Among the important citizens of Mysore state, based on their oratory skills and efficiency, I can say from the bottom of my heart, that Abbas Khan sahib belongs to the top echelons.
In political matters, our paths are different. I did not approve of his means of work either. But, opinions and achievements are different; ability is different. I will presently write about Abbas Khan’s strengths. His dexterity, his nature of leading from the front, his cleverness in all-round thinking – no one can say these traits are useless in public. On the contrary, these are qualities which have gone missing in the public discourse in the last twenty years.
I have known Abbas Khan sahib even from the days before he became famous. In 1910-11, Central Mohammedan Association operated from a rented house on Arcot Srinivasachar street. The Reading Room housed there was free for public. The then driving force for that association was Abbas Khan sahib. Fund collection drive used to take place to build the organization. For this task, Abbas Khan sahib ran around every taluk and every village in the province without skipping any place. Along with fund collection, he got to know first-hand, people’s circumstances too. This was his major asset.
At that time, his main supporter was Nawab Ghulam Ahmad Kalami. He hailed from Vaniyambadi and was well known among the Madras public. He belonged to a rich lineage. Prosperous. Honourable man. Dignified and respectable in conduct and speech.
After the fund collection drive was the building construction. The present Central Mohammedan Association was built under the personal supervision of Kalami sahib. I have personally seen him, day-on-day, with an umbrella in the hot sun, lay brick by brick and stone by stone. Kalami sahib and Abbas Khan sahib gained respect for taking up and completing such a huge task.
Abbas Khan sahib supposedly worked in the Forest department or Excise department initially. He then quit the job and began trading in timber. Business was good. Around that time, he moved to Arcot Srinivasachar street and purchased the house he lived in. I have heard that the friendship between Kalami and Abbas Khan was through the timber trade.
Abbas Khan had affection for me because I was from Mulbagal. His father-in-law, Pachamiya sahib, was a well-known personality in Mulbagal. Whenever I and Abbas Khan sahib met, we used to converse about Pachamiya sahib’s welfare. That’s how our acquaintance grew.
Abbas Khan sahib became noted in the history of Mysore mainly due to the Ganapathi riots. It is impossible for me to say with any certainty as to what extent he was himself the cause of those riots. It took place around 1928. I was not in Bangalore when it happened. That day I had been to Bagalkot to preside at the journalists’ conference. That day or the next evening, when I reached Mangalavede Srinivasa Rao’s house where I had camped, the ‘Times of India’ newspaper had arrived. From that I learned, for the first time, news about riots at Bangalore and use of tear gas shells. The situation here in Bangalore had really deteriorated when I returned to Bangalore after three-four days. Wherever I saw, the situation was the same.
Cause of Fury
Background: The building in front of Abbas Khan sahib’s house was a municipal warehouse. I have noticed an octroi office being in that premise for some days. Later, a branch of S R Nanjundayya’s Sultanpet school was functioning there. Students of that school seem to have installed an idol of lord Ganapathi, that was previously somewhere in the premises, opposite to the main door of Abbas Khan sahib’s house and were offering prayers to it. Officers of the education department apparently transported that idol to a different location. This caused the fury of students and their leaders.
The rumpus, thus began, turned into serious uproar. Articles related to this uproar kept appearing one after the other in magazines like ‘Vīra-kesarī’ and ‘Tāyi-nāḍu’.
News spread that there were some deaths too during the clashes. Finally, the Mirza government had to appoint an inquiry committee. Visvesvaraya was the president of that committee. There was no proof of any death. There was no proof necessary for the clashes. The committee concluded that the police officers and officers of other departments had been lax and suggested that proper procedure from a responsible government would prevent such danger. It caused a major uproar in the history of Mysore. Abbas Khan sahib was at the core of that uproar.
For none was it a joyful incident.
The People’s Party
Abbas Khan succeeded by working in People’s Representative council and the Legislative council. He was then the leader of the People’s Party or the People’s Alliance Assembly. He would expound the party’s stand with courage and eloquence. That was not my party. I had distanced myself from that party. I was not the one who argued that there was a need for a rival party opposing People’s Party. At that time there was enhanced fear that words spoken by a Brahmin may be misinterpreted by the majority community. Despite the presence of veterans like Venkatakrishnaiah in the People’s Representative council, it was impossible to expect their voices to be heard.
There was vigour and din in the debates of the People’s Party and the council due to Abbas Khan’s eloquence. In the internal meetings of that party, it was mostly Abbas Khan who was amending their policies and establishing their procedures.
I will provide a couple of examples for Abbas Khan’s courage and valour.
A question associated with some chore came up in the People’s Representative assembly. The person linked to that question was a gentleman by name Ranganatha Rao. I think the question was perhaps related to industries department or so. Abbas Khan stood up after four or five people had spoken.
“Sir, these great people that have done this remarkable work - these daredevils, these heroes, these gallants…” – saying thus, he stretched his hands as though he is going to poke their face. Ranganatha Rao stood up to answer. His face had turned red. When he moved to the edge of the stage, we the audience felt he would fall off in haste. Such was the consternation caused by Abbas Khan’s speech.
On one occasion, there was a discussion on a bill in the legislative council pertaining to the district boards. The intent of that bill was to provide more power to the presidents of these boards. Abbas Khan’s contention was that it should not be. At that time, the president of the Mysore district board was Sri. B S Puttaswamy. Speaking in support of the bill, he berated the opponents slightly. Abbas Khan stood up to answer.
“Sir, I have opposed this rule with no understanding of the subject and no experience of the district board’s work – so says an honourable man – I challenge him. As the road winds from Hunsur to Periyapatna, at the fourth mile, on the left, there is a traveller’s bungalow – how many times has this honourable man seen it? Its roof tiles have crashed, and it is in disrepair for the last six months. Has this honourable man counted how many tiles have fallen? And the school building that has collapsed on the way to Kakanakote – how many times has he seen it? – Gundlupete has so many potholes – how many times has this president travelled via that road? Did he notice the potholes? What did he then do?”
In this way, Abbas Khan went on individually and separately analysing each of the defects that were or could have been. This is oratorical cleverness.
Abbas Khan’s Kannada was excellent. So was his English. There was vigour in every expression. But it never exceeded propriety. It was dignified.
As president of Bangalore municipality, Abbas Khan fulfilled his duties meticulously. On many days, he would ride on a horse in the morning and inspect different parts of the city. On several days, he inspected the city this way along with Mirza sahib. Most of the credit for construction of the present Krishna Rajendra market goes to Abbas Khan. None can deny that he had affection for the public.
Abbas Khan was friendly. Generous. He mentioned a worry once when I visited his home; when will he have the good fortune of visiting Mecca?
In a nutshell, reminiscing about him gives me delight.
This is the English translation of the eighth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavu Sarvajanikaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra.
 Musafir in the original