When I used to look at 'Kusum Bhavan,' in the corner of an intersection on Malleswaram 17th cross, I used to wonder who lived inside it. It was a single-storeyed palatial bungalow with a huge neem tree and a wide enough swing beneath it to accommodate four people. But I had seen nobody use the swing. I had seen nobody stroll the huge untamed garden in the evening. I had not seen an old Plymouth, a Morris Minor or an Ambassador that was so common to such bungalows. In fact, there was not even a driveway or a barking pet. On the ground there were patches of carelessly strewn cut gneiss that gave a vague idea of a walkway. The only sign of life about the house to a passerby was that serene sepia bulb-glow in the winding corridor-like verandah behind the mesh grill. Everything was still and quiet about the house.
Even as Bangalore's boomtime transformation was underway; when apartment blocks came up all over the city and around this house too; when old bungalows in its neighbourhood were being pulled down and precious land was being divided among children who came in for inheritance, Kusum Bhavan remained an island; a symbol of old charm and grace; a mini-forest of curiosity with a stoic calm about bulldozing change. Perhaps only the dry winter leaves made some noise. In my memory, the house is still a dim light in the wintry fog that once upon a time attacked the tree-filled avenues of Malleswaram pretty early in the evening. That image refuses to die even after I have earned an unfettered access to the house in the last five years and have befriended the gentleman and his family who live inside and have lived there for more than half a century without owning it.
So M V Krishnaswamy is not the owner of the house, but there is nobody else to whom it belongs as much as it belongs to him in the minds of his fans, friends, admirers and the countless passersby who have been lucky enough to have a glimpse of this unassuming personality at the gate or under the tree.
MVK has had an illustrious career as a filmmaker. He is arguably the first Indian who assisted legendary Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini on the sets of Viaggio in Italia, which starred Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders and later in India 57, which had Aldo Tonti of War and Peace fame as cameraman; he is probably the only one from the Mysore state who went to Paris, London and Rome in the late 40s to study films and their direction; he was probably the only one from India at that time who trained under masters like John Grierson to pick up documentary filmmaking, Grierson also nominated him later as the secretary of the Overseas Film Club; he was probably the only one to be an official 'king-companion' to the North Indian son-in-law of the then Maharaja of Mysore; he was probably the first amateur to act in a lead role of a modern Kannada film, 'Bharathi,' 60 years ago with the gorgeous Padmini; he was the only one who could convince centenarian engineer Sir M. Vishvesvaraya for a documentary film on his life; he was probably the only one from Karnataka who had such a major presence in the country's film institutions like the Films Division, the National Films Development Corporation, the Censor Board, the national film awards jury, the Film and TV Institute etc.
M V Krishnaswamy with Satyajit Ray and other film personalities.
He was also the unfortunate one who was accused of making Satyajit Ray stand in the queue for a film ticket when he was in-charge of international film festivals and he is probably the one who is relatively less known from among the towering members of the 'Mysore Generation,' which includes among others Kannada icon Kuvempu, essayist Murthy Rao, writer Rajaratnam, philosopher Hiryanna, advisor to Indian prime ministers H Y Sharada Prasad, English professor C D Narasimhaiah, scholar T N Srikantaiah, cartoonist R K Laxman, novelist R K Narayan, sociologist M N Srinivas, nuclear physicist Raja Ramanna and photojournalist T S Satyan.
But whenever you get into MVK's house these facts don't awe you. That's not because you are indifferent to them, but it is characteristic of MVK to make them all look achievable and commonplace. He makes them all appear like that serene illumination in the verandah, which does not blind your eyes. The connections, associations are all points of departure to measure the weight of history created during his time. But yet he is remarkably update; never cynical to the experiments of the present generation; never that grumbling old man who has surrendered to the remainder of his destiny.
His narratives are gripping and they are unlike the slowness that his house signifies in my mind -- time really flies when he talks and chuckles in his mild baritone. On one such day, he got talking about his unusually long evening nap that seemed to him like a shadow of death; the news of his friend Sharada Prasad's fall in his Delhi home and his alma mater the Maharaja College (a 173-year-old institution that shaped some of India's best minds in the first half of the 20 th century). A few weeks back he had visited his place of birth, Belakavadi; his favourite Melkote Hills and then Mysore. At 83, he wondered if he could ever go back to these places that had graduated him to life.
In this backdrop, listen to this unstructured slice of his life story in his own voice. It is not a verbatim reproduction of his narration, but a liberal reconstruction of what I have listened to over months and years. The narration may, at places, appear like disjointed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but the full picture is not difficult to imagine.