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Books, students keep him cheerful

Prof. Muthuswami. -- Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

When nine-year-old Karthik, accompanied by mother Padma, went up the dais and received the felicitation address and the memento on behalf of his great-grandfather, B. Muthuswami, it touched a chord in the hearts of all those present at this month's Teachers Day function in AU Ambedkar Assembly Hall.

The venerable Prof. Muthuswami was too frail to move out of his house to attend the function and the Vice-Chancellor, Y.C. Simhadri made the right gesture by going to the former's house to convey the university's appreciation and greetings. To a teacher who interacted with all the Vice-Chancellors from C.R. Reddy, who had appointed him as a lecturer in 1936 to the present incumbent, it was a moment of joy and pride.

Very few among the living know more about AU and its growth, and fewer still who were so deeply involved for so long in its activities than the nonagenarian scholar.

"I had a packed life in the university doing many jobs, besides my teaching - editor of the AU Magazine and Chronicle, secretary of the Faculty Club, Army liaison officer for the Southern Command, students committee adviser, warden, director of the University Press and Publications and also of the IAS course. All this, along with teaching and speech writing for special occasions - a habit which I have not given up even after retirement in 1971," said Prof. Muthuswami who seldom flaunted his credentials or made demands on the university for his 68 years of service in many ways. For that matter, he is still as soft-spoken as he was while in service, choosing every word he speaks with caution and deliberation.

Influencing factors

Born in 1909 in Thimmayapalle, near Bommasamudram in Chittoor district, Muthuswami was initiated into the study of classics by his parents, Annaji Pillay and Adilakshmi. The wellknown Chittoor Board High School was the launch pad for his academic career. After studying intermediate in the Theosophical College in Madanapalle, he moved to another famous institution, the Presidency College (Madras) for his Master's degree. As its Students Union president, he welcomed the great master of English language, Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy (also of Chittoor) whose oratory left a deep impression on him.

His stay at Madras was rewarding in more ways than one. For a short while he served on the staff of THE HINDU. He had also the opportunity to hear the other two great orators of those times, V.S. Srinivasa Sastri and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

It was the golden age of the AU when Muthuswami joined as lecturer. The magic of Reddy and Radhakrishnan, as Sir C.V. Raman observed, transformed the university into a nationally renowned centre of higher learning. The young man from Chittoor could not have asked for a better milieu to pursue his intellectual activities. Soon he came to be recognised for his articulation. To have been bracketed with V.K.R.V. Rao, then on the AU faculty, as an able public speaker was indeed an honour. Muthuswami's admiration for C.R. Reddy's oratory was boundless. In C.D.S. Chetti, the then Registrar, Muthuswami saw an outstanding educational administrator.

A supporting hand

He helped the administration in upgrading the existing B.A. (English) course to honours and M.A. courses. In the 1950s, the Rockefeller Foundation invited him to the US to study the university press organisations there. On his return, his proposal for a press for AU was accepted and in 1960 he became its founder-director. His meticulous care and able stewardship enabled the University Press to become one of the best of its kind in the country. Muthuswami was instrumental in three famous scholars getting the support of the university for their outstanding work. Vajjala China Sitarama Sastri, the eminent scholar who despite being blind in one eye, began in 1932 his work on Caldwell's 'Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages'. By 1942, Vajjala retired from service and when he later completed the work there was no money to get it published. On Prof. Muthuswami's advice Vice-Chancellor V.S. Krishna sanctioned the amount and the classic, dedicated to him, was released in 1956, exactly a hundred years after Caldwell's work! Ronanki Appalaswami, another master of many languages and scholar of renown, was brought to the English Department by Vice-Chancellor, L. Bullayya, at the instance of Muthuswami. Duvvuri Venkataramana Sastri, the famous Telugu scholar, was another close friend of Muthuswami who as the Press Director published the former's commentary on 'Bala Vyakaranamu'.

At 95, Prof. Muthuswami is amazingly well preserved. His memory is sharp as ever and expression flawless. Asked to state the secret of his good health and longevity, he replied with the familiar gentle smile: "Books and students with whom I always interact keep me in cheer and good health."

There is a profoundly relevant message in that for both teachers and students. For both, books are the best friends, and living and learning always go together.


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