"An artist in words" was Lady Lytton's compliment to Sastri. A H Smith, Master of Balliol, Oxford, observed that he did not realize the beauty of the English language till he heard Sastri. Prof. Max Gluckman (a British social anthropologist of South African origin) remarked that, the best English he had ever heard spoken was by an Indian, Srinivasa Sastri. Lord Erskine, Governor of Madras Presidency, while delivering his address at the annual convocation of the Annamalai University in 1938 turned towards Sastri and said, "Sir, it is with some trepidation that I begin my speech in English, my mother tongue, because of the inescapable feeling that neither in English pronunciation nor in the mellifluousness of your intonation can I match the excellence of your attainment in both the spheres. I am humble enough to acknowledge my limitations in both, before this august gathering."- Courtesy Sanmar Group Newsletter
Need I say more about this greatest Indian speaker of the English language. Born into a poor brahmin family in Valangaiman, a small village near Kumbakonam, VS Srinivasa Sastri fought his way up to the elites of India through his strong words of wisdom both on paper and in public meetings.
He began his career as a school teacher. He taught both English and Sanskrit in school. He was a scholar of both the languages and his faultless pronunciation of English won him great fame. He was instrumental in starting the Madras Teachers' Guild. His love for teaching saw him reach great heights in academia. He served as the Vice Chancellor of Annamalai University.
Sastri's political career began when he was admitted into the Servents of India Society which had been started by Gopalakrishna Gokhale. Sastri was a disciple of the Ghokale school of thought which adopted the moderate approach to gain Independence from the Imperials. Sastri had to move to Pune to serve in the Society but he never regretted his decision. He succeeded Gokhale to the President's post of the society which he held and cherished till his death.
As a trusted lieutenant of Justice V Krishnaswamy Iyer (who happens to be my ancestor), Sastry was responsible for organising the 1908 session of the Indian National Congress in Madras.
Sastri had to his credit, a string of achievements as a delegate to the Imperial Conference in London. He was persuaded to serve as the First Agent-General (ambasssador) to South Africa.He used his eloquence to present India's case for self-government in the European Councils. His speeches brought notice in the world to India's different approach to demand self-governance.
South Africa was Sastri’s greatest challenge. In 1919, Gen. J C Smuts, the Prime Minister of South Africa, declined to accord Sastri equality of status with Sir Benjamin Robertson, when the British Viceroy of India planned to send them both as a delegation to help Indians in South Africa. The same Gen. Smuts admitted in 1928, that Sastri, the First Agent of the Government of India in South Africa, was the most honoured man in South Africa.
Here is the testimony for his work in SA.
Sastri's skills as an orator was so powerful that the Britishers conferred on him the title "silver-tongued". Silver-tongued because silence is golden, I assume. My father has told me about his speech when the Britishers tried to intimidate him by asking him to talk about "Nothing". He started off "The power of the British is nothing in front of the power of the Indians....". I have never been able to validate that piece anywhere. But I trust it must have been a true story.
In the words of K R Srinivasa Iyengar
We see history unfolding itself in the sequence of his letters, we find them flavoured with philosophy. We find in them the material for other men’s biographies, and we recognise in them the charm, candour and clarity of the writing, the man himself, the whole man.
Excerpts from the In Defence of the Art of Speaking to honour Rt. Hon'Ble VS Srinivasa Sastri.
Our ancients laid great stress on correct pronunciation and perfect accent. Chanting of the Vedas is a perfect example where intensive training has been able to impart a mastery over the voice and correct pronunciation and accent.
Hanumān is a great character by Vālmīki in his renowned Rāmāyana. Although depicted as a monkey he is characterised as Vākya Kovida (an expert in speech making). In the whole fiction of devotional writing we will not perhaps find a character comparable to Hanumān. In the Rāmāyana story he first appears in Kis.kinda Kānda approaching Rama and
Lakshmana enquiring as to who they were and why they had come to Kis.kinda. On this occasion poet Vālmīki puts words in the mouth of Rama characterizing good speech which are worth remembering
Avistaram asandigdham avilambitam adrutam
Urastham kanthagam vākyam vartate madhyame sware
Samskarakrama sampannām, adrutām, avilambitām
Uc.cārayati kalyanīm vac.am hrīdaya hārinīm
“Not lengthy, not difficult to understand, neither rapid or halting and words uttered clearly in a sweet modulated voice
He has spoken grammatically as a cultivated man with perfect accent and captivating the heart of his listeners.”
What more qualifications do we need in a good speaker?
These are the ideals of good speech set before us by acknowledged practitioners and no effort should be spared in cultivating the art of good speech and effective communication.
Read THE HINDU article on him by Mr V. Sundaram. I feel his pain too.
Finally, this link is a good summary of his life.