Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

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MASTI VENKATESHA IYENGAR(A Story)

MASTI VENKATESHA IYENGAR
(A Story)

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1
On an evening some of us were having a chat in our senior friend’s bookshop located in the
Basavanagudi area. As the conversation proceeded, the topic for the day settled down on ghosts and
spirits. Since all of us present there that day, were interested in literature, naturally the conversation
moved towards the stories of the supernatural. I referred to writers like Saki, HG Wells and even Ray
Bradbury among others. As we also drifted to talk about Kannada stories, we got down to discuss
Masti Venkatesha Iyengar’s stories – “A Ghost from Malnad”, “The Spirit of Venkata Rao” etc.
The conversation continued.
Our senior friend is a well-read man. He also seems rational. He does not believe in god or ghost. In
spite of his known stance, he started narrating his experience that went against his beliefs. As a
prelude, he quoted Masti Venkatesha Iyengar from one of his stories: “though several of us do not
believe in the existence of spirits, we are also not sure that they do not exist.” Our friend was
essentially narrating his own experience. I have the urge to narrate this story to you, only because
of the sheer coincidence involved in the whole affair – of spirits appearing in Masti’s stories; of my
name being the same as Masti’s friend ‘Sriram’ who often appeared in his stories and so on. In fact
our senior friend who is a better storywriter could himself have written this story. But as he did not
appear to be inclined to do so, I am going ahead to write it and share his experience with you too.
2
Our friend has been running this bookshop in Basavanagudi since a few years. He being a writer and
a lover of literature liked to spend most of his time amidst books. He usually started his day with a
long walk in the Lalbagh garden. He would come back home for his breakfast, after which he would
leave for the shop. He normally spent all his time in the shop. He used to read, write and when he
was tired, even take a nap there. He had a small anteroom built on the rear side of the shop,
especially for this purpose. In the anteroom he had a portable television set and a video player. He
used them to watch a few good movies and to watch the daily news. In this way, our friend had
made his shop an integral part of his lifestyle. Normally he opened the shop at Nine in the morning.
He used to lock it up and go home only after the evening news was broadcast on the television. Our
friend had appointed two youngsters to look after the daily transactions of the shop. Since the boys
usually looked after all the transactions, our friend spent more time in the ante-room than in the hall
outside.
Page 2/ Masti Venkatesha Iyengar: M S Sriram
It was not easy to meet our friend, when he was in the anteroom. Visitors had to first give an
account of their identity and the purpose of visit to one of the boys outside. The boy would then
convey this to our friend. If our friend was not on any important assignment or he was not writing
anything and was in a good mood, he would grant an interview to the visitor. In fact there was a
reason why he used to hide himself inside the shop like this. As a bookseller, our friend had
observed that, of late, the number of people reading books in Kannada had drastically gone down,
while the number of authors who wrote was going up in geometric proportions! And so, there used to
be a large number of young poets who published their own work and brought it to our friend for
display and sale. Since our friend was also a writer, he used to yield to their pleas and stock those
books. He would never say ‘no’ and as a result his stocks of unsold books turned out to be very large.
So, he had now developed this plan of staying inside, in the ante-room whilst the boys sent away
such visitors saying – “the boss is out” or “the owner is writing something important, he would not
like to be disturbed”. All of us knew about this strategy. He would say “It is one matter to have a
love for literature and quite another to run a business, is it not?” and we would all agree. We should
agree with whoever utters the truth, is it not?
3
I have given all these details only because I thought it was essential as a background for me to
narrate the story of our friend. I shall now narrate the experience our friend had on an evening
sometime ago. Our friend had a habit of taking some alcoholic drinks sometimes in the evenings,
when he felt that he was not in the right spirits. Even this activity was carried out in the anteroom.
These days, we cannot say that one should hold a man guilty for having such a habit. However, since
our friend was already middle aged, he had the fear and guilt, natural to his generation of people,
who thought that alcohol was a taboo. In any case, our friend was no drunkard by any standards.
One such evening, our friend was feeling lonely and did not know what better to do. None of us had
gone to meet him in the shop that day. At around seven in the evening he thought he would down a
few drinks and started. “One was not sure whether it was a full moon or a new moon day. The whole
sky was cloudy and it was chilly all around” – our friend told us – “it was darkness that had enveloped
the environment”. Before our friend started the ritual, he came out and told the boys just this: “Do
not allow any strangers inside the room”. He then went inside to start his evening ritual.
At around eight in the evening the younger boy came inside and took leave of our friend. At around
nine, the older boy entered. It was the usual practice that he would pull the shutter down at around
that time and leave. As soon as he entered the room, our friend is said to have told him: “Okay, try
M S Sriram: Masti Venkatesha Iyengar / Page3
and come early tomorrow, you will have to go to Rajajinagar and get some books from Mavinakere
Ranganathan”.
The boy acknowledged our friend’s words but did not move out. “Sir an elderly person is here to see
you” he said. Our friend was getting to be tipsy and was in no mood to meet people. “Who is it?
Is that somebody new to the shop?” he asked, for which the boy said “Yes sir, it is Masti Venkatesha
Iyengar”.
It was difficult to imagine what all could have happened in our friend’s mind. If some soul who had
died a few years ago had come and was waiting for an interview, anybody was bound to be nervous.
Our friend was no exception. He however thought that the boy might have made a mistake. It was
irritating. After all, working in a bookshop, the least he should have known was which of the authors
were alive and which of them were dead, is it not? Our friend had some hope and therefore he
wanted to be doubly sure. “Go out and have a look again. Find out what his name is?” he said
sending the boy out.
The boy went out and came inside very quickly. “Yes sir, he is Masti Venkatesha Iyengar for sure. He
is quite old and has these three red and white lines drawn on his forehead…” he reported back.
The ghost of Malnad and the spirit of Venkata Rao must have started dancing violently in our friend’s
mind. “Why should an old soul which led such a pure, contented, peaceful life and lived for almost a
century torment me?” This and other such questions must have emerged in our friend’s mind. It
seems the boy just then walked out of the room. Our friend, who was now a little shaken up and
really nervous at the thought of Masti Venkatesha Iyengar catching him at it, quickly put the bottle
and glasses away. He walked out of the room and quickly closed the door behind him. When he
looked up, nobody except the boy was around.
“I saw that your mood was not all right sir, so I just sent him away. He said that he would meet you
in a day or two..” the boy said.
Our friend narrated this experience to all of us. “You know, now a days I do not consume alcohol
alone. I avoid it in the evenings. The name of Masti Venkatesha Iyengar seems to instil some sense
of fear in me” he said.
I tried to find a rational explanation for what might have happened that evening. “Some elderly
Iyengar gentleman must have come to look you up” – I said – “the boy who would have seen Masti
Page 4/ Masti Venkatesha Iyengar: M S Sriram
Venkatesha Iyengar’s photographs on his books must have thought this man to be him” and tried to
fly more kites with my possibilities when our friend nodded his head sideways.
“See, it is not important to find out what happened in reality that evening” – our friend explained -
“the fact is that I was there, alone, consuming alcohol, in the evening. The boy uttered the name of
none other than Masti Venkatesha Iyengar. It might have been a divine intervention to put the name
of this great man on the boy’s lips. What is more important is the power the name seems to carry. If
the boy had uttered any other name, I would not have been so disturbed as to give up consuming
alcohol alone, right? This is what is of prime importance.”
All of us agreed with what he said. We should agree with whoever utters the truth, is it not

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July 28, 2007 - Posted by | Dewan Purnaiah, MASTI

3 Comments »

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    Comment by chaitnya | January 3, 2011 | Reply

  2. Very informative

    Comment by HVRao | January 9, 2012 | Reply

  3. Bizarre, interesting,thought-provoking . . .

    Comment by R.V.Simha | November 12, 2012 | Reply


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