ANECDOTES HAVE A LITERARY FLAIR distinct from works of fictional literature. In literature, there are at least two degrees of separation from the reader: the work and its author. Because anecdotes are real and are about a real person, there is a sense of immediacy and intimacy, even. Arguably, anecdotes delineate and augment the true character and personality of their subject.
Fortunately for us, there are literally hundreds of anecdotes about Sri Visvesvarayya. They are quirky, astounding, inspirational and ennobling.
The first relates to his courage and self-confidence. At the height of British arrogance, only a handful of eminent people like Sri Visvesvarayya could stare them in the eyes.
After M.V. became the Chief Engineer of Mysore, he openly declared that he would not attend the annual Dasara Durbar because of an insulting practice. At the Durbar, only the British would sit on chairs and all Indian officials had to sit on the floor. Sri Visvesvarayya proclaimed that this was a deliberate act of humiliation and told the Maharaja that Indians had every right to sit on chairs as equals. This was unprecedented, and despite dire threats by the stunned and outraged British, Sri Visvesvarayya remained firm…and won the battle.
D.V. Gundappa who was closely associated with Sri Visvesvarayya till his death has written a magnificent profile of this great son of India. This is how DVG describes the climate when M.V. became the Diwan of Mysore:
Elsewhere, this is what DVG writes about the inner attitude of M.V:
SRI VISVESVARAYYA MAINTAINED a strict separation between his professional and personal life till his last breath. The moment he accepted the post of the Diwan, he called his family and relatives and strictly told them not to approach him for favours and or use his influence. Needless, he instantly became highly unpopular in these circles.
However, unknown to most people, Sir M.V. set aside a substantial portion of his earnings to help the poor but deserving students to get an education. The number of such students who benefitted from his self-denying generosity is legion but almost all of his philanthropy has remained a secret.
M.V. carried two separate sets of candles — one to use when he was engaged in office work and the other, for his private reading in places that were still unelectrified.
On one occasion, an official matter had remained unresolved for several months. The files related to it were buried in the bureaucratic maze at the secretariat. Despite countless reminders, when the documents remained missing, he recorded his frustration thus: “The secretariat has neither a body to kick nor a soul to damn. At this rate, how can work go on?”
How many IAS and other officers today think like this?
Next is an anecdote that Sri Masti Venkatesha Iyengar has written about Sri Visvesvarayya. He has described M.V. as a hard task master. Sri Masti was M.V.’s junior in Government service when the latter was the Diwan, and he had the fortune of working closely with him.
"Without thinking of me, Sir Visvesvaraya determined my career in life for me; and this is how… After the first six months of probation, I was taken to the Dewan’s staff. It was a privilege in those days to be so near the Dewan. I had this privilege for nine months. After two years, I was posted as Assistant Secretary to Government and was again fairly close to the Dewan for about a year, till his retirement.
My first impression of Sir Visvesvaraya’s office was that it was a place of great dignity and importance, and that it worked very systematically. The Dewan’s active influence was visible in every corner of it. Everyone was brisk and doing something.
The office worked every day and in two sessions each day. Sundays and holidays were for other offices; here, on these days, part of the staff had rest, but the other part was present and worked part of the day.
Visvesvaraya had his own methods of work. One of these was that there was a change of work every half hour or quarter of an hour. The morning session began at 7-30 or 8, generally in his residence. It would go on until the Dewan rose for lunch at 1 p.m. The afternoon session was generally in the Public Offices and began at 3 p.m. and closed at 6 p.m. or later. In the three hours that the Dewan sat in his chambers a great deal of work would be done.
He liked officers to dress and appear neat and brisk. One day I was taking down some instructions as per Sir Visvesvaraya’s dictation. When he finished and I got ready to leave, he said, “By the way, you should not show your collar button. The tie should cover it.”
Sir Visvesvaraya worked his men hard; but he worked himself hardest.
From gravitas to humour. The lighter aspects of Sri Visvesvarayya are rather endearing and delightful.
As a man of frugal living, he was content with simple things in life. Sir M.V. declared Obbattu as India’s national delicacy and suggested the best method to eat it. Only the softest core of obbattu – which was also its sweetest – was to be eaten, its hard edges discarded.
Sri Visvesvarayya had innovated a personal recipe for a health drink. He would cut an apple into small pieces and soak them in a bowl of hot water for about twenty minutes. Then he would drink that water after discarding the apple pieces.
In the later part of his life, Sir M.V. incorporated the habit of taking a brief rest in the afternoon, and this was how he took it: he hung his turban to a nail or peg and curled up while seated on the chair. He held a pencil in one hand and a scrap of paper in the other. His eyelids would be closed. This “rest” would conclude exactly after 10 minutes. Sir M.V. claimed from experience that this “rest” was highly invigorating. D.V. Gundappa admiringly notes that sleep was firmly under Visvesvarayya’s control… it was a profound expression of self-restraint.
After retirement, Sir M.V. lived in a rented bungalow named Uplands near the Bengaluru Golf Course. Eventually, he had to vacate it because the owner had other plans. The then Diwan, Sir Mirza Ismail suggested to Sir M.V. to move back into the Balabrooie bungalow, which he had occupied when he had been the Diwan. Sir M.V. declined the offer. The reason: he could afford a maximum of ₹ 150 as rent, but the Balabrooie bungalow commanded a far higher rental value in the market.
And now onto to the final anecdote. It is perhaps the best illustration of the core of Sir M.V.’s overall character and the magnetism of his personality.
In 1958, he attended the diamond jubilee of the iconic Modern Hindu Hotel (now, the New Modern Hotel near Minerva Circle, Bangalore). It had rained quite heavily that evening. After the celebrations and dinner were over, he stepped outside. DVG was accompanying him, and was concerned that Sir M.V. might step into a water-clogged pothole in the hotel’s compound. So, he offered him his walking stick. Sir M.V. accepted it but the very next moment, threw it away, exclaiming, “one had better perish than live so helplessly!” Sir M.Visvesvarayya was ninety-seven years old when this incident occurred.
OVER THE LAST 75 YEARS, there have been scores of Bharat Ratnas, but by any yardstick, Sir M.V. epitomises the title. To repeat a cliché, he elevated the award by accepting it. And this is what Visvesvarayya told Nehru who offered the award to him: “I will accept this award on the condition that it will not restrict my freedom to voice unpopular views.”
Finally, it is my humble request to the readers of The Dharma Dispatch to procure Sir M.V.’s magnificent work, Memoirs of Working Life and read it from cover to cover. DVG describes this book as an “unwavering pillar of light” for the Indian youth distracted by various ideologies and temptations. No more fitting tribute can be paid to Sir M.Visvesvarayya than reading and learning from his own life, written in his own words.
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