faculty of Central College, Bangalore – he expressly forbid Central College “Karnataka Sangha” from ever publishing any of his works. In fact, it was only after Vi. Si.’s retirement that G. P. Raja Ratnam was successful in publishing many of Vi. Si.’s works in the college periodicals.
Vi. Si. started writing articles during his stay in Bombay. These, he would diligently mail to A. R. Krishna Sastry in Mysore. A. R. Krishna Sastry would always reply in the most complimentary and encouraging way. If there is another personality other than T. S. Venkanayya who nurtured and guided young Vi. Si., that was without doubt A. R. Krishna Sastry. The others who could be counted into this select club were – Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, D. V. Gundappa and Panje Mangesha Rao – all three who took personal interest in Vi. Si.’s growth in the literary world.
In fact, A. R. Krishna Sastry was on his toes to publish one of Vi. Si.’s articles in “Prabuddha Karnataka” in 1922. This was an article by Vi. Si. on his favourite Sanskrit playwright Bhasa’s popular work “Pratima”. When Vi. Si. got wind of this, he immediately shot back a letter prohibiting Sastry from doing the unthinkable!
But Sastry was not one to relent. While he withheld that article from reaching print, he took word from Vi. Si. that he would, without fail, contribute regularly to “Prabuddha Karnataka” from thence. Vi. Si. agreed to this condition and started writing quite frequently. Unbeknownst to Vi. Si., A. R. Krishna Sastry had shortened V. Seetharamaiah to Vi. Si. under each article, thus lending him his ‘pen name’, which would stick with him for the rest of his life. Thus started Vi. Si.’s writing career – a journey that would span the next 50 years and would culminate in nearly 60 odd works of great repute! In fact, Vi. Si.’s first poem was published in “Prabuddha Karnataka” and so was his first book (in instalments) titled “Pampa Yatre”. As destiny would have it, years later (between 1943 – 48), Vi. Si. himself would end up as Editor of “Prabuddha Karnataka” at University of Mysore.
Vi. Si. would dabble in Kannada poetry, dramas & plays, scholarly discussions and essays, number of monographs, biographical sketches, travelogues, economic treatises and numerous translations to and from Kannada.
List of his works
Anthology of Kannada Poems
1.“Geetegalu” (1931) – 67 poems
2.“Deepagalu” (1933) – 16 poems
7.“Aralu-Baralu” (1972) – Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (1973)
Works of Prose
1.“Pampa Yatre” (1927)
2.“Sohrab Rustom” (1930)
4.“Hana Prapancha” (1937)
5.“Karnataka Kadambari” (1940)
6.“Bharatagala Sri Krishna” (1940) – Kumaravyasa Prashasthi
7.“Abhijnana Shakuntala Nataka Vimarshe” (1943)
9.“Bharatada Rajyanga Rachane” (1947)
10.“Vyavahara Dharma” (1949)
11.“Bharatada Aivaru Manyaru” (1951)
12.“Kavi Kavya Drishti” (1955)
13.“Shivarama Karantharu” (1956)
15.“Sri Shaila Shikara” (1960)
16.“Sahitya Vimarshegalalli Artha mathu Moulya” (1961)
17.“Bharatadalli Yojane” (1962)
18.“Sahitya: Sampradaya mathu Hosa Marga” (1967)
22.“College Dinagalu” (1971)
23.“Eradu Nataka: Chyavana mathu Agraha” (1971)
24.“Satya mathu Moulya” (1972)
25.“Valmiki Ramayana” (1976)
27.“Olleya Manushya, Olleya Baduku” (1976)
28.“Mumbaivasa: Nenapugalu” (1976)
29.“Mahakavi Pampa” (1976)
30.“Mahabharata Krishnacharithra” (1978)
33.“Sarvajanika Jeevanadalli Adhikara, Shakthi, Prabhava Mandalagalu” (1979)
34.“Hiriyaru Geleyaru” (1980)
35.“Samvidhana mathu Kanunu” (1992)
36.“Sahityaloka (Part II)” (unpublished)
Works in English
1.“Mahakavi Pampa” (1967)
2.“K. Venkatappa” (1968)
4.“M. Visveswaraiah” (1971)
5.“Valmiki Ramayana” (1972)
6.“D. V. Gundappa” (1972)
7.“Panje Mangesha Rao” (1978)
8.“Abhijnana Shakuntala Nataka Vimarshe” (unpublished)
9.“Mahabharatada Krishnacharithra” (unpublished)
1.“Reserve Bank of India” (1959)
2.“Bharata Swatantraya Galisithu” (1963)
4.“Bangali Sahitya Charithre” (1966)
5.“Major Barbara” (1968)
7.“Purandara Dasa” (1979)
8.“Moby Dick” (1982)
9.“Panje Mangesha Rao” (1985)
10.“Mission with Mountbatten” (unpublished)
Vi. Si. – Collections of his works (from Vi. Si. Sampada)
1.“Sneha Vishwasa” (1990)
2.“Novu Nalivu” (1990) (unpublished 59 works)
3.“Samagra Lalitha Prabhandha Samputa” (1992)
4.“Samagra Nataka” (1993)
5.“Vyakthi Chitra Samputa” (Part I and II) (1993)
6.“Smrithi chitra Samputa” (1997)
7.“Vimarshe Samputa – I – History & Poetry” (1998)
8.“Vimarshe Samputa – II – Poetry & Drama” (1998)
Regular contributions to
3.“Indian P. E. N.”
This is how Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao describes reading Vi. Si.’s writings:
“When I read Homer, I feel as if I were twenty feet high” said Edmé Bouchardon - the sculptor who lived about two hundred years ago. Homer’s description of Gods, Demons are of a gigantic scale. Readers are given this impression of immensity that is awe inspiring. Such is the power of description in Homer’s writings. I find Vi. Si.’s writings in a similar vein and he not only ascends to great heights, he also takes us with him to give us a panoramic perspective from his beautiful vantage point. Such is his scope and depth of writing”.
The 17th Kannada Sahitya Sammelan (Literary Conference) was held in 1931 at Karwar. Vi. Si. was invited to chair the poetry division of this conference. He was just 36 years old at that time.
He was invited to chair the 36th Kannada Sahitya Sammelan at Kumta. Around the same time, he was also invited to chair the “Mumbai Prantha Bhasha Conference” held at Gadag. Vi. Si. was a honorary member of “P. E. N. Kendra Sahitya Akademi Prashasthi Committee” as well as the “Jnanapeeta Prashasthi Committee”.
His collection of character sketches “Mahaniyaru” and descriptive essay “Krishnacharithra” won him the Rajya Sahitya Akademi award. His anthology of poems “Aralu Baralu” received the Kannada Sahitya Akademi Award.
For a lifetime contribution towards Kannada language and literature, many a Festschrift volume was brought forth by his colleagues and well-wishers over time. Some notable ones were “Rooparadhaka”, “Vi. Si.” and “Vi. Si. – 75” (brought out on his 75th birthday).
He was conferred with a Honorary Doctorate by his alma mater - University of Mysore in 1976.
A brief list:
1.“Chairperson – Poet’s Conference” – Karwar (1971)
2.“Editorship of Kannada Sahitya Parishat Newsletter” (1939 – 42)
3.“Editorship of ‘Prabuddha Karnataka’”(1943 – 48)
4.“Chairperson - 36th Kannada Literary Conference” (1953)
5.“Honorary Member of Kendra Sahitya Akademi” (1954 – 70)
6.“Honorary Member of Jnanapeeta Selection Committee” (1965 – 68)
7.“State Government Honour for Distinguished Litterateur of the year” (1970)
8.“State Literary Academy Committee Membership” (1973)
9.“Honorary Doctorate by University of Mysore” (1976)
He breathed his last on September 4, 1983 at Bangalore, aged 84 years.
1.“V. Seetharamaiah” – biographical book by Prof M. Ramachandra (2009)
2.“V. Seetharamaiah” – Personality & Poetry – Vi. Si. Sampada (1991)
3.“V. Seetharamaiah – Smarane” – a book by M. V. Venkatesh Murthy
4.“Sarthaka Baduku” – by Dr. B. P. Radhakrishna
5.“Vi. Si. Noorara Nenapu”