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n. s. subba rao
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N. S. Subba Rao was born on 14 March 1885 at Srirangapatnam. His father Nanjanagud Subba Raya was a lawyer by profession. N. S. Subba Rao’s elder brother N. Narasimha Murthy (M. A., B. L.) was also well versed in law and worked in the British Resident – Mr. Fraser’s office at Mysore. Subba Rao also had a younger sister by the name of Kaveramma.
Early years and Education
He had his schooling at Srirangapatnam. Completing his matriculation exam in 1897, Subba Rao joined Central College, Bangalore for his F. A. course where he was nurtured well by Prof. J. C. Tate who is believed to have counted him one among his favourite students! N. S. Subba Rao with a letter of recommendation from J. G. Tate proceeded to Madras Christian College to pursue his B. A. degree. Here, he came under the influence of Rev. William Skinner and Rev. Earle Monteith MacPhail, who were senior members of the faculty. He was conferred a Gold Medal in 1904 for securing highest marks in the B. A. exam – the award being Benjamin Jowett’s “Dialogues of Plato” volume, something which he treasured till the end. Following his commendable performance in the B. A. exam, he was able to secure from the Mysore Government the prestigious ‘Damodar Das educational scholarship’ which helped him on his way to England for further studies.
Education in England
Armed with a scholarship, he was able to gain admission into St. John’s College, Cambridge to pursue a M. A. degree in Economics. Here, he additionally learnt Latin and French. At Cambridge, Subba Rao came under the tutelage of Alfred Marshall and came in contact with Maynard Keynes. At the end of four years, Subba Rao completed his Tripos exam (M. A. Cantab.) in addition to securing a Bar at Law qualification. His essay titled ‘‘Political and Economic conditions of Ancient India, as described in the Jatakas’’ earned him the prestigious ‘Le Bas’ award in 1909.
During his Cambridge years (1905 – 09), Subba Rao travelled to France, Germany and few other countries on the continent. The lasting impression that Subba Rao left behind at Cambridge would win him lifelong friends – the most prominent among these being Maynard Keynes, the great economist of his time! Keynes went so far as to recommend to the India Office at Calcutta, that a senior position be afforded to this fine gentleman in Her Majesty’s Government in India, an offer which Subba Rao kindly declined. His refusal was not so much a decision arising out of an inability to execute the newfound responsibility in governance, but more so an apprehension that his desertion of his obligation to the University of Mysore would not go down well with the Maharaja, whose generosity had made his westward sojourn possible in the first place!
N. S. Subba Rao would write many a letter of introduction to successive students who wanted to study in England in the years to come. Many of them later expressed their surprise and amazement at the warmth and affection a simple letter from Subba Rao would elicit in the educational fraternity in England. An eminent linguist - A. N. Narasimaiah after experiencing such goodwill remarked thus: “I came to London through Germany and joined the Ph. D class at London University with the help of N. S. Subba Rao’s letter of introduction. He is so much loved and respected here by all the educationists.”. Incidentally, upon his return to India, when the Diwan of Mysore assembled all the newly returned students from England and enquired as to what each wished to become in the years to come – Subba Rao’s answer was one that caught the Diwan’s undivided attention – he said “I want to be the next Diwan of Mysore.!”
Return to India
N. S. Subba Rao returned to India on 28 October 1909. The next year i.e., 1910 at the age of 25 years, he was appointed as a lecturer in Economics at Maharaja College, Mysore, which was then under Madras University. Here, he taught Economics, Political Science, European History and English literature. Among his foremost students during these years was V. Seetharamaiah.
The University of Mysore would formally come into existence on July 25, 1916. By 24 September of the succeeding year (1917), Subba Rao took charge of Principalship from C. R. Reddy and held the post till 1928. In 1919, he was invited to foresee the establishment of the State University in Ceylon – a task which won him much gratitude from the local Sinhalese intelligentsia. In July 1927, Subba Rao attended the Educational Conference as representative of the Mysore Government. His presentations and lectures won him considerable praise in Forewords written subsequently by K. Myathen and E. G. McAlpine.
In his years immediately after returning from Cambridge, Subba Rao maintained a close correspondence with Maynard Keynes and Arthur Cecil Pigou. In one such letter, Subba Rao laments thus: “…My dearest Keynes, I found that a good many officers in the Secretariat (in the Mysore State Government Offices) had read your papers in the ‘Economic Journal’ and in the ‘Madras Mail’ – which surprised me, as we do not pretend to be up to date here! I miss Cambridge itself. I did not think I had become so fond of the place…. You will not believe me if I tell you how often I am back at Cambridge in my waking thoughts and dreams – with kindest regards, yours sincerely – N. S. Subba Rao”.
The University Years
N. S. Subba Rao served the University of Mysore for close to 32 years – as Lecturer, Professor, Principal and eventually as its Vice Chancellor from 1937 - 42. His contributions as an administrator while at the University are far too many to elaborate here. His encouragement for Scouts and Guides movement is well remembered. The establishment of University Co-operative Society in 1923 was a positive step in the direction of looking after the financial travails of a poorly remunerated academic fraternity. Subba Rao unfailingly espoused the cause of Kannada language while championing the idea of imparting western scientific education in the native vernacular. In this direction, by July 1935 he introduced Kannada medium of instruction in High Schools across the state.
Ti Nam Shri
During his years as Vice Chancellor of the University of Mysore, N. S. Subba Rao is remembered to have remarked thus to Ti. Nam. Sri: “Lectures and speeches, however well delivered, last only for a brief period in the hearts and minds of people. If one were to create a lasting legacy, then one has to ‘publish’ these in print and hence a dedicated publishing division was required”. This longing resulted in Subba Rao foreseeing the establishment of a dedicated publishing and cataloguing wing, which would later come to be known as ‘Prasaranga’!
T. S. Venkannayya
T. S. Venkannayya’s inclusion into the faculty at Maharaja College was thanks to Subba Rao’s foresight. When B. Krishnappa passed away, there was a vacant assistant professor position at Maharaja College, Mysore. While many candidates were considered in the meeting, Subba Rao is credited with the statement: “Venkannayya is a man with a feel for literature – of a very rare type. In many ways, he resembles the best professors in the prestigious Universities of the West”. T. S. Venkannayya’s legacy on the Kannada department and his subsequent nurturing of Kuvempu merit another article in it’s entirety!
Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri
Prof. N. S. Subba Rao’s good student Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri (the future historian) was awarded the first research scholarship of the University. He wrote “Sources of Karnataka History, Vol I” and it was meant to be published by Prasaranga. The Manuscript was borrowed by an eminent scholar who lived in a far away city. Unfortunately, he never bothered to return it! Dr. Sastri wrote the book again and this time a famous archaeologist borrowed it on the pretext of reading it and never returned it. When Prof. N. S. Subba Rao became the Vice Chancellor of University of Mysore, he requested Dr. Sastri to write it for the third time. Because of Subba Rao, it came to be published by Prasaranga in 1940. Later Dr. Sastri wrote Vol 2. and Vol 3. in this series – sadly, these manuscripts are missing today.
A. R. Krishna Shastry
During A. R. Krishna Shastry’s tenure as Editor of ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’, it was at Subba Rao’s insistence that the magazine sought to follow certain tenets which would keep it in good stead over the next few decades – these being that the issue should always come out on time, that apart from literature it should also include content on non-literary aspects of political life and most importantly to include & involve people and contributions from areas immediately outside the Mysore princely area as well.
N. S. Subba Rao chaired a meeting with Thomas Denham and Radha Kumudh Mukherjee in 1918 towards establishment of University of Mysore library. Later, he would spear-head the development of Mysore Government Central library along with B. M. Srikantaiah and M. Venkatakrishnayya.
A. N. Murthy Rao
All throughout his years at the University, people remember seeing him in a crisp navy-blue suit, moving about with an imposing stride with books clasped in both hands. Often criticised by his peers for being too anglicised in his ways and mannerisms, A. N. Murthy Rao notes that in the decades hence, Subba Rao did embrace Indian mannerisms in almost all walks of life, including his dress. Subba Rao entertained many students at his Lakshmipuram house in Mysore with witty banter and engaging intellectual conversations which would often grow late into the night. He would feed them sumptuous meals before seeing them off. His concern for poor students saw him come up with the ‘College Library Scholarship Fund’.
N. S. Subba Rao had an artistic conscience of his own! In a candid conversation with A. N. Murthy Rao, he is believed to have remarked thus: “Sometimes, positions of power – professorship, principalship and later vice-chancellorship – ought not to come early. Because they came in rapid succession and quite early on in my case, probably my creative and scholarly output fell short of what it could have been otherwise”! His lacking when it came to scholarly or creative output over the decades troubled him in his quieter moments. Along with Murthy Rao and B. M. Srikantaiah, Subba Rao is remembered to have frequented Rallapalli Anantha Krishna Sharma’s house quite often to listen to his music.
By 1930, it had become something of a staple feature for every budding theatre artist to emulate and mimic the famous A. V. Varadachar. While this was no doubt a testament to the famous thespian’s enduring legacy, the all too repetitive enactments of Varadachar’s mannerisms on stage became an embarrassment to the University theatre scene. Subba Rao had to step in and politely remind the young artists that to imitate the inimitable A. V. (Varadachar) was indeed a poor man’s game!
Thi Tha Sharma
In 1933, T. S. Venkannayya had arranged a debate competition on Hosa Kavya in front of the Central College campus at Bangalore. N. S. Subba Rao was the chairperson and Maasti was the guest of honour. There ensued a heated debate between Thi Tha Sharma and B. M. Srikantaiah on Hosa Kavya poetry in Kannada. When things seemed to be getting out of hand, it was thanks to Subba Rao’s timely intervention, that Maasti was given the opportunity to deflect the entire course of the event with regaled humour and endless anecdotes. After a hiatus of about twenty minutes, the tense atmosphere seemed to ease a bit and both Sharma and Srikantaiah shook hands in a spirit of reconciliation!
D. V. Gundappa
When D. V. G. was secretary of Kannada Sahitya Akademi and there was an opportunity to sponsor Subba Rao on a literary tour of Maharashtra at the Sahitya Akademi’s expense, D. V. G. was faced with a dilemma. The literary trip would entail a cost of nearly 600 rupees. This was at a time, when the Sahitya Akademi’s finances were looking quite bleak thanks to many wealthy merchant donors pulling out at the last moment! D. V. G. did not have the heart to convey this predicament to Subba Rao. Yet, Subba Rao came to know about this through other sources and at once wrote to D. V. G. to abandon his attempts at financing his trip on behalf of the Akademi. Subba Rao took it upon himself to fund and plan the whole tour, hoping not to burden the Kannada Sahitya Akademi in any way! D. V. G. would remember this kind gesture for many years as a testament to this man’s spirit of generosity.
N. Ananthachar following his marriage moved to Bangalore for better prospects. Apart from odd jobs at Government offices and the like, he was sadly unable to make a decent living in Bangalore. Not one to lose hope, he set up a vegetable shop next to present day ‘Vidyarthi Bhavan’ in Basavanagudi. His clientele included the likes of Divan Madhava Rao, M. Visweswaraiah, Garudachar, Kodanda Rao, N. S. Subba Rao, B. P. Wadia, Thathachar and Navarathna Ramarao! Impressed by Ananthachar’s diligence and reserve of knowledge, they introduced him to M. N. Krishna Rao who managed to source a loan of 100 rupees to help matters. Instead of investing this into his vegetable shop, Ananthachar persuaded his wife to use this start up fund to establish a small school which later mushroomed into a college and now stands as Acharya Patashala Institution. 5th cross road in Hanumanthanagar, Bangalore still bears Subba Rao’s name to it as well.
G. P. Rajarathnam
In the Silver Jubilee year celebrations of the University of Mysore (1941), G. P. Rajarathnam was to feature in a lead role in a drama competition. Among the guests of honour were the Chancellor himself – HH Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar. Knowing the Maharaja’s penchant for poems by Ranna, Subba Rao made his way into the green room minutes before the drama was supposed to begin and advised young Rajarathnam to recite two popular verses of Ranna at the end of his Act. Rajarathnam agreed to this and happily recited two verses from one of Ranna’s popular compositions at the end – this went down very well with the Maharaja causing him to break into a sly smile and a thunderous clap of his hands!
When G. P. Rajarathnam had completed writing “Purusha Saraswathi”, he had no idea as to how to get it into print. He decided to approach T. S. Venkannayya who in turn decided to take him to Subba Rao for further guidance. Subba Rao gave them a thirty-minute appointment on a Sunday morning. After some pleasantries, Subba Rao very tersely asked young Rajarathnam to read a few pages from the section on ‘Karna Nataka Purana’. To put it into context, this was the time when a heated debate was going on between how ‘Karnataka’ ought to be spelt in Kannada script! Subba Rao was so impressed with the young writer’s rendition, that he asked him to read the whole script over the next two hours!! At the end of this, he looked at Venkannayya and instructed him to get it published in ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ and then to get 250 additional offset copies for circulation. Thus, came into print, Rajarathnam’s ‘Purusha Saraswathi’. Decades later, Rajarathnam would recollect this incident and remark thus: “I was but a meagre 60-rupee Kannada pandita at that time – nothing more! Thanks to Subba Rao’s impetus, I was launched on to the Kannada literary landscape.”
B. M. Srikantaiah
He had a lifelong association with B. M. Srikantaiah and both of them had been instrumental in founding the Srirangapatna chapter of ‘Tarunara Dandu’, many years ago. Now they would team up again to bring into existence a full-fledged Kannada department at the University and in the constitution of a dedicated Kannada syllabus for the first time. They would also be instrumental in creating an intellectual space for the publication of Kannada writing by effectively bringing into existence ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’.
B. M. Sri’s Kannada translations of English poetry titled ‘English Geethegalu’ first came out in serial series in ‘Karnataka Granthamale’. Subba Rao zealously collected these and got them bound in a Gold tilted edition as a tribute to his good friend of yore. This was Subba Rao’s way of paying a tribute to his fond friend while expressing his unbridled joy at seeing some of his favourite pieces of English poetry appear in Kannada!
Subba Rao was Director of the Department of Education from 1928 till 1935. He was among the very few who held the rare distinction of having been a teacher for over three decades before adorning the post of Director of Department of Education! This unique vantage point gave him a priceless perspective both as a teacher and also as an administrator. This experience on both sides of the aisle, enabled him to come up with many insurance and monetary schemes, later on, which would enable many a discerning academician of the university find the much-needed financial succour for their personal expenses, which otherwise was out of their reach! During his tenure as Director, he invited Maasti to be one of the senior members in the sub-committee responsible for the formulation of Kannada syllabus for students.
When the Father of Modern Yoga - Tirumale Krishnamacharya approached Subba Rao with his unrequited wish of not having a dedicated school for Yoga in the princely state of Mysore, he at once took it upon himself to persuade the Maharaja to personally help in any way possible. The Maharaja gave a portion of Jagan Mohan Palace to start a school of Yoga free of cost! – thus was born the first formal Yogashala in Mysore!
Economic and Political Reforms
Under Sir Brijendranath Seal’s Vice Chancellorship, Subba Rao contributed significantly as a member of the Council for Political Reforms from 1926 - 27. As Member of the Textile Tariff Board, he was able to bring to the table his expertise in economic theories and principles, managing to ensure a fair price for both cotton growers as well as textile merchants. Accompanying Sir Mirza Ismail to the London Round Table Conference (1930 – 32), Subba Rao played a crucial role in the eventual formulation of the landmark ‘Indian Constitution Act’ of 1935. His foreword to M. N. Srinivas’ “Marriage and Family in Mysore” is considered a seminal work in itself!
In 1929, he was invited to deliver a guest lecture at the ‘Indian Economic Association’, Allahabad. Between 1932 – 33, N. S. Subba Rao had the distinction of being invited to deliver a series of lectures on ‘Some Aspects of Economic Planning’ as part of the Madras University Sir William Meyer Lecture Series. Subba Rao presided over the twenty first Kannada Sahitya Sammelan at Bombay in December 1935. Nicknamed ‘Raja’ by peers and alike at Cambridge, he was once described by Poet Laureate Tagore as thus: ‘He is a prince among men!’. He was appointed as Honorary Secretary of ‘Inter-University Association’ at the national level between 1923 - 25. In recognition of his lifetime contribution to the princely state of Mysore, HH Nalwadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar conferred on N. S. Subba Rao the title of ‘Rajakaryapraveena of Gandabherunda Order’ in 1937. He was later requested to preside over the ‘All India Educational Conference’ in 1931. In 1940, he delivered the inaugural address of the ‘All India Economic and Political Congress’ at Mysore. Three years later in 1943, he was invited to deliver ten successive lectures on ‘Rural reconstruction in India’ at Delhi University as part of ‘Sir Kikibhai Premchand lecture series’.
Association with Mythic Society, Bangalore
In 1910, he delivered a lecture at Mythic Society, Bangalore elaborating on the paper which he had published while at Cambridge and which had won him the prestigious ‘Le Bas’ award. His lecture would later be published in the Quarterly Journal of Mythic Society in the same year. Incidentally, Subba Rao would maintain a lifelong association with Mythic Society ultimately presiding over as its secretary from 1939 – 42.
Subba Rao’s hectic lifestyle took a toll on his health. There was precious little time for exercise apart from some tennis which he enjoyed. Added to this already brutal regimen was many a successive trip abroad. In many respects, he was as busy or probably more so in his retirement as he was while in service! At the age of 58 years, Subba Rao breathed his last on 29th June 1943 at Bangalore. One of his close confidants described him thus in his obituary: “Mr. N. S. Subba Rao was a man of great parts, a large and generous heart, a loyal friend and above all a true patriot”.
“Upakulapathi N. S. Subba Rayaru – Baduku, Baraha mathu Nenapu”: Edited by Dr. T. V. Venkatachala Sastry (Vasantha Prakashana)
QJMS: Vol. 34, Life and Works of Aithihasikaratna, Sakaleshpur Srikantaya – compiled, edited and published: The family, Bangalore – 94, pp. 1159 – 1160
Photographs sourced and supplied by Prof. S. Naganath from the archives of Maharaja College, Mysore
The kind help extended by S. G. Seetharam of Geetha Road, Mysore in compiling many useful anecdotes and facts from N. S. Subba Rao’s life.