AS I HAD NO DEFINITE WORK, I did not always know when Sir Visvesvaraya sent for me or for what. When I walked in on one of these occasions he said, “Please take this down.” As I had not brought my notebook and pencil with me I said, “I shall bring my notebook, Sir,” and ran back and returned quite quickly and stood ready to take down the dictation. Before dictating, the Dewan, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “a workman should always come with his tools.”
I suppose I looked foolish. I smiled assent to the proposition.
Three things those who worked with Sir Visvesvaraya could learn from him each day: (1) scrupulous punctuality (2) meticulous precision (3) untiring effort to do a thing well.
An equally important quality which one got the opportunity to notice was his careful attention to detail.
All the people who had to meet him had to be at the door of his chambers the second before the prescribed time. He himself would be there earlier; if he was not, he came in even as you did, and greeted you and began the work.
No draft of even the simplest letter was sent off as first dictated. The Dewan would read it over and over to see if it expressed his meaning correctly and was sufficiently elegant, and would make the changes he thought necessary, be they ever so insignificant, and get the letter typed again.
Where the matter was one of some importance a draft underwent correction several times. A difficult communication on one of the many questions he had to negotiate with with the Government of India might be corrected ten times and typed ten times. Quite often the same correction might be made and rejected twice or thrice. Others might feel impatient. He never did. He went on revising while he felt the need and stopped only when he felt satisfied that the thing had been said as well as it lay in his power to say it.
There is no denying the fact that the wording finally accepted was nearly perfect. In delicate matters, it yielded no essential point, avoided offence, argued persuasively and made it difficult for the other side to disagree.
Sir Visvesvaraya’s English was faultless, at any rate, to an Indian. It was simple yet rhythmical. Emotion had no place in the aspect he showed the public, but when in his addresses to assemblies he spoke as a patriot or a lover of our people, the words gained a glow from the fervour of genuine sentiment.
His attention to detail may be illustrated from the strong objection he always took to the gum leaving a smudge when we sealed an envelop or pasted a stamp on. He would himself show how these things should be done so as not to leave a smudge.
He was first of all a patriot and a man of ideas, intensely ambitious for our country and our people, and much ahead of his time. As Dewan, he had a sympathetic master in H.H. the Maharaja Krishnaraya Wadiyar, but many unfriendly colleagues in the Council and the services. Yet in the short period of six years, he laid the foundations of a modern state and changed the outlook of the people. In an unfriendly atmosphere, he had to rely on such persons as agreed with him, and such people did not always agree from conviction. Under more favourable conditions, he would have achieved incalculably more progress.
When he retired from Dewanship, most of us were sorry. The schemes which he initiated, languished till Sir Mirza Ismail became Dewan. Later, Sir Visvesvaraya himself, to the surprise of many, agreed to be Chairman of the Bhadravati Iron and Steel Works and helped it through a crisis. The salary he was given as Chairman, he allowed to accumulate and endowed all of it for the starting of a technological institute.
A few personal traits of the man should mentioned before I close. I never saw Sir Visvesvaraya lose his temper. I saw him disturbed just once, on the day on which he ceased to be Dewan and sent for all the Secretariat officers to say farewell. The situation was tragic more for the country than for him, and he felt it keenly. He was always courteous to everyone, big or small. I never saw him fail in this.
Some time ago, a friend and I met him on some work and took leave when it was over and came to our car in the porch. After sitting in the car, thinking that the old gentleman had gone to his room, we found that he had followed us to our car door. He stood folding his hands before us to take leave of us finally.
Sir Visvesvaraya was one of the rare persons who did not use his position to help friends and relatives. We understood that when taking office in this State, he made it a condition with his uncle that no relative should apply to him for help in getting an appointment. One might ask for money from him to study and prosper on his own initiative, and he always gave it freely. But to ask for a job on behalf of a relative was a crime. Yet no one could be more considerate to those to whom he belonged.
Lastly, Visvesvaraya’s hospitality was large and princely. In the early years of his Dewanship, he gave regular weekly dinners to officers and public workers of standing, and used the opportunity to know their minds and to get known to them. The dinner arrangements were perfect. On ordinary days, us staff members who attended office in the morning had always the option of taking our lunch in the Dewan’s dining room. The official who acted as steward had to enquire if we would have our lunch there and look after us if we decided to stay for the day.
Here, I cannot make up my mind to omit one detail. The rice that was served was of a quality I have seen nowhere else. While this midday lunch was an emergency arrangement, the steward had made it a routine under his master’s orders. If we wanted it, at about 11 a.m, coffee was served, and something light to eat was provided every day.
I started by saying that without thinking of me, Sir Visvesvaraya had determined my career for me. He thus helped me to earn my bread honourably. Both he who provides a career and he who directly gives food are called anna data or giver of food.” The common prayer for them is annadata sukhee bhava.
Of Visvesvaraya, the provider of food for our people, I say along with many of our countrymen today: Anna data sukhee bhava!
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