Mahatma's enduring connection with Bengaluru

| Updated: Oct 2, 2017, 12:25 IST
Mahatma and Malviya with the champion cow JillMahatma and Malviya with the champion cow Jill

BENGALURU: On the birth anniversary of a remarkable personality, whose name and memory today invokes vigorous and mutually contentious reactions from different groups, here's a vignette of a different sort - one of Gandhiji's strangest connections to Bangalore, which actually had roots in his early, social and reformist interests.

While it is generally known that Mahatma Gandhi made five visits to Bangalore -in 1915, 1920, 1927, 1934, and 1936, and that he typically stayed at Nandi Hills and the Kumara Krupa Guesthouse, an interesting aspect of his visit of 1927 is not so well known.

In 1927, while on tour in Belgaum as part of a South India tour to popularize Khadi, Gandhiji suffered a bout of high blood pressure and a mild apoplexy. When doctors advised him compulsory bed rest, his followers chose to place him in Nandi Hills in Bangalore, a popular hill station then, as it is now. On April 20th, directly from Yeshwanthpur Railway Station, he conducted community prayers on the station platform itself and proceeded to Nandi Hills. While recuperating, he maintained his strict vegetarian regime, with the exception of goat milk. He wrote articles and letters on natural diets, experiments in dairying, labour, civil disobedience and social reform.

Views on vegetarianism

When Gandhiji took up a family friend's suggestion and his brother's encouragement to study law in London, he made a vow that he "would abstain from meat, alcohol and women". His stay in London was to reinforce his vegetarian practice much further. His landlady's bland attempts at vegetarian cuisine apparently left his student stomach "always half-empty".He found that London had few vegetarian restaurants, and typically walking several miles in search of good vegetarian restaurants where he could get at least a full meal, he came across the Central Vegetarian Restaurant.

It was there that Gandhi bought a copy of Henry Salt's `Plea for Vegetarianism' that was on display at the entrance, and upon reading it "from cover to cover", became a "vegetarian by choice". He came in contact with the London Vegetarian Society and in the course of this, his acquaintance with Henry Salt grew stronger. It was Salt who first introduced Gandhi to the works of Henry David Thoreau, whose essay on `Civil Disobedience' Gandhi has stated, "left a deep impression upon me...", indicating that a key aspect of India's Independence struggle came about from his interest in vegetarianism.

A change of attitude

Gandhiji, in following principles of the Vegetarian Society, had taken a vow to avoid any animal products including milk. However, his health declined rapidly due to lack of suitably digestible vegetable proteins. A compromise, based on his wife Kasturba's suggestion, had come about where he settled for goat milk. This was a `technicality' in his vow that the lawyer in him accepted. Thus goat milk and in a larger sense, dairy, henceforth became part of the Gandhian thought and establishment.

Around the time he returned to India, the economic situation of the country having enormous potential in agriculture and animal husbandry also figured in leading discussions.A concept close to his heart was the improvement of cattle at village levels. He expressed concern and strong thoughts about "Goshalas" or "Pinjrapoles" (cow shelters), with an intent to see their outlook change "from mere religious to utilitarian institutions so that they could be a useful facet in the improvement plans of cattle wealth in our country."

The 'moo'tings of 1927

After his recovery at Nandi Hills, Gandhiji moved down to stay at the Kumara Krupa guest house in Bangalore from June 6 onwards. He was accompanied by Pt Madan Mohan Malviya.The guest house also happened to be next to the office of an expert from the Imperial Dairy Farm (today's NDRI South Station), one Mr William Smith. Gandhiji seized upon this opportunity to meet Smith almost every evening to discuss a subject close to his practices - the improvement of cattle across the country. During the course of these daily discussions, there came about a possibility of visiting the Imperial Dairy's farm itself, to view and obtain first-hand information on aspects of modern dairy farming and cattle management.

Since his doctors permitted him just 45 minutes out every day, Gandhiji, along with Pt Madan Mohan Malaviya, went to the dairy by car every evening. Gandhiji considered himself a "dairy student" during these daily visits. It is said that he used to be at the institute on the dot at 5 every evening. Ever the keen absorber of information, Dr Kothawalla, (Smith's assistant) would skim (pun unintended) over any aspect, Gandhiji would insist on being explained concepts from basics, indicating that he should be treated just like any other student that Dr Kothawalla would teach during the normal course of training. "So please explain things to me as fully as to any of your other pupils." he is quoted to have said.

At this time, he and Pt Malaviya encountered a remarkable animal - a highly productive cross breed cow named Jill (offspring of an Ayrshire bull cross-bred with a Haryana cow).She had given birth to 18 calves and yielded approximately 1.5 Lakh pounds of milk during her life span.Both the Mahatma and the Pandit had a (now quite popular) photograph taken with the champion cow Jill. The platinum jubilee celebrations of the dairy in January 2000, saw the creation and placement of a two-foot statue of Jill the cow with Gandhiji (made by a sculptor, A Rajasekhar, of Marathahalli).

On June 19, 1927, the day of his departure, when requested to sign the visitors' book, Gandhiji mentioned his credentials as "farmer from Sabarmati," and expressed a parting thought `'Now I must put into practice what I have learnt in Bangalore.'' The Imperial Dairy is now today's National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) Southern Regional Station, Bangalore. It had its origin on 16th July 1923 as the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, and Gandhiji's visit remains one of its most memorable event. It has become a premier institute in the country with a key academic stature.

Mahatma at the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry in 1927

This was Gandhiji's close association with dairying in Bangalore and further in the country, as he later assigned responsibility of cattle development to Manibhai Desai, who as a student joined him during the Quit India Movement, and whose efforts led to the creation of the "BAIF Development Foundation", a reputed voluntary establishment dedicated to the causes of dairy, water resources and sustainable agriculture.

In many ways, this historical aspect from 1927 has come a long way to place India as the largest milk-producing nation in the world.

By Kiran Natarajan

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Today such type of leaders are ridiculed and false propaganda is distributed about them by RSS and other evil people.Amar Akbar Anthony