Man on a Green Mission

Image: Poornima Dasharathi

Note: This article, titled, ‘Man on a green mission‘ was first published in Deccan Herald, Spectrum, in August 2012. Its been reproduced here as a blog post.

Many great men have contributed to Lalbagh’s growth. Among them is M H Marigowda, who was the first director of the State’s Department of Horticulture. Tomorrow is his 96th birth anniversary, also celebrated as ‘Horticulture Day’, writes Poornima Dasharathi

It is that time of the year again, when Bangalore’s Lalbagh gears up for its grand flower show, a biannual event. The gardens have grown thanks to the contributions of several illustrious names, some from the era of the British Raj, and others later. 

The gardens have proved to be an ideal testing ground for many talented horticulturists across different eras. The names of New, John Cameron, Krumbiegel, Javaraya and M H Marigowda are associated with the gardens. 

While most of them worked in the colonial period and much of their work was in the fields of developing and innovating in the Government Gardens, Marigowda’s significant contribution was towards the common man and the farmer, opines S Narayanswamy, Senior Assistant Director, Horticulture Department.

He carried on in the rich tradition of Lalbagh’s horticulturists who worked tirelessly to bring new species to the City and the State.

M H Marigowda was born on August 8, 1916 in T Narsipur taluk, Mysore. He completed his schooling in Mysore’s Maharaja High School and obtained a B Sc from Central College, Bangalore in 1939. He went on to complete his M Sc from Lucknow University in 1942. 

He joined the Department of Horticulture as Assistant Superintendent. He was sent for training in advanced horticulture at Kew, England for a year. Post the training, he journeyed to the United States and obtained a PhD from Harvard University. 

On his return to Mysore, in 1951, he was given the post of Deputy Superintendent, Government Gardens. He was soon promoted to the post of Superintendent. In 1963, the Department of Government Gardens was rechristened as Department of Horticulture and Marigowda became its first Director.

He worked tirelessly in the field of horticulture until 1977 when he retired. In recognition of his work, the Government of Karnataka gave him the title, ‘Totagarika Ratna’ in 1993. His birthday is also celebrated as ‘Horticulture Day’.

Till date, he is the only Superintendent in the Horticulture Department to have obtained a doctorate. 

His siblings too are no less illustrious. While he became the Director of Horticulture, his elder brother M H Manchigaiah was the Chief Engineer of Mysore and another brother, M H Hombegowda, was the Chief Justice of Mysore! 

A chance discovery of a diary he maintained has a charming and philosophical quote that shows his dedication to his work. While returning to India in 1951, he writes in his diary: “…take a degree and go like all others with decoration and do nothing or take and see the good things done in the extension-service and serve the people without decoration-God should help me.” 

His ideas

Though Lalbagh is popular for its ornamental and exotic trees, it’s also a test bed for experimentation and cultivation of crops. Narayanaswamy recalls an anecdote of how Srilanka’s ‘chow chow’ (Bangalore brinjal) was introduced to Bangalore’ss farmers by the indefatigable John Cameron, Lalbagh Superintendent in the late 19th century. 

It is said that he would go on horseback and meet farmers at the toll gate on Hosur road to convince them to cultivate this vegetable!

In a similar vein, Marigowda’s vision was to “take Lalbagh to every village of the State”. To achieve this, he conceived a four-limbed approach for “sound and balanced development of horticulture”.

He explains, in an article, that just as the human body’s voluntary and involuntary functions are well-coordinated and interlinked, the different arms of horticulture should be linked so as to serve the people efficiently and scientifically.

He expounds his theory with the four ‘limbs’  of the letter ‘H’ in Horticulture. Each ‘limb’ stands for a different department and purpose and yet they are all interlinked.

These are: Department Of Horticulture (for scientific and technical guidance), Mysore Horticultural Society (publicity and education), Bangalore Nurserymen Co-operative Society (A-Z inputs), HOPCOMS – Horticultural Co-operative Marketing and Processing Society (to handle the horticultural output). With this model, he expanded the horticultural activities all over the State. 

In his tenure, the number of horticultural farms and nurseries rose from two in 1951 to a whopping 394 in 1974 touching every nook and corner of the State!

Dry land orcharding

Perhaps the most significant contribution of Marigowda to the State is his efforts to develop dry land horticulture. There are many districts in the State that receive little rainfall and where water is a precious resource.

He developed the idea of dry orchards such as tamarind, mango and jack fruit orchards . These orchards not only gave good yield but also served as ‘progeny orchards’ which means an orchard that contains all varieties of a single fruit or crop; in other words, gene pooling.

To conserve water and irrigate the lands, innovations were galore during his tenure. 

One unique method is ‘wick irrigation’. This method consists of a clay pot with a hole that is closed with a cotton cloth and buried until the neck beside the sapling. 

The pot is filled with water that drips through the cotton ‘wick’ to the soil. Such saplings would grow healthily for nearly a fortnight on just one pot of water! 

Many dry orchards exist today in places such as Kolar, Tumkur and Chitradurga. One classic example of a dry orchard is the Hogalakere horticultural farm in Kolar district. 

Emphasizing this fact, a farmer from Chintamani, Raja Reddy, explains that dry orchards had ensured that most of the non-cultivable land had turned green in his district.

His persona

Educated in London and Harvard, Marigowda ensured that his children had the best exposure to both worlds. His daughter, Sunita, explains that her father made sure her reading would encompass everything from ‘Jaimini Bharata’ to Shakespeare.

As a much travelled person, he also kept a well stocked library. Sunita recalls how she would get to read food and nutrition books from the USA which instilled in her a sense of nutrition from her childhood. 

This, she says, was the best gift her father gave her.

At work, he was supposed to have been a hard taskmaster. But he knew how to get the best out of his people. 

He also would go out of his way to ensure results. In the Fifties, when cars were fewer, if a grape specialist had to visit farms, Dr Marigowda would ensure the specialist gets to travel by car although he himself didn’t own one.

Marigowda’s dream was to make Karnataka the “Horticultural State of India”. This success of his work is largely due to his zeal and dedication. 

To quote from some of his published writings, he says “No man-made rules came in my way. The law of nature of plants was the only beacon of light and guide.” 

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