Javagal Srinath: World’s Most Famous Mysorean?

Finally, Deccan Herald has launched its Mysore edition today. Yours truly has a piece in it on the World’s 10 Most Famous Mysoreans i.e. Mysoreans who have taken the name of our City far and wide.



To attempt to identify Mysoreans who have taken Mysore’s name far and wide is a treacherous exercise. Some will ask if these are the only people who are responsible for the City’s reputation (they are not). Some others will ask if those who do not make it to such a list have not contributed (they surely have). And still some others will ask if only the boldface achievers matter unlike those toiling anonymously (not at all).

There is even an bigger question than all these: isn’t the notion of spreading a City’s name too provincial, maybe a touch too parochial if not faddish? After all, nobody sits down to do a list of New Yorkers who made New York famous or Londoners who made London famous. So, why should we bother about Mysoreans who made Mysore famous? And what, pray, are the parameters in choosing them?

To take the first question, it matters because Mysore is, in the end, a pretty small town. Pretty, yes, but small. We may be inching towards a million, but we are still a tenth the size of Bangalore. So, whoever emerges out of our agraharas, mohallas and nagars and makes it on the national or global stage commands an aura. It’s not an inferiority complex; just an honest recognition of the fact that there is a world outside Mysore.

Naming names also matters because implicit in it is the hope that it will inspire their townsmen (and women) to excel and rekindle the dazzle of decades past.

As the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote a few years ago, the Mysore kingdom had the good fortune to be ruled by progressive maharajas and still more progressive diwans “who between them started modern industries (including a steel mill), ran efficient railways, built an impressive network of irrigation canals, patronised great musicians and artists, and created and nurtured first-rate colleges.”

But, once Bangalore became the capital of the new democratic State, Mysore has had to play second fiddle. In other words, the accomplishments of the World’s Most Famous Mysoreans are all the more important because they have come largely in spite of the State, not because of it. They might not shout they are Mysoreans from the rooftops, but in what they do or have, they epitomize the spirit of Mysore.

It is a shamelessly subjective list, of course, which does not make a distinction between those who were born in Mysore and those who merely worked here; between those alive and those no longer. And we do not even consider the maharajas (ah, democracy!) because it can be even more shamelessly admitted that without them nothing that would have been possible, and their imprint is over everything you see, touch and feel.

Still, here goes:

10. ASSORTED ARTISTS: It’s difficult to figure who made Mysore more famous in the arts, culture and literature. The man who rose to become President of India (Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan) or the man who served as advisor to three Prime Ministers (H.Y. Sharada Prasad). The man who became India’s best known sociologist (M.N. Srinivas) or the philosopher who became a byword (M. Hiriyanna). The man who was India’s best veena player (Doreswamy Iyengar) or one of its finest violinists (Chowdiah). The man who became India’s most famous cartoonist (R.K. Laxman) or one of its most famous lensmen (T.S. Satyan). But this much can be said, you could take them out of Mysore, but never could take Mysore out of them.

9. RAJA RAMANNA: Not all Mysoreans are calm, peaceful or docile. And proof comes in the shape of Raja Ramanna. In the quiet of his study and at concerts, he played piano most magnificently, sure. But in the rough and tumble of India’s atomic energy establishment, Ramanna was the proverbial hawk, guiding India’s nuclear fortunes in Pokhran and playing a key role in getting some key defence labs and outfits to the city of his birth. Upon retirement, Ramanna spent lunch after lunch with M.N. Srinivas, pining for set dosas and moaning over maiden overs bowled for Bradman Cricket Club in the 1930s.

8. JAYALALITHA JAYARAM: For the rank of the world’s most famous Mysorean woman, it has to be a toss-up between Jayalalitha Jayaram and Kamala Purnaiah-Taylor aka Kamala Markandaya. But the Tamil Nadu chief minister wins largely because it is easy to relate to her, unlike Markandaya who, in life as in death, remains a bit of a mystery, and not just to Mysoreans. But then, so does Jayalalitha, each time a battle breaks out for Cauvery water.

7. Sir M. VISVESVARAYA: If “world famous” has almost become part of the name of Brindavan Gardens, which was Mysore’s biggest tourist attraction outside of the Palace till the Cauvery dispute broke out, it is the handiwork of Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, chief engineer of the Krishnaraja Sagar dam. In setting up Asia’s first hydro-electric power plant not far away at Shivanasamudram, Sir MV showed 100 years ago what enlightened leadership and engineering vision can do for the masses. One hundreds years later, each summer, Mysore’s only Bharat Ratna reminds Mysoreans of the lack of both.

6. FAROUKH IRANI: Long before Rishi Kapoor eloped with Dimple Kapadia on the ‘Bobby’ bike and before the sleek but sissy Japanese bikes invaded our lives, the silence on Indian roads was broken by the manly rumble of the Jawa and Yezdi motorcycles. Its owners are unlikely to have looked under the hood to see the place of manufacture, but Irani set the benchmark for corporate social responsibility decades before IT companies began crowing about it. Not only did Irani run a company which made cheap, reliable bikes, he ran a great school, top-class cricket and football teams, a traffic park for children and more.

5. N.R. NARAYANA MURTHY: His Sunday morning toilet-cleaning no longer gets the media attention that starting his company from his wife’s funds does. But Mysore is a key landmark in the Infy founder’s CV. It was here he went to school, it was here he went to engineering college, and it is here he has set up Infosys’ biggest campus. As a citizen of the flat world, Murthy doesn’t proclaim the city of his origin often enough, but in setting up the leadership development centre here, he has made sure that Mysore becomes a must-visit stop for hundreds of Infoscions on the way up the corporate ladder.

4. R.K. NARAYAN: The jury will always be out on whether Mysore is Malgudi. But in opting for a career in English writing when it was far from the in-thing, R.K. Narayan showed that a fertile imagination can plough over geographical location. Whether he is the most famous Indian writer on the globe can be debated. Whether he is more famous than Kuvempu or A.K. Ramanujan is also debatable. But in his stories and characters, and in the manner in which he told them, Narayan brought the simplicity of small-town Mysore like no other. Or, maybe, it was small-town Mysore which chose its muse without our knowing.

3. THE UNSUNG ARTISAN: It isn’t just the rich and famous who have put Mysore on the world map. Long before the media darlings emerged, Mysore was well known on all the continents for its jasmine, agarbathis, sandalwood and ivory inlay work. And behind all of those were unsung, underpaid brand ambassadors who toiled manfully with scarcely any recognition or expectation. But if today Mysore is on the lips of millions, hugs and kisses must go to every restaurateur and chef who believes that splattering Mysore on the menu card is the shortest route to a customer’s wallet. Mysore Pak is most certainly ours, but Mysore Sambar, Mysore Masala Dosa, Mysore Meals, Mysore Bonda?

2. K. PATTABHI JOIS: S.T. Krishnamacharya and B.K.S. Iyengar may have preceded him in fame; and kundalini yoga may be more famous. But in transmitting ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ to the world and restoring Mysore’s place as the yoga capital in the country, few will ever match what octogenarian Pattabhi Jois has done. Starting out from a tiny nook in Lakshmipuram, Jois teaches the way to achieve the union between the jeevatma and the paramatma to the who’s who of show business, including Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow. And on any given day, Gokulam, where he now resides, resembles an Olympics Games village, with hundreds of foreigners practising the craft at the hands of Jois and his grandson, Sharath, when not zipping around the streets.

1. JAVAGAL SRINATH: There have been other international sporting superstars before him. Leg spinner B.S. Chandrashekhar for sure. And there are others like golfer Rahul Ganapathy and Davis Cupper Rohan Bopanna now. But for the frequency with which the words “Mysore Express” or “Mysore Missile” have adorned his name over a 12-year international cricketer, there is no more famous a Mysorean on the planet, at least in the 10 cricket-playing nations, than the Rama Vilas Road racehorse. And certainly, no one who in his modesty and humility despite his extraordinary accomplishments, epitomizes the true essence of the typical Mysorean. As somebody wrote recently, “The only thing un-Mysorean about him was his pace.”