I had noticed "C.J.Devanath" on a small old inconspicuous wooden name board, its paint distorted by exposure to weather and facing the harsh western sun. It was hoisted on a wooden heritage balcony, behind which his 'lawyer office' was, upstairs. I had this habit of looking up at those beautiful old balconies above the shops beside Sayyaji Rao Road. This was in the early 80s.
Around the same time, I happened to be in front of the old-coin vendor on the pavement, looking at some old coins, in front of Cauvery Emporium also on Sayyaji Road. An old man was also showing some interest in the coins, spread on a sheet of plastic. I asked him if he too was interested in coins. He nodded and said, just looking. 'Devanath' he said when I asked his name. I said I have seen that advocate's name board down there. He smiled. When asked if he had heard my advocate grandfather's name, he nodded with a grin. I was happy. That was our first meeting and I had forgotten about it.
In the 90s he had written a short letter in our local eveninger about how birds, esp. the Koel can be attracted to our garden. Birds are very important in the system for various reasons. Growing cities have affected bird life to a great extent what with authorities and even public carelessly chopping off trees which are homes of various species of birds even in cities. So he was showing some concern about this and he had observed in his garden that Koels love Mulberry fruit.
I had some space in our garden as well. Koels, among other birds were already visiting my yard, but I thought there must be something special in it. So wasting no time, I soon went to his house. Road name was familiar, but the only thing left was to locate the house. It was not difficult at all because on the other side of the Church was all too familiar to us because a relative was staying there.
He had some space in his spacious front yard filled with excellent greenery, between his house and the entrance gate, in silent Yadavagiri. His home was next to a Church with added to the serenity of the place. Since I was also interested in matters related to Nature and Gardens, this letter in 1992 attracted me.
I went in through the little gate that evening. This man, probably around 70 then, was relaxing on a comfortable rattan chair in his garden, looking at the trees and shrubs. He watched me walk towards him through the shady walkway. I introduced myself as the grandson of K.M.Subba Rao, whom he knew as they were in the same profession. He was glad to see me. When I told him about the letter in the paper and the reason for my coming, he was gladder! Very soon, he started explaining how much the Koels love to eat the mulberry fruits and how important it is for us to attract birds.
Morus alba - [Mulberry] - image from Wiki. The taste is pleasantly sour but likeable.
He was pleased to know that I wanted to grow it too. His garden servant was working in his yard. He instructed him to get a few cuttings from that bushy shrub, which had grown quite tall. As it was already getting dark, I took leave, thanking him profusely for the Mulberry cuttings.
The next morning, the first thing I did was to plant the cuttings in my garden. After a few days of care, I noticed that one of the 4-5 cuttings was showing healthy signs of good growth. Once it was big enough, I transplanted it to the ground at the chosen spot.
In a few months, it grew tall and needed pruning! It is a quick grower and grows without much attention, much to my liking! It bore berries and I noticed that Koels, as he had told, got attracted to this little tree and were frequenting it. They also loved the Curry plant (Murraya koenigii - 'karibevu') for its fruit which was growing close to it. I enjoyed watching the koels for a few years until I noticed that the tree was dying. It had grown quite big. Probably termites had attacked the roots. So there ended the mulberry tree but later our friendship begin to grow.
Devanath used to write columns and letters to the local paper loaded with historical information. So I thought of meeting him again because it was yet another common interest. Since he had a good library and he being a voracious reader, his articles, usually about Mysore's past, were very informative. He had a good collection of old pictures also. He had shown me B.L.Rice's Gazzeteer of Mysore and Coorg, in two large volumes. It is considered a great work by Rice. He would not part with his books easily, but he trusted me and gave me some other books I wanted. I also gave him some very old books for his reference, from my library. When I delayed returning his books, he would call to remind.
I used to meet him after calling him over phone once in a few months and chat about Mysore's past which he seemed to know in and out, and authentically. He had that amazing knack of reeling out names of persons and the posts they held, when he told about something. So sharp was his memory. It stumped me. Sometimes his wife, who also knew our family, used to prepare a cup of tea as we engaged in our chat. Since they had no issues, they stayed together here and spent time leisurely. They used to go and stay for a few weeks in Bangalore also where they had a house. This he did when he went for his medical check-up or when he was unwell.
In 2009, I was shocked to see his picture in the paper informing his death. The following day, it carried a small tribute. Some days later, I called up his wife to convey condolences. I delayed personally meeting her, but by the time I went to meet after a few months, the house had a dry look, the garden greenery was now 'brownery'. There was none in the premise. Windows were closed as if to indicate their association with that premise had ended, once for all. I assumed the expected fact - she vacating it. I returned disappointed and also thought about his fine library of books and other old articles he had preserved with care. I only hope they have ended up in their rightful places. His passing away was a great loss to the city of Mysore.
The Hindu reports his passing away [screenshot image of online edition - click to enlarge]
From our chats, I had come to know that Devanath's father was Rao Bahadur H.C.Javaraiah, who was the first Indian Horticulture Director [credited for designing Lal Bagh at Bangalore]. His younger brother was Capt.C.J.Ramdev who was a famous cricketer who played for Mysore State and served the Army. He proudly showed various photos of Ramdev and his cricket book collection. Devanath was a former Member of Legislative Council, a respected citizen of Mysore, a respected advocate and a great historian whose knowledge about Mysore and Mysore's Royal Family was astounding.
I was not knowing that he was a true Gandhian, having served as an 'ashramite' at Sevagram with Mahatma Gandhi between November 1945 to April 1946 along with his uncle H.C.Dasappa ["Dasappa Circle" near J.K. Grounds is named after him - Devanath used to proudly recall it] who was later Railway Minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet, that he served the Indian National Congress for four decades and also served as a member of the executive committee of the Congress Legislative Party. I learn that he also worked as Secretary of the Mysore Branch of Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Trust and as President of various Trade Unions. A very active person indeed!
He was 87 and lived between November 12, 1921 and April 9, 2009. He used to tell me how frail his health was 'inside', though 'I look okay outwardly'. On the few visits I made towards the end to show my old vintage albums, I had not taken my camera with me even when I had one. As such, there is no picture of him with me.
The Mulberry tree died and our friendship culminated with his death. Little did I know when I went to ask for the mulberry cuttings, that he was such a great person!