Sir M Visvesvaraya, popularly known as Sir MV, was a man who excelled at many different fields. He is remembered today as an engineer par excellence, a highly respected statesman and a visionary thinker.
His Early Life and Beginnings
Sir MV was born in Muddenahalli, a village in Karnataka, on 15th September 1860 to Srinavasa Sastry and Venkachamma. He completed his high school education from Wesley Mission High School and his graduation from Central College – both in Bangalore. He was a very bright student.
He went on to pursue a course in civil engineering in Pune, having received a scholarship for the same. While there, he was awarded the James Berkley Gold Medal for outstanding performance.
He led a very simple life. He was a strict vegetarian and a teetotaler. He would go to sleep by 10 P.M. and wake up at 6 A.M. His diet included a very light breakfast, two slices of bread or chappatis, vegetables without spices, rasam, curds, Nanjangud bananas for lunch.
Engineering Feats and Achievements
Sir M Visvesvaraya’s first job was as an Assistant Engineer at the Public Works Department under the government of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. He had a long and eventful career in the field of engineering, during which he also served as the Chief Engineer of the erstwhile State of Mysore.
Sir MV was the driving force behind the construction of many major dams and water supply schemes across the country. The famous Krishna Raja Sagar dam in Mysore is one of these.
The use of automatic sluice gates, an engineering innovation applied in many dams across the country, was Sir MV’s idea. He became the Dewan of the State of Mysore in 1912 and during his tenure; he took immense interest in shaping new developments in education and other fields.
He was instrumental in the formation of Mysore University as well as two other well-known educational institutions of Bangalore – Visvesvaraya College of Engineering and University of Agricultural Sciences.
He also played an integral role in setting up the Mysore Iron and Steel Works, Bhadravathi, and the Bank of Mysore (now State Bank of Mysore). It is important to bear in mind, however, that these are just a few of his many achievements.
His book, Planned Economy for India, published in 1936 was the first attempt at nation building. He would work only on one project at a time. He would carry various engineering plans in his car.
Job Positions Held By Sir MV
Sir MV was the first-ever technocrat India saw.
Some of the job positions he held were
Assistant Engineer, Bombay Government Service [in 1884]
Chief Engineer, Hyderabad State [he served only for 7 months starting April 15, 1909]
Chief Engineer in Mysore State [Nov 15, 1909]. He was also Secretary to the Railways.
President of Education and Industrial Development committees in Mysore State
Member of the Governing Council of Tata Iron and Steel Company [TISCO]
Member of Back Bay enquiry committee, London
Member of a committee constituted in 1917 to make recommendations regarding the future of Indian States.
Sir M.V. retired in 1908 and Sri Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, Maharaja of Mysore, was eager to secure the services of Visvesvaraya to serve Mysore. He joined as Chief Engineer in Mysore because he wanted challenging opportunities. Sir M.V. had earned a reputation for his honesty, integrity, ability and intelligence. He had introduced compulsory education in the State which later was embodied as a fundamental right in the Constitution of independent India.
Sir MV – the Entrepreneur
To name few of the many things he was responsible for:
Architect of the Krishnarajasagara dam – or KRS or Brindavan gardens. One of the biggest dams in India which irrigates a hundred and twenty thousand acres of land. This was built at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore. It changed a barren Mandya district into rice granary, provides drinking water to Mysore and Bangalore.
Mysore University – Sir M.V.’s question was “If Australia and Canada could have universities of their own for less than a million population, cannot Mysore with a population of not less that 60 lakhs have a University of its own?”
Sir M.V. was never interested in fame or publicity. But they came to him on their own. Every university in India sought him out to confer honoris causa. The universities of Allahabad, Andhra, Bombay, Calcutta, Jadhavpur, Mysore, Patna and Varanasi.
Some of the honours and laurels conferred on Sir M.V.,
Honorary Membership of London Institution of Civil Engineers for an unbroken period of 50 years
“Kaisar-i-Hind” in recognition of his services
C.I.E. (Companion of the Indian Empire) at the Delhi Darbar
K.C.I.E. (Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire)
There is no dearth of interesting anecdotes about Sir MV.
Some of these revolve around him being a stickler for punctuality and a strict disciplinarian; there are others that dwell on his sense of honesty, integrity and professionalism. The fact that he was always impeccably dressed has also been well-documented.
When Sir MV was offered the position of Dewan of Mysore State, it is said that he invited his relatives for dinner. He told them that he would take up the offer on one condition: that they (the relatives) should not come and ask him to use his position as Dewan to help them get their personal work done.
Bank Balance of Sir MV
“Indian Express” on March 24, 2005 (by Arindam Bhattacharjee) carried an article which how simple Sir MV was and how diligently he maintained his accounts.
Sir MV maintained an account with Bank of Mysore, which is now State Bank of Mysore. Sir MV had Rs 990 on March 27, 1918, which increased to Rs 11,487 on March 3, 1919. His account had thrice attracted interests of Rs 14, Rs 66 and Rs 117 during this period. An entry in the passbook on Nov 18, 1918 reveals he got Rs 13,486 transferred to this current account from a fixed deposit account.
Sir MV And Mahatma Gandhi
Sir M.V. belongs to that small band of eminent Indians whose ideas and achievements have been among the truly creative and formative force of modern India. Sir M.V.’s slogan was Industrialize or Perish and Mahatma Gandhiji’s view was Industrialize and Perish.
In 1921 Gandhiji launched his non-cooperation movement which Sir M.V. did not agree with. Sir M.V. wrote to Gandhiji urging him to be better dressed in view of the upcoming Round Table Conference. Sir M.V. used to be immaculately dressed.
In August 1927 Mahatma Gandhi visited Mysore State (reported in September 1, 1927 issue of YoungIndia). In a speech during that visit Gandhi said,
Bhadravathi (Iron Works), like Krishnarajasagar Dam, is a tribute to the patriotism and constructive genius of Visvesvaraya, who has placed his talents, knowledge and industry and all his time and energy at the service of Mysore. One thing that strikes us most here is that the whole undertaking is from top to bottom a self-contained one. The originator is a Mysorean, at any rate, entirely South Indian. That is a thing about which you and India may well be proud.
Books Authored & Contributed By Sir MV
Planned Economy for India, 1861-1962, Bangalore, Bangalore Press, 1934
Memoirs of my Working Life, Bangalore (1954)
Unemployement in India: Its causes and cure, Bangalore City, Bangalore Press, 1932
Prosperity through Industry Move towards rapid industrialization (Second edition), Bombay, All-India Manufacturer’s Organization, 1943
Post-War Reconstruction in India (Address at the quarterly meeting of the Central Committee, September 2, 1943), All-India Manufacturer’s Organization
Nation building: a five-year plan for the provinces, Bangalore City, Bangalore Press, 1937
District development scheme: Economic progress by forced marches, Bangalore, 1940
A Brief Memoir of my Complete Working Life, Bangalore, 1960
Sir MV’s Final Years
Sir MV’s extraordinary feats resulted in the government of India bestowing him with the Bharat Ratna award in the year 1955.
The centenary of the birth of Sir M.V. was celebrated in Lalbagh in Bangalore. Prime Minister Nehru flew down to Bangalore by a special plane to honour the greatest son of India. Sri Jayachamaraja Wodiyar presided over the function.
Sir MV’s house in Muddenahalli. Photographer Raghu
Sir. M.V. died on April 12, 1962 at the age of 102 years, 6 months and 8 days. As per his wish, he was cremated in his birth place, Muddanahalli.
The memorial at Muddenahalli is good but it is not taken care well. Not sure how he would react to the state of affairs in Karnataka or India in general if he was alive today. Government hesitates to release Rs 3 lakh for Karnataka’s icon [May 5, 2008 / Deccan Herald].
Prime Ministers of India have rarely paid rich tributes to Sir MV on his birthday. We are glad to see a change,
Greetings to my engineer friends on Engineer's Day. Tributes to Bharat Ratna M. Visvesvaraya on his birth anniversary.