"My teachers sent me forward, and Gandhi asked me: 'Naam kya hai?' I told him. Then he asked me, 'Hindi aata hai?' and I said, 'Thada-Thoda' and he laughed."
A 100-year-old high school in the heart of Bengaluru was instrumental in encouraging a young freedom fighter to fight against the tyrannical British rule.
Interestingly, his journey began with a Hindi speech which needed to be translated in Kannada!
The National High School (NHS) in Basavanagudi, Bengaluru (then Bangalore), was founded by Annie Besant in 1917—the year she became the president of the Indian National Congress. Besant wished to set up similar educational institutes across the country that would instil the values of patriotism and self-reliance among the young students and the next generation of freedom fighters.
In 1936, Mahatma Gandhi visited the school to gather support for the freedom movement. It is quite possible that his speech, originally in Hindi, did not generate much enthusiasm, so the school selected 16-year-old Hanumanthappa Narasimhaiah to translate the speech into Kannada.
This seemingly simple task would set the course of Narasimhaiah’s (fondly known as Hosur Narasimhaiah or simply, HN) life.
HN was a born in Hosur in Karnataka. The village had no formal education system, and so he was forced to attend a government school in the Gauribidanur town of the Kolar district. However, the school did not have the facility to provide education to children after Class 8, so he was forced to take a one-year hiatus. In the following year, the principal of the Gauribidanur school, S Narayana Raio who was transferred to the NHS in Bengaluru, invited HN to continue his studies there.
Eager to finish his formal education but with limited financial resources, HN walked 85 kms to Bengaluru on foot.
Once he reached the city, he stayed with Raio till he could get a room at the school hostel. He joined as a student in 1935, and the following year, Gandhi paid a visit. HN, a sharp and enthusiastic student, was chosen to translate his Hindi speech for the Kannada-speaking audience.
“I met Gandhi in 1936 when he came to Bangalore. We students of NHS were waiting in the shade of a tree in Kumara Krupa to meet him. He asked to speak to someone who knew Hindi and translate his speech into Kannada. My teachers sent me forward, and Gandhi asked me: ‘Naam kya hai?’ I told him. Then he asked me, ‘Hindi aata hai?’ and I said, ‘Thada-Thoda’ and he laughed. How could a 9th standard student like me translate his Hindi speech?” he wrote.
From that day onward, HN became a dedicated follower of Gandhian values.
According to Good News India, he cherished this task so much that “it was a story he was to tell all his life to his students, they, in turn, basking in reflected glory.”
Six years later, when Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement, HN took a break from his undergraduate studies and joined Gandhi, describing this as “the most momentous decision in my life. Like hundreds of other protestors, HN too was arrested for his participation in the movement. “I spent nearly nine months in jails in Yeravada, Mysore and the Central Jail in Bangalore during the Quit India Movement. Throughout my student days, I stayed in free hostels. So when I was in Central Jail, which was just opposite my Central College hostel, I found no difference between them both gave me free boarding and lodging,” HN had once declared.
You may also like: A PM, a Pickle Tree & the Tale of India’s First State-Owned 5 Star Hotel!
HN decided to continue his studies after his release, and studied Physics for his graduation and post graduation. He maintained that he developed a scientific temper in school and that the habit of questioning led him to this path.
Following this, HN taught Physics at the National College in Bengaluru till 1957 before going to the USA for his doctoral research in “The Radioactive Decay of Hafnium and Thulium Isotopes.”
“In school, I was considered a good and an earnest student. And I liked teaching. In middle school, I used to help other students. I have dedicated my life to service, influenced by Gandhiji.
I have worked with missionary zeal to collect crores of rupees to set up numerous educational institutions all over the state. I have that same zeal even today. My willpower and determination have seen me through life. How else do you explain my survival on uppittu, rice and yoghurt for four years in the US?” HN wrote.
He obtained a PhD from the Ohio State University and continued teaching. After serving as the principal of the National College in Bengaluru, he was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University in 1972. Throughout his life, HN strived to work for science and against superstitions and black magic.
You may also like: Gandhi in Bengaluru: When a ‘Sabarmati Farmer’ Persuaded Women to Donate ‘Streedhan’
In 1962, HN founded an NGO called the Bangalore Science Forum which organised weekly lectures on various scientific topics. He even established the Bangalore Lalithakala Parishat and BV Jagadeesh Science Centre.
HN remained a bachelor, staunch Gandhian, and teacher till the end of his days. He strongly voiced his criticism against self-styled Godmen like Sathya Sai Baba who claimed to perform miracles. He was also strictly against the practice of accepting donations or using political affiliations for admission in colleges.
Till date, HN remains the only Indian to be elected as a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. In 1984, he received the Padma Bhushan award for his contributions to literature and education.
From religiously following Gandhian principles to questioning unfair religious practices, HN never deviated from the path of reason. When he passed away at the age of 84 due to prolonged septicaemia, HN was still the president of the National Education Society. What could be a better record of his values than his life itself?
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)