In the demise of Belagere Krishna Shastry – a writer who committed himself to the well being of the society – we have lost that spot of warmth and compassion, which had the power to move one and allMALLEPURAM G. VENKATESH

Belagere Krishna Shastry shed his body at the age of 97 and became one with his incredible spirit. For the last two years, he had been ailing and was thoroughly exhausted. However, his mind was very dynamic. While his soul aspired for the skies, his body could not measure up. He knew the limits of his body, yet he tried to defy it. Krishna Shastry’s spirit was intense, and his memory elephantine. Even at his ripe old age, he remembered everything vividly. The reason perhaps was his vibrant social and literary consciousness.

I first heard about Belagere Krishna Shastry from Dr. Shamba Joshi. When I visited Shamba in Dharwad in 1978, “There’s a saint dressed in white clothes near Chitradurga. He is always involved in social and educational activities, you must meet him,” he had said. But I could not meet him till 1994. My friend Na. Ravikumar called me one morning, “Belagere Krishna Shastry is coming home today. He is keen to meet you…” I went to Ravikumar’s house. Shastry, true to Shamba’s description, was in immaculate white. This sage like man, was a close friend of the Mukunduru swamy. He was a Gandhian, and also someone who had come under the influence of Shri Ramana Mahirshi. I bent down to touch his feet. He pulled me up immediately. “Che che, what’s this sir!” he said standing up. He held my hand warmly, I was surprised. We both discussed about Mukunduru swamy at length, and as we spoke I noticed the gentle smile that had spread across his face. The gleam of light in his eyes captivated me in the most enigmatic way. The warmth on his kind face was at once that of a mother and a child – it was selfless, it seemed an innate part of his being.

He was born to Sanskrit scholar and poet Chandrashekara Shastry and Annapurnamma in May 1918. During his high school days in Bangalore, he took part in the freedom movement. In 1936, when Gandhi came visiting the Mysore province, Shastry had worked as a volunteer. This experience had a special place in his life. He even took part in the Bhoodan movement of Acharya Vinobha Bhave.

The family of Belagere has had strong ties with literature. Krishna Shastry was a devotee of the poet Lakshmisha. True to his love and devotion for this great poet, he used to celebrate his birth anniversary in Devanuru, which is Lakshmisha’s home town. For these celebrations, Krishna Shastry had managed to get tall writers like Masti, DVG, and Devudu to deliver special lectures. His deep interest in literature and his concern for society, led him to produce several creative works. Some of them are Tumbi, an anthology of poems, plays Halli Chitra and Halli Meshtru, and several others. His work, written in the memory of Mukunduru Swamy, Yegdaagella Aite, is his most renowned work. Among Kannada’s unique writings are his Sahitya Smruti and Mareyalaadeete. So is Ele Mareya Alaru. Krishna Shastry, who steered clear of divisions like caste, class, religion, and race, was a global citizen in the true sense of the word, both in letter and spirit.

Once, when Yegdaagella Aite was going for a reprint, “You must write a foreword for this book,” Krishna Shastry told me. I became nervous. “A foreword from me is not necessary for that wonderful book,” I replied. But he refused to budge. “If you don’t write, then we will not reprint it,” he said firmly. I was left speechless, I agreed. Once I finished writing it, I took it to him. “You read, I will listen…,” he said. “Not even a single word needs to be changed,” remarked Krishna Shastry. I felt relieved by his comment. It was included in the next edition, and went alongside with Kalinga Krishna’s earlier foreword. Krishna Shastry gave everyone an equal stature – seniors, juniors, women… he made no distinctions. He was always quick to spot talent and duly praise it too.

In the course of one’s life, many people come and go. But Krishna Shastry became a permanent force in my life. Many like me have felt purified in his presence. His life vision, as it is visible in Yegdaagella Aite is large and all encompassing. Our attitude to life changes on reading this book. It is not my experience alone, but of many people across geographical boundaries.

Krishna Shastry brought his little village Belagere to limelight because of the enormous good work he did. The high school and college that he set up here became a great source of strength for the poor and underprivileged. Without any government support, the school feeds about 300 children everyday, with contributions from various people. Krishna Shastry always said, that irrespective of social standing, no child of this world should be denied food and education. Help kept flowing into the school in Belagere from various corners, and Krishna Shastry would say, “It is the grace of Mukunduru swamy…” looking up at the skies. He spent all his energy for the betterment of the school and the children who came there. He believed that every child of the school, and every teacher, must become an agent of social change.

His demise has been disturbing, but I feel that he continues to live on within me. He entered the nooks and corners of my consciousness. Krishna Shastry was a man who worshipped the spirit of a being. He dedicated his body and soul for the well being of this society. In the days that I spent with him, I cannot remember even traces of hatred within me, I don’t even recall getting angry. His smile had a spiritual shade to it, and often reminded me of God himself. To me, he seemed like an avadhoota, a mystic who had transcended body consciousness. His spirituality didn’t separate him from human kind, he was always in an intense embrace with it – taking upon himself its sufferings and difficulties. His actions had the fragrance of the soil, his entire being glowed like fire, and for all those who came into contact with him, he gave comfort like the soothing rains. His memory is courage, a reassurance. Krishna Shastry will continue to live amidst us as a testimony to the mystic consciousness of our society. He will continue to glow within us.

Translated by Deepa Ganesh