Tribute to Savant and Sahridaya Par Excellence
Ronanki Appala Swamy – 1909-1987
Remembering RAS draws Southeyan exuberance:
And while I understand and feel
How much to (him) them I owe
My cheeks have often been bedewed
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.
A votary of liberal education in the Newmanian sense, a polyglot and a savant with a passion for enjoying the literary achievement of inspired poets from those of the classics and the epics of both the orient down to the present, Ronanky Appala Swamy (RAS - for us , his students and later his colleagues) was a unique sahridaya, a class all by himself.
With the ingrained qualities of appreciation for imaginative excellence, the ability to inspire and enthuse came naturally to RAS like the rustling rill of a mountain brook. To know him is to be exposed to the grandeur that literature inheres. To be his student is to be attracted to the greatest and the highest of things. To be his friend is a delight in and by itself. A scholar who drank deep at the everlasting springs of emotional flights and a poet in his own right nurtured by the best writing, Ronanki brought to his profession and to poetry the stamp of remarkable originality.
For all his mastery of European languages, it is surprising that he got the his primary education from an elementary school in a village, Ijjavaram in Srikakulam district where he was born in 1909. He was a student of Maharajah’ College, Vizianagaram and Banaras Hindu University. Having taught for decades in his alma mater in Vizianagaram and retired as the Head of the Dept. of English in 197l. The UGC honoured him with a fellowship after his retirement. The three year period was used by him at Andhra University where he had plenty of opportunities to strengthen the enthusiastic scholars who sought his guidance. He died in 1987.
For him the treasure trove has been the library of the Maharajahs of Vizianagaram. So were the book collections there of the Catholic and other missionaries. Ronanki had the excellent opportunity there to learn (all on his own) French, German, Spanish, Italian poetry and the classics of ancient Greek and Latin. He always rose above formal rules. As a teacher he never believed in merely reading the text book the class and going on talking about the meaning. Even today the elite of Vizianagaram remember him (with adoration) as a teacher dressed in full suit, necktie and all, with a sun hat, walking along the streets reading a book in a foreign language.
He was a source of inspiration to the young enthusiasts of higher learning, lovers of poetry and poets and writers around. He used to recite large chunks of poetry from Homer and Virgil, Dante and Goethe, Baudelaire and Valery, TS Eliot and Auden, and from Sri Sri and Gurazada and our top most prabhandic poets. Sixty years ago, as a young man appearing privately for the MA examination in English Literature at BHU, when I used to ask him for advise he only used to suggest something walking on the road or in our campus. When I told him that I was studying Greek Tragedy he said just this “Read H D F Kitto”. When I asked him while reading Shelly all he said was: “Read Desmond King Hale”. My sessions with him seeking examination guidance lasted for a few seconds while he was on the way to Lord Wenlock’s Park or on the way to the Clock Tower. I can never forget what he said when I asked him what I should write in my BA Special English all that he said was: “You gossip intelligently.” I followed his advice and came out First Class First!
At Vizianagaram when he was felicitated once in Round Mahal in the Fort, out of reverence and loyalty to him, I briefly spoke about his from the dais. I quoted Tennyson’s Ulysses. Walking to the care on the way back to the car which brought there he said to me with a grimace: “Why did you praise me, I feel like throwing up when people praise me.”
A very close friend of my teacher, a retired man from the Air Force, a great lover of books , known only as Delhi Sarma garu among the literati once said that Ronanki has a special taste for ‘bukku’ and ‘chukka’ meaning book and whisky.* RAS liked Eliot most and got his picture painted by the great painter Antyakula Pydiraju and we still have it in the department room. He often quoted these lines:
Do not let me hear o the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly
Their fear of fear and frenzy,
Their feeling of possession of belonging to another or to God
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility:
Humility is endless.
The greatest quality of our teacher is humility coupled with self respect and fearlessness. He enjoyed the freedom of an academician and he never believed on go-getting. Perhaps it would be much easier to add another hue to the rainbow than to give an exhaustive account of this great man’s endearing scholarly qualities of sahridaya.
RAS is widely well known. “How is Mr Appala Swamy?” was the first MC (M.Chalapati Rao) the Editor of National Herald asked me when I called on him in 1967. Professor V.K.Gokakh has respect for his scholarship. With his amiability and scholarship, a very rare combination indeed, he endeared himself to Mr Baron and Mr Bruton, whom RAS met in an ELT conference on Ooty. I have a feeling that Prof Gokak took me as a trainee in Central Institute of English of which he was then the Director, because I was RAS’s student. RAS encouraged me to learn French also.
RAS wrote poetry but never liked to rush to print. He preferred profundity to fecundity. On his 71st birth day Visakha Rachayitala Sangham got up a function to felicitate him and on that occasion his Knoll and Other Poems and was released. Earlier his Indian Love Poems was edited and released by the famous Eliot scholar Tambimuttu. RAS translated Machiavile’s Prince into Telugu. He liked innovationsand encouraged the young. He wrote forewords to the poetry collections of our poets Ismail, Vegunta, Saikanth and Manepalli. The list is by no means exhaustive.
Our teacher has to his credit his critical essays on his close friends and associates Sri Sri and Narayanababu and Chaganti Somayajulu besides Arudra. More important and memorable was his association, a source of mutual encouragement and explication and exegesis, for their ‘nest of singing birds’. In politics RAS was a liberal and progressive and in religion he was an agnostic. He vociferously criticised practices which did not stand to reason. He reigns as a legendary scholar in Vizianagaram Maharajah’s College, a force to reckon with in the poets’ circle in our land.
*This is the poem written by Chirravoori Sarveswara Sarma called Delhi Sarma garu
Yearning with a thirst for rasa
Desiring for all the nine humours we call rasas
Has been our Master we all call our star
Deep and serene is his love both for the book and the sip
Opening the pack of either sweet or savoury
Not throwing away the paper till reading what’s written on it
Habituated to look at the brand print on his cigarette
He is one who dons a topi on his head not putting it on any
The one useless to prepare any for just the exam
Innocent as a little kid, RAS is a preceptor of gurus.
Ever a book adoring scholar, always learning joyfully
Listening to him is a pleasure and pastime for many.
Loved he read out loud, what any body showed as a poem
No matter in whatever time or clime.
Never satisfied he is with a single language,
A pauper he is though the wealthiest otherwise,
Always doubting whether he would excel.
Never would I doubt that he was not worried he could excel.
Unable to share with any, though always amongst many
He had been ever alone drenched in his books.
Full blown human is he Rankaki Appala Swamy, RAS for us