By B. Sreekantswamy
Age is just a number that might have become a clichéd word with no dearth of stories heard from various quarters about how the elderly with youthful zest still roar to start, exploring unchartered territories. Here is the story of Dr. B. Niranjan Raj Urs enriching the value of the same.
Like his peers, the 62-year-old Urs is in his own comfort zone, with no worries about rushing to the office in time. Above all, what’s uncommon is Urs lost total vision of his left eye at the age of 33 (he had lost the vision of his right eye at the age of 12), rendering him visually challenged, but that did not pin him down to curse the fate. It rather emboldened him to pursue his penchant for ‘teaching and studying’, with his wife Gayatri to support him.
After retiring as the Deputy Director of the Institute of Co-operative Management (ICM), Kannur, Kerala, on Sept. 30, 2020, Urs relocated his base to Mysuru in July 2021 and moved into Windsor Apartment (where once stood doyen of Sandalwood, film producer and actor late M.P. Shankar’s bungalow named Panchavati). It has been two years since Urs made the ‘Cultural Capital’ Mysuru his home again, but his quest for knowledge transcends boundaries.
Urs was a 12-year-old when he lost the vision of his right eye after being hit by the sharp edge of the wood-crafted material while playing ‘Gilli Dandu’ (an outdoor game which was popular among young earlier). He was playing with his friends at Lakshmipuram, where once stood the bungalow of his maternal grandfather H. Mallaraja Urs who was in charge of ‘Aane Karoti’ (Elephant Stable) during the princely era. The incident left him with a ‘single eye’.
His father A. Basavaraj Urs, who was a Police Inspector then, was posted at Thirthahalli in Shimogga (now Shivamogga) district. As a boy, Niranjan was sent to his grandparents’ house in Mysuru, to be taken care of there, as he was afflicted by polio in his right leg when he was an 11-month-old toddler, and required constant care. He still endures the effect of Polio, with his right leg being abnormal. Moreover, he was the youngest among eight siblings and the love for him was obvious. Though Niranjan Urs lost the vision of his right eye, it did not deter him as he went on to study SSLC, second PUC, degree and post-graduation. While he studied up to class 2 at Jagadamba Shishuvihara near Siddappa Square, he studied class 3 to 7 at Christ The King Convent (CKC) which had a co-education facility then, 8 to 10 at Sarada Vilas Boys High School, PUC in Sarada Vilas College, Krishnamurthypuram and Degree at Maharaja’s College.
The academic mettle of Urs shone brighter when he excelled in MA in Cooperation from Mysore University with a Gold Medal for being the first ranker.
Under Physically Challenged quota, Urs landed a job as Inspector of Cooperative Societies, Office of Joint Registrar of Cooperative Societies, opposite Mysore Palace. After undergoing GDC training, he was transferred to Hassan and was later posted as Internal Auditor at Janata Bazaar near D. Banumaiah’s College on New Sayyaji Rao Road.
Amid this, came a testing time for Urs, for whom UGC Fellowship to do Ph.D was on offer. But he was caught in a dilemma as obtaining a long leave for three to four years wasn’t that easy. His application for the leave did not get consideration in time. Finally, Urs made up his mind and shot off a resignation letter much to the shock of his seniors. They even tried to dissuade him, but for Urs’ steely resolve.
“After being relieved from duty, I joined for Ph.D research in October, 1986. Prof. Rudrappa was the Vice-Chancellor of the Mysore University then and Prof. Sujana was the Registrar. Dr. Renukarya, a Professor in the Department of Co-operation, was assigned as my guide. I owe a lot of gratitude to Prof. Renukarya who gave me freedom. He said how the thesis should be restricted to 300 pages,” recalls Urs without much ado.
“Amid this, in an unexpected development, the then Deputy Secretary of the Department of Co-operation, Karnataka, summoned me to the Office one day and advised me to write to the Government withdrawing my resignation and requesting for study leave. The Officer even dictated the content of the letter and then saw to it that the Government sanctioned extraordinary leave, first for two years and then extended it by one year and six months (from October 1986 to April 1990). This came in handy in completing the Ph.D,” says Urs.
Later, when Urs returned to duty, he was posted to Puttur as Inspector of Cooperative Societies where he worked between 1990 and 92. However, he put in his papers, as he got a Central Government job with the State Government’s service period added to his new job.
On Oct. 8, 1992, Urs was posted as a lecturer at the ICM, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It was one among 20 such institutes in the country and Urs’ passion for teaching and learning got an edge here. However, fate had something else in store for him, as he started experiencing the loss of vision gradually in his left eye with too much pressure on the only eye (as he had lost the vision of his right eye as a child). Urs had a love to pore over books, which took a toll on his left eye. The ophthalmologist at a hospital diagnosed it to be a case of cataract, suggesting that the operation will be the cure. However, those in the know-how suggested trying Ayurveda.
Not to disappoint, Urs went to Dr. Shanthakumari of Government Ayurveda Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. It was Shanthakumari who gave her true opinion, albeit rather bitter, about no chance of regaining vision, but for reducing the rate of degeneration. The condition is called RP — Retinal Pigmentation.
“I had a 10-month-old son then,” recalls Urs, mostly hinting at what may have gone through in his mind at that time (at the age of 33 in 1994, when he lost the total vision of his left eye too). “Certain things in life have no explanation. It happened, so happened,” says Urs meaning how we should move on in life.
But Urs calls him also lucky at times, as he humbly takes the name of his colleague Jijimol George, the Librarian at the Institute, who between 1994 and 2003 helped him glean knowledge from various books.
“Jijimol George helped me so much as she knew my area of interest and was keeping the books ready, with two to three students reading them for me,” said Urs who still has every minute details of his life on his fingertips, which he recalls with accuracy, leaving listeners spellbound.
What’s intriguing further is, amid all these conditions, Urs had started learning the smattering of Malayalam language and was teaching the trainees, irrespective of short and long-term trainees, in a mix of English and Malayalam languages. One fine day, he had perfected the art of speaking in Malayalam, which he still speaks well.
Says Urs: “Language is a key to understand culture of any land. So, I learnt Malayalam and more the languages we learn, it is good.”
After losing sight, Dr. Urs had to take the help of readers for fulfilling his penchant for knowledge. He used to pay these readers and depended on them a lot. It was sometime in 2003 that he came in contact with R. Sudheer, an Instrumentation Engineer, who was also suffering from RP, but from the age of 26.
“He introduced me to a software that made reading books easy, but it came at a price. From Sudheer, I came in contact of one Balaraman, a visually challenged by birth, who trained me to read on the screen using the software. This greatly expanded my vista of reading,” he reveals.
In November 2010, Urs was transferred as Vice-Principal to ICM, Kannur and was re-designated as Deputy Director till his retirement. It was in God’s Own Country Kerala, Urs got a personality and it became evident, when the prominent TV channels interviewed him close to his superannuation, says Urs with a tinge of pride.
For Urs, what keeps him going for six to eight hours daily, till date is his inquisitive nature that keeps him hooked to books and also listening to classical music, courtesy his ‘ever ready’ to help wife Gayatri, the reading software and also internet.
‘Gayi,’ as he fondly addresses his wife, is herself a bundle of energy. She turns on the laptop with a scanner by the side, the moment she hears from her husband. The content of the pages are scanned and appears on the screen, that reads the same, as Urs starts moving the cursor.
“She is the man of the house, as she has been taking care of every matter like bank to buying groceries,” says Urs in admiration. For years, she has walked along with her husband and son to drop them to office and school respectively and walked back home, with no qualms.
Drop a name, Urs pat lists the works of the writers spanning Kannada and English languages. That is how he has voraciously read the works of Jnanpith awardee Dr. Shivaram Karanth, Padma Bhushan Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa, K. Poornachandra Tejaswi, Na. D’Souza and the list goes on. Likewise, mention a topic, Urs can air his views with authenticity. Be it about Wadiyars of Mysore, the Travancore Royal Family, Hinduism, etc.
Ardent SOM reader…
Dr. Niranjan Raj Urs still keeps abreast of current affairs as he pores over the newspapers without a miss. He has been a reader of Star of Mysore since his stint in Kerala, the practice he developed to keep his bond with his hometown Mysuru intact.
It continues still, as Urs says: “I have been a regular reader of K.B. Ganapathy’s column Abracadabra, In Black & White by Vikram Muthanna and Over a Cup of Evening Tea by Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem.
Well, there is a superb example of Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British physicist, who despite his very severe motor neuron ailment condemning him to a wheel chair with very severe disabilities, became a world known physicist.
I feel proud of my brother who has overcome his disbility and got his PHD and gold medal from Mysore University .my heart felt congratulations to him and wonderful support of for sister in-law who was behind my brother success