My great great grandfather – Prof. M. Hiriyanna (seated right) was an exceedingly well known philosopher in Mysore state (then a large part of Karnataka). In this image he is photographed with his friend and colleague, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who went on to become the second president of India in 1962. My great great grandfather M. Hiriyanna, was a Professor of Sanskrit and S Radhakrishnan was a professor of Philosophy at the University of Mysore.
Our family seems to have had very humble antecedents in a small village called Bargehalli in Karnataka. In 1910 Hiriyanna moved to Mysore and set up house. He was an inspiration to several generations and I wish I had known him. Legends about him are abound and I hang on every reminisced word. For he seems a larger-than-life man. A principled man. And 100% self-made Stalwart. We still inhabit the house that he built: 962, Lakshmipuram, Mysore. Known simply to our family and friends as “962.”
According to N. Sivarama Sastry. “Prof. Hiriyanna lived a perfectly ordered and disciplined life. He often reminded me of Kant and the Philosopher’s Walk. He was simple to the verge of austerity. He dressed simply and everything about him was scrupulously neat and clean. He was correct and punctual. He promptly answered communications, kept all his engagements, and never made a promise which he could not fulfill. He was fastidious to a degree and a perfect artist in everything he did – from mending a pencil to writing a work. Though he did no spare himself, he was tolerant of those who could not come up to his exacting standards. He was in fact noted for his kindness and consideration and unfailing courtesy. He never denied help to any student or scholar. He was equally well known for his honesty and uprightness. He was exceedingly modest and his learning did not sit heavily on him. But beneath his modesty and humility he had a keenly sensitive nature.”
Hiriyanna, by all accounts, was a philosopher par excellence. A glowing tribute to him by President S. Radhakrishnan left no room for doubt as to his regard in those circles. “When Plato said that philosophers should be Kings, he did not mean that the main task of philosophy was to make laws and solve political problems. For him the philosophical temper of mind, the exalted, calm, noble, dispassionate attitude unmoved by motives of personal gain, ambition or power is the only temper of mind which can solve these problems. In these days of increasing specialization and party strife, when we are unable to see the wood for the trees, when the effort of genuine thinking has yielded to the acceptance of slogans, the need for philosophic reflection on life’s problems is most urgent. … It is this spirit of philosophy that Hiriyanna illustrates in his reflection and life.”
My aunt, Malathi Jaya Rao
grew up around him and says – “He always emphasized physical courage; an
unbending spirit; self esteem without pride; not taking things that are not
ours, and created in us an enduring value: what a man is far outweighs his
wealth or intellectual attainments. An immaculately dresser, in a spotless
white dhoti, cream colored close collared coat, a laceless turban, an uttariyam
and pump shoes, he used to get up very early and after collecting flowers from
the garden and after having a bath he would do do puja. He was very particular
that the family joined him for the Mahamangalarathi at 6 a.m.” It seems he
would sharpen pencils exactly the same amount and use them until they wore down
up to a pre-determined length. Short worn pencils were then passed on to the
kids in the family. He has left us a priceless legacy in his writings on Indian
philosophy – many of which are now textbooks and staples.
Some of the family still lives in the house Hiriyanna built – 962, and the descendants visit several times a year. We are now scattered across the world, seven generations and several nationalities incorporated into the gene pool. The house ’962′ he built has not changed since 1910. It’s hundred year-old stones are the ones that know him well and when I run my hand along the walls or sit on the cool red oxide floors, or enter “his room,” and read his wisdom in his own beautiful hand, I stand a little taller knowing there is a bit of this great man, somewhere in me.