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Step into Masti's world

Bageshree S.
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House of books: The residence of the writer and poet is now the base for the MVJK Trust that publishes his books. — Photo: Varsha Yeshwant Kumar
House of books: The residence of the writer and poet is now the base for the MVJK Trust that publishes his books. — Photo: Varsha Yeshwant Kumar

At the time of writing this, I live happy and contented in my house.…” writes Masti Venkatesa Iyengar in his autobiography Bhava about his home which is yards away from the famed Bull Temple in Gavipuram, Bangalore.

The house of the late writer, who brought the fourth Jnanpith Award to Kannada, still retains the peace and tranquillity that made it possible for him to write over a 100 books, some of which went on to become classics in the language. Though modified in sections to keep it in functioning order, there is no missing the presence of Masti in the charming 95-year-old house.

The first thing one sees on entering the old-style front veranda of the house are bookshelves laden with all Masti's publications, now being brought out by the Masti Venkatesa Iyengar Jeevana Karyalaya Trust (MVJK Trust). The latest addition to the collection are seven volumes containing his editorials in the journal Jeevana , which Masti edited for 25 years. The choice of topics for his editorials ranged from culture and literature to politics of the day.

A short flight of stairs takes leads to what was the literary world of Masti. A small room there served as his sleeping quarters and his workplace. “He sat here with his back to the door and worked,” says his granddaughter V. Vasantasree, pointing to a reclining chair in teak.

The room has a lovely full-length mirror, framed in wood. “Masti was a government official and had to look immaculate!” says Ms. Vasantasree, who heads the MVJK Trust. Next to the mirror is a cupboard on which rest striking pictures of a young Pankajamma, Masti's wife.

“She also became his scribe because she had a lovely handwriting,” says Ms. Vasantasree. It was in the spacious hall adjoining the room that Masti would dictate his works walking up and down as his wife diligently took it down. “When she was not working in her ‘karandi office', as she called her kitchen, she was doing this work,” says Ms. Vasantasree.

The hall also served as an auditorium of sorts where writers met and discussed their works. “We grandchildren were faithful suppliers of uppittu and kesari bhath . We would stand along the stairway and pass the plates up in a kind of relay!” recalls Ms. Vasantasree.

The walls of the hall are lined with old photographs and a painting collection put together by Masti. Framed on the wall is also an intricate embroidery work done in wool by Pankajamma. “She was very talented. She spoke and wrote excellent Kannada and Tamil,” says Ms. Vasantasree.

Next to the hall is the office from where Masti edited Jeevana , which he took over in 1944 from Da.Ra. Bendre and Vi.Kru. Gokak, two other Jnanpith Award-winning writers of Kannada.

The quarters behind the house, which once served as the stable and garage, now holds the vast collection of Masti's books in English, Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit. “He knew Telugu because he came from Kolar,” says his granddaughter. There are bound volumes of Jeevana . Many of them have the name ‘Pankajamma V.' written on them in a neat hand in English and Kannada. “They are actually my grandmother's copies,” smiles Ms. Vasantasree.

Bageshree S.

A short flight of stairs takes a visitor to what was really the literary world of Masti