Get inspired from the life of Great Shri.Visvesvaraya

 The Struggle for Education


Visvesvaraya was born in Muddenahalli in the Chikkaballapur Taluk of Kolar District (Mysore State), on the 15th of September 1861.


Visvesvaraya completed his early education in Chikkaballapur; then he came to Bangalore for higher education. He joined the Central College.


But his pocket was empty and with no roof over his head!


A family from Coorg in South India was looking for a tutor for the children. Visvesvaraya, himself a student, became their tutor. He lived with them and also earned a few rupees.


The poverty-stricken lad stood high in the B.A. Examination in 1881. He got some help from the Government of Mysore and joined the Science College in Poona to study Engineering. In 1883 he ranked first in the L.C.E. and the F.C.E. Examinations (these were like the B.E. Examination of today).


As soon as the results were out the Government of Bombay offered MV a post. He was appointed Assistant Engineer at Nasik.

MV was only thirty-two. The Government appointed a Committee; it was to find ways of helping irrigation. Once again it was Visvesvaraya who found a solution. He devised a new system called the Block System. He devised steel doors; these could stop the wasteful flow of water in dams. Even British officers were full of praise for the invention.

From Bombay Visvesvaraya went to Hyderabad as Chief Engineer. His great achievement in Hyderabad was the taming of the river Moosa. This river divides the city into two. In 1908 the river was in floods as never before. The waters of the river poured into many houses, and men and cattle were carried away. Visvesvaraya planned dams to tame both the Moosa and another river, the Isa..

Visvesvaraya was the Chief Engineer of Mysore for three years.In those days the Maharaja used to appoint the ministers. There used to be three ministers and the Chief Minister was called the Dewan. In 1912 the Maharaja choose Visvesvaraya as his Dewan.

As the Dewan of Mysore -And Ideal Administrator

Soon after Visvesvaraya became the Dewan, one of his relatives went to him. He was a man whom MV liked and respected. He was in Government service. He wanted a higher post; that would have given him another fifty rupees a month.

Visvesvaraya said ‘No’. But, as long as the relative was alive, he paid him a hundred rupees every month from his pocket.

As the Dewan, he got a car from the Government for his use. He used the Government car for government work; for his private work he used his own car. He was such an honest man.

The Dewan would be neatly dressed and ready for work by seven in the morning. There was not a crease or a wrinkle anywhere on his clothes. He worked steadily and methodically till one in the Afternoon. He was back to work at three and till eight at night he was at his desk.

It is the duty of ministers to tour the state and meet the people and find out what they need, isn’t it? MV had his own way of touring a district. Before the visit, officers were asked to send information about the district. How do the farmers get water, how many tanks are there in the district, how many wells, how many hospitals and how many schools, how many acres of land are used for agriculture – these and a hundred other questions had to be answered by different departments. They had also to explain the needs of the district. Then the Dewan went to the district. He held discussions with the officers and with members of the public.

Then he took decisions. As soon as he returned to Bangalore every officer who was to do some thing got a letter. It told him what he was to do. So the Dewan’s visit was made most useful to the Government and to the people.

Visvesvaraya believed in the value of education. In those days colleges in Mysore State were under Madras University. Because of MV’s firmness and fight, Mysore University came into being. It was the first university in an Indian state governed by an Indian ruler. MV also made arrangements for the government to give scholarships to intelligent students to go to foreign countries for studies.

The Retired Dewan Has Not a Moment’s Leisure

In 1918 Sri MV retired voluntarily. People think retirement means rest. MV lived for 44 years after he retired from service. He was 101 when he died. Except in the last few days when he was very weak, he wore himself out for the country.

From his boyhood Visvesvaraya was eager to learn new things. (When he was past one hundred, a relative was going to Madras; he asked MV, “What shall I bring you from Madras?” Said Sir MV, “Bring a good Modern English Dictionary.”)

Ten years after he retired from government service, floods in the Bhadra put a stop to the work in the Steel Factory in Bhadravati. It fell to Sir MV’s lot to set things right. The General Manager of the factory, an American, said it would take at least six months to reopen the factory. Sir MV thought the period was too long. The officer was stubborn. Sri MV removed him. In a few days he got the factory going. Many officers in the factory belonged to other countries; naturally they were not as interested in the working of the factory as Indians. MV got a number of engineers of Mysore trained. In three years Mysoreans took the places of the foreigners.

It was MV’s dream to start an Automobiles Factory and an Aircraft Factory in Mysore State. He worked in this direction from 1935. The Hindustan Aircraft Factory (now called the Hindustan Aeronautics) in Bangalore, and the Premier Automobile Factory in Bombay owe much to his efforts.

The rivers of Orissa were frequently in floods; they caused a lot of trouble to the people. It was necessary to tame the rivers and to use the waters for the welfare of the people. MV studied the problems and prepared a report. This report paved the way for the construction of the Hirakud and other huge dams.

Bharata Ratna (The Gem of India)

Any state should be lucky to have a minister of Visvesvaraya’s ability. Would any salary be too high for such a genius? The Maharaja’s secretary suggested to the Maharaja that MV’s salary should be raised; he had not consulted MV. Visvesvaraya came to know about it. He wrote to the Maharaja saying that he did not want a rise.

For sometime, when the Bhadravati Factory was in trouble, he worked as the Chairman. At that time, the Government had not decided the salary. It took some years to do so; the Government owed him more than a hundred thousand rupees. But he did not touch a rupee even. He told the Government, “Start an institute where boys can learn some profession.” The Institute was about to start work. The Government wanted to name it after Visvesvaraya. But he said, “Name it after the Maharaja of Mysore.” This is the Sri Jayachamaraja Polytechnic Institute of Bangalore.

Free India honors great servants of the country every year by awarding titles. The highest of this award is ‘Bharata Ratna’. In 1955 Visvesvaraya was made a ‘Bharata Ratna’, the Gem of India.

His memory was an amazing as his genius.

We saw how in 1908 he tamed the Moosa. Fifty years later, one day, there was a discussion about the river, and he referred to some detail. Then he called a servant and, pointing to a bookshelf, said, “Bring the three or four books in the middle of the third row.” Then he opened one of them and pointed to the detail under discussion on one page. He was 96 or 97 when this happened.

How did Visvesvaraya use his genius and  his extraordinary memory? This is the important question. He was the embodiment of discipline and hard work. He was never late by a minute and he never wasted a minute. Once a minister was late by three minutes; MV advised him to be punctual. A man should do any work he undertakes methodically – that was his firm faith. Every man should understand his responsibility and do his best – which was the essence of his teaching. He practised this very honestly, and there are hundreds of instances to show this.

In 1947 he was the President of the All India Manufacturers’ Association. He had to make a speech at a function. Some of his friends were staying with him. On the day of the function they woke up at half past four in the morning. What they saw astonished them; Sir MV, who was 87, was already up and faultlessly dressed; he was walking up and down; he had in his hands a copy of the speech he was to make and was carefully reading it!

In 1952 he went to Patna. He was to study a plan for a bridge across the Ganga. The sun was cruel and the heat unbearable. MV was 92. There were parts of the site to which he could not go by car. The Government had arranged to have him carried in a chair. MV did not use the chair; he got off the car and walked briskly. The Government had also arranged for his stay in the GuestHouse. He would have been comfortable there. But he stayed in the railway coach and went on with the work.

A hundred such instances of his discipline and devotion to work can be listed. He once said, “The curse of our country is laziness. At first sight every one seems to be working. But in fact, one man works and the others watch him. As someone said with contempt, ‘it looks as if five men are working. But really only one-man works. One man will be doing nothing. One man will be resting. Another man will be watching them. Yet another man will be helping these three.”

Visvesvaraya was dedicated to work. He was also a man of spotless honesty. We saw how, as the Dewan, he refused to favor a relative. In 1918 he decided to give up the Dewanship. He had to give the Maharaja his letter. He went to the palace in the Government car. He returned in his own car. Those were days when people had to work by candlelight. MV used, for official work, the stationery and the candles supplied by the Government; for his private work he used stationery and candles which he had bought.

MV had the courage of his convictions. He did what he thought was right and was not afraid of opposition.

MV also planned the KIRS dam. The cost was estimated; it came to 25,300 thousand rupees. Officers of Mysore State were shocked and opposed the scheme. At last Visvesvaraya satisfied the Mysore Government with his arguments and it agreed. A new difficulty arose. MV wanted the height to be 130 feet. The Government of India approved a height of only 80 feet. MV went ahead with a foundation for a dam 130 feet high. Later, the Central Government agreed with him. Many people made fun of him when he started the Bhadravati Steel Factory and called it ‘a White Elephant’. Some officers did not manage it properly and the factory suffered heavy losses. Quite a few persons felt happy! But today it is an asset.

Somebody once said to him, “You have done great service to the country. You are like Bhishmacharya.” MV said, “You make me remember what a small man I am. What am I before Bhishmacharya?” He was so modest. Even at the age of 95, he rose to receive a visitor; he got up again when the visitor was leaving. But he also knew modesty did not mean pocketing insults. In the old Bombay Province the rules did not permit an Indian to become the Chief Engineer. Only an Englishman could sit in the Chief Engineer’s chair. So MV gave up his post in Bombay. The Dewan was the highest officer in Mysore State. He himself gave up that very high office. He had self-respect without arrogance.

Sir MV was a fearless patriot. Those were days when the Englishman was the lord of India and wanted to be treated like a god. The Maharaja of Mysore used to hold a Durbar during the Dasara. On the day of the European Durbar, the Europeans were given comfortable chairs but Indians were required to sit on the floor. MV went to the Durbar for the first time in 1910. The arrangements pained him. The next year he did not attend the Durbar. When the officers of the palace made enquiries he frankly gave the reason. Next year all – Europeans and Indians -were given chairs. A British officer wrote a letter to MV. He said that in the Maharaja’s Durbar, he wanted a cushion to rest his feet because the chair was too high. MV got the legs of the chair shortened and wrote to him that the height had been reduced.

The Bhadravati Steel Factory, Mysore University, Krishnarajasagara, the Bank of Mysore – every one of his creations was mighty and magnificent. But far mightier and far more magnificent was the Bharata Ratna, who was at once a matchless Dreamer and Doer.

He once said:

Remember, your work may be only to sweep a railway crossing, but it is your duty to keep it so clean that no other crossing in the world is as clean as yours.”

Service of the country was this great man’s ‘tapas’. When he reached the age of 100, people all over India showered affection and respect on the Grand Old Man. The Government of India brought out a stamp in his honor.



E.Sreedharan – Metro Man of India

How many people in Delhi know a man called E. Sreedharan? He is 70. Should have retired a long time ago with enough achievements to boast about to his grandchildren. Most of his working life he was yet another unknown engineer with the railways, until he took up the challenge of building the Konkan Railway that reduced the Mumbai-Kochi distance by one-third. Everybody said it wasn’t possible. Also, that it would cost too much money, will be a white elephant, will be technologically impossible, will ravage the environment. The usual reasons why no new infrastructure can be built in India. There were PILs filed, processions taken out. He defied them all and built India’s first, genuine railway project of any notable size after the British.


When the government was short of money, he raised public bonds and that was a decade ago when such things were unprecedented. The Konkan Railway is to Indian infrastructure what the Mohali stadium is to Indian cricket.

Sreedharan did not stop there. Everybody laughed when plans to build a metro rail in Delhi were announced. All of us knew the chaos even a small, one-line metro in Kolkata had caused for a decade and a half. But Sreedharan took up the project. It is now being built, ahead of schedule, in spite of the setback of the Japanese sanctions after Pokharan and without making a tenth of the mess the construction of an ordinary flyover creates in Delhi. Yet, how much credit has Sreedharan got? How often do you see him on television, on the front pages of our newspapers? Or maybe you will, when someone envious of what he has achieved, and the fact that he will leave behind a monument to his own achievement this city should be proud of, files a complaint with the CBI, CVC, a PIL, and so on.

 He is a modest man. It is not the self-effacing version of modesty which politicians wear, but the genuine kind. E. Sreedharan, architect of the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro Rail, believes that all his achievements were the result of team efforts

.The 71-year-old civil engineer (“still looking forward to retirement”) has been selected as one of the most outstanding Asians by Time magazine. But he takes it in his stride. “Why do you want to write about me?” he asks this correspondent. “Write about the project.” The project is mapping Delhi with a world class metro rail network. That is his focus and passion now.


Focus and passion. Probably these are the keywords. But when he is asked about the mantra of success, Sreedharan again downplays his role. “I have been lucky enough to pick up the right people for the right job,” he says.

So why should one write about Sreedharan? Because he is an extraordinary man, an extraordinary bureaucrat, who believes in certain values and has sustained them throughout his life against umpteen odds.


This was the case from the start. In 1963, disaster struck the Rameshwaram island when tidal waves washed away the Pamban bridge connecting it with mainland Tamil Nadu. A passenger train was swept away, killing hundreds of persons.


The Southern Railway decided to restore the bridge and set a target of six months. General Manager B.C. Ganguly advanced the deadline by three months and the Railway Board assigned the task to a 31-year-old executive engineer, Sreedharan. It was a tough task as it was an old bridge, built by the British in late-nineteenth century, with 146 spans and a scherzer-a steel girder which opens up for large vessels to pass under the bridge.


Sreedharan took up the challenge and advanced the deadline by a month, making the task tougher. He made the bridge functional in 46 days. He achieved this by the application of some ‘commonplace values’-discipline, punctuality and honesty-and the introduction of a new work culture. These traits continue. After the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was set up, one of the first things Sreedharan did as managing director was to instil a “sense of corporate culture”.


“In private organisations run by the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis, it is not difficult to stick to deadlines,” says Sreedharan. “The word of the boss is final.” In a government set-up, where there are too many bosses and too few juniors, it is next to impossible. But not totally impossible, as Sreedharan has proved. He believes in working with slim organisations. (He also believes in being slim.) While it took more than two decades to build the Kolkata metro (“The result of bad planning,” says Sreedharan), Delhi stuck to its deadline of December 2002.


In Delhi, he did not have to face many hurdles. There were no stay orders, no dharnas. People in the Old Delhi area (Chandni Chowk) did object to their houses being demolished . But the DMRC used the tunnel boring machine technology to solve this problem. It has ensured that there were no major traffic bottlenecks, no demolition.

He is focused and passionate about his work. His insistence on deadlines had earned him 20 transfers in the early years of his career.

Sreedharan, who has been in the Indian Railways for 50 years, had successfully completed one mega-project earlier-the Konkan railway between Maharashtra and Mangalore. The rail-line was mooted in 1990 by then railway minister George Fernandes, while talking to Railway Board members. After stating it, Fernandes himself dismissed it as impossible.

A month later, Sreedharan went to Fernandes with a well-charted out plan. “I told him that we will have to work in a different fashion,” he recalls. Probably his enthusiasm infected Fernandes, who got cabinet approval for the project within three days. Maharashtra and Kerala immediately agreed to the project, but Karnataka chief minister Virendra Patil objected.

Sreedharan, then a member of the Railway Board, went to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Kerala and got all the necessary approvals before his ‘retirement’. But retirement was not to be as Fernandes wanted him to head the West Coast Railway. Thus the Konkan Rail Corporation was born. It created an engineering marvel by laying a rail network across the mountainous Western Ghats.


Sreedharan insists he does not have any special skills to get the best out of people. “I always found that people cooperate if you work for a good cause,” he says.   


Is he a workaholic? “No,” says he. “I am committed to my work but not a workaholic.” His colleagues agree that he does not believe in making people stay on in the office if they have finished their given task. “He even takes a nap in the afternoons,” says a colleague.

Sreedharan, who was born in Chattanur, a small village near Palakkad in Kerala, does not have much of a social life. “Once in a while I go to classical music concerts,” he says. He also makes it a point to visit Kerala at regular intervals to meet relatives. “Very often, he travels by lower class,” says a colleague. A favourite journey is, of course, through the Konkan rail stretch, which he can watch with proprietary pride.

” I have four children,” says he. “We were not really well-off. But my wife, Radha, took care of all those problems.” One son is an engineer but he did not join the Railways despite his father encouraging him.

“I believe that when an officer is given a particular task, he should be made responsible to finish it,” says Sreedharan. He almost has an obsession with deadlines. (In the early years of his career, it earned him 20 transfers.) Every officer in DMRC keeps a digital board which shows the number of days left for the completion of the next target. On April 23, it was 160 days left for the Tis Hazari-Tri Nagar section of the Delhi Metro to be complete.

So, where he does go from there? “Retirement,” he says with a twinkle in the eyes. He thanks God for giving him success. “I am a religious person but religion does not mean going to temples. To me it means leading a virtuous life,” he says.

Success and virtue. A rare combination in today’s world. But they run side by side in Sreedharan’s life. Like rail tracks.

Ratan Tata’s words of inspiration

  On courage: I am, unfortunately, a person who has often said: You put a gun to my head and pull the trigger or take the gun away, I won’t move my head.


  On successful people: I admire people who are very successful. But if that success has been achieved through too much ruthlessness, then I may admire that person, but I can’t respect him.


  On leadership: It is easy to become a number one player, but it is difficult to remain number one. So, we will have to fight with a view to remain number one.


  On Nano: This project (the Nano) has proven to everyone that if you really set yourself to doing something, you actually can do it.


  On the need to think big: We have been. . . thinking small. And if we look around us, countries like China have grown so much by thinking big. I would urge that we all, in the coming years, think big, think of doing things not in small increments, not in small deltas, but seemingly impossible things. But nothing is impossible if you really set out to do so. And we act boldly. Because it is this thinking big and acting boldly that will move India up in a manner different from where it is today.


  On risk: Risk is a necessary part of business philosophy. You can be risk-averse and take no risks, in which case you will have a certain trajectory in terms of your growth. Or you can, while being prudent, take greater risk in order to grow faster.


  On risk: I view risk as an ability to be where no one has been before. I view risk to be an issue of thinking big, something we did not do previously. We did everything in small increments so we always lagged behind. But the crucial question is: can we venture putting a man on the moon or risk billions of rupees on a really way-out, advanced project in, say, superconductors? Do you restrict your risk to something close to your heart?


  On employees: The way to hold employees today is to make their work and their day-to-day activities in the company exciting enough for them to stay. Not everyone will stay, but I think if we can empower more people and are willing to pass on the responsibility for that, and if people are satisfied and motivated, there’s less chance of them wanting to leave and go to a competitor.


  On low-cost products: It should not be, cannot be, that low-cost products come to mean inferior or sub-standard products and services; definitely not. The aim is to create products for that larger segment — good and robust products that we are able to produce innovatively and get to the marketplace at lower costs.


  On customers: We should be treating the customer in the same way that we would want to be treated as customers.


  On innovation:Barriers to innovation are usually in the mind.


  On customers:There was a need to re-focus and look at how your customer sees you, and to pay more attention to what the customer wants rather than what you think she wants. Are you really the most cost effective producer? Are you aggressive enough to grab marketshare? Will you endeavour to dip your toe in the water and do something that you haven’t done before?


  On innovation:If you are a little innovative or a little bit of a gambler, and you make a product which is either ahead of its time or has an evolutionary design, or has features that work into a person’s perception, then you have an acceptable product.


  On questioning:I kept saying, please question the unquestionable. I tried to tell our younger managers just don’t accept something that was done in the past, don’t accept something as a holy cow. . . go question it. That was less of a problem than getting our senior managers not to tell the younger managers, ‘Look young man, don’t question me.’


  On speed:Today, the world does not afford you to luxury of being a slow mover. Nor are there any holy cows. We have to be aggressive, be far-sighted enough to look into the future and we also have to be pragmatic enough to say that if we really are not in a leadership position in a particular business, we should look at exiting that business.


  On icons:The kind of company one would want to emulate is one where products and technology are at the leading edge, dealings with customers are very fair, services are of a high order, and business ethics are transparent and straightforward. A less tangible issue involves the work environment, which should not be one where you are stressed and driven to the point of being drugged.


  On introspection:All companies need to keep looking at their business definition and, possibly from time to time, to see if that definition needs to be redefined. If you take the example of Tata Steel, they could say that they are a steel company and find themselves in a shrinking market where steel is under threat of being replaced by some other material. The question is: what do we call ourselves? One view was that steel is a material, so can we be a materials company? We don’t have to be in all materials, but can we be in composites, can we be in plastics, laminates, etc? The automotive business needs to think similarly, and so does the chemicals business. We have to keep looking at ourselves and asking: what is our business?


  On innovation: My outlook on R&D is that it is an absolutely necessary thing for us to do. And I don’t think we are doing enough. The point is not just spending money; it’s how many patents you file, your innovation rate and your product development. . . If today you were to give everybody a mandate that they can spend 3 per cent of their revenue on R&D, assuming they can spare the money, I don’t think many companies would know the what, where and how of spending that kind of money, other than to put up an R&D place and buy lots of equipment.


  On customer relationship: Where we have direct dealings with our customers, it is important that, at the middle-management levels, they are shown courtesy, dealt with fairly, and made to feel that they are receiving the attention they deserve. The interface with the customer should be a seamless one.


  On risk: There have been occasions where I have been a risk-taker. Perhaps more than some, and less so than certain others. It is a question of where you view that from. I have never been a real gambler in the sense, that some successful businessmen have been.


  On ethics: What worries me is that the threshold of acceptability or the line between acceptability and non-acceptability in terms of values, business ethics, etc, is blurring.


  On success: I would not consider myself to have been tremendously successful or as having failed tremendously. I would say I have been moderately successful because there have been changes.


  On survival: The strong live and the weak die. There is some bloodshed, and out of it emerges a much leaner industry, which tends to survive.


 On challenges: If there are challenges thrown across and those challenges are difficult then some interesting, innovative solutions will come. If you don’t have those challenges then, I think, the tendency is go on to say that whatever will happen, will take place in small deltas.


  On planning: We never really plan big. We are not in keeping with what is happening around us. When you go to other countries around us you see it visibly that we are just back in time. And yet we have so much to offer.


  On commitment: We have to clamp down on deviations from commitments. For ensuring greater commitment to performance, we also need to have a system which rewards performers and punishes those who don’t perform.


  On risk: We have is to be less risk-averse. We have been a very conservative house and we have been applauded for our conservatism but today we need to take more risk. We don’t need to be flamboyant or cavalier but we need to be less conservative than we have been.


  On the future: One hundred years from now, I expect the Tatas to be much bigger than it is now. More importantly, I hope the Group comes to be regarded as being the best in India. . . best in the manner in which we operate, best in the products we deliver, and best in our value systems and ethics. Having said that, I hope that a hundred years from now we will spread our wings far beyond India.


  On resistance: You will probably find the resistance (to change) more from those who haven’t been doing well.


  On change: Change is seen to be needed, and fast, so long as it does not affect me. We want to see change but if you suddenly tell me that I am the company that has to go, or has to be cut in half, or three of my businesses have to be hived off, then all of a sudden, the very person who made the noise about change is now saying, ‘You don’t have to do this.’


  On humility: I would hope that as people who might take an elite position, would be considered amongst the elite in the country, you will always display humility in the manner in which you deal with your fellowmen, both in your company and in the country and you will continue to have passion in the areas in which you will work.


  On doubt: On many, many occasions you would have doubts on whether what you are pursuing is the right thing. But if you do believe in what you are trying to do and you pursue it and stay with it in a determined manner, I am quite sure you will succeed.


On problems: There are solutions for most problems. The barriers and roadblocks that we face are usually of our own making and these can only be demolished by having the determination to find a solution, even contrary to the conventional wisdom that prevails around us, by breaking tradition.