sāsirada yukti sāhasava nīnesagutiru ।
lesu phala doreye ninnella pauruṣakaṃ ॥
śeṣa ninaguḻivudeṃtādoḍaṃ novinitu ।
saisadanu nīnaḻade - maṃkutimma ॥ 636 ॥
Continue to implement a thousand ideas of adventure |
It is wonderful if your efforts bear fruit ||
Still, you will be left with a few failures and pain |
Endure them all without lamenting – Mankutimma ||
Even as Europe was reeling under the first world war born out of its unquenchable colonial rapacity, in faraway Bangalore a twenty-something D.V. Gundappa had already shot to fame with his magnum opus, Late Diwan Rangacharlu published in 1908. With that, DVG had almost overnight become a powerful voice of sanity, reason, balance, and hygiene in public life. His biweekly paper Karnataka (published every Wednesday and Saturday) which had begun in 1913 became highly influential, mostly owing to the force of DVG’s personality, writing, scholarship, keen grasp of a range of subjects and the tempered acidity of its views. It was a period when newspapers were subject to the Government’s whim and will. Censorship was a matter of course and writing against the British would invite assured punishment. Additionally, the British Resident in a princely state could randomly decide whether something constituted an offence purely based on his mood. It was in such an oppressive atmosphere that DVG not only criticized the Wodeyar government but took on the British with casual fearlessness, as we shall see in a future chapter. Here is a sample, a “prayer” appearing in Karnataka:
WHEN WILL IT COME –
A Firewood Depot
For the Poor in the City?
O our Kind Municipality!
O our Wise Government!
Lord, Have mercy
On poor pedestrians
And shaky cyclists
For our motorists are impatient
Our police are incompetent
Our municipality is impotent
And our Government is indifferent.
Quite naturally, DVG’s neck-deep involvement in journalism, his frequent interactions with the highest strata of powers enmeshed him in the rough and tumble of political life of the time.
The Iconic Hindu Coffee Club
Public life in Bangalore began in earnest at the historic K.T. Appanna’s Hindu Coffee Club at Chickpet. Barely a decade after its establishment, it had emerged as a throbbing cultural hub and public-discussion magnet attracting scores of people from various walks of life. Vidwans of classical music, bureaucrats, journalists, writers, scholars, thinkers…assembled there every evening between 6 – 7:30 PM. Heated discussions, debates, expositions on political philosophy, language, literature, music, Swarajya and Swadeshi movements…nothing was taboo. Its wooden-benched confines became a solid training ground for a young DVG who was a permanent participant. The “friends” he made at the Coffee Club were nearly double his age. Some, like Guruswamy Iyer were fifty. DVG not only gleaned insights on the aforementioned topics from these seasoned experts but ingrained within himself those crucial lessons of life that cannot be formally taught.
If a parallel can be drawn at all, K.T. Appanna’s Coffee Club was akin to the Parisian Cafes, the throbbing venues of political and social ideas that animated and changed the French public life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The other venue was K.S. Krishna Iyer’s home.
Stirrings of Public Endeavours
In both venues, ideas and action plans were hatched and some took off but most were short-lived. Invariably, all these plans had only one aim: to raise the all-round standards of the people, to educate them about the new winds of democracy, liberty, and freedom, sweeping their ancient country, to improve their reading habits, to increase awareness about public health, and in general, stamp out laziness and inertia in public life.
A few notable outcomes include the founding of the Popular Education League, distributing sweets on Deepavali to terminally ill patients at the Tuberculosis Hospital at Magadi Road (it still exists), conducting night classes for mill workers in a temple on Goods Shed Road, and establishing the Bangalore Study Club and the Bangalore Book Club.
As an enthusiastic young man, DVG, the active and passionate participant in both K.T. Appanna’s Coffee Club and a permanent visitor to K.S. Krishna Iyer’s house, eventually wrote with great affection about KT. Appanna in a highly moving long-form essay and penned a respectful tribute to K.S. Krishna Iyer in his Jnapaka Chitrashale volumes. On his part, K.T. Appanna never billed DVG for the food he ate at his hotel. Like with many others, DVG shared a deep, lifelong bond of Samskara with him.
Two things occurred in 1915, a year that marked a turning point in DVG’s life.
We shall begin with the second occurrence first.
As President of the Bangalore Municipality, K.P. Puttanna Chetty called a public meeting at City Market to invite ideas for the development, upkeep and maintenance of the city. The Diwan Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya presided over the meeting. As the discussions progressed, DVG, the journalist and editor, who was present, raised some caustic criticism to which the Diwan said: “You seem to be a great critic. It is one thing to merely raise objections but that doesn’t solve anything. It is only when you jump in and get your feet dirty that you will understand our problems.” Not stopping at that, Visvesvaraya said, “If this young journalist’s critiques need to become useful, he needs to equip himself with insights into administration.” And then, in a gesture mixed with both admiration and challenge, Visvesvaraya nominated DVG as a Member of the Municipal Council in April 1915.
That was the beginning of a long and fruitful association of two titans, a relationship distinguished by a high degree of mutual respect whose bedrock was integrity and unqualified affection. Indeed, DVG’s brilliant memoir of Sir M. Visvesvaraya is a fine, inspirational model into the life, career, ideals and work habits of one of the few eponymous Bharata Ratnas.
Rarefied Service to the Bangalore Municipality
DVG’s appointment to the Municipality immediately, directly thrust him into the swampy waters of political life at that level. Diwan Visvesvaraya had indeed chosen well. DVG proved more than worthy to the task. In 1916, DVG initiated and then published the first Bangalore City Municipal Bulletin, an official newspaper of the Municipality. It had the full backing of the Diwan. However, it would prove to be short-lived. As Member, DVG’s debates in the Council were imbued with the strength of knowledge, impeccable logic, and his criticisms spared none. As Visvesvaraya had foreseen, DVG also got a firsthand experience of the kind of politics in these government bodies and the character and qualifications of the people that inhabited them. In numerous essays in his Rajyashastra, Rajyangatattvagalu and other scattered writings, he recounts several anecdotes from the Council meetings, a beautiful mixture of the sublime, the ludicrous, the hilarious and the shocking. His column titled Bangalore Municipal Politics published in The Hindu, 21 September 1927 is worth reading even today.
To be continued
 Later renamed as Bangalore City Corporation. Currently, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike.
 The Town Hall, a landmark in Bangalore is named after him.
 Now Krishnarajendra Market or K.R. Market