In other rooms; other wonders...

In other rooms; other wonders...


“A cat, it is said, has nine lives, Vishnu had ten avatars. But Shivarama Karanth had as many as sixteen careers.

These were: nationalism, social reform, commerce, journalism, photography, acting, dance, painting, music, cinema, experiments in education, rural up­lift, the popularization of science (through a multi-volume encyclopaedia designed and written wholly by himself), the writing of novels (as many as forty-five), the writing of plays (not less than ninety), and environmentalism. This list is not necessarily exhaustive, and the man did not necessarily follow only one career at a time.”  - Historian Ramachandra Guha.

From outside, it looks like any other building in a congested road of a small suburban town. Except that it bears the name of one of the most important Kannada literary personalities of all time.

The moment you step in, you realise that ‘Manasa’ is not an ordinary residence. It was, after all, home to legendary writer Kota Shivarama Karanth (October 10, 1902 – December 9, 1997) during the last four years of his life.

In this ‘museum’ located in Saligrama (about 20 km from Udupi), you get to see many things. Books, photographs, furniture, typewriters, citations, Yakshagana headgears…  And, those small but significant things which were essential for his daily life: pen, spectacles, chappals, paint brushes, wrist watch, magnifying lens, inland letters, papers, slip pads … And of course, the walking sticks, false teeth sets and medicine bottles.

Each one of these ‘worldly possessions’ were part and parcel of Karanth’s final years and have been affectionately and devotedly collected and displayed by Malini Mallya, who was the famous writer’s amanuensis from 1974 till his death more than two decades later.

C N Ramachandran writing in his Lalit Kala Academi monograph on Karanth recalls that Malini Mallya worked for Karanth in different capacities: as an amanuensis, secretary, and a companion; and brought some order to the life of Karanth and organised and edited his stray articles published in eight volumes, his letters, and a very useful bibliography of the works of and on Karanth.

Today Mallya who is the Secretary of Kota Shivarama Karanth Memorial Foundation fondly remembers her idol. “He was a genius and his was a towering personality. If he wanted, he could have had a luxurious life; instead he chose to lead one which was simple and modest. His was a classic case of simple living and high thinking.

His mind was always very active and alive to the world around. Towards the end, he began showing signs of dementia but did not allow the condition to worsen.  He fought many a battle in personal and professional life, was subjected to unfair and often vicious, torturous criticism, but nobody could shake his conviction. He helped so many people without any expectations whatsoever. Some of them ditched him but many still remember his good deeds. He himself was totally unconcerned.  He went on doing what he believed in and what he thought was right.”

A journey into Karanth’s mind
Mallya leads you through the different rooms of ‘Manasa’ including the ‘writer’s workplace’ which has a book shelf, a few tables and typewriters.  She recalls that a big shot had once come there and asked the Jnanapith awardee how he could write those masterpieces in such a small and congested place. Karanth told him bluntly that what was important was what went on in the head and not the condition of working place!
In another room, we see a string of citations pasted inside in a glass cabinet. “He had no regard whatsoever for honours and awards,” recalls Mallya. 

“In fact, he would very regularly give away the metallic portions (sometimes gold) as gifts. As for the paper certificates and citations – which included honorary doctorates - he would literally throw them into the dustbin, yes – dustbin. I would later, without his knowledge, remove them and preserve them. These are some of those!”  (One recalled how Karanth had returned the coveted Padma Bhushan to the Government of India protesting the declaration of Emergency by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.)
In the bedroom, among other ‘collectibles’ are a few walking sticks – a few somewhat ornately designed, others quite simple.

“His own walking stick was this,” says Mallya as she shows an ordinary piece. “The others were gifted by his abhimanis.” Incidentally, out of regard and appreciation, Karanth would call Malini his ‘talking’ stick!

And what is that bottle of Ayurvedic medicine in the rack?  “Oh! That? No, he didn’t believe in Ayurveda and all that. But when I saw him suffering from high blood pressure and other medicines didn’t help, I gave this syrup stealthily to him. It did help him to some extent.”

And did he sleep on this cot, with the hanging mosquito net? “Yes, this was his cot. Sadly, he fell down from it once or twice in his sleep.”

Mallya also makes it a point to show an old metallic and rusting writing board. “Can you believe that he made notes for some of the most insightful and famous novels of his on this small board?”

Trusted lieutenant
There are many nuggets which Mallya could narrate to you. She has written extensively about Karanth and won accolades for her scholarship and understanding. On his part, Karanth never hid his admiration for his amanuensis, copyist and assistant.

“There were many youngsters who came to work as my Office Assistants throughout my writing career,” wrote Karanth in his memoirs. “But, it was Malini alone who took interest in my activities and imbibed some of my intellectual interests. Ever since 1974, till now in my old age she has been serving me with exemplary devotion and sincerity. And on this occasion, I must also acknowledge with gratitude that she diligently cared and nursed my wife Leela Karanth during her prolonged illness till her last day. And she has cared and looked after me also during my illness which at times had been quite serious, enfeebling me for long period.”

In recognition of her devotion and sincere affection, Karanth dedicated one of his novels ‘Antida Aparanji’ to Malini Mallya in 1986.  Later, he went a step further and declared “that after my death copyrights in respect of all my literary works shall vest with Smt Malini Mallya and she alone shall be entitled to receive royalties of all my books and she shall be entitled to print, publish and republish and market the same. Whatever she may earn thereby shall be her exclusive income and property. No one else shall have any right or claims for the same.”

With passage of time, Mallya’s respect and loyalty to the man who had so much of confidence in her ability has only amplified. “He was ready to pay any price for following his heart – whether it was his writing or his experiments in Yakshagana, politics or environmentalism. In many other ways, he was naïve and many people misused his goodness. Can you believe that he gave away the manuscript of all his seven Yakshagana prasangas (ballets) and did not bother to collect them back? It fell upon me to fight a long and arduous legal battle to secure the rights. Even my lawyers were somewhat apprehensive because I was fighting very influential and wealthy people/institution. In the end the High Court and then the Supreme Court gave a verdict in my favour.”

Many stories
The unpretentious Shivarama Karanth museum (located in ‘Manasa’ near Saligrama bus stand) has many silent stories to narrate and is sure to take the visitor back in time. It also houses an art gallery and indoor auditorium dedicated to the memory of Karanth.
For those interested, there are bundles of correspondence of the legendary writer to browse from. In many of them, we see not only Karanth’s thoughts and insights, but also his sense of humour and ‘visual’ vocabulary.

In one letter, for instance, where the word ‘I’ is to be used, he draws the picture of an ‘eye’; and when he wants to says ‘Dear Rupa’, he draws the figure of a ‘deer’ before ‘Rupa’! And then, then there is a real ‘rat’ in ‘cong-rat-ulate’!

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