Pics by Dayanand Kukkaje & Hemanath Padubidri
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Oct 3, 2010
For good, bad or worse, Suresh Kalmadi is daily bread for the media in India and beyond. Who is Suresh Kalmadi is fairly known, specially his long association with the Olympic movement in India and now his association with the Commonwealth Games. But, what are his roots is reflected in his surname of Tulu Nadu origin. The Kalmadi clan and its fame was embedded beyond Kalmadi village, near Malpe-Udupi, and extended to Mangalore, Madras (now Chennai) and Poona (now Pune). We shall have a look at Mangalore (Mangala) branch of the Kalmadi clan and the Kalmadi House, located close to PVS Junction.
The antiquity of Kalmadi House, in a village between Malpe and Udupi, where the present Kalmadi clan, spread all over, has its roots going back to Madhava Rao, a pleader at Brahmavar. In the 1920s his son, K. Laxminarayana Rao, also a lawyer and practising in Mangalore, bought a 60-cent plot near PVS Junction with a small house standing on it.
Original Kalmadi House Near Malpe (Pics: Hemanath Padubidri)
Over time, the house underwent expansion to cope with the growing demand for accomodating Brahmin students coming from interior rural areas of Tulu Nadu for higher studies at St. Aloysius and Government colleges. That is why we find today a large dining hall with an attached kitchen, apart from the regular kitchen, at the rear of this cavernous mansion. As the Kalmadi House members were pioneers of many commercial and community oriented programs, the house became a hub of meetings. It was the setting to plan and launch Karnataka Bank in1924.
While Kalmadi House doubled up as Laxminarayana’s residence and legal chamber, a room attached to the portico doubled up as a record room and overnight shelter for clients who could not go back to their village in those days of lean transport facilities. It continued to be the residence and chamber of his son, K. Vyasa Rao, also a prominent lawyer. Both father and son lawyers must have been very accessible to their clients because their bedroom, with attached dressing room, is next to the portico. Vyasa’s son, Raghavendra Rao, now a retired banker, had organised a modest, free circulation library, based in Kalmadi House, before it became defunct when he left for Bangalore for his law studies.
Kalmadi House also has a presence beyond Tulunadu. One of the original Kalmadi clan members, Dr. Shama Rao, went to Bombay and, later, to Poona. Eventually, Kalmadi became a much recognised and respected surname in Maharashtra. The most famous (now infamous?) from this branch of Kalmadis is Suresh Kalmadi, MP and a leading light in India’s Olympic Movement. His residence in Pune bears the name of Kalmadi House.
To appreciate the antiquity of Kalmadi House, one has to dig a bit into history and go back to Kalmadi, a village between Malpe and Udupi, where the present Kalmadi clan, spread allover, has its roots. We can go back to three generations, starting with Madhva Rao, who is said to have been a pleader at Brahmavar. His eldest son is Raghavendra Rao, who, as landlord, is said to have been receiving 15,000 muras of rice as geni ( rent ). His two younger brothers, Krishna and Ramakrishna were doctors, practising in Madras, while two others, Shankarnarayana and Laxminarayana, were lawyers. While the former practised law in Udupi, Laxminarayana came to Mangalore.
The original Kalmadi House near Malpe, once home to a rich and highly educated Brahmin clan, is in near ruins. Kalmadi House in Madras has succumbed to high-rise buildings. Kalmadi House in Mangalore has lost its solitary status with a modern concrete slab house next to it, occupied by the younger son of Vyasa Rao, K Umesh Rao, a retired engineer. The coconut garden to the north has made way to Laxminagar Apartments. But, Kalmadi House itself still makes a statement as a heritage building. It has hosted five generations of Kalmadis in Mangalore. K.Udayshankar Rao represents the fourth generation while his daughter, Nidhi, and son, Vyasa, represent the fifth.
According to an anonymous epigram, “Antiques are things one generation buys, the next generation gets rid of and the following generation buys again”. Happily Kalmadi House still retains many antiques under its roof - though some have been shifted to the younger brother’s slab house next door and some to a daughter’s house elsewhere in Mangalore. Kalmadi House, which breaths antiquity from floor to ceiling, has furniture and equipment where the ancient is understated and the modern vies for attention. The flooring tiles for the master rooms were imported from Germany through Basel Mission while the roofing tiles are from Commonwealth Tiles, a unit of Basel Mission.
Among the antiques is a grandfather clock of century old vintage, which has to be kept in working condition by weekly keying. The lawyer’s chair and two vakil benches with backrest dominate the portico lobby. The central rooms of this 3000-sq.ft. mansion have lofts with one trapdoor and ladder for access. Build with Burma teakwood, the neat beams and planks are well maintained. But, the use of the loft is different now – dumping space for useless, yet retained, odd things. Similar is the use of the old record room next to the visitor’s lobby. Attached to the kitchen floor is an ancient grinding stone sunk into the floor with one fourth of it above ground. The domestic helpers in those days must have been very agile, or uncomplaining, to squat on the floor and operate the grinding stone which for them was a matter of their daily meal. There is a century old columbi, a massive wooden box, and a large steel safe, which hosted important documents of Karnataka Bank in its initial years.
The well and washing stones are just off the kitchen at the rear and the stable for cattle next to them. Earlier there was a two-room outhouse, north of the main mansion, used as dormitory for students. A large prayer room has now shrunk, making place to a an extra bedroom. Another room is called rice room, where scores of muras of rice which came from the Kalmadi mother house was stored – before land reforms alienated land ownership from the family. To ceiling has two layers of tiles, the lower one being decorative and both meant for weather control. There is also a massive jhoola hung with sturdy steel chains from strong beams. Now the house has incongruous grafts like washing machines, electric fans, music system, TV and electric grinders.
Kalmadi House in Mangalore. (Pics by Kukkaje)
A sturdy lawyer’s table that dominates the portico ( reception lobby ) of Kalmadi House. Great schemes had been planned and executed on this table by Kalmadi Laxminarayana Rao, a leading lawyer of his days, who set up practice in Mangalore towards the end of 19th century. His son, Vyasa Rao, another leading lawyer, specialising in family partition and arbitration, held court with his clients, and even with their opponents, around this table, to settle disputes out of court. His son, Raghavendra Rao, now a retired banker, used this table for his studies. His son, Uday, uses the table to review the operations of his hotel business. Finally, Uday’s son Vyasa, the apple of the eye at Kalmadi House, is hoisted on the table for playful banter. But, this table, worn and jagged due to a century of use, is now married to modernity, with a Sunmica sheet glued to the top surface.
Now we come to the present patriarch of Kalmadi House, Kalmadi Raghvendra Rao, who, as a banker, has earned a niche for himself as a gentle persuaders of borrowers to return the loans of the bank without resorting to force or litigation. Now borrowing has become the integral part of our economy. Also, a problem is repayment of loans. Thus, banks are burdened with non-performing assets – a name given to non-recoverable loans. Recovery of sticky loans was through litigation which was often time-consuming and counter-productive. Some banks take the path of persuasion and compromise to secure as much as possible from the dud loans. This requires a person with great tact, understanding and empathy with the defaulting borrowers. One who has an excellent record in this field is Raghavendra who worked for Karnataka Bank from 1962 to 1994. During the period Raghavendra had headed the bank’s recovery cell and had chalked up a creditable record of salvaging sticky loans for the bank.
Raghavendra, first of two sons of Kalmady Vyasa and Padmavati Rao, was born on December 1, 1934. He had his education at St. Aloysius College, a walking distance from his family’s Kalmady Houuse, completing his Intermediate in 1956. Then he did his B.Com. from Government College, followed by BL from Government Law College, Bangalore, passing out in 1960. Taking a law degree and setting out to practice law is in line with his family tradition.Raghavendr’a grandfather was a lawyer and associated with the launch of Karnataka Bank.
His son, Vyasa Rao, was also being consulted by the bank. So, it was natural for young Raghavendra to join the bank as an officer on the basis of his law degree – after one and a half-year of practice. In the bank, he was mentored by K S N Adiga, Chairman, and K N Basri, GM, of the bank. He made the rounds of some bank branches, starting with the Founder’s branch at Dongerkeri. But, his most significant portfolio in the bank was advances and recovery. He headed the special recovery cell of the bank as Chief Manager and over a five-year period showed exemplary results. In the normal course, when a borrower defaults, the typical response from the bank is high-handed threat to go to court. The borrower is reconciled to this since it gives him time as courts take a long time to decide cases. Even if decee is obtained in favour of the bank, in the absence of assets in the name of the borrower, the recoveries cannot be taken for granted.
With active encouragement from the management, Raghavendra tried to settle matters with the borrowers without resorting to the court litigation route. This involved strategies like negotiating additional securities, extension of time limit for repayment and even giving more loans under certain conditions. More than the strategy, it is the attitude towards the borrower that made the difference. Raghavendra’s approach made the borrower to see a friend in him, out to help him rather than a man out to recover the bank’s money. His success rate was very high – 75 to 80%. He looked at his role as a mediator between the bank management and the borrower and he had often to plead the case of the borrower up to the level of the Board of Directors. He had to assure the borrower not to fear about the situation and offer to look into his problems with a view to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution. This involved instilling confidence in the borrower about fair dealings by the bank. Before and post-retirement, Raghavendra had been giving lectures on the subject in the bank’s Staff Training College.
Post-retirement, Raghavendra leads a sedate life, revolving round temple visits, evening walks and marginal dabbling in shares. Reading and playing with grandchildren are his main diversions. Married in 1961 to Jayanthi, the couple has three children. The eldest, Ravichandra, is a practising doctor while the second son, Udayashanker, a B.Com, runs his own hotels and Mangalore’s only vegetarian bar. Their daughter, Padmini, is also a practising doctor and is married to a banker. Raghavendra seems to be a contented person with few wants and expectations. His philosophy is: if something comes to him, it is a gift; if it goes, it is not his. He is the President of Shri Billugudda Pancha Daivasthana Development Trust at the original Kalmadi (Malpe) and has worked for renovation and beautification of this complex.
Asked about Suresh Kalmadi being in the headlines, Raghavendra said that Suresh, whose father studied while staying in the Mangalore’s Kalmadi House, has acquired a pan-India image. But, the Mangalore Kalmadis claimed that they never basked in the reflected glory of Suresh. They live a low profile life and wish him well.
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his bebsite www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).