Magadi Karanika Krishnamurthy

Magadi Karanika Krishnamurthy is worthy of remembrance. He had a mind that was liberal, a heart that was generous, and an outlook that was progressive. The reward the world gave him was—to some extent—admiration and a bit of ridicule.

The Karaṇikas were descendants of a minister of the famous chieftain Kempegowda, who had apparently donated plenty of land and gold to him. Krishnamurthy’s ancestors were virtuous; they had utilized the wealth and prosperity received from the chieftain for the patronage of the Vedas and Śāstras. Tens of paṇḍitas and students lived under the patronage of the Karaṇikas during those days and were immersed in the tutelage of Vedas.

Krishnamurthy took pains to retain and protect that tradition.

Physique

Krishnamurthy was well-built. A tall person; a well-nourished body; a physique and an expression that exuded courage.

Once Krishnamurthy was a participant at a display of physical strength—conducted under the aegis of the Mahārāja of Mysore—at the Gymkhana Club, which was meant for sporting events. A while after the start of the physical events, he pulled out a plantain-tree trunk that was used as a maṇṭapa decoration and brandished it like a mace. The other participants ran away, scared. Such was his strength.

By 1907–8, Krishnamurthy had become interested in public affairs. He was one of those who built a house during the early days of the Basavanagudi suburb. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly of those days. He used to participate enthusiastically in the proceedings of the Assembly.

Being convinced that agriculture is a prime need for the well-being of our country’s citizens and that modern machinery is necessary for agriculture, he corresponded with several companies abroad, procured new models of agricultural equipment, and displayed them in a large room in the front portion of his house. Tools such as ploughs, new types of weeding machines, seeding machines, harvesting machines, machines for crushing unburnt bricks, de-husking machines, cotton seed separators, new types of shovels, spades and sickles were exhibited. He had even advertised in magazines in this regard. I had seen these adverts even when I was a student. I got curious also about it. But the number of people who visited the exhibition was not much. His friends, when they had no other work, would go there, see those exhibits from a distance, and giggling, would say “Sir, you have put in a lot of effort for this. There is so much ingenuity!” So saying, they would walk away.

No loss for them; no income for him.

He ran this for a few years and then had to close shop. Some exhibits had also disappeared. This is the experience of the heralders of new progress.

Organized Brainstorming

Our Krishnamurthy had another idea. Members of the Legislative Assembly come to Mysore from all over – they come on behalf of the public, spend their money, but to what end? They would not have understood anything in-depth related to their duty. They have no idea what the thoughts of other member are about their opinions. These members ought to work in an organized way instead of being disparate. For this, they should all stay in the same camp and utilize their spare time for exchange of opinions and for discussion. Thinking thus, Krishnamurthy submitted an appeal requesting members to stay in the lodge that he organized. He took possession of Nanjaraja Bahadur choultry for this purpose. This was probably around 1908–9.

I remember going to Nanjaraja Bahadur choultry to see that attempt. A lot of dignitaries had gathered there. Venkatakrishnaiah was there. Santhebachahalli Nanjappa was there too.

Nanjappa’s handwriting was worth seeing. Whether English or Kannada, the lines, the accents, the letters, the equal spacing between letters – all these were a delight to my eyes.

Another appealing trait of Nanjappa was his wit. He was not a man of many words. But what he spoke was never without a tease. Recalling a couple of stories he related about Sanskrit pundits brings a smile to the face even now.

‘Auspicious Deed’

At that time, the topic of discussion was a plan to host a feast (At Home) for the king. I was not interested in this per se. My objective of going there was to understand what was happening with the Mahā-jana-sabhā (an assembly of dignitaries) established the year before. The honorary secretary of that Mahā-jana-sabhā was Nanjappa of Santhebachahalli. When I enquired, he smiled and said, “What is the hurry? You should not hurry, my boy” and sat me down. The question was not answered. He just joked and closed it.

Let it be. The more important thing was the sajjige and boṇḍa being prepared in the kitchen under Krishnamurthy’s orders. I realized then that people attended the event for this reason.

As it is, extremely tasty; when it’s free, tastes much better!

Krishnamurthy was already known for being rich and generous. And would it be proper to offer money for dining or snacking[1] with friends? What would they think?

This was an ‘Auspicious Deed’ as far as Krishnamurthy was concerned.

Try and Try Again

On his part, Krishnamurthy would not want to learn lessons from such experiences. When the Legislative Council was meeting at Bangalore, he persevered again to organize [a get-together]. But this time, the number was not significant. During this period, Mokshagundam Ramachandra Rao was a member of the Legislative Council. He would take me to the Council, imploring me to assist in the organizing. I was to highlight the main points of the budget and explain that. The members were to deliberate on those points and adopt a resolution at the end. Afterwards, based on the resolution, the audience were to debate it during the day’s assembly.

This was the idea.

What I could, I did, with dedication. But soon as I took up a budget point, one of the four or five members there would step out of the room saying “...will be right back.” Another would say, “It’s kind of cold. A hot coffee would be good!” Yet another would apply snuff. The couple of hours of opportunity we got would be thus frittered away.

After this experience, Ramachandra Rao also felt that the despondent words I had spoken earlier were true. We dropped the whole idea, having been convinced that we cannot take such endeavours forward.

Magadi Krishnamurthy was the one to bear the charges for all these endeavors. He was extremely disappointed.

Budget Speech

At the time when Visvesvaraya was the diwan, Magadi Krishnamurthy was a member of both the Representative Assembly as well as the Legislative Assembly. In the budget speech he made at that time, he quoted extensively from portions of Rāmāyaṇa’s kaccit-sarga. In kaccit-sarga, Lord Rāma, while advising brother Bharata on how he could administer the State, goes on to tell him about the fiscal policy:

आयस्ते विपुलः कच्चित् कच्चिदल्पतरो व्ययः |

“One should get high income, but spend less”

Listening to these examples, the audience gave out a slight giggle. On the other hand, Visvesvaraya, pleased with it, said, “What you are saying is good. We should follow that principle. Let’s think about how we can follow it in our present situation.”

In the Municipal Assembly

Krishnamurthy was a member of the Bangalore Municipality for a few years. I was his co-worker. Krishnamurthy had a slightly aggressive trait. He was not used to camouflaging or being delicate about a matter. On the one hand were his words – unrefined and not subtle; on the other hand were Puttanna Shetty’s words – refined and delicate; watching this exchange was a pastime for us.

Once there was a water distribution dispute in Bangalore. Usman Khan stood up and said, “Sir, there is one community, they come to the public tap, wash their clothes again and again, clean their vessels repeatedly, and scrub their bodies ad infinitum.” He showed this with miming and body language. Krishnamurthy, who was sitting opposite Khan, rolled up his shirt and coat sleeves (as if getting ready for a fight), stood up, and started saying, “Sir, our friends…” By then, Puttanna Chetty understood [the intended meaning] and addressed Usman Khan, “Who did you say takes much time at the public tap?”

Khan said, “I did not refer to brāhmaṇas, sir. All my customers are brāhmaṇas. If you want, I will show you the ledger.”

What else could we do but laugh.

An Idea

Ideas that don’t strike others used to strike our Krishnamurthy. I will relate one here.

“The time for brāhmaṇas to secure jobs is over. It is going to be difficult for them to live. To face this, they need to practice other livelihoods. One such is that of a barber. Brāhmaṇas have now opened hotels for a living. Scriptures say that selling of food by brāhmaṇas is prohibited. But obeying it is impossible now. If a brāhmaṇa can run a hotel, why not run a salon? If he puts up a board Brahmins’ Salon, and run it well, all brāhmaṇas may go there alone. Can’t it feed a family? Why just for brāhmaṇa men, why not a salon exclusively for brāhmaṇa widows? It will be in accordance with our rules of sanctity and practices. They will be untouched by non-brāhmaṇas.”

He used to reason this way.

Some amongst us would even ridicule such ideas.

Injury

Krishnamurthy’s last days were not filled with joy. During the early days of Mirza Saheb’s reign as the Diwan, Krishnamurthy had once been to Magadi to visit his lands. A few people surrounded him and beat him up. Krishnamurthy was injured and had to spend a few days at Bangalore’s Victoria Hospital for treatment. Then, one day, Mirza Saheb came there to enquire after his well-being. Looking at Krishnamurthy’s pain and suffering, he expressed his grief. Recounting his experience, Krishnamurthy said, “Sir, while beating me up, they were saying in Hindi – ‘Our man is the diwan; beat him up, our Mirza Saheb is there (to take care of us)’.”

Krishnamurthy was a pious man and respected tradition. After returning from a pilgrimage to Badrinath, realizing it was the right time to pass on his assets, he distributed them. A part of this munificence resulted in Karaṇika Kṛṣṇamūrtigaḻa Veda Pāṭhaśālè (a school for the study of Vedas) and the Badri-Nārāyaṇa temple within. Krishnamurthy was a virtuous man. He would not tolerate the world’s deceit. He had no counter plans for that deceit. What we need to remember is not his loss due to his naïveté but the happiness and benefit to the public due to his nature.

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

Footnotes

[1] The original has “ಫಲಾಹಾರ ಪೂಜೆ” (literally, “the worship of consuming fruits and other snacks”)

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:

Prof. Vedavyas M G is a visiting professor of Strategy and International Business at PES University, Bangalore. He is on the Advisory Board of Atria Institute of Technology. Before moving to academics, Prof. Vedavyas was Senior Vice-President at Mahindra Satyam, responsible for its global telecom business. Earlier he was the Regional Manager for Tata Consultancy Services at Birmingham. Prof. Vedavyas is a graduate of IISc., Bangalore (BE in E&C) and IIM, Bangalore (MBA). He has an abiding interest in everything Kannada.