A Few Public Institutions

I shall narrate my recollections of certain public institutions in Bangalore. I have written elsewhere about political institutions.[1] I will reminisce about socio-cultural organizations here.

Ranade Society

One of the oldest among the institutions that sprung up for the upliftment of society and culture was one by name Ranade Society.

The Literary Union was established even earlier than the Ranade Society. It appears that this was established prior to 1880. The principal members of the Literary Union included Diwan Rangacharlu, Chanchala Rao, and several other notable men of that time. That institution still exists in a part of the Bangalore District Office. I remember having once delivered a lecture there.

Ranade Society was established by B V Subbarayappa and friends. I’ve heard that Council Member P G D’Souza was also a part of the Society. Other members that I was acquainted with included former Sessions Judge S Ramachandra Shastri, Mokshagundam Krishnamurthy, Belur Srinivasa Iyengar, Dr. B N Iyengar, and other notable students from Central College.

Ranade

This society was founded in memory of Mahadev Govind Ranade[2] and to spread the philosophy propounded by him. At that time, Ranade’s fame had spread across all corners of India. Ranade was a judge in the Bombay High Court. But that was not his claim to fame. He was a great scholar with a brilliant mind, and more importantly a great patriot. What transformations should occur in the lives of our countrymen? How can India become acclaimed the world over? And what service can India render to the whole world? It was this great man who continuously pondered and deliberated on several such questions and topics in great detail, giving realistic suggestions and advice to people. Among his prime disciples, one was Gopal Krishna Gokhale[3]; another was Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya[4].

Subbarayappa

B V Subbarayappa used to travel to Bombay frequently for work. He had deeply studied the branch of Geology. He was employed by the prestigious Tata company. This was the reason for his frequent visits to Bombay.

My guess is that Ranade’s influence[5] on Subbarayappa developed and grew because of his frequent travels to Poona and Bombay.

Subbarayappa was slightly elder to me. He was intelligent in his thinking and in his use of the language. Moreover, his personality was such that it influenced everyone. He was quite tall, with a lovely skin-tone, a thick moustache, a light-hearted, jovial nature, dignified in speech and mannerisms; he was respected for all these qualities.

When the Special Congress[6] was held in Bombay in 1918, I had attended it. In that assembly, one of my proposals was also to come up for discussion, on the topic of Indian Institutions. In order to garner support for my cause, I felt that I must meet several distinguished personalities in Bombay. In that connection, Subbarayappa encouraged me and even accompanied me on my visits. It was only then that I realized how many friends Subbarayappa had made in a great metropolis like Bombay and how well-respected he was.

Such was Subbarayappa. He was the most important among those who established the Ranade Society.

Ramachandra Shastri

The year I was to appear for the Matriculation exams, S Ramachandra Shastri was the secretary of the Ranade Society. One evening, a football match had been organized at the Central College playground. A large crowd had gathered to witness it. Several outstation students who had traveled for their exams had gathered there as well. I too was among them. I still remember the majestic entrance made by Ramachandra Shastri. Resplendently dressed in a beautiful, delicate mull[7] dhoti, he was wearing a splendid navy blue surge coat and shining pump shoes. He was accompanied by four admirers each on his left and right sides and as he walked down with a swaggering gait, Shastri’s shoulders danced slightly up and down. The crowd of students parted in the middle making way for him, just as devotees in a temple part and stand on either side while reciting the Mantrapuṣpa. Pamphlets had been distributed to announce that Ramachandra Shastri would be lecturing—that day or the next, perhaps—under the auspices of the Ranade Society. What more did a village bumpkin like me need to feel amazed!

I saw Shastri and beamed with happiness.

A few years later, they all became my fast friends. Shastri, Krishnamurthy, Belur [Srinivasa Iyengar], Subbarayappa, and I – well, this is not the place to discuss our juvenile antics!

Dissolution

The Ranade Society disappeared after five or six years. I have heard one of the reasons behind it. It appears that the Society had collected five- or six-hundred rupees by enacting a play. At that time, a certain member of the Society had an opportunity to travel abroad. He happened to be the Treasurer of the Society and the money was in his custody. In his hurry to travel and owing to his forgetfulness[8], he took that money and went away without informing anyone. Five or six years seems to have elapsed before he returned. By then everything was forgotten. Nobody had even the accounting ledgers.

Ranade Company

A year or two after the Ranade Society came to an end, Subbarayappa started a trading mart called ‘Ranade Company.’ This was perhaps in 1907–08.

Earlier, there was a beautiful portrait of M G Ranade at the Ranade Society. It was colourful. It was large in size. I had seen this at Ranade Company as well. I begged Subbarayappa to donate that portrait to the Gokhale Institute after it was established [in 1945]. He sighed heavily, narrated his efforts in retrieving the portrait, and told me his woes. He did not know what happened to that portrait. I harbour no doubts in my heart that if he possessed it or if it was at least within his grasp, he would have definitely given it to the Gokhale Institute.

Ranade Society was based in Bangalore. However, the details of its service appear to be unavailable now.

Mitrasaṅgha (Friends Union)

The Friends Union came into prominence when Ranade Society was diminishing in popularity. The people who were running it included L Swamy; his younger brother, L Rama Rao, who later became the Principal of Central College; K T Bhashyam, who was a minister for a while; a certain Mustafa – these are the ones I knew. The office of the Union was the first auditorium from the western side in the New English High School building, which is close to London Mission High School and Mysore Bank.

Usually, the Union convened every Saturday or Sunday. The topics for the lectures were – English literature, on occasion Sanskrit literature, episodes from international history, lives of great personalities, and science. Occasionally, even European scholars such as Prof. Sell, Prof. McAlpine, Quentin Anderson, Dr. Sedborough from Tata Institute, Usher, and other lecturers gave talks. Similarly, J C Chakravarti, K Krishna Iyengar, M G Varadacharya, K Ramachandra Rao, and other prominent people were invited to speak or to preside over the assembly. The auditorium would be packed with listeners. Many people came fifteen to twenty minutes early just to sit close to the stage.

‘Shelley Day’

The members of the Union organized fests called ‘Shakespeare Day,’ ‘Kalidasa Day,’ and organized lectures on those poets by three or four speakers. From these lectures, the common man learnt about such poets and their writings.

In a certain year, the Union organized a ‘Shelley Day.’ Prof. Sell presided over the assembly on that day. M G Varadacharya delivered a talk on the life of Shelley; then he played a prank. He said, “I’m a lawyer. I’ve to toil in the courtroom daily. I’ve come here today exhausted after having made arguments in court. Hence I’m not able to take up any serious topic. I’ve instructed my dear friend sitting right here to speak on a contemplative topic and you shall all listen to him!”

Having said this, he pointed his finger towards me. I spoke a few words on the poet Shelley’s poem Adonaïs[9] and its philosophy. Since I had jotted down the points that I had intended to speak, I assume that there wasn’t any fallacy on my part.

Prof. McAlpine spoke after my talk that evening. At that time, he was still new to India. Perhaps because of this, he felt surprised listening to Varadacharya’s and my speeches and admired the fact that people of this country spoke such eloquent English.

Prof. Frank R Sell, who presided over the program, also admitted that after my talk, he started to see some light on lines regarding self-reflection in the poem Adonaïs that had previously been incomprehensible to him.

In sum, people were happy with how the speeches turned out.

In due course, members of the Union moved on to other jobs and the enthusiasm in running it diminished. Rama Rao was also busy with his studies. Since he was immersed in the study of the śāstras, his attention had been diverted elsewhere. He ought to be a model to all students. His discipline towards his studies and his competence were well-known even at that time. K T Bhashyam took to studying law; later he practiced as a lawyer and then entered politics. Mustafa, by stature, was a handsome man. In matters of clothing, he was elegant and charismatic. He was agreeable to everyone in his mannerisms. His speech was mellifluous too. He got a job in the police force in the Madras province and went away.

Visarjanā (Dissolution)

Thus the Union lost its relevance.

The Union not only organized discourses but also frequently conducted debate contests and poetry recitation competitions. By disseminating knowledge and performing literary service, in many ways, the Friends Union achieved its goals and much more. At the time of its dissolution, its remaining finances were donated as an endowment to Kannada Saṅgha of Central College with a stipulation to distribute annual prizes from the interest earned from the capital. If my memory serves me right, at that point Prof. A. R. Krishna Shastri was at Central College and accepted the amount on their behalf.

This is the tenth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Sarvajanikaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

 

Footnotes

[1] See the seventeenth essay in D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 1) – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru titled 'Kelavu Sarvajanika Samsthegalu.’

[2] Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842–1901) was a scholar, social reformer, judge, and author. He was a founding member of the Indian National Congress and a member of the Bombay Legislative Council. He helped to establish the Vaktruttvottejak Sabha, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, and the Prarthana Samaj. He edited a Bombay Anglo-Marathi daily paper, the Induprakash.

[3] Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–1915) was a political leader and a social reformer during the Indian Independence Movement. He was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and founder of the Servants of India Society.

[4] Bharat Ratna Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya (1861–1962) was a chief civil engineer, scholar, statesman, and the nineteenth Diwan of Mysore, who served from 1912 to 1919.

[5] The original has the word ‘utsāha’ (enthusiasm) so this can also be translated as “…the enthusiasm for Ranade…”

[6] The Special Session of the Indian National Congress was held at Bombay in 1918 from August 29 to September 1. Syed Hasan Imam was the President-Elect of the session.

[7] The original has ‘navurāda mallu;’ ‘navurāda’ means ‘delicate,’ ‘dainty,’ or ‘with filigree work,’ while ‘mallu’ refers to what is called ‘cotton mull cloth,’ a soft gauze-like material. 

[8] The original has ‘marevininda,’ which can either mean ‘owing to his forgetfulness’ or ‘by means of concealment.’ By this usage DVG is perhaps suggesting that neither is he accusing the man nor giving him a clean chit!

[9] Adonaïs is an elegy written by P. B. Shelley on hearing the news of the death of John Keats in 1821 and widely regarded as one of Shelley's best and most well-known works. The poem deals with misery, death and mourning and evokes self-reflection in the discerning reader.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:
Pratap Simha indulges in the study of Indian culture, history, arts, and literature. He is particularly fascinated by classical Sanskrit and Kannada literature. He is an amateur stage actor and a poet. He also has a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering and works as an engineer in California, USA.