Canara Bank marks 115th Founder’s Day – A Recall of Subba Rao

November 19, 2020

The life of the dead is placed in memory of the living,” said Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), Roman statesman and scholar. While Canara Bank’s marking its 115th Founder’s Day (19/11/2020) is laudable, his achievement’s stretch beyond the bank and need recalling for the new generations of Tulunadu and beyond.

Adversity led Ammembal Subraya Pai (who signed as A Subba Rao) to become a pioneer in the field of education and banking – to the immense benefit of Goud Saraswat Brahmins and people at large in Tulunadu and beyond. Having qualified to be a lawyer, Rao was apprenticing under H H Shepherd in Madras. He also had an offer from Justice H. Holloway, who had mentored Rao even while he was a law student, to go to England for higher studies. But, this could not be entertained in the orthodox atmosphere in his community then. Rao had a good law practice in Mangalore. His brother thought his talents would shine better in Madras High Court. Accordingly he established himself in the profession in Madras. However, suffering repeated attacks of painful gout, his doctors advised him to return to Mangalore. These adversities turned out to be a gain for Mangalore. Rao now lives on in the realm of people’s grateful memory and hearts, through the institutions he founded – Canara High School which has emerged as a powerhouse of education and Canara Bank, now a leading nationalised bank with the merger of other banks with it.

Ammembal Subraya Pai was born at Mulki on November 19, 1852. His father, Upendra, who had started as a pleader at Kaup, shifted his practice to Mulki several years earlier to Rao’s birth. Upendra shifted to Mangalore in 1864 for the sake of his children’s education. Rao was admitted to Government College High School. He stood high in Matriculation and FA (Fellow of Arts) exams. His father sent him for
degree course in Madras.

In 1870 Rao got admission to Presidency College. After passing BA, with second rank in the Presidency, he joined Madras Law College where he topped the list of successful candidates of BL exam. After returning and staying for a short time in Mangalore, Rao went back to Madras for his law apprenticeship and at the end of it enrolled at the Madras High Court with the idea of settling down there. However, the untimely death of his father in 1876 brought him back to Mangalore where he set up his own practice.

After ten years of practice in Mangalore, Rao went back to Madras in 1887 to resume his practice there. It is there that one day four young men from Canara, who were studying in Madras, called on Rao to put before him their idea of starting a high school in Mangalore. He readily pledged his support which was to be remote controlled from Madras. But, as it turned out, Rao had to return to Mangalore in 1889 due to his gout problem. With him now in Mangalore, Canara High School was started in 1891

In 1894, Rao started Canara Girls High School. The rest is posthumous history with Canara Engineering College at Benjanpadau as the jewel in the crown. Earlier, a branch of Canara was started at Urwa and PU and graduate colleges were started along with expansion at the base of the educational pyramid.

In the early 1900s, Arbuthnot Company, which collected deposits from the public and gave loans, crashed and caused widespread distress in Canara. Many families lost all their savings in the crash. The smaller merchants found it very difficult to get credit except at prohibitive rates of interest. Rao foresaw disaster ahead if the community did not mobilise its own resources to help itself. The result was the starting on July1, 1906 of the Canara Hindu Permanent Fund Limited, which was later to become Canara Bank. The venture proved an instant success. That so soon after the crash of Arbuthnot, the people entrusted their savings to the newly started institution is an eloquent testimony of the trust people had in Rao.

Finally, repeated and severe attacks of gout led to the sudden death of Rao on July 25, 1909. The news of the death spread like wild fire and plunged the district in grief. People thronged the corridors of his house and filed into the room where his body was laid. People wept and many related how Rao had helped them in their distress. He had always been silent about his own acts of kindness.

It may be noted in conclusion that Canara Bank turned out to be a great survivor with other banks merging with it in the reorganization of nationalized banks whereas other such banks of Tulunadu could not retain their historic identity in the merger process.





By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 23 2020

    Writing about descendants is a nice idea. But. my age and other commitments does not permit me to take on this.
    However, if Daiji blesses, I can feature some heroes of Tulunadu.

  • Joe Lobo Kulshekar, Bangalore

    Sun, Nov 22 2020

    Nice informative article.However, can John Sir throw some light about the descendants of A.Subba Rao? Are they still active in business or education fields?

  • Merlyn Brito, Orlando

    Sun, Nov 22 2020

    Thank you for your enlightening article. The life and vision of the founder of my bank makes it all the more dear to me.
    Merlyn Brito

  • Kumar, Mangalore

    Sat, Nov 21 2020

    Many thanks Mr. J.B. Monteiro for sharing this article. I think we should encourage writers to share such article about the sons and daughters of South Kanara like Srinivas Mallya, George Fernandes and others.

  • Anil Girotra, Delhi

    Sat, Nov 21 2020

    Very informative piece on the founder of canara Edu institutions and canara bank. Having worked in canara bank for 34 yrs I knew most things but had not known what triggered for him to set up canara bank. Mr A Subbarao pai was indeed a visionary and in fact ahead of his time. At the age of 40 or so he saw the necessity of setting up a girls school which to day too is a necessity. Thanks mr John

  • Mrs. A.F D'souza, kundapura/mumbai.

    Sat, Nov 21 2020

    Thanks mr. j.b..monteiro for the information on the life and the struggles of our founder late shri A Subbarao Pai. I thank almighty for giving me the great opportunity of serving in Canara Bank for 27yrs. I pray that this great bank of ours will continue to live its motto of serving to grow and growing to serve. May his soul rest in peace .

  • Mohan Prabhu,, Mangalore (Kankanady)/Ottawa, Canada

    Fri, Nov 20 2020

    Thank you John for this jewel highlighting the achievements of Ammebal Subraya Pai, a.k.a. A Subba Rao).This great man's achievements and service to the community, and to the town of Mangalore (as it then was) are indeed laudable and I wonder if there is any befitting memorial in Mangalore which lesser men, like the founder of the failed Vijaya Bank were honoured (recall the saga of L.H.H. Road).
    Hae A.S.Rao survived his ailment, he would have come under Gandhi's influence (who came on the scene a few hours after he passed away) and would have become a great political leader.
    BTW, I thought FA stood for First Year Arts, and not Fellow of Arts.

  • Roshan Dsouza, Dubai

    Fri, Nov 20 2020

    Nice article and the information.

    Keep up the spirit.

  • Prescilla Fernandes, Mangalore

    Fri, Nov 20 2020

    Si, your article throws light to the minute incidents in the life of the Founder A.Subba Rao. Great men were born in Kanara Region. Canara Bank turned out to be a great survivor with other banks merging with it in the reorganization of nationalized banks whereas other such banks of Tulunadu could not retain their historic identity in the merger process which is painful.

  • M.Sreeniva Murthy, Bangalore

    Fri, Nov 20 2020

    Thank you for your article on this great founder
    I remember each and every day of this great man
    Who gave me the opportunity to serve with the organisation

  • Valerian Baretto, Bantwal - Bangalore Rajajinagar

    Thu, Nov 19 2020

    While many of us were aware of the Founder of Canara Bank, life history of the founder was not known to us nor did we venture into knowing this piece of information. Mr.Monteiro has highlighted in his article the origin of the founder. Thank you Mr.J.B. Monteiro for the beautiful and very useful article.

  • Dr. Rohan Colaco, Ph.D., Mangalore

    Thu, Nov 19 2020

    Dear Mr. Monterio,
    A wonderful tribute to one of the great men our city has seen. What keeps ordinary men from extraordinary ones is their foresight and attitude of service. They see what is the benefit of the larger community in their endeavors. This lifts them up to a different pedestal. Their legacy of service will remain for years to come and definitely somewhere knowingly or unknowingly we would have been benefited by it directly or indirectly. Finally a grand salute to A Subba Rao... Thank you for your inspiring writing and as always I remain numero uno responder of yours....

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