Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Panduranga Bhat - The Vintage Personality

“Not all the armies of all the empires of earth
can crush the spirit of one true man. 
And that one man will prevail.”
                                                                      ---Terence Mac Swiney
If you are a person who is interested in meeting unique personalities, you may visit the Corporation Park on the 16th Main in BTM Layout, Bangalore, on any day between 5 PM to 6 PM. You are certain to find an elderly gentleman in pure white dhoti and Kurtha sitting on a bench with his small circle of friends. Yes, he is the man you are searching for. He is Panduranga Bhat, the man who fought for truth all his life. Now in the evening of his life, Mr. Bhat will appear to you as simple and as pure as - you guessed it right - the original Gandhi Mahatma himself! Mind you, there is absolutely no exaggeration in this comparison. That there is some physical similarity is of course only coincidental!
I was introduced to Bhat only about three years back. But within this short association I could catch a glimpse of his vintage personality. He has always treated me as his younger brother. This is my tribute to the venerable gentleman of the 1929-vintage.
Panduranga Bhat was born as the second son of Purshotham Bhat and Anasuya Bhat couple at Dongerkeri in Mangalore on 11th October 1929. Bhat’s grandfather Ram Bhat was a well-known Purohit (priest) in the Konkani Brahmin community. While Ram Bhat’s other sons continued with the hereditary occupation of priesthood, Purshotham was made of a different mettle. He was quite aware that he could not bring up his family of six sons and a daughter with the small income generated from the profession of priesthood. He knew his future was in business. He started a kirana shop in the prestigious Car Street in Mangalore. He ran it quite successfully and was later joined by his two sons – Vasanth and Raghavendra.
Left to himself Panduranga Bhat would have perhaps retired as a successful doctor in Mangalore. He was basically good in studies. But that was not to be. Family constraints made him join his maternal uncle in his textile business. His mother hailed from the highly prestigious Sujirkars’ family that was well known for its textile business in Mangalore. Bhat joined the firm in 1946 after discontinuing his studies, as an Intermediate student. That was the end of his educational career.
Bhat began his professional career at the age of 17 years, as a cashier in the textile shop, on a monthly salary of Rs50. Within a short time he picked up all the nuances of the textile business. Slowly he was entrusted with higher responsibilities and became an expert in the line. Everything went well till his maternal uncle passed away suddenly in 1958. As the children of the uncle were quite young, there was no elder male member in the family to look after the business. Bhat was offered a partnership in the business for managing the shop. But he was reluctant to take the full responsibility on his shoulders for obvious reasons. It was Shri GopalaKrishna Nayak, the chairman of Corporation Bank and a close relative of his maternal uncle, who persuaded Bhat to take charge of the business. He made Bhat sign the partnership deed. In addition to a share in the business, Bhat was offered an annual remuneration of Rs1,800. Simultaneously Bhat’s annual salary was also increased to Rs1,000 from the earlier Rs600.
Bhat’s business acumen came into the fore now. He took a working capital facility from the Corporation Bank through the good offices of Mr. Nayak. The business saw a big jump and Bhat could clear all the loans including the working capital facility from the bank within a short period of one year. Bhat was in need of another partnership now – the life partnership! He found his companion in Meera alias Shobha who hailed from a respectable family in Kumble in Kasaragod. The marriage took place in 1959. The couple led a happy married life even though they had no issues. Bhat carried on the business successfully till late sixties. He allowed his share in the partnership to accumulate and drew only salary and remuneration as agreed.
Things took a different turn when the elder sons of Bhat’s maternal uncle joined the business by 1967. Bhat was meticulous in maintaining all the accounts and the younger generation had their own way of thinking. There was a clash of values. After carrying on till 1969, Bhat had it enough. He decided to quit and join his father’s business with his other two brothers. It was again Mr. Nayak who intervened and asked Bhat to accept Re1 lakh as his final settlement amount. Nayak advised Bhat to open his own business with the settlement amount. He knew the capacity of Bhat to manage the business. Bhat was not at all agreeable. He simply quit and joined his father’s business.
Bhat was given the exclusive charge of handling Government ration business. The business needed maintenance of detailed records. Bhat was a master in keeping records as he was an expert accountant by now. While Raghavendra looked after supply side, Vasanth handled the main business in the shop. The first son Sadashiva moved to Mumbai and settled down there comfortably. The fourth son Ganesh did his B.Com, LLB and joined the Syndicate Bank. The youngest Rajaram also did his B.Com and joined Syndicate Bank. The only daughter Jayanthi was married off to a respectable family. Her husband was a Manager in Canara Bank. The joint family saw good days with all the members settled down comfortably. Meanwhile, Raghavendra diversified into dairy business.
The family shifted to Bangalore in 1981 at the instance of Ganesh who rose to the position of AGM in Syndicate Bank. For some time the family stayed with the youngest son Rajaram and then moved to a separate house in Hanumanthanagar. The parents had passed away in the meanwhile. Raghavendra remained in Mangalore. Ganesh later took VRS and came to Bangalore and settled down at his house in BTM Layout.
Bhat joined Padam Distributors, who were exclusive distributors for Vimal’s sarees, as an Accountant. The firm initially recognised his expertise and was giving him liberal bonus in addition to salary. He worked there until 1985. That year the firm told him that it could not pay bonus as there was no sufficient profit. Bhat knew exactly how much the firm had earned! He told them bluntly not to offer excuses to him and rather tell him that they were not willing to pay bonus. He also thought it was high time for him to leave.
Bhat had another shortest employment with a firm called Ranka Brothers. The proprietor of this firm had known Bhat when he was with the earlier firm. He could make out Bhat’s abilities and in fact had been pestering him to join his firm. Now that Bhat had left the firm, he asked him to join his firm immediately. Within two days of joining the new firm, Bhat found out that the employees of the firm were stealing cloth on a regular basis by hoodwinking the owner. He asked them to mend their ways. But the bunch was a hardened lot. It threatened him with dire consequences unless he joined them in their cheating business! Bhat resigned on the third day!
Bhat was now invited by Padam Fabrics, who were distributors for Orkay Mills. The proprietor was related to the owners of Padam Distributors and knew the true worth of Bhat. He fully utilized the services of Bhat. Bhat advised him to avail working capital facility from Bank to increase the business turnover. He helped the firm to improve the turnover from Rs85 lakh to Rs3.5 crore within a short time. He served the firm with distinction till he took retirement in the year 1997. Meanwhile he lost his beloved wife due to a sudden heart attack in 1995. It was a personal tragedy for him. It took some time for him to recover from the permanent loss.
Bhat himself had a heart attack and was admitted to St. John’s Hospital in a serious condition. He thought he was following the path of his beloved wife as he had witnessed her sudden death under similar circumstances. But his heart was revived at the hospital and he came back to life. He saw a doctor named Pravin treating him. Pravin wanted to know the ‘financial position’ of Bhat. Bhat always took things light-heartedly. He told Pravin that he expected him to tell his ‘heart-position’ instead of ascertaining his financial position! But Pravin was dead serious. He told Bhat that he had three of his arteries blocked, which needed surgery. Bhat asked him how many of them were still open and got the reply as ‘none’! Pravin also told Bhat that the cost of operation would be more than Re1 lakh. Bhat told him that he wanted to be discharged to go home!
Two days later another doctor visited Bhat at the hospital. He was Dr.Pradeep Shetty (the famous cardiologist who is presently with Narayana Hrudayalaya). He was the son of a famous Judge whom Bhat knew very well. He started talking with Bhat in Tulu. He was surprised to find Bhat quite relaxed in spite of knowing that he needed a major heart surgery. He told Bhat that he would reduce the cost of operation to about Rs85,000. But Bhat was not prepared to part with his lifetime savings, to be at the mercy of others for his maintenance all his life. He asked Dr.Pradeep to tell him if it was possible to get his arteries opened by changing the lifestyle and by regular treatment. The doctor told him that he was taking a calculated risk even though it was theoretically possible.
Bhat simply got himself discharged and came home. He was determined to get himself cured without the costly surgery. He consulted Dr.Chandra Ghatgi, who directed him to Dr. Manjunath at the Jayadeva Hospital. Dr. Manjunath told Bhat that it was indeed possible to have the arteries reopened with strict regimen of food and lifestyle coupled with medical treatment. Bhat started taking medicines on the advice of Dr.Chandra Ghatgi. Later he started taking Homeopathic medicines in addition to allopathic treatment under the advice of Dr.J K Gundu Rao. He changed his lifestyle completely with regular walk and dieting.
You may not believe this! But true it was. A test conducted after one year found one of the arteries of Bhat opened completely enabling smooth flow of blood into the heart! Another two years later the real miracle had taken place! The other two arteries had also opened up fully! Bhat had created a medical history!
A number of factors had contributed to the medical history created by Bhat. Bhat always had a philosophical approach to life. He had association with the Ramakrishna Mutt in Mangalore right from 1954. He was formally initiated in 1966 by Swami Veereshwarananda. He was closely associated with the activities of the Mutt in Mangalore. He had great respect and attachment to the personalities of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sharada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
Bhat continued his association with the Ramakrishna Ashram after coming to Bangalore. Till date he is actively involved with the activities in the Ashram. This helped him immensely in bearing the loss of his beloved wife. Bhat couple had no issues; the void was filled up by children of his brothers and sister. His younger brother Ganesh wanted him and the family of Vasanth to live with his family in BTM Layout. He constructed an additional floor in his house to enable the trio of Bhat and Vasanth couple to live independently.
Bhat has led a pure and simple life without aspiring for wealth and fame all these days. He remains jovial even in the evening of his life as you will find out when you speak to him personally. He has great regards for his brother Ganesh and his wife Suguna, Vasanth and his wife Sumana who are looking after him so affectionately. May God bless him with good health and happiness always!
A V Krishnamurthy