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The day Sir MV blackmailed DVG!

THE real greatness of a city is measured not only by its monuments, institutions and infrastructure, but also by the greatness of the people who have been nurtured on its soil, and who, in turn, have contributed to its growth and identity.

You might know of a road in Basavanagudi called DVG Road. It is named after a man of rare character: D.V. Gundappa. We had written about him in our last column of Snippets, but for those of you who may not remember, we'll repeat a few salient points.

D.V. Gundappa, born in 1889, was a matriculate who started working as a journalist at the age of 16. Two years later, he was publishing his own newspaper. He went on to become a titan of Kannada literature, writing on subjects that covered philosophy and literature, sociology and history.

Those of us who consider citizens' initiatives a modern day phenomenon, should know that DVG was a passionate activist, ever ready to give his time for a worthy cause. He was the moving spirit behind the Popular Education League and the Social Service League. In 1945, he set up the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, a forum intended to awaken national consciousness among people. He was also the Founder-Editor of the Institute's journal, Public Affairs.

It so happened that one of DVG's closest friends was the famous engineer-statesman, Sir M. Visvesvaraya (Dewan of Mysore between 1912-1918). They met often and, over filter coffee and vadais, would have long, intense discussions. Most of their conversations covered matters relating to the state and its development—subjects close to both their hearts.

Sir MV sensed that although DVG contributed generously of himself to the community, on a personal level, his friend lived in near-penury. Wanting to help, Sir MV pointed out that their discussions were invaluable to him in the discharge of his professional duties as Dewan. He would, therefore, like to make DVG's contribution official by appointing him Consultant to the Kingdom of Mysore.

DVG refused to consider the idea. "My vritti dharma (vocation) is writing and journalism. I cannot take money for conversations with a friend", he said. Unable to persuade him otherwise, Sir MV agreed to go along with DVG's decision—on condition that they discussed only personal matters henceforth. A sort of blackmail, so to speak!

For a man of DVG's wide-ranging interests, this was as hard a punishment as could be imposed. And as Sir MV expected, DVG capitulated after a few meetings and reluctantly agreed to be a Consultant. The Mysore Treasury issued him generous cheques at regular intervals. Sir MV felt pleased that his friend was enjoying a few justly earned rewards.

Time passed. DVG died in 1975, about fifty years after the incident which we have just recounted. Amongst his few possessions was a steel trunk. When family members opened it, they were shocked to see a stack of cheques of the face value of Rs 1200, Rs 900, Rs 1400… amounts that would have added up to the equivalent of several lakhs in 1975.

All the cheques were issued by the Mysore Treasury, paid to DVG for his services as Consultant. Not a single cheque had been cashed. Despite the fact that they came at periods when he had suffered dire monetary difficulties.

Sometimes the greatness of a man can be measured not so much by what he does, as by what he doesn't do.