Sir MV: The Gentleman from Muddenhalli.
15th September in India is celebrated as ‘Engineers Day’ – very apt, very honourable. This day happens to be the birthday of the man who walked, breathed and served our country -Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya who was born on September 15, 1860. This man was respected, feared, reverned, admired by the British who then ruled India, along with national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Gokhale, Subas Chandra Bose and sought after by the ruling princes of the era – Nizam of Hyderabad, Wodeyars of Mysore etc.
What was that people looked upon him?
His Simple living, Honest, High thinking . . . a man who’s work and deeds spoke about it. Strict disciplinarian, hard working, intelligence were his traits. He never sought publicity or fame, but honours came to him from all directions.
Visvesvaraya was born into a simple Telugu Brahmin family at Muddenahalli a small village 60 kms from Bengaluru at the foothills of Nandi Hills. He had three brothers and two sisters – He was the second born son of the family. Srinivasa Sastry his father was a practicising Ayurvedic medicine man and his mother a Venkatalaxamma was a simple housewife. Visvesvaraya was highly influenced by his family and his maternal uncle Ramiah, who was a strict disciplinarian but a loving and kind man. He did his basic schooling at Chickballapur 2 kilometers from his village Muddenhalli. Visvesvaraya lost his father on a pilgrimage set on foot to Rameshwaram when he was 15 years.
In 1875 Visvesvaraya was admitted to Wesleyan Mission High School Bengaluru by his maternal uncle. After finishing high school, he joined Central College for his degree course. Here it became necessary for him to earn for his education. He became a private tutor to the children of Muddaiah, the then minister in the Government of His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore.
Visvesvaraya was a brilliant student punctual, intelligent, diligent, pleasing and well-mannered. The Principal of Central College, a Britisher named Charles Waters took a special liking to him. He presented him with a copy of the Webster’s Dictionary and at times allowed him to teach other students of his class. Mr Walters bequeathed his gold cufflinks to him and Mrs.Walters personally came to India to specifically give it to him. During his time at Central College he used to walk a lot from his private tuitions, to his uncle’s residence to his college. This early practice of walking became Visvesvaraya’s habit all through his life, even in old age… looks like this habit of walking kept him fit and in sound health throughout his centenary life. He lived for a period of 102 years. Except for the last few months, he rendered yeoman service for nearly eight decades.
In 1880 he finished his B.A. degree with distinction. In those days, the Government of Mysore provided scholarships to brilliant outstanding students to take up courses outside the state where no facilities were available in the state. This helped Visvesvaraya to study engineering in the college of science at Poona. He completed LCE and FCEL in 1883 at the age of 23, securing the first rank for Bombay Presidency. It was then the practice of the Bombay government to offer a job to the student who stood first in the presidency. Visvesvaraya was appointed as an Asst. Engineer in the Bombay public works department.
Visvesvaraya served in the Bombay public works department for 23 years. His first assignment was the construction of a syphon on the Panjra river at Dararti, a village near Dhulia. He did this in rainy season much against his own will and wish to prove it as a challenge to his Executive Engineers. This work won the admiration of his seniors and the British officials. He appeared a internal departmentmental examination in practical engineering. This got Visvesvaraya a quick promotion. From Nasik, Visvesvaraya was posted to Poona in construction of roads and buildings. Here he was involved in water supply projects, sanitation projects, irrigation projects in various places of then Bombay presidency. If there were opposition to his ideas either by bureaucrats, politicians or seniors or simple farmers. He would win them over to his side by exhibiting his remarkable democratic sense. Visvesvaraya by now was widely known as a man of extra-ordinary engineering abilities. He was awarded Kaiser-I-Hind medal of honour for his services at the Bombay Presidency. He also prepared plans for water supply to Dharward, Bijapur and several other cities. Due to his exceptional merit and work Visvesvaraya was promoted over the heads of other seniors and came to the post ‘next’ to the Chief Engineer of Bombay Presidency. This post was normally reserved for a British English man. This position was intolerable for Visvesvaraya, he held that Indians too should be considered for the post if they showed the required merit. He resigned from the post, he had offers from two states as Chief Engineer. As per rules he had to serve two more years to be eligible for pension. But here the then government made an exception. When in service at Bombay Presidency he visited foreign countries like Japan, America, Canada, Russia and Europe at his own expense. During these trips he collected valuable knowledge of modern industries, irrigation works, water supply, sanitation, business methods etc. On return he used this knowledge to help India’s development. From his very early years of his official career Visvesvaraya distinguished himself as an extraordinary person.
On the eve of his retirement from Bombay service, Visvesvaraya got an offer of appointment as Special Consulting Engineer from the anxious Nizam of Hyderabad under influence and pressure from eminent persons he joined Hyderabad services in April 1909. The Moosi river created havoc from catastrophic floods in the city, this was a mammoth task. Visvesvaraya got an exhaustive survey done and solved it by constructing two storage reservoirs and a dam across the river. The two reservoirs store approximately 8,500 & 5000 million cubic feet of water. Visvesvaraya prepared a detailed scheme for improvement of Hyderabad city. He was also consulted on building the road on Tirumala -Tirupathi. His meticulous planning stands fit to this present day in the city of Hyderabad.
By now Government of Mysore was after him to serve as the state’s Chief Engineer. But, however he visited Hyderabad and inspected the works that were carried out in pursuance of his earlier suggestions. His second association with Hyderabad and Mysore substantiates Visvesvaraya’s characteristic of a master engineer. Visvesvaraya accepted the post of Chief Engineer on a explicit assurance from the Maharaja and the Dewan of Mysore State that he would be given full freedom to carry out his plan for the development in the State. He joined Mysore State as a Chief Engineer in November 1909 and in 3 years he became the Dewan of the State. In the next 9 years Visvesvaraya was involved not only as an Engineer but was a economist, political and administrator. Apart from the well-known fact that he built the KRS dam enriching the once barren lands of Karnataka he gave a number of industries to the state – he would normally say -Industralize or perish! He found the Bhadravati steel industry, Govt Soap Factory, Sandal Oil Factory, Chrome Tanning Factory, Match Factory, Brick & Tile Factory, Sri Krishna Rajendra Mills, Central Government Weaving Factory, Mysore Arts & Crafts. Etc. He would personally head loss making units like Bhadravathi Iron Works and turn it around with his skill, knowledge and associations with bigger giants in the industry. He was involved in irrigation and power projects too. In 1902 he constructed India’s first hydro-electric station on river Cauvery at Shivasamudram and over 90% of power generated was supplied to the Kolar Gold Fields. Thanks to Visvesvaraya Bangalore got electrified in 1905 with a electric bulb lit at K.R.Market.
Visvesvaraya’s Cauvery Reservoir Scheme was approved with a lot of issues and arbitration with the Madras presidency and the Central Government. Visvesvaraya’s arguments supported by indisputable statistical data made the court if arbitration to give the award in favor of Mysore.
Visvesvaraya was involved in Rural development. He set up Agricultural Experimental Farms at Hebbal, Bangalore. Foreign nationals from Italy, Australia, Germany were consulted and appointed in Agriculture, Sericulture, Horticulture and other areas. Railways, Shipbuilding was given a boost as the ruling colonial British government needed these industries for their war effort. There were requisitions from across the country from cities like – Bombay, Karachi, Madras, Ahmedabad etc for his advice regarding civic administration and affairs. He was on board of lot of industrial, social, educational, business organizations.He lay seeds ro the opening of today’s HAL with Walchand Hiralal & Co. Vishakpatanam shipbuilding was initiated. His attempts to opening an automobile factory failed in Bangalore because of political reasons. Tungabhadra dam disputes were solved by him. Water supply schemes were planned and executed in cities viz. Goa, Rajkot, Sangli, Ahmednagar, Baroda and other cities. Building bridges on Ganga river came under his consultancy.
Maharani’s College for women at Mysore was started by him for development of women folk. Mysore University was started after a lot of arguments as all education was controlled by Madras Presidency. Kannada language was propagated by him and he considered himself a Kannadiga eventhough he spoke Telugu and Tamil.
Indian institue of Science started by the Tatas also had the involvement of Visvesvaraya with the patronage of Wodyer Kings from Mysore. Jayachamarajendea polytecnic at Bangalore was started with his money which came as a bonus towards his good work. He refused the institution to be named after him. Today Mysore and surrounding areas in Karnataka are green thanks to Visvesvaraya. Visvesvaraya founded the famous Century Club with 100 members as the clubs at Bangalore were controlled by the colonial British. He also found the Ladies club at Bangalore and the Cosmopolitan club at Mysore. He politely refused to attend the Durbar at the Mysore Wodeyars palace citing discrimination where the locals were seated on the floor and the English gentry on chairs. On hearing this the ruling king ordered chairs for all who came to the Durbar. Tourist facilities were created at Nandi hills. He also wanted to develop Kalhatgiri in Bababudangiri and Devarayanadurga near Tumkur as popular hillstations.
In 1911, he received the title C.I.E. (Companion of the Indian Empire). In 1915 he was Knighted as K.C.I.E. (Knight Commander of the Indian Empire). He has received honarary Doctorate from eight Indian universities and a large number of honarary positions, medals and other awards. The Indian government in 1955 conferred the Bharat Ratna to him. Here is a man envied by his friends, feared by his enemies and reverend by all.
Politicians requested him to refuse the Knighthood as Rabindranarh Tagore did. To this Sir Visvesvaraya said -“The title is not a honour done to me as an Indian. It is for the knowledge I posses and no learned person should reject the honour given for learning or knowledge. Learning should not be mixed up with politics and misused too… This is not a way to protest against the British policies. It is by banishing poverty from our villages; it is by making our farmers economically prosperous, by making them strong and virile and thereby making India strong and powerful that we should express our indignation against the British policies.”
On hearing the news that he was the recipient of the Bharat Ratna he sent word to Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India saying – “if you feel that by giving this title. I will praise your Government, you will be disappointed. I am a fact finding man.” Nehru appreciating his frankness requested Sir M Visvesvaraya to accept the award.
At Muddenhallia small non descriptive village 2kms from Chikballapur nested at the foothills of Nandi hills lies this man where he was born admist a horticulture garden a few meters from the house he was born. His house today hosts place on the first floor aptly a bank – State Bank of Mysore, which he founded. The ground floor happens to be his museum of his memoirs and a few belongings simply displayed. His humble house where he was born and his first simple office is impeccably maintained. One could write reams on this great man. Most of his life knowledge is from heresay, public speeches, public records for this man did guard his privacy and personal life.
Sir MV: The Gentleman from Muddenhalli.