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Reminiscences of a Great Guru

Tribute of Dr. B.A. Saletore (1957-1963)

by Jyothsna Kamat

Excerpted from a Lecture Given at the Mythic Society, Bangalore, 2002

It was sheer destiny, that led to take up study of history at post graduate and become a student of Dr. B.A. Saletore. For B.A. degree, I had opted for Sanskrit Major (Hons) with only two papers in history. Later I did B.Ed. and was appointed as teacher in Training College for (Primary) Women teachers. I wanted to do M.A. as well. But it was just impossible to do it in Sanskrit.

Those were early years of Karnatak University and the building was till under construction. Post-graduate classes were held in Karnatak College in the morning or afternoon, to suit the timings of visiting professors who used to come from distant places to Dharwad. Sanskrit classes were held in the afternoon. With full day's work at the training college, it was not possible to attend classes. I found out that History post-graduate lectures were held at Karnatak College building in the morning. Two months after the last date of admission, with lot of thinking and no alternative in sight, I thought of taking history Group, A & B as it was called in those days. But I had remote hope of getting admitted. I had heard that the Professor and Head of Department was a disciplinarian and very strict. He would have nothing to do with a Sanskrit student, I thought.

I was extremely nervous when I sent a chit inside, seeking permission to see the Professor, who was also the Director of Kannada Research Institute. I was called in immediately. Imagine my surprise! I expected a bald graying old person, hard of hearing. I saw a very fair and handsome person with Greek statue-like chiseled features and crown of jet black hair! There was 'majestic' expression, that demanded awe and respect at the same time!

In his faint smile acknowledging namaskar, I saw (or it seemed!) assurance. In faltering words, I sought admission in his department. I was very late. Besides I was graduate in Sanskrit with only two papers in history. But with this background may he help me. May I request for favor of admission? I pleaded.

Sanskrit Background

The learned professor smiled. "My young friend, you have rightly said that your Sanskrit background may help study of history. It certainly will, provided you apply your knowledge correctly.... Start attending classes from tomorrow!", he said. No application, so special application for permission to the Registrar and no sign of doing any favour on his side. At once he made me feel that I belonged rightfully to the field of history. My joy knew no bounds.

Later Prof. Saletore suggested that there is a studentship in the Kannada Research Institute for student with Sanskrit background. If interested, I could avail it, provided I gave up the present job. But right then I was in no position to resign.

With full day's work at the training college and political science lectures (two papers in group 'B' were compulsory) being held in the afternoon, I could not attend most of the classes. Similarly I missed all the classes Dr. Saletore took on Tuesdays. That day was market day in Dharwad and we had training College in the morning. But whatever I learnt or heard in the few classes Prof. Saletore engaged, was enough to give glimpses of the vast vista of history and a new outlook on the study of history.

'Ocean of Knowledge'

This guru represented no stream! Tore in Kannada means a stream and Sale represents an educational institution. This person 'Saletore' represented Sagara, an Ocean - 'Ocean of Knowledge'. He was not the usual type of syllabus-minded, time and examination-conscious teacher. He would pick up an interesting anecdote or incident from history which would be quite absorbing but had no relevance to the course! To put it simply, he was beyond syllabus. A mischievous, and at times even a naive query from a student would take this professor from Anegondi, to across the continents or ages and carry us students, to Germany, Greece or England. These opened new vistas of history. History could have umpteen number of venues, throwing light on facets of human achievements and failures. We could catch only few glimpses of the never-ending Saga. We were made to feel that by Dr. Saletore, to carry a search light through one or two venues.

Professor Saletore was doing D.Phil. in Germany, when Adolf Hitler came to power. He was eye-witness to the 'electrifying' speeches of the dictator which mesmerized the countless audience. His dramatic entry on the platform, staged ovations etc., were noted by this scholar. He also remembered sadly that his professor, who opposed Nazi ideology, was the first to be arrested and jailed. He had also a word of praise for Hitler, who planned impossible schemes and succeeded! Political will he had "in plenty". He ruined Germany, but gave it good roads!" He used to say humorously.

Admirer of Kautilya

He also admired Kautilya who advocated a military strong nation. Those were the days of Jawaharlal Nehru's Panch Sheela - Five Principles of International Understanding in which he actively involved China. Prof. Saletore commented that unless India becomes militarily and economically strong, no such talks or diplomacy would have any impact. Pat came Chinese aggression in 1962. The result was disastrous. Every word Dr. Saletore uttered came true. Filibustering is our national trait!

The Professor's another worry was the staggering international loans of the country and the rate of interest this poor country had to pay. We are constant borrowers. 'No hope till we become not even lenders but providers!', he used to say. What he would have thought about the populist and wasteful measures the politicians to-day implement just to win votes and remain in power, is unimaginable.

Once, he was invited for a lecture by the Sociology department for an inter-disciplinary study course. That department at the time had maximum number of students. They were all spell-bound by his mastery over English language, subject-excellence and speech delivery, laced with wit and humor. Later they all came and congratulated me as 'extremely lucky' for being Dr. Saletore's student!

These days, a doctorate degree, and Professor's post, bring in lot of money. But the hardships Professor Saletore faced after his return from Europe are a painful remembrance. The learning, scholarship or even a Ph.D of London University had no value in British India. Prof. George Moraes (of Kadambakula fame), a good friend of Prof. Saletore recollected once. "I had a comfortable job at St. Xavier's at that time. When Saletore returned to India with two doctorates to his credit, he could not get a job! He had to take up teaching at S.P. College, Pune on meager salary of Rs. 150 per month! It was only much later that he got into IES (Indian Educational Service) and he had a short tenure as Director of Archives, Government of India. (Before this, he was Professor, Gujarat College, Ahmedabad - Ed.)

A five-year term as Professor of History at Dharwad was perhaps the assignment of his liking. He loved students. He was a wonderful teacher and students adored him. He wrote three masterly volumes during this tenure. Two volumes on India's Diplomatic Relations with the West and the East and one on Ancient Indian Political Thought. His death at the age of 61 was sudden and shocking. He had returned by early morning train to Dharwad after completing some assignment at Kolhapur. His wife Kamala was ill at the time. But she got up to prepare coffee. Dr. Saletore prevented her" "Too early for coffee! Please go to bed!" were his last words. He himself lied down to have rest and died in sleep.

We all had gone to have his last darshan. Now, he looked like a real Greek statue in white marble, with closed eyes and tranquil expression. His only son was a medical student at Manipal. It was late in the evening that he could arrive and perform the obsequies.

Fitting Soul-mate.

Smt. Kamala Saletore was a befitting soul-mate. A first class B.A. degree holder in Pali language from Bombay University, she took active interest in all the academic activities and writings of her dear husband. He has dedicated his last book to her. She was kind and courteous to every one and quite hospitable. She kept indifferent health while Prof. Saletore was living but outlived her husband by more than thirty years.

After forty years, I gratefully remember how Dr. Saletore's methodology helped me in my research. He was the first scholar to point out the role of classics and folklore as important sources in the study of social history. In his book, 'Ancient Karnataka, History of Tuluva', he is a pioneer who has made abundant use of both. Later, several scholars followed his footsteps without even acknowledging! His approach was the eternal guiding principle for me. In my Ph.D work, I used many Kannada and Sanskrit works, having bearing on contemporary social life. These sources were duly corroborated by epigraphs, travelers' accounts and sculptures. Dr. Saletore always insisted on epigraphs as authentic source.

Most people agree that standards of academic achievement have come down. It is a national phenomenon. Even during Saletore's time, it was quite rare to see such a person entirely dedicated to research and writing. It seemed as if he was working overtime, before death overtook him. He called himself an eternal student. He was lucky enough to have a small but dedicated number of students. Dr. Suryanath Kamath and Dr. K.G. Vasantha Madhava only to name a few, continue the legacy of academic research. It is only a coincidence that all of them belong to Tulunad, the beloved land of Dr. B.A. Saletore.

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