A+ A A-

V.N. O'key

V.N. O'key, 1917-1998 (Biography) was a versatile artist, photographer, socialist, and traveler left behind a large archive of posters, pen and ink portraits, and photographs of his travels across Indian subcontinent.
This primary source of research of India is made possible through a donation of T.N. Shenoy for Kamat Research Database.

V.N. "O'key" was a rare person with rare combinations of humanism, artistic merit, and humility. He kept a low profile throughout his life, sometimes not even bothering to initial his innumerable art creations. With the result, most of them are difficult to identify or trace. It is rather difficult to reconstruct the life and achievements of this extraordinary artist, who drew, painted, sketched, clicked and engraved. In addition, he was a socialist to the core. "Service before self" remained his motto till the end.
Kamat's Potpourri is specially indebted to Mr. T. N. Shenoy, nephew of O'key for providing hundreds of slides and ink-portraits for inclusion in Kamat Research Database. Mr. Shenoy also provided biographical notes of the great artist who lived and died shy of publicity. The creative works O'key left behind are an excellent primary source of visual graphics.

Early Childhood
Born as Vasudev, second son of T. Narasimha Shenoy and Sundaribai of Mulki among their three children. Vasudev spent early years in the town of Mulki (in present day South Kanara district of Karnataka) where he had early schooling. Surroundings were beautiful but life was hard. He left Mulki at the tender age of fifteen for Mumbai to make a living and also pursue art which was very dear to him. He worked at a hotel of his relatives and attended classes at the Institute of Fine Arts. After qualifying himself he entered the famous J.J. School of Arts. However he did not complete the course. He plunged into the national struggle, was thrown out of school and sent to jail, for "picketing".
India then was passing through a crucial phase of struggle for its independence. Young Vasudev could not be kept mum. He started contributing his mite through art form. He came in contact with Sane Guruji, the great writer, teacher, reformist and social worker. He started drawing sketches and illustrations to "Sadhana", a very popular periodical run by Sane Guruji. He assumed the pen name of O'key

O'key is a short form of Ola Lanke, a folklore name of Mulki town. "Ola" means inner and "Lanke'' is the land of Ravana. Thus V.N. Shenoy came to be recognized as V.N.O'key among the activist circles.

Involvement in Socialist Agenda
While in jail, O'key came in contact with Yusuf Meher Ali who was interned during Quit India Movement (1942) but released because of health reasons. He was planning and scripting an exhibition on Indian Freedom struggle of 1857-1943. O'key offered to draw illustrations after his release.
By then, O'key's name was familiar as a versatile artist who painted walls of educational institutions, made illustrations for text books, and drawings for commercial purposes. It was means for his simple living. He prepared a calendar of National Leaders for Dr. N.S. Hardikar and his Rashtreeya Swayamsevaka Dal (R.S.D).
O'key worked day and night for Yusuf Meher Ali's project. He prepared 150 large paintings to suit the script. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya inaugurated the exhibition which was an instantly popular in Mumbai. Later it was held at several places. O'key's work received wide acclaim

In the company of his socialist friends O'key developed the habit of reading. He became aware of socialistic movements throughout the world. He actively participated in all national conventions. No meeting or convention was complete without O'key's newly invented line drawings, ink portraits and stage decorations.

Documenting India and Indians
He was a avid traveler. He immensely liked nature. The Himalaya ranges, rivers, seas and oceans, forests, trees, birds and old temples attracted him in no small measure. After independence of India (in 1947) he opened his studio and started giving shape to his artistic dreams.
His ink and pen portraits of famous musicians, artists, national leader, politicians, writer etc., made him a very "wanted man" outside the studio as well. When S.M. Joshi turned 70, a felicitation volume, "Architects of Modern India" was planned and executed. That volume carries 66 illustration of eminent personalities in different fields made by O'key. This is the only book where O'key's drawings are available in one place.

Pu. La. Deshpande, the distinguished Marathi writer, was highly appreciative of O'key's art. He used to arrange talks and concerts of well known littérateurs and artists in those days. He made it a practice to present a portrait of theirs, made by O'key at the end of the program.
O'key fought underground in the dark days of Emergency as well (1975). He drew illustrations on atrocities committed for underground periodicals. These drew the attention of Amnesty International, Socialist International and Human Rights Commission.
O'key's last days were miserable. He was a bachelor and had no place to call his own. He suffered from amnesia, got lost in Bombay crowds and was found in a collapsed condition in a public park. He was carried to Shantidham at Gorai established in memory of Mother Theresa. From there he was taken to Shantivan , dedicated to Sane Guruji where was fed and nursed. Later he was taken to Panvel resort for senior citizens run by his community where he breathed his last

Umabai Kundapur

I had the unique privilege of meeting this remarkable lady, at Hubli, in my early years of All India Radio. At that time, she had taken voluntary retirement after a very hectic life of freedom struggle and social service of nearly 50 years. In India,  the freedom fighters automatically became politicians and people at the helm of affairs, because of their incarceration and life in jail in British India and most died holding important post. But Umabai shunned limelight from the beginning and refused all voluntary post s and honors that came her way, came unasked and unhindered for. Her life and achievements are record of a long life of unselfish service to mother India.

Umabai was born in Mangalore (locate) as Bhavani Golikeri to parents Golikeri Krishna Rao and Jungabai in 1892. She had four brothers besides. They were early migrants to Mumbai, then an upcoming metropolis of international importance. She was married at the age of 13 to Sanjiv Rao Kundapur. Her father-in-law Anandarao Kundapur was a reformist and staunch believer in upliftment of women. Under his encouragement, Umabai continued education after marriage and passed the matriculation examination. Thereafter she helped the father-in-law in educating women through Gaundevi Mahila Samaj, Mumbai.
The great funeral procession of Lokmanya Tilak in 1920 left a lasting impression on young Umabai. Half a million people had assembled with hardly handful policemen to control the crowd. Congress organization and voluntary service in those days were exemplary and Umabai was drawn towards freedom struggle and became a volunteer. She started advocating Khadi, wrote and enacted play on Swadeshi and recruited women volunteers by going door to door. At the age of 25, she lost her husband (who died of tuberculosis). Ananda Rao tried his best to console the young daughter-in-law. They then came to Hubli and Anada Rao started the Karnataka Press. In the premises, a school for girls "Tilak Kanya Shala" started and Umabai became in charge.
Dr. N. S. Hardikar had started Hindustani Seva Dal (HSD) in 1921 in order to organize Indian Youth. He had realized after his specialization in medicine in United States and return to post-Tilak India, that lack of organization at national level was the greatest impediment in creating (national) awareness regarding freedom struggle. Hubli-Dharwad became the hub of Hindustani Seva Dal (HSD) and youths from different parts of South India and Maharashtra started coming to Hubli and receive training in drill, camp life, spinning, weaving, shramadan (voluntary work). All national leaders (including Jawaharlal Nehru who came to Hubli to inaugurate industrial exhibition) visited Hubli, right under the vigilant eye of British police. Umabai became leader of women's wing of Seva Dal.

The All India Congress Session of 1924 at Belgaum (locate) was a historical event. That was the only time when Gandhiji presided over the session and it was a big challenge for Dr. Hardikar and Umabai to organize to national event. Umabai recruited more than 150 women volunteers, touring the entire state. Even tonsured widows came forward to offer their services. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, was greatly impressed by the mild-mannered but iron-willed charming lady. "It was the biggest turning point in my life. I joined as a volunteer and I still continue to be her camp follower," wrote she in 1952.
In 1932, Umbai was jailed for four months and kept in Yerawada. News of death of her old and ailing father-in-law, who was her only emotional support reached her after a week. Sarojini Naidu who was also in the same jail  tried her best to console her and advised to work from "behind the screen" and avoid all visible activities. When she came back after her jail term, the British government had confiscated the press and the school was sealed. "Bhagini Mandal" the voluntary organization she started was declared unlawful. But Umabai did not withdraw. Her small house became shelter for all types of freedom fighters, some eagerly sought and hounded by the police. No tax campaign and salt campaign were at their peak. People were imprisoned mindlessly and many were women. When they were released from different prisons, they were hapless. The Tongawallas of Hubli invariably brought such women fighters to Umabai's house, who provided food shelter and money for their return journey.
The earthquake of Bihar (1934) brought forth fearlessness and perseverance of Umabai to forth. It was then as is now, most backward state and women never left the "purdah" even in extreme adverse circumstances. Umabai and her batch of volunteers worked day and night in refugee camps. It was at this time that she came in close contact with national leaders like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Acharya Kripalani and others.
1942 and the "Chale Jav!" (Quit India) movement offered another challenge. Many underground workers appeared at her Hubli house at unearthly hours seeking food and monetary help. She helped one and all, at a great risk and sought solace in behind the curtain.

In 1946 Mahatma Gandhi himself appointed her as the agent for Karnataka branch of Kasturba Trust. It was formed for rural upliftment by training Grama Sevikas in health programs, child-welfare, and adult education. Not a single resource was available for such voluntary organization from the Government in those days. She took the begging bowl  and collected funds. First recruits were destitute, young widows, unmarried orphans and other unfortunate women. Very soon they were trained in different arts and crafts and were self-supporting. Umabai became a household name in Karnataka.
After the Indian independence, she could have easily entered the politics and many coveted posts waited for her because most of the national leaders knew her. But she remained a worker through and through. She even refused the Tamra-patra Award (given to the frontline freedom fighters) and also national and state pensions accorded to such people. She lived in an small cottage like home "Ananda-Smriti" built in memory of her most respected father-in-law.
K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri

Umabai Kundapur (far left) with Anand Rao (father-in-law) and husband Sanjiv Rao (right)
Photograph circa 1905
Late Dr. N. S. Hardikar has paid a glowing tribute to this remarkable lady. -- "No other woman in Karnataka, as far as my knowledge goes, has done sustained work in the political, social, and educational fields for such a long period as Umabai has done. Leaders, workers, and volunteers came and worked for some time and disappeared from the field. But Umabai remained at her post even as Jawaharlal does. Unassuming she worked and works without expecting any reward. That is a great thing in a worker, a worker who is devoted to the service of humanity."
Many women workers who shine today as leaders mix only with political forces and move with leaders, but hardly mingle with women folk or helped them directly to solve their own problems. Umabai never cared for publicity and in discussing "big" projects at the cost of her sisters. That was a great quality in her. Very rarely have we seen this in other women workers

Sugandhi Murigappa Siddappa

Mr. Sugandhi was born at Athani town in Karnataka. In 1899. For the last six years he is a member of the Bijapur Municipal Council. He was also the Secretary of the Harijan Boarding House. He is an intensely patriotic man. He has made his own life the embodiment of his creed.

T. Subramanyam

The spread of national movement in Bellary owes a great deal to Mr. T Subramanyam. The force of character, sincerity and earnestness he displayed and his infinite capacity for hard work enabled him to widely influence the people. His popularity is grounded in courage and selflessness.
He was born at Bellary, August 9th, 1900. in 1923 he took his B.L Degree and set up practice at the bar in his native town. In 1929 he abandoned his practice and made a debut into active political life. For a decade he was the secretary of the District Congress committee, Bellary.

.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri

T. Subrahmanyam
For many years he has been the member of the A.I.C.C and the K.P.C.C. He was for sometime the President of the Karnatak Provincial Congress Committee.
Since 1931 he is a member of the Gandhi Seva Sang. In 1935 he was the secretary of the Famine Relief committee and did an admirable work. He was the member of the Madras Presidency Composite Parliamentary Board and also of the Karnatak Provincial Parliamentary Board. He edited a Kannada weekly called the “Karnataka Kesari”. He resigned the editorship during the Civil Disobedience Movement. In 1930 he was arrested and sentenced to one year's imprisonment. In 1932 he was again arrested and sentenced to one year of jail life and a fine of Rs 200.
Imagination and energy chrecterises Mr. T Subramanyam. He fights rather than discusses. He is now the Assistant Secretary of the Madras Legislative Congress Party.