During the construction of the KRS Dam in Mysore in 1924, the chief engineer had a peculiar habit. They used candles for lighting in those days. Every evening at 7 pm, the chief engineer would extinguish his candles, pull out another set of candles from his suitcase and light those instead.
His mystified assistant asked him why he did this every evening. And the chief engineer replied, “Upto 7 pm, I do official work, for which I use the candles supplied by the government. After 7 pm, I do my personal work, for which I use my personal candles. I will never use government candles for my personal work.”
That was Bharat Ratna Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvarayya, the first global-level engineer produced by our country. Today is his 156th birthday. This day is celebrated as Engineers Day in India.
Sir MV as he was popularly known, was an engineering genius, a statesman, scholar, former Diwan of Mysore and a man of exceptional integrity. Here in Bangalore, MV is known as the Father of modern Karnataka.
MV was born in Muddenahalli, a small village about 80 km from Bangalore. After obtaining his BA from Central College Bangalore, he did his civil engineering from the College of Science at Pune. His first job was at the Public Works Department at Bombay. From there he went on to work with the Indian Irrigation Commission. He designed complex irrigation systems in Maharashtra and Gujarat (then known as Bombay Presidency) and automatic floodgates for the Khadakvasla dam at Pune, for the first time in India. After that, Sir MV designed and implemented one mega-project after another across India.
Opting for early retirement at the age of 48, MV continued to work as a consulting engineer. At the request of the Nizam of Hyderabad, MV designed a unique system of tanks to contain the devastating annual floods in Hyderabad. The famous Tank Bund that connects the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad is MV’s brainchild. Soon after, in 1908, MV was appointed as the Chief Engineer of Mysore and later the Diwan of Mysore, till 1919. The first thing that MV did after he became the Diwan was to invite all his relatives for dinner. At the end of that dinner, MV told them never to approach him for any personal favors!
During his tenure, Mysore flourished, as he implemented irrigation works, power projects, factories, public institutions and engineering colleges throughout the kingdom. His greatest achievement was the Krishnarajasagar Dam at Mysore. The dam was one the largest in the world at that time.
In 1915, he was knighted by the British, and after independence, during the tenure of Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister, Sir MV received India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna in 1955.
In acknowledgement, MV wrote to Nehru, “If you feel that by giving me this title, I will praise your government, you will be disappointed.”
That was the man he was.
In turn, Nehru wrote back that the award was given to Sir MV for his services, and not to silence him!
MV had a simple and clear policy – Industrialise or Perish. That policy frequently put him at odds with Mahatma Gandhi, although he had a good personal relationship with him. In fact, MV openly opposed Gandhi’s non-co-operation movement in 1921. And he went even further. In a letter to Gandhi on the eve of the first Round Table Conference in London in 1930, Sir MV advised him to wear proper clothes! MV was an immaculate dresser himself, always seen in well-tailored suits and a characteristic Mysore peta on his head.
MV led a spartan life. He was a strict vegetarian and teetotaller. His fondness for Nanjangud bananas was well known. Unfortunately, that variety is almost extinct in Karnataka now.
MV died in Bangalore in 1962 at the age of 102 and was cremated at Muddenahalli, his birthplace. Muddenahalli is now being developed as a premier academic hub in South India.
“It is better to serve like steel, than rust and wither away like iron”. … Sir M Visvesvarayya, Sept 15, 1860 – April 14, 1962.
Cheers … Srini.