Dinakar Desai (1909-1982)

It was way back in 1953, that Kanara Welfare Trust made a tryst with destiny. Kanara Welfare Trust has now completed six decades of its useful and fruitful existence. The message of the Trust is very clear - Service is endless. Dinakar means "One who makes the day" or the sun. Dinakar Desai was indeed like a sun to North Kanara district, which was dark due to abject poverty, and educational backwardness. As an educationist, social reformer, political activist, member of parliament and writer, he helped change the face of the district. Today North Kanara is in frontline along with South Kanara in literacy in Karnataka State. This was possible, as Shivaram Karanth the great litterateur, rightly observed, due to one-man-mission of Dinakar Desai. What the Christian missionaries did in early years of 19th century in South Kanara, Desai managed to achieve in North Kanara. But he is more famous as a poet, for introducing four liner limericks, called 'chutaka' in Kannada a format, now adapted by several Kannada poets. He is known as 'Chutaka-Brahma' (Creator of the Chutakas).

Dinakar Desai was born in 1909, son of a primary school teacher in a small village of Hondakkal near Kumta in North Kanara district. He lost his mother in childhood and was brought up by his grandmother. His father used to prepare ropes of coconut fiber, in his spare time to subsidize his pittance salary of seven rupees a month!. All round, Desai observed nothing but abject poverty. His family was surrounded by much poorer communities of Halakkis, Agers and Mukris who could hardly manage one square meal a day. He turned a socialist at a very young age.

Desai introduced the four-liner limericks in Kannada langauge.

A gifted poet, he started writing in Konkani, his mother-tongue in his twenties. The poems, satirical pithy and humorous became immensely popular. Never published in a collection from, they spread throughout the district from mouth to ear, sung by young and old alike. Konkani had remained only a spoken language, over centuries with no publishers or readers. His complete poems in Konkani came out in collection form only in 1981 a year before his death! But by then, his songs attained the status of folksongs, virtually the author remaining unknown.

Desai excelled in every adventure he undertook. He stood first in history, the subject he offered for graduation. He opted for M.A. by Thesis. His study, 'Mahamandaleshwaras (Governors) of Chalukyas of Kalyana' is the authoritative work on the subject till date. He became member of Servants of Indian Society founded by Gopalkrishna Gokhale early in life. The members take oath to serve their motherland for life without taking any remuneration.

Desai lived and died poor, without owning even a small house. But he provided livelihood to millions, better lot to thousands of tillers and education to hundreds of thousands of poor children to earn a living.

He started a Kannada language weekly 'Jansevak' at Ankola, his center of activities, to create social and political awareness. Many intellectuals including late Gourish Kaikini, contributed regularly to the magazine. 'Chutakas' of Dinakar awaited eagerly by the readers, were lapped up and relished every week.

As a young man, Desai led an organized resistance of the dock workers at Bombay and London ports, against subhuman working conditions. It drew the notice of British authorities and improvements were quick.. Later the movement of farmers he led in North Kanara against the exploitation by landlords is a historical event, leading to the reform of "Land to those that till" (Ulvavnige nela). Desai's limericks and songs were sung to the accompaniment of Gumte Pang (a native drum, a.k.a. Gumate Pak) during farmer's meetings - which drew crowds. He collected money due to his public contacts in Bombay - only to open new schools and other institutions in remotest villages of the district.

The "Kanara Welfare Trust" started by Dinakar Desai, celebrated Golden Jubilee recently. It has today 37 schools in 18 centers with more than 10,000 students. The man Dinakar indeed brought sunshine to umpteen number of down trodden. He served a Member of Indian Parliament for one term. He was defeated twice in his own constituency --due to ignorance of the people and India's notorious caste politics.

Dinakara Desai in Kannada poetry known as chutuka and hence is known as Chutuka Brahma (creator of Chutukas). This format was later adopted by other poets. He has made immense contribution towards the literary development of the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.


Initially, Dinakara Desai intended to become a lawyer but he came under the influence of labour union activists M. N. Joshi and Thakkar Basha, who motivated him to contribute to the labour movement. He became an associate to M. N. Joshi and started looking at the social issues plaguing labourers. In this regard, he joined the Servants of India Society which was an organisation started by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The membership to this organisation was very stringent and the members were admitted only on an oath that they would serve the country without expecting anything in return. His initiation to social activism was when he had to fight for the rights of the dock workers in Mumbai who were mainly Konkani people. Later, he also went to the Bijapur and Dharwad districts of Karnataka to help in providing relief when a severe drought had set into those region. He grew in stature and also held a position in the Mumbai City Corporation. Later, he decided to concentrate on his native district of Uttara Kannada and here he started an agitation against the landlords which finally culminated in the law granting the land ownership to the person who tills the land. He started the Kanara Welfare Trust in 1957 and under the aegis of this trust, various schools and colleges were started in this district. He also started a Kannada language weekly Jansevak at Ankola to create social and political awareness. Some of the regular contributors to his weekly included stalwarts like Gourish Kaikini. Dinakara Desai also tried his hand at politics and was once elected to the Parliament of India.

Poetry and literature

Dinakara Desai started his association with poetry by writing lengthy poems. His first publication was called as Kavana Sangraha (meaning collection of poems) and this was released in the year 1950. This was followed by a 1955 collection of poems, Hu Gonchalu (meaning bouquet of flowers). Hu Gonchalu contained some popular poems like Tarunara Dasare and Kadala Kannada. Later, he started experimenting with different forms of poetry and invented his signature format called as chutuka which was essentially a four-line limerick. His chutukas were published in his Jansevak paper and these became hugely popular. He wrote his chutukas in various themes and these included satires, criticisms and humour. He has also written few books for children and a travelogue called as Na kanda Paduvana.

Personal life

Dinkara was married to Indira who died in 2002. Their elder daughter Mrs. Usha Pradhan lives in Mumbai while the younger daughter Mrs. Nisha Vengsarkar Vengsarker currently resides in Baroda.