PUTTAPARTHI: A SOLITARY REAPER
DR. SALVA KRISHNAMURTHY
A fall bespectacled giant of a man dressed in flowing Khaddar Jubba and Dhoti worn in Andhra fashion with the neatly folded Angavastram on his left shoulder, his left arm holding a bundle of books clutched together, his right hand holding the corner seam of the frontal pleats of his Dhoti and walking with a longish stride – that was “Puttaparthi”, an affectionate short for Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu, who passed away on September 1, 1990 at the age of 76.
He happens to be one of the more famous trio who put the affluent town of Proddatur, no, the entire Rayalaseema districts, on the literary map of Andhra, the other two being Durbhaka Rajasekhara Satavadhani and Gadiyaram Venkata Sesha Sastry. Much loved as a teacher and with a lot of admiration from his students, Puttaparthi’s career was mostly at Proddatur and Cuddapah. For a while he worked in the then Government Arts College, Anantapur. He had a stint at Trivandrum for a short while. He worked at the Central Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, too as an Assistant Librarian or so. It was his thirst for knowledge that drove him to some of those uncongenial places from where he retreated as soon as he realised the futility of his own exercise.
Puttaparthi was a giant not merely in physical stature but in learning too. He was a linguist and cultivated not less than 14 languages, a poet and critic of a high calibre, a Vageyakara, a musician and knew dance too. His works are many and some of them are in languages other than Telugu. “Leaves in the Wind” is the collection of his English poems. “Bhaktanche Gathe” is his Marathi work. He rendered the famous Telugu novel “Ekaveera” (of Viswanatha Satyanarayana) into Malayalam. “Siva Sahasram” is his Sanskrit work. Later about his Telugu works.
Born in a Srivaishnava family, he inherited, along with Visishtaadvaita philosophy, an enormous element of lyrical aestheticism and spirituality. Though born a Srivaishnava one could see him circumambulating at the Agastyeswara temple, Proddatur, during the ’Forties and ’Fifties. His inimitable “Sivataandavam” is not only a great work of lyrical beauty couched in terms of Natya Sastra but a standing testimony to his spirituality surpassing the barriers of denominational culture. He was a nationalist all through his life. His elegy “Gandhiji Mahaprasthanam” is a moving work. While Telugu and Kannada came to him naturally (he hailed from Penugonda area in Anantapur district, a bilingual place) his religion brought to him Tamil, while his devotional nature egged him on to learn Marathi and Gujarati, if only to study the Sant Sahitya. Hindi was his much-loved language. All the members of his family know “Ramcharitamanas” of Tulasidas by rote, and Parayanam of this work was a feature in his family. His wife Puttaparthi Kanakamma was a great scholar and poetess in her own right. Her recitational powers of Valmiki’s Ramayana (a Saranagati Veda for Vaishnavites) was such that she could recite all the six Kandas in 24 hours and do her Udyapana. In Sanskrit Rajasekhara is known to quote his wife regarding literary matters in his Kavyamimamsa. Jayadeva, the composer of Gitagovinda, speaks of his wife Padmavati; calls himself “Padmavaticharanachaaranachakravarti”. Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu and Kanakamma were such rare couple in modern Telugu. He respected her and her views greatly, though they never allowed any publicity to this aspect of their literary life.
For all his greatness Puttaparthi had no formal academic qualifications. He was only a “Vidwan” in Telugu from Madras University. And thereby hangs a story. He was already a poet and author when he reached his 14th year. He had published his “Penugonda Lakshmi” a work of fervour, imagination and plasticity of expression. This was a prescribed text for the Vidwan Examination. Puttaparthi took the examination in his 14th year and ironically enough, failed! While “Penugonda Lakshmi” reminisces about the past glories of the one-time capital of the falling Vijayanagar empire (to whose kings the ancestors of Puttaparthi happened to be religious preceptors). “Paadyamu” is an outpouring of his soul at the feet of the Lord. “Saakshaatkaaramu” is a poetic delineation of the life of Tulasidas. The technic, the form and content of this work projects the transparent personality of not only Tulasidas but that of the author too. While his “Pandari Bhagavata” is in run-on Dvipada metre fit for uninterrupted singing by the devout, his “Janapriya Ramayana” is written in “doha” style as an experiment. His last great poetical work happens to be “Srinivasa Prabandham” written in ornate classical style of torrential verbal exuberance. This was composed in honour of the Lord of the Seven Hills of Tirumala. He had studied, in his boyhood days, in the Sanskrit College at Tirupati. These are his major poetical works. His lectures on Bhagavata, his study of Vyasa’s Mahabharata are gems of scholarly study. He studied the history of Vijayanagar empire in great earnestness out of his personal predilection. His “Meghadutam” and “Agniveena” are the results of his impatient leftist stances. “Shall I finger the strings of this lyre of Fire, shall I, till the edges of the directions reverbarate, till the flames of the nascent fire start hissing out” sings the poet in “Agniveena.”
One unknown aspect of his life was his interest in Tantra and Yoga. He was well up with the Theosophical literature and equally at home with Aurobindo’s Divine Life. He did some Tantric Sadhanas and himself told this writer how he sometimes suffered. One could always see the silent quivering of his lips in Japa as his pulsating heart meditated supervised by the vibrant soul.
A man of childlike simplicity he was not of the cultivating type and could not acquire the trappings of a successful life. Most of the time he lived in want and it was his devoted students and friends that generally stood by him. Sometimes his naivete brought him only losses and difficulties.
Though some of his books like “Prabandha Naayikalu” (a work of literary criticism) were prescribed as detailed texts for the degree classes in the erstwhile composite Madras State, it never helped him financially. His sustenance was his reputation. No doubt he was honoured by the Government of India with a “Padmasri” and he enjoyed possessing many titles like “Saraswatiputra”, “Mahakavi”, etc. Still, those who know him feel that he did not get what he deserved both by way of a good living as well as recognition. Well, one would think his own reluctance to cultivate people who mattered in mundane life and his reluctance to build up a school of his own and following were responsible, for his comparative languishing. He remained a solitary reaper in the field of poesy all his life. Still there is no doubt that he will be remembered for a long time for what he has written for us, much longer than the more popular media-projected poetasters and scholars. The light of his writing, though without any ideological labels, is the innate sincerity and wisdom born out of knowledge, and not empty emotional tintinabulation.
This writer has two eminent reasons for calling this a memoir. This writer has had the benefit of being taught in the High School by this great scholar-poet and he has known him for not less than 47 years.
It is that effulgent ray of humanity that dwells in this writer that has tried to reflect or even refract the inherent sense of gratitude to one whose benign love has dispelled at least a thin veil of darkness from the murky corners of his soul.