April 30, 2021
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
-William Shakespeare, English dramatic poet (1564 –1616) in Julius Caesar.
These Shakespearian line are confirmed by the life and legacy of Dr Tonse Madhav Anant Pai (Madhav hereafter) whose 123rd birth anniversary is set to be celebrated on April 30 at Manipal, his karmabhoomi, Udupi and the adjoining district of Dakshina Kannada where also the institution he founded flourish. Recent generations may not have an idea of the life and institutions Madhav founded and helped to grow.
There are many landmarks that survive the death of Madhav in Udupi – Manipal, Mangalore and Bangalore and even beyond the borders of India. Madhav survives through the vibrant institutions he founded and nurtured. But, this article is not going to be a catalogue of his achievements and the public recognition that was bestowed on him through various awards and citations.
Dr TMA Pai
TMA Pai International Convention Centre
Madhav was not born with a silver spoon. He was not a readymade legend. He overcame the constraints of his humble birth and walked the thorny path of growth. Thus, tracking his path to greatness is interesting and instructive. Many books have been written about Madhav. But, I am helped by a slim book, Dr TMA Pai, by Siddapur Vasudeva Bhat, in the series Konkani Mahamanestha Lekamala and published by Karnataka Konkani Sahithya Academy. There are many turning points in Madhav’s life and he has often caught the tide at the right time to realise his cherished goals.
Madhav belonged to a Gowd Saraswat Brahmin family that lived on a 20-acre farm at Tonse, 8 KM north of Udupi, which had to provide for a family of 50 members. Madhav’s grandfather, Ranga Pai, had seven sons and three daughters. His fourth son, Ananth was a small time merchant in Brahmavar. He married Yashoda from Kalyanpur’s Baliga family. Madhav, their third son, was born on April 30, 1898. Madhav’s father died in 1907. Following this, Yeshoda returned to her paternal home with the children and assumed their responsibility. She moulded the character of her children and died in 1955 at the age of 75 years.
Madhav started his schooling in 1905 in Christian English School at Kallianpur and continued in Hindu Higher Primary School, also in Kallianpur. In 1910, he shifted to the Taluk Board School in Udupi. Next he joined Christian High School (Basel Mission) in Udupi. He was brilliant in Maths, regularly scoring 100% marks. While in this school, there was an occasion when the students had a grievance against the school and wanted to represent it to the authorities. But, none was ready to be the first signatory, lest he be singled out for retribution. Madhav drew a large circle with the help of a compass below the complaint and made students to sign around it. The Headmaster had a good laugh at the clever trick and appreciated Madhav’s initiative.
After finishing SSLC in 1916, Madhav went to Mangalore to do his Intermediate at Government College. Looking at his mark sheet, especially his record in Maths, the Principal readily agreed to admit him. But, Madhav also wanted his friend to be admitted with him. The Principal, after studying his friend’s mark sheet, refused admission to him. Then he went to St. Aloysius College with his friend and sought admission for both. The Principal, Fr Feraz, happily admitted him and since he happened to be the 100th student to be admitted, he was given a scholarship of Rs 80 (a princely sum then) and the scholarship continued for three years. When the question of admission for his friend came up, Fr Feraz studied his SSLC mark sheet and said that the college welcomes eager and bright students like him and not only admitted him but also gave him a scholarship. This incident and later his observance of the conduct and attitude of the Italian Jesuit Fathers greatly impressed Madhav and they became his role models in his own work in the educational field. For him, students were not just statistics on the rolls but human beings to be respected and moulded.
Madhav broke his studies to help collect funds for the revival of his old Hindu Higher Elementary School which was on the verge of closure. This mission over, Madhav resumed his studies, enrolling for MBBS in Madras in June 1920. When he got his MBBS degree in 1925, there was another turning point in Madhav’s life. A professor from Hong Kong came to Madras and offered to take him there on a tempting salary. Madhav fell for the bait and built up visions of earning good money and sending it home. But, when this idea was put before his mother she was firmly against it. She said that he had been away from her ever so often and she was becoming old. She would like to see him becoming great. His medical skills were most needed and deserved by the local people. She did not care for more money or riches from his foreign earnings. That is how she retained Madhav in India and saw him become great on the wings of service to the people.
Finally, one more instance of taking the tide at the right time. At the time of Independence, Madhav’s greatest ambition was to start a college. Many called the idea crazy and withheld support. In frustration, he returned whatever money he had collected for the project. Then, following the assassination of Gandhiji in 1948, there was surge of popular sentiments for Gandhiji. Madhav revived his college dream in the name of Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College and he was able to collect the requisite funds. The rest is history.
Tail-piece: In Mangalore the most visible monument to his memory is the grand Convention Centre, first such for the city, on MG Road.