literature

Masti Venkatesha Iyengar

The bugle rock of Basavangudi is a scenic place filled with dense groves of trees , a 1.8 km cobbled stone path for walking and lovely stone benches for the occasional rest for the tired walkers. Inside the park is an old water tank- the outer walls have been re-purposed with murals of famous personalities of Karnataka. And in one of them stands Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, a prolific Kannada writer- recipient of the famous Jnanapita award. I knew nothing much about him, save this. So a bit of research – the google and a couple of books about Masti and I discovered a disciplined, honest, an able administrator not to mention a man with a creative streak in him that made him author 123 Kannada and 17 English books. Here are few tidbits about him.

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Known for his short stories he was honored with the title Rajasevasakta. With more than 123 books under his belt, a D.Lit of both Karnataka and Mysore universities and prior to that District Commissioner of the State, you would think life would have been a smooth journey for him. But it was not so. In fact he suffered hardships throughout his childhood and growing up years.

He was born on June 6, 1891 in Kolar in a small village known as Masti. Son of Ramaswami Iyengar and Tirumallama, he was born in to a rich family. But the family suffered hard times, lost their land. Masti had to bear all this. The plague too had stuck by then. So Masti shifted from his village with his grandfather and moved to Hongenhalli village. His father and brother lost their lives due to plague. Masti had to shift homes,schools. He did his BA from Central College, Bangalore. After that he did his MA in English at Chennai. No matter where he studied, he always managed to stand first. In Madras too he was a gold medalist  and topped his MA.

For some time he worked at the Presidency College of Madras before sitting for the civil services exam at Mysore. And in 1914 he joined government services as Assistant Commissioner and soon rose to become the District Commissioner. However he was bypassed for the post of Minister and a junior got promoted instead of him. For this reason  he resigned from the services in 1943.

Masti’s writing journey began in earnest after this though his first short story was published way back in 1914. Masti wrote under the pen name Srinivasa and when he started out he wanted to write in English. But an encounter with a farmer changed this. During his tax collection rounds when Masti berated a farmer for not paying his dues, the farmer mentioned that he did not know the rules that were all written in English. This prompted Masti to shift to Kannada. His first story was Rangana Maduve and his last was in 1985 and was titled Maatugara Malanna. During his lifetime he wrote essays, short stories, novels, dramas, poems and social stories. His novel Chikkaveera Rajendra won the Jnanapita award in 1983.

His love for Kannada was tremendous. He headed the Kannada Sahitya Parishat and in 1929 headed the Belgavi Kannada Sahitya movement. It is said that he always addressed his talks in Kannada.

Masti died in June  6,1986 at the age of 95. The only memories of him today is the Masti Mane in Gavipuram that has been converted as the office of Masti Venkatesha Jeevana Kaaryalaya[MVJK] Trust. The Trust has preserved Masti’s books and his letters. The road where his 90 plus years home stands has also been named as Masti Venkatesha Iyengar as a tribute to the fourth Jnanapita award of the State.

–Usha

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Of Poets and Nature

We were at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, one of the early homes of William Wordsworth, a poet known worldwide, amongst his other works, for ‘Daffodils’. The Keswick lake nearby was what inspired him to write the poem.

I had taken my parents, who love poetry and nature, to Lake District & the Dove Cottage tour of the famous man was on the list.

After the tour of the cottage, my father’s first reaction was that while there were many who visit this place, not many know the birthplace of Kuvempu, a brilliant 20th century poet back home who lived in a equally picturesque place in the Western Ghats.

IMG_20150829_124817_HDR.jpgA time when English was taught in all public schools, he became a Kannada Poet (ironically advised by an Irish poet to write in his native language). He was awarded the country’s highest literary honour, Jnanpith Award for his magnum opus ‘Ramayana Darshanam’ – a poetic version of Ramayana. Through his creativity, one gets to know the native language’s depth and vastness.

His poems strike a chord in our hearts and are part of every school child’s text book. His home in Tirthahalli is one of the most scenic places in Western Ghats.

However back then, I was taken aback by the remark, as I had never thought of it or visited the place. Years later, we made a point of visiting Puttalli, his hometown, where the huge ancestral home stands and is now converted into a museum.

Nature brings out the best in man I guess, as I have never seen such a perfect setting. His home is the land’s end, beyond which the forest tales over. A bus driver nearby told me that peacocks come out in the evenings on the street, especially when the visitors are gone.

His home looks like a work of art. The laid back home offset with a huge garden is picturesque. The house has slanted tiled roof and is built in the traditional style with rooms all around and an open centre with a pit that drains the rain water. The kitchen looks like a century old with traditional pots (madike) & copper utensils (patre) some of which have disappeared from our modern kitchen homes.

What I liked most however was the poems sung as songs as we entered the gallery that showcases his works. Poems like ‘O nanna chetana agu nee aniketana’ (O my soul, roam free, untethered) and ‘Bagilolu Kai Mugidu, Olage baa Yatrikane’ (Salute the home and come inside traveller), there were many others that were lovely to hear for the first time.

Clutching a few of his books that I bought there, I walked out hoping to get a glimpse of the shy peacocks on the street.

For those who cannot visit his home at Western Ghats, the flower show at Lalbagh, has his home as the theme this time.

-Poornima Dasharathi

(featured image by: manojsaldana.blogspot.com)