Dr. B.K. Narayana Rao (1881-1965)

B.K.N. Rao was the eldest son of Keshava Rao and Lakshamma. He had two younger brothers — Shamanna and Subba Rao. At an early age, he lost his mother. As his father’s job required a lot of touring, to look after the three boys, his father married Chennamma, a girl of twelve who was only two years younger than B.K.N. Rao.

B.K.N. Rao had his early schooling in Mysore and at the age of 14, passed the S.S.L.C. (12th grade) exam with honors. He then went to Madras to join college. His ambition was to become a doctor and serve people. His younger brothers, however, did not care much for English education. Shamanna became a landlord and looked after the family property — lands with coconut and betel nut trees — in a village near Tumkur. Subba Rao stayed in the ancestral home in Basavaapatna and was a postmaster.

Before B.K.N. Rao left for Madras, his father thought it best to get him married so that his own young wife Chennamma could have a companion. B.K.N. Rao was married to eight-year-old Nacharamma. Since she was also young and missed her people, his father Keshava Rao brought two of her younger brothers to the house, looked after their education and made them part of the family. Now the house was full.

After graduating from college, B.K.N. Rao joined the medical college and later worked in Madras Presidency for nearly 15 years–in Bezawada (now Vijayawada), Palani, Coimbatore and other Tamil and Telugu speaking areas as a medical officer. By then he had two children. As he wanted the children to have a Kannada education, he resigned his job and came to settle down in Mysore State during Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodeyar, 4th’s time. From there he went to England for further studies and added a few more degrees to his name.

B.K.N. Rao was the first eye surgeon of Mysore State and worked as the Superintendent of Minto Ophthalmic Hospital (named for Lord Minto) for a long time. He was also the principal of the medical school and finally became the senior surgeon of Mysore State–the highest position. In addition, he served as the Palace Physician in Mysore and as the physician to the Nizam of Hyderabad.

After retirement, he opened the Prabha Eye Clinic in Visweswarapuram and worked there a number of years before passing it on to his son-in-law, Dr. H. Krishna Murthy.

As a man, B.K.N. Rao was highly disciplined and believed in doing things perfectly. Though there were five or six servants at home, he expected all his nine children–five girls and four boys–to do their work themselves. To him no work was mean. He made them clean lavatories, sweep the yard and cowshed, etc.

He tried hard to get rid of the “purifying ceremony” (Praayashchitta), which was done when anyone went abroad (“crossing the sea,” as it was called), but failed. He did not care for societal and family objections to co-education and sent his daughter and daughter-in-law to a boys’ college after marriage.

B.K.N. Rao was a very religious man, though he never admitted it. He encouraged all of the great pundits of our community and invited them during Navarathri for all sorts of pujas and homas.

He loved gardening and regularly trimmed all the bushes in his garden, which also contained a number of exotic plants. While doing yard work, he would always tell his children and grandchildren the names of all the plants, how and where they grew.

His generosity knew no bounds. Though his brothers did not care for English education, B.K.N. Rao brought their children to the house, looked after them for years and turned them into doctors and engineers. The grandparents on both sides stayed with the family as well. Of all the people in his life, he loved his stepmother immensely. He had great respect for her and always consulted her (and rarely his father) before doing anything.

B.K.N. Rao was also a great philosopher–it must have been the influence of his best friend, Dr. D. V. Gundappa. B.K.N. Rao’s house had a big library of great classics, religious and philosophical books, and plays in English, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam. He preferred to read books in Telugu. He could fluently speak all those languages and also some Urdu and German.

Unlike his four close friends, he was not at all interested in movies. They used to force him to go with them, but he always stayed in the car and waited until the show was over.

By example, he taught his children not to be selfish, that money wasn’t everything, to care for other people, the dignity of labor, and punctuality. Despite all this, none of the children were ever up to his expectations.

In line with this philosophy, he always wanted to do a lot for the Sankethi community. He went with other committee members to villages to collect money and food on a regular basis. He even served as the first president of the Sankethi Association.

B.K.N. Rao’s philosophy was “do what all you can for others and don’t boast about it.” Once when attending a Gita lecture, Dr. D.V. Gundappa called one of B.K.N. Rao’s daughters and asked, “Why have you come to this lecture, when you have the living Gita in your own house?” This simple question succinctly summarized the great life lead by this Sankethi pioneer.


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