A Mysore jewel very few Mysoreans know about

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: In an environment populated by pretenders of shallow learning who garner awards by the power of lobbying; by men who flaunt their learning by their power to impress; by authors whose popularity rests on caste and religious bashing, there is an uncut diamond of rare quality extracted from the deep soil of Mysore—a Mysorean whose many splendoured exploits would shame the combined merit of our latter-day stalwarts in various fields of excellence.

It has provided lustre across the globe but it not seen the light of the day back home because he is shy of publicity and because he has steadfastly chosen to remain obscure, silent, and humble to the extent of being a nonentity. Now the time has come to unearth this treasure so that we may know and feel blessed that such a person walked the streets of Mysore as many as 75 years ago.

He is Dr R.V. Ramakrishna, RVR to his friends and admirers.

A man who could count T.S. Eliot and Somerset Maugham, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan among his fans and admirers.

A man who very nearly became the first vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, was instrumental in setting up the Bal Bhavan.

A literary genius who once topped a Shakespearean contest while contesting with the cream of English literature.

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RVR, obtained a basic BSc in natural and agricultural sciences from the University of Mysore. But he has a PhD in child psychology from Sorbonne University, Paris; another PhD in agriculture sciences from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; a DSc in social psychology and rural extension from the same University; and a DLitt in English literature from the University of London.

Eliot, it is said, was amazed at RVR’s mastery of literature, religion, philosophy, psychology, music, dance, and art among a host of subjects. His favourite subject, on top of all this, was etymology but he also had intimate knowledge of Mozart, Beethovan, Chopin and Schubert.

“Here is a man who does not know his own worth, just like a flower, which is not aware of its own fragrance,” said T.S. Eliot of RVR.

That’s RVR for you, RVR from Ballal Circle, Mysore. Writer, teacher, essayist, agriculturist.

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It may be of interest to know a remarkable fact connected with his birth. It is learnt that RVR’s grandfather from his mother’s side, a man named Ramnath Cowsik, was a staunch follower of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and was closely associated with the Ramakrishna Mission.Swami Shivananda, the first President of the Ramakrishna Mutt, used to visit the family. During one of his visits in 1923, he told RVR’s mother that she was going to bear a son and asked her to name him as Ramakrishna. The tradition of prefixing ‘Rama’ got fortified since every one of RVR’s brothers name starts with ‘Rama’.

The name of their house in Mysore on Kantharaj Urs Road, behind the present Nilgiri’s department store, was appropriately named ‘Ayodhya’ for the Ramas who inhabited it. In those days, where the Nilgiri’s now stands, was Ballal Hotel, run by Ballal.

RVR’s grandfather, Ramaswamy Iyer originally hailed from Thiruchirapally and settled in Mysore in the late 19th century. He was a civil engineer and was responsible for constructing the steps to Chamundi Hills, the remnants of it can still be seen by the side of the new steps built later. He was also connected in the construction of Mysore palace.

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My interest in writing about RVR is twofold.

First, it springs from the fact that our two families knew each other for many decades and still keep in touch. During a recent visit, RVR’s brother Dr Ram Prasad, a dentist in Trichy, drew my attention to the blog he had written about RVR which impressed me profoundly.

Second, I felt it my pleasant duty to place before Mysoreans across the globe the great personality of RVR so that we get inspired to bring back the values for which Mysore was rightly famous and which lately seems to be fast fading lately.

Eldest of eight children (two daughters and six sons of whom only three sons and a daughter are surviving) born to R.V. Ram and Vani Devi, RVR married Champa in 1954 , RVR has a daughter Shailaja. At 82, he now lives in Seattle, USA, with his family. His favourite hobby: getting into the car with Champa and driving for hundreds of miles for days on end, the free spirit he is.

As children we spent many happy moments in the RVR household. The house, now a little dilapidated, essentially remains unaltered, and a jackfruit tree adjacent to the gate reminds me of old times.

My elder brother, H.R. Bapu Seetharam and my uncle H.R. Bapu Krishnamurthy were RVR’s classmates in Sarada Vilas High School way back in the late 1930s. RVR is the product of Lakshmipuram middle school where the late nuclear physicist Dr Raja Ramanna too studied.

While studying in high school, RVR took part in a variety of sports: cricket, football and table tennis. Earlier we all used to play ball badminton and RVR was the State champion in the game.

In those days, apart from taking part in school sports the favourite pastime was friends was going on long walks chatting about many topics and these three friends were no exception except that RVR would all the while concentrate on reading. He always dressed in simple dhoti. The usual route was JLB road, for all lived around Krishnamurthypuram.

Sometimes they would go to the Town Hall and eat kadle kai (groundnuts). RVR was not only a voracious reader with interests in a variety of subjects but was also equally adept in different sports which came to him naturally. His appetite was fed by the Central Library which was then located opposite the present Maharani’s College. Obviously his speed of reading and power of assimilation must have been amazing and he would complete the book in no time.

His brother tells me that he could read seven lines at a time, coming very close to President John F. Kennedy who had mastered reading nine lines at a time. In fact, this habit continued throughout his professional career to this day. Obviously, this appears to be an inherited trend from his mother.

A brief interesting background will explain this. In those days every time anything was purchased from the nearby Shetty angadi, it would be wrapped in a paper cover unlike present day plastic covers. These covers used to be the torn part of any newspaper or magazine. RVR’s mother had this habit of unwrapping and unwrinkling it and reading whatever information it contained.

As at present, in those days too ‘hale paper and khali sisa’ paperwalas (mostly Muslims) would come door to door to purchase old newspapers and magazines, which they used to sell for a profit to make their living. The negotiation of price and testing the accuracy of the balance (thakkadi) is a lively art in which the ladies of the house excel.

The paperwala who frequented the RVR household was in the habit of keeping the bundle of the newspapers and magazines in their house to be picked up later on. RVR’s mother would take the paper from the bundle to read and keep the magazine for a day or two with her to go through and give it back to the paperwala.

I am told even while cooking she would have a book in her hand. Therefore, it may be logical to assume that this habit of his mother’s rubbed off on RVR. To that extent it may not be wrong to consider his mother as his role model. Besides the mother tongue Tamil, she could speak English, Kannada and Telugu.

At that time nobody suspected that RVR would one day rise to such dizzying heights of achievements to carve a unique niche winning laurels in many diverse areas.

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It is unbelievable that even to this day Mysoreans are largely unaware of the sweep of his learning and the prestigious awards he has won. During his student days he did not exhibit any extraordinary potential and was like any other student, quite ordinary.

The nearest that the people of Karnataka came to know about RVR was when he was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of University of Agriculture Sciences, Hebbal.

At that time it was ranked third and was sliding down. Within a brief period of four months, RVR was reversing the trend. However, due to difference of opinion, RVR submitted his resignation. It was the students who submitted a memorandum to the Governor to retain RVR. S.R.Bommai was the Chief Minister. Unfortunately, the government of the day failed to use the golden opportunity and RVR left because he would not compromise on principles.

That in a nutshell is RVR—the rarest of gems, who has now set up a Rs 2 crore foundation to provide donations to institutions dealing with physically handciapped and mentally challenged children.

Words fail me to come to grips with his personality and the overwhelming sentiment is one of incredulity. As a Mysorean I feel humbled and deem it a great honour to be able place before all a snapshot of what he stands. For the benefit of Mysoreans, nay, for the whole of India if not the world, for he belongs to all.