It was a life of dichotomies for Bharat Ratna Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya.
Was he more a dreamer or a pragmatist? It’s difficult to tell. All the engineering marvels that he brought to life for the erstwhile Mysore state were, after all, first born in this intellectual giant’s mind.
The decisions he took though, in the course of his primarily left-brained, process-driven work, were actually instinctive at the very core. It was a perfect marriage (if there is such a thing) of procedure and creativity.
Taking up a study of the life of the engineering phenomenon, Sir MV, can be both humbling and inspiring. That the Central Library in Cubbon Park has such few books of the architect of modern Karnataka will not be a deterrent. The few books of less than 50 pages that the librarian dusts and hands out are enough to unravel the details of an extraordinary life that has seen, perhaps, no match in discipline, accomplishments, principles and moral conduct.
The architect of Krishnaraja Sagar dam, the man who engineered the automatic locking system for the gates, architect of the dam over River Moosa, the list of his accomplishments is endless. When he was the Dewan of Mysore, he set up the Sandal Oil Factory, the Soap Factory, the Metals Factory, the Chrome Tanning Factory, and so much more.
A journey to his birthplace, Muddenahalli, at the foot of the Nandi Hills in Chikballapur district, 60 km from Bangalore, unfolds a whole new perspective to the life of Sir MV.
It’s hard to imagine how a young Visvesvaraya showed the resilience to walk the distance to meet his mother in Chikballapur to get the fees for an exam on time; or even how he could maintain such incredible discipline in his professional life.
Inside the Sir M Visvesvaraya museum which stands next to the house where he was born, are glimpses of his life. He had a fixed time table everyday. At 25, it was 5 to 7.30 am: Read parabola, mark useful formulae; 7.30 to 9 am: private affairs; 9 am to 12 noon: office work; 12 to 12.30 pm: Important office work and 7 to 9 pm: Field work and gauge books. Even when he was 95, he had a time table. 7 am: Breakfast; 7.30 am to 12.30 pm: Study and work; 3 to 5 pm: Attend post and correspondence; 5 pm: Walk; 8 pm: Dinner and 9 pm: Newspaper reading.
Of his book collection displayed at the museum, two books stand out simply because they are not related to science or engineering – Poems of Kabir and Promotion of General Happiness. Among the other items owned by Sir MV is also a dictionary presented to him by Charles Waters, who was the principal of Central College where Sir MV studied; a 1928 Woodstock brand typewriter, his spectacles, the bed with simple wrought iron carved head and a regal chair. The backyard of his home overlooks the Nandi Hills and still has the flowering plants and the trees that Sir MV might have played around as a child.
There are more gems of Sir MV’s life at 28, Museum Road, in Bangalore. Mokshagundam Satish and his wife, Lakshmi, have lovingly preserved souvenirs from his life in their house which is over 80 years old. “To us, he was just thatha (granddad). He used to check on us kids every evening,” he says. In their living room is an ornate vase which Visvesvaraya brought from his travels to Indonesia. There are other such articles of him which Satish wants displayed at the museum once they are able to extend the museum.
But to capture the greatness of Sir MV’s work, however, is not easy. ‘We are limited not by our abilities but by our vision,’ goes a saying. Visvesvaraya, fortunately, had abundance of both.