Some people are born great. On some greatness is thrust. But the real great are those who achieve greatness by hard work, by using their mind for creative positive thinking or by serving the nation.
One hardly knew that Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, born at Muddenhalli in Mysore State in the family of an ordinary Ayurved Physician would one day be the pride not simply of the South but of the whole nation. He was not born great, nor was greatness thrust upon him. Still the unassuming boy, born on September 15, 1861 who lost his father when he was only fourteen rose from strength to strength to be the sixth Bharat Ratna in 1955. He is one of the thirty-six bright stars on the national horizon, rather one of the ten dazzling suns who received the highest national award not for being a political figure but for devoting their lives to the constructive works—the pillars on which the nation stands.
The bright chap graduated from Central College, Bangalore staying with his uncle but meeting his expenses through tuitions. He was so bright that the Principal would ask him to teach Mathematics to the students in the class. With all this labour, walking 15 kilometers a day Visvesvaraya secured distinction in his degree examination that secured him a scholarship from the Mysore State Government to join Science College, Pune.
Topping the list of successful candidates in Civil Engineering he joined Bombay Public Works Department in 1884 as assistant engineer. Although the young Engineer shared the national sentiments of Tilak and Ranade he decided to work honestly and assiduously to improve the standard of living of the people.
As a Civil Engineer Visvesvaraya completed some challenging projects. Undertaking two well known projects of supplying drinking water to Sukhur in Sindh and Aden in South Yemen from dirty beds of Indus and sandy channels he earned the title of Kaiser-e-Hind from the British Government. He showed his ingenuity in building automatic sluice gates at the Khadakvasla dam and in bringing relief to poor peasants by building a number of canals and dams. The sense of humiliation for not being promoted to the post of Chief Engineer, a post reserved for Britishers, obliged him to resign in 1908.
The last 55 years of Visvesvaraya, from 1909 to 1962, when he left for his, heavenly abode are a saga of great achievements. As Chief Engineer of Mysore State he completed the Kannambadi or the Krishnaraja Sagar dam in Mysore city, harnessing the waters of Kaveri River. It was the biggest dam in India completed in 1932. It stores 48,000 cubic feet of water and generates 60,000 KW of electricity. None, who visits Mysore can forget the beautiful Brindavan gardens and its musical fountain through which runs a rivulet from the dam to meet the river again.
1912 saw him as the Dewan (Prime Minister) of Mysore State. He worked with great dedication and gave push to democratic trends in the state. Public opinion-was given importance. Not caring even for the British Resident he gave full freedom to the Press.
In 1919, at 58 he had differences with the Maharaja who wanted to gain political mileage by giving reservation to certain communities at the cost of efficiency. He resigned. But by 1918 he had already gifted a number of organizations and projects to the State including Bank of Mysore, Malnad Improvement Scheme, Mysore University and plans for Bhadrawathi Iron Works and power station at Jog.
The latter achievements of the ex-Dewan were efforts for Hindustan Aircraft Plant in Banglore and Vizag Shipyard. But he played the role of a constructive adviser to the Government of India. The old man lived for his ideals and worked to the last moment of his life. His ideal was to ‘work out than rust out’. M. S. Aney paid a tribute to the great soul—’Duty before comfort is the ideal of Visvesvaraya. His quest for knowledge, his great patriotism, his attitude to work, his love for the poor and his secret of good health would inspire the coming generations for ever.