CHANNAPATTANA VASUDEVAIAH WAS ONCE A HOUSEHOLD NAME in Karnataka, affectionately renowned for his elementary schoolbooks teaching the basics of Kannada grammar and composition to children. Titled Kannaḍa bāla bōdhe (a rough translation is, Kannada Lessons for Children), he wrote them out of a deep spirit of service, which in turn reflected the zeitgeist of the Golden Age of Modern Renaissance in Kannada language and literature. Kannaḍa bāla bōdhe became an instant hit and was prescribed as a textbook for children at the elementary level. These books have stood the test of time as the sturdiest guide for mastering the basics of the Kannada language.
This apart, Sri Vasudevaiah (ಚ. ವಾಸುದೇವಯ್ಯ in Kannada) also charted a fresh course in composing Kannada prose, a style marked by simplicity, grace, elegance and attractiveness. Among other stalwarts, the legendary DVG lauds his literary style as worthy of emulation. A polyglot, Sri Vasudevaiah had acquired mastery over Kannada, Telugu, Sanskrit, Bengali and English. He translated Rajanikanta Gupta’s Rajput Mahima from Bengali to Kannada as Aryakeerti (Vol 1) and Satyacharan Sastri’s Chhatrapati Maharaj Shibajir Jiban Charit from Bengali to Kannada as Aryakeerti (Vol 2). Both translations opened to public acclaim in Karnataka.
However, Sri Vasudevaiah is widely known for his mellifluous Bhishma-Caritre (The Story of Bhishma) published in 1927. In many ways, the work is deeply reflective of Sri Vasudevaiah’s personality, temperament and his sublime outlook towards life.
Born in 1852 in Channapattana, his boyhood years were marked by poverty, loss and hardship. His immediate family played a significant part in sculpting his character which was notable for its simplicity, fortitude and piety. Small wonder that Bhishma appealed to him immensely as we shall see.
We have no better authority than DVG who has sketched a heartfelt pen portrait of Sri Vasudevaiah in his Jnapakachitrashale volumes. DVG was younger to him by thirty-five years. The concluding portion of this portrait reveals what made Sri Vasudevaiah the gentle giant that he became. It is also to DVG’s credit that he actively sought out such luminaries, preserved their memories intact in his mind like fresh dew and served these feasts of inspiration to the public. The episode that follows would have been lost to posterity but for DVG because they were his personal interactions with Sri Vasudevaiah.
DVG has fittingly subtitled this section as Mental Strength in which he recounts what Sri Vasudevaiah once confided in him about his childhood. I have taken the liberty to retitle it as The Last Days of a Sadhvi. Translation is mine.
SRI VASUDEVAIAH WAS BROUGHT UP by his sister-in-law [elder brother’s wife]. Because he had lost his mother as a child, his sister-in-law became his mother. As the years rolled by, she attained old age and was ailing and bedridden. She intuitively realised that her end was nearing.
One day, she called Sri Vasudevaiah and other family members and said, “Appa, my son, can you do me a favour?”
Sri Vasudevaiah said, “Amma, my whole life is yours. No matter what I do, how can I ever repay the debt of your love, affection and compassion? All of us are ready to do whatever you ask.”
Everyone present in the room had tears in their eyes including Sri Vasudevaiah. It was painful to watch her suffering such agony.
She said, “Appa, tomorrow is Gokulashtami. As for me, I cannot get up. I can’t have bath, I can’t perform Puja… I’m lying like this. I know that the pain in my stomach will intensify tomorrow. None of you must take pity on me and force me to drink milk or eat some fruit. If I am alive tomorrow morning, please do me just one favour: give me a bath and put a drop of Deva-Tirtha in my mouth. That’s all I want and need.”
Sri Vasudevaiah narrated this episode as an illustration of the mental fortitude of our ancestors. Having witnessed and experienced this sort of strength and unsullied piety, it was natural that Sri Vasudevaiah was moved to write a work like Bhishma-Carite. A good book emanates from a good life.
THESE ARE THE PROVERBIAL “ordinary,” simple folks who ensured our civilisational continuity and preserved the stability of our social life. Their number was in millions and they truly belong to the tranquil eons.
What does it speak of the strength of character of a person who says she needs only a drop of Tirtha on Sri Krishna Janmashtami while facing certain death?
|| Om Tat Sat ||
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