In and around the period 1907–08, Advocate Sri. D. Venkataramaiah was among the foremost public personalities in Bangalore. A road in Malleswaram has been named after him, granting eternity to his memory. Before he built a house on that road, I’ve heard that he used to live in a residential building called ‘Ratnākara’ in one of the by-lanes of Balepet.
He was a leading advocate of Bangalore. In all high-stake lawsuits that took place in the business circles of those days, he was a lawyer to one or the other contesting party. That apart, he was the permanent legal advisor to various high-net-worth individuals of that era such as Mandi Kalappa and Mandi Siddaramanna. They reposed so much trust in the integrity and nobility of Venkataramaiah that they appointed him as an administrator to manage all transactions such as partition, litigation in succession matters, minor claims, pledge and mortgages, religious and charitable works, etc. that were each worth a few lakhs at that point of time. Mokshagundam Ramachandraiah used to work in the chambers of Venkataramaiah.
I was introduced to Sri. Venkataramaiah at his Malleswaram residence. At that point in time, I had a fascination for celebrating the death anniversaries of the freedom fighters of our country. Having decided to celebrate the memory of Mahadev Govind Ranade, I conducted a meeting with few of my friends to discuss about the logistics of organizing it. We had even secured permission to use Janopakari Doddanna’s Auditorium. When it was debated as to who should be invited to preside over the event, I argued that we should not invite a person who is attached to any governmental office but someone who is involved in public life. It was then decided that only D. Venkataramaiah would be suitable for that position.
K. S. Krishna Iyer was a member of our organising committee. We used his house as our workplace. Once when I was there, Vajapeyam Venkatasubbaiah and Mokshagundam Krishnamurthy happened to come by. Two years prior to this, Vajapeyam Venkatasubbaiah had been to Pune and had enrolled as a member in the Servants of India Society – an organization established by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. At that point, however, he had returned to Bangalore on some personal work and by chance, bumped into me in one of the streets near Krishna Iyer’s house.
On the advice of all of them, I went to meet Venkataramaiah at his house. It would be pertinent to briefly describe the clothes I wore when I had gone to meet him. I wore a long cotton kurta that touched my knees; a pink-coloured silky turban that I had ragged and rolled and tied in a pyramidical fashion like the Punjabis, with the dangling end of the turban—about a cubit long—was left to flutter on my chest. I stood in the veranda of Venkataramaiah’s house and knocked on his door. He came from within the house, stood at the doorframe, and asked in English: “Who are you? Please tell me.” I told him my name and occupation.
“Where do you hail from?” asked Venkataramaiah.
“I’m from Mysore itself,” I answered.
“Your name appears to be from here but these days we cannot ascertain the identity of a person only by his name. Do you speak Kannada?” he asked.
I replied to him in Kannada.
Venkataramaiah then asked, “Do you have any relatives in Bangalore?”
“Munsiff K. Lakshminaranaiah is related to me.”
I later explained the reason I went to see him. After listening to me, Venkataramaiah said, “Please come after two or three days. I will think it over and let you know.” Within two or three days thereof, Lakshminaranaiah asked me to meet him. When I went there, he rebuked me by saying, “What’s this outfit of yours! Can’t you just discard that ragged headgear of yours and dress like everyone else?” I didn’t understand his words. He then explained: “You are a journalist working in current affairs. Don’t you know the freedom struggle going on in our country? We hear rumours that revolutionaries from Punjab and other regions have come to the city. It appears that the Government has sent secret agents to look around for them. Both groups are moving in and around the city in disguise. At such a juncture, if you roam around with a headgear like them, anyone who looks at you – will they not mistake you for a freedom fighter or a spy? It’s for this reason D. Venkataramaiah was scared of your looks.”
I realised why he was telling me all this. Accordingly, I slightly changed my style of dressing and went to meet Venkataramaiah at his house the following Saturday. By then, he had learnt about me from Lakshminaranaiah. He started laughing when he saw me and happily agreed to come for the Ranade Memorial programme.
It was after that we started meeting each other more.
H. V. Nanjundaiah, who lived diagonally opposite to Venkataramaiah, was his close friend. Not a single day was spent without the two of them having a chat. For outsiders, they appeared to be from the same family. H. V. Nanjundaiah had passed his M. A. (Master of Arts) and M. L. (Master of Law) examinations, was reputed as a multifaceted and knowledgeable personality, had been the Chief Judge of the Mysore High Court, had worked as the Councillor in the Government, and was later the first Vice Chancellor of Mysore University. I have written a separate essay on that great personality. A reference to his name has been made here only to show the distinguished rank of persons among whom Venkataramaiah was referred and known for his wisdom and cultured behaviour.
D. Venkataramaiah was one of the chief dignitaries in almost all the public events in Bangalore. Venkataramaiah was the chief advisor to all persons who initiated dharmic causes like construction of community centres, reconstruction of temples, providing of free meals, and so on, irrespective of the place where such activities would take place.
I cannot say that Venkataramaiah was a great orator. The words that came out of his mouth never had the slightest trace of urgency, force, or anger; he was soft-spoken and talked in a leisurely manner. He weighed his words before speaking. He was not reputed for his oratory skills, but for his sharp intellect and for his highly evolved integrity.
He was patient and never rushed into decisions; and he was broadminded. He never broke his relationship with anyone. These qualities did not mean that he could easily be made to agree with anyone. He had philosophical clarity and stuck to his grounds. But his allegiance to truth was never severe and violent.
In 1907, Diwan V. P. Madhava Rao, had got the legislative council, which had commenced recently, to approve the Newspaper Regulation Act that was enacted to curb the rights of newspapers. This regulation resulted in nationwide protests. Apart from the Kannada and English dailies functioning within the State of Mysore, other newspapers from all over the country opposed to this regulation. All public leaders opposed this regulation in one voice. In the State of Mysore, four leaders were in the forefront of this protest: M. Venkatakrishnaiah from Mysore, D. Venkataramaiah from Bangalore, S. R. Balakrishna Rao from Shimoga, and K. Shankaranarayana Rao. These four people created a uproar in the citizen’s representative assembly vociferously demanding freedom of the press. Majority of the members of the Assembly accepted these four as their leaders.
The result of this was strange. In the following year, Diwan V. P. Madhava Rao empowered the Citizen’s Representative Assembly by giving them the authority to elect two persons from and among them; these names would be nominated to the Legislative Council. Members of the Representative Assembly celebrated this new authority granted to them. Had the Diwan conferred this authority as a measure to make people forget the public discontent caused by the newspaper regulation? – was the speculation of a few. The members of the assembly, however, were of the opinion: Be that as it may, the power now conferred should be utilised judiciously, and thereafter suggested the names of two of its members. Not a single person even thought of contesting an election against these two. Who were they? Venkatakrishnaiah and Venkataramaiah, the ones who had sharply criticised the regulation promulgated by Diwan V. P. Madhav Rao.
Wasn’t it quite natural for Diwan V. P. Madhav Rao to be upset with this decision! He vetoed to reject the election of the Representative Assembly members. This created even more chaos in the Assembly.
The Assembly split into two factions – one in favour of the government and the other against it. Some government officers surreptitiously acted from within to split the Assembly in this manner.
The ruling party gave the following reply: “The Citizen’s Representative Assembly only had the right to nominate. The authority conferred on them as per the Government Order did not obligate the Government to accept any nomination made by the Assembly. The Government has learnt that the conduct of elections was improper due to certain reasons. Therefore, this nomination has been refused. However, this shall not mean that the Government has withdrawn the authority conferred on the Assembly. Let the Assembly hold one more election.”
The fact that the earlier election was uncontested was seen as a lacuna by the faction supporting the government. The second election was held in 1909 during the Dasara Session (30th October 1909). It was prescribed by the Government that one person from the East Division and one person from the West Division of Mysore State shall be nominated. Accordingly, four persons from the East Division and five persons from the West Division contested the elections. This time, M. Venkatakrishnaiah did not contest the elections due to certain personal constraints. A few contestants were supported by the Government. D. Venkataramaiah won the elections from the East Division. A. Ramanna, an advocate from Mysore, won the elections from the West Division. And so, friends of the Government lost in both places. The members of the Citizen’s Representative Assembly were delighted. The Representative Assembly received compliments from all over the country.
In 1910, the Government had proposed to legislate a law that would prohibit the disqualification of persons entitled to ancestral property on grounds of their religion and castes. The core aim of that law was to prevent the disqualification of a Hindu’s entitlement to his share in his ancestral property when he converted to any other religion. Christian missionaries had applied pressure and influence to legislate such a law. Wasn’t it obvious that such missionaries had the support of British officials? These missionaries had suggested to the Mysore Government to legislate such a law in 1905 itself. In this regard the Government had prepared a draft legislation and had published the same seeking public opinion. Most of the replies given by the people were in opposition to such a law. Therefore, the Government kept in abeyance the idea of legislating such a law. At that point of time, the Legislative Council was not yet established. The Government explained to the missionaries that it would be imprudent to legislate a law by opposing public opinion and without the acceptance by a Representative Assembly. The Legislative Council was established in 1907. Thereafter, the pressure on the Government by Christian pastors intensified. This resulted in the Government preparing another draft legislation and placing it before the legislative council. T. Ananda Rao had become the Diwan of Mysore by then.
Some of us had contemplated holding a public meeting to display the people’s opposition to the proposed legislation. We had invited Venkataramaiah to preside over that meeting. The meeting was held on a grand scale at Doddanna’s Auditorium. Since I was a journalist by profession, I had the privilege of witnessing the proceedings of the Legislative Council a few days later, when the draft bill was introduced. The obligation to introduce the bill to the Council was cast on K. P. Puttanna Chetty. The most effective speech by the opposition on that day was by Advocate D. Venkataramaiah from Bangalore and Advocate A. Ramanna from Mysore. The majority voted against the Bill and so it was not passed.
In certain matters Venkataramaiah and Ramanna were poles apart. While Venkataramaiah’s speech was dignified, Ramanna’s was forceful. While Venkataramaiah used to pick and choose his words carefully when speaking, the force of Ramanna’s speech was difficult to be restrained. I have heard that their arguments in courts were also similar. Venkataramaiah was soft and brief in his arguments and only spoke on the point of his contention. Ramanna’s arguments were like a storm that could blow away the courtroom.
They were quite different even in matters of their dharma-śraddhā (faith in traditional practices). Venkataramaiah never used external insignias that displayed his ritualistic leanings. But by looking at Ramanna’s face, one could easily make out the amount of faith he had in the traditional practices of his community.
I can say that D. Venkataramaiah was as simple as an infant. His house was a choultry, an abode to many. His brothers, children, their family, relatives and various other residents, who were all his extended family, lived in that house.
He had also cultivated an enormous friends’ circle. Almost every evening, to meet his friends, he visited the Cosmopolitan Club that was situated in the K. Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall.
Were there not courageous men before Arjuna? Similarly, there were personalities who worked for democratic values in Mysore State before the establishment of the Congress Party. D. Venkataramaiah from Bangalore; M. Venkatakrishnaiah from Mysore; H. Nanjunda Rao from Davanagere; Srinivasa Rao, a coffee planter from Chikmagalur and his younger brother Vasudeva Rao, were some of the prominent names during that time. If one looks at the Assembly debates and the circulars in the reportage of Citizen’s Representative Assembly during the period between Sir K. Sheshadri Iyer and Diwan Anand Rao, one will clearly realise the thought process, resourcefulness, and erudition of these persons. They were a nightmare to the government authorities at that point of time. Their fight did not mean mere protests. It was a thoughtful propagation of democratic values that were backed by realistic factual aspects. Dignity and seriousness were interwoven in their daily lives. In those days, the public at large had sensitive and matured thinking and were not driven by greed; they shuddered at the thought of public disgrace. Therefore, even egoistic officials and administrators held these persons in high esteem and feared about them. In a nutshell, it was an age of respect and dignity. D. Venkataramaiah stood as a role model in that great heritage.
This is an English translation of the nineteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 1 – Sahiti Sajjana Sarvajanikaru. DVG wrote this series in the early 1950s. Translated by Kashyap N Naik from the original Kannada. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
 The original has ‘hitālocakaru,’ which literally translates into ‘well-wisher’ but in this context, ‘legal advisor’ is more appropriate.
 He later went on to become a renowned advocate.
 The original has ‘deśabhakta,’ which literally means ‘a devotee of the land.’ The closest English equivalent, ‘patriot’ is defined as ‘one who supports his country and is willing to defend it.’
 The word ‘janopakāri’ (jana = people, upakāri = helper) in Kannada refers to one who works for social welfare.
 Munsiff was a designation and title for a judge of the lowest cadre in the judiciary who discharged the judicial functions in civil matters of a particular city or town.
 During early part of 20th century, it was uncommon in India for someone to have passed their Intermediate (equivalent to today’s twelfth’s standard) or even their Matriculation (equivalent to today’s eleventh standard) in the British educational system. Anyone who was a graduate or a post-graduate (in a system that was not yet in vogue) was considered knowledgeable.