Er Rabinder Shekher, MIE
September 15 is celebrated every year in the country as “Engineers’ Day” to commemorate the birthday of the legendry engineer, son of soil Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya. Sir M. Visvesvaraya,an eminent Indian engineer and statesman was born on15th. Of September 1861 in a remote village of Karnataka, the state that is incidentally now the Hi-tech State of the country. While we celebrate this day to mark his birth day, there are many things to consider now in the present scenario, whether we have really achieved what Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya perceived at that time. Now the question is why we celebrate his birthday as “Engineers ‘Day” every year. His achievements can run into hundreds of pages but I would like to limit this inspirational tribute to a few of his personal qualities & habits which we can pledge toady to imbibe into our own lives and inspire future generations.
Honesty & Work Ethics
Free from ego
Dedication & excellence
1. Honesty & Work Ethics: While being in Govt service, Sir MV was entitled to an office car but he refused it without second thoughts. While all of his colleagues accepted such office cars and used them for personal use as well, Sir MV saved money for several years and finally bought a car for his personal use.
Here is another interesting anecdote about Sir MV’s work ethics. When a friend visited him one fine evening, he was working on a document and was asked to wait. After sometime, Sir MV turned off the lamp, kept his pen & papers aside & pulled out another lamp and took another set of pen and papers. The friend found it strange and hesitatingly asked him if there was something wrong in the other pen, paper & lamp. Sir MV calmly explained him that he was doing office work till then and hence was using office lamp and stationery. Now that he will be doing his personal work (with his friend), it would require his personal lamp & stationery!! Do we do this in our life or can image to even emulate this quality.
2.Discipline: Sir MV used to wake up at 4:30am every morning and would report to office by 7am with clean and tidy clothes which he used to himself wash and iron. From 7am, he used to work till 8pm. Whenever he was supposed to deliver a speech, he would rehearse it for hours with discipline. His punctuality was so sharp that there are even folklores about it, one being that people of Mysore used to set their watches after seeing him on his way to office.
(3) Free from ego: During his old age, Sir MV visited USA with his Indian group to learn about a steel factory & metallurgical procedures. A friendly American officer guided them throughout the factory and after demonstrating all the usual mid-sized equipments, the officer finally demonstrated a gigantic machine and told them that in order to understand how it works, one has to climb the 75 foot ladder. While his group members who were mostly youngsters hesitated to step forward (thinking they are highly qualified to climb on ladders), Sir MV immediately removed his coat & shoes and started climbing the ladder.
(4) Dedication & excellence: He did his work with passion & dedication and always gave his best. One of his popular quote being: “Remember, your work may be only to sweep a railway crossing, but it is your duty to keep it so clean that no other crossing in the world is as clean as yours”
It’s not an exaggeration to claim that his life was a synonym for all of these – from his dressing, food habits, and conduct. He maintained a strict separation of the professional and the personal. He would carry two separate sets of candles – one to use when he was engaged in office work and the other for his private reading, etc in places that were yet un-electrified. He never allowed his friends and relatives to come anywhere close to his official matters, much less do them favours, an aspect that earned him severe ire in those circles. However, on the side, he set aside a substantial portion of his earnings to help the poor but deserving get an education.
Indeed, there exist legendary anecdotes regarding Sir MV’s professional strictness. A certain matter had remained unresolved for months, and the files related to them lost in the bureaucratic maze at the secretariat. Despite countless reminders, when the documents remained missing, he recorded his frustration thus: “The secretariat has neither a body to kick nor a soul to damn. At this rate, how can work go on?”
His life spanning just over a century is an eminent testimony and a user manual of all-round accomplishment, and a lesson on living life fruitfully.
Yet another instance showcases his economic vision. Until his time, the state treasury had stashed up enormous sums of money as reserves to be used for contingencies like natural disasters, etc. Sir MV viewed them as dead capital. Instead, he opined that if they could be used well, they would come handy in creating national assets, having lasting value. And so when he implemented this vision, he gave the Mysore State – and the nation – lasting assets like the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam and as a consequence, rapid, massive electrification and industrial growth.
Two other prominent episodes testify the holistic and all-encompassing foresight of Sir MV towards nation building. The first is his wholehearted support for the advancement of the Indian Institute of Science (for long known as the Tata Institute), founded by Jamset ji Tata, who took Swami Vivekananda as his inspiration. The second is Sir MV’s tireless efforts to start automobile manufacturing in Bengaluru in which he was aided by the industrialist Walchand Hirachand Seth. The project was scuttled by the British and Walchand Hirachand eventually founded the Hindustan Aircraft, now known as HAL.
On a lighter note, we can cite DV Gundappa’s anecdote of the manner of Sir MV’s afternoon “rest”, which he believed was invigorating. His concept of rest included hanging his turban to a nail, curling up while seated on the chair, pencil in one hand and paper in the other. The eyelids would be closed. This “rest” would conclude after 10 minutes. DV Gundappa notes philosophically and admiringly that sleep was firmly under Sir MV’s control, a form of self-restraint.
As a corollary of sorts, we can also cite a very humbling anecdote that establishes Sir MV’s personality like no other. In 1958, he attended the diamond jubilee of the iconic Modern Hindu Hotel to which he had contributed in no small measure. It had rained a fair bit that evening. After the celebrations and dinner, when he headed out, DV Gundappa was concerned that the 97 year-old MV might step into one of the water-clogged potholes in the hotel’s compound, and offered him his walking stick. He accepted it and in the immediate second, threw it away, exclaiming, “one had better perish than live so helplessly!”
It was this force of character – apart from his other attainments – that attracted eminent men to Sir M Visvesvaraya: Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopala Krishna Gokhale, DV Gundappa, Sir Mirza Ismail (who later became the Diwan of Mysore), GA Natesan, and the Nizam of Hyderabad among others.
Sir MV who believed – and practiced – that merit and competence were the only factors in deciding government jobs naturally opposed this. But he was helpless in the face of mounting agitation that listened to neither sage counsel nor reason. MV applied for leave for a year and travelled abroad. Upon his return, he resigned. Thus ended an illustrious career in public and national service on 9 December, 1918.
Post retirement, he lived on rent in a bungalow named ‘Uplands’ near the Bengaluru Golf Course. Eventually, he had to vacate it because the owner had other plans. Sir Mirza Ismail and DV Gundappa suggested that he move back to the Balabrooie bungalow, which he had occupied as Diwan. Sir MV responded that he could afford a maximum of Rs 150 as rent, but that the bungalow commanded a far higher rental value. Herein lies a lesson for the innumerable government-bungalow squatters of our own time – former ministers, MPs, and sons, daughters and families thereof, etc. That the court had to actually order their evictions is a testimony of this descent.
Sir MV was also a prolific writer of inspirational essays and short books aimed at the youth. Of these, DV Gundappa highly recommends his autobiographical Memoirs of My Working Life as a book that “must necessarily be in circulation,” and says that for the youth distracted by various ideologies and temptations, this book is like an “unwavering pillar of light”. Indeed, it’s a tragedy of sorts that a definitive biography of this eponymous Bharata Ratna is still waiting to be written. We can close this essay with DV Gundappa’s pithy assessment of Sir M Visvesvaraya’s life and work.
An engineer is not only someone who has the knowledge of design and execution, but also stands by ethics, dedication & excellence and Sir MV is the epitome of these values. Even after retirement from engineering & administrative services, Sir MV was involved in several national committees & advisory bodies where he repeatedly emphasized over the role of engineering & technology in national development. The Govt of India conferred him with the nation’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, in recognition of his dedication & contributions towards engineering. Sir MV had dedicated his life towards nation building and he epitomized all the qualities of an ideal engineer throughout this life. Hence it is but natural for India to honor him by celebrating his birthday as Engineers’ Day.
(The author is Chartered Engineer & Professional EngineerLMIRC, LMIAStructE (I), LMIIBE, MIBC, MACCE (I))
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