HAJI ABDULLAH HAJI KASIM SAHEB BAHADUR
Haji Abdullah is the founder president of the Corporation Bank. The Canara Banking Corporation Udupi Limited, which was started in Udupi on March 12, 1906, was the first bank to be operated in Dakshina Kannada. When the bank was opened here, Udupi had a total population of just over 7,000 and the bank’s first day’s turnover was 38 rupees, 13 Annas and 2 pies. (A rupee is divided into 16 Anna, an Anna into four-quarter Annas and a quarter Anna into three pies. Thus an Anna was equal to 12 pies and a rupee was equal to 192 pies.)
There is nothing surprising in the fact that the founder president of the bank to be set up in Dakshina Kannada was a Muslim. During the first decade of the 20th century, some of the popular merchants, brokers and commission agents were Muslims. They also owned cloth shops and timber mills. Copra and areca markets were also owned by Muslims. In these circumstances, one can understand that Haji Abdullah Haji Kasim Saheb Bahadur was the representative of a community that had a lot of financial clout. They were backed by the business and banking acumen of the Gowda Saraswatha Brahmin community that made for the birth and growth of banking in the district.
The first branch of a modern bank established in Dakshina Kannada was the Presidency Bank of Madras that set up its office in Mangalore in 1868, largely to cater the business needs of a few British firms dealing with the exports of products like coffee, pepper and cardamom. Incidentally, Haji Abdullah Sahed was the first one to introduce coffee as a breakfast drink, later became a habit in Udupi, which has since then became famous for its Udupi restaurants.
Haji Abdullah Saheb, however, had no children of his own. The family owned a large tract of agricultural lands in the district. He was the sole distributing agent for Wimco matches throughout the Madras Presidency. He traded in dried fish and dried fruits imported from Arabia. The family lived lavishly in the fashion of those times. He was the first one to own a car in Udupi. Nobody saw him ever angry. The Government, in recognition of his unquestioned merit, was pleased to confer on him the title of Khan Saheb in 1909 and of Khan Bahadur in 1920.
Haji attended the school and studied up to SSLC and was a well-read man. He enjoyed Hindustani classics and patronised musicians. He used to play Tennis. Abdullah played a key role in organising the first government-sponsored Agricultural and Industrial exhibition in Mangalore in 1917. During the strong waves of Swadeshi Movement, his family was known for generosity and charitable disposition. Mahatma Gandhi visited Mangalore on August 19, 1920 and addressed a public meeting, which was presided over by Haji Abdullah.
He was a member of local bodies from 1904 onwards. He was the first non-official president of the Kundapur taluk panchayath in 1917 and was unanimously elected as president of Udupi Taluk Board during the next term. He was the representative of the landholders of the West Coast and the nilgiris in the Madras Legislative Council elected by an overwhelming majority in 1919. In 1926, he entered the legislative Assembly unopposed. He set up two awards for distinction, one in English and another in Sanskrit at the Government College, Mangalore.
The banking services were very poor at the turn of the century, which led to the establishment of banks. Such services as existed did not meet the requirements of the community. So, Haji Abhullah and his close friend Vittal Kamath decided to set-up a Swadeshi Bank. Vittal Kamath was to become the bank’s first legal advisor.
The objective of the bank was to encourage thrift among all by inducing them to contribute to the funds of the corporation over a certain period for their own advantage. It also proposed to help them with small loans at lower interest. The corporation accepted deposits, paid interest, and lent loans against deposits, jewels or other mortgages.
The first shareholder was Haji himself as seen in the corporation’s daybook. The first depositor was B Narayan Rao, who deposited Rs 100 on October 13, 1906. And the first advance issued to Janab Shidi Bapu Saheb to the amount of rupees one hundred on April 5, 1906. Kasim was a merchant, who had purchased 15 shares of the bank. Saraswaths hold the highest number of shares during initial stage.
The bank has started functioning on a very low key. Haji had generously given a room in his palatial mansion for the bank’s first office in Udupi. Then it purchased its own premise in 1929. At the beginning, the growth of the bank was slow. The bank was fundamentally conservative and security oriented in its early years and took sufficient care before sanctioning any loan.
Haji Abdullah was the president of the Canara Banking Corporation Limited from its inception till 1929 when he had to relinquish his position. Then hard times overtook him and he went deeper and deeper into debt. No explanation is available for his financial troubles. There have been vague hints about the mala fides of his immediate personnel staff. Some believe that Haji’s generosity exceeded his wisdom and he had an overdraft from the bank. By early 1935, it had become clear that his personal fortunes could not be salvaged any longer. The bank management was caught in a dilemma. On side, they had no reason to doubt on Abdullah and had highest respect towards him, as he was the founder president of the bank. But, they were in no position to compromise with the financial affairs of the bank. But, there is no available document to explain the proceedings of conversation between them. But, it should have hurt both.
Haji, who once lived like a king in a palatial house and bestowed his generosity on others, had to be come broke. The vicissitudes that marked his life must have unnerved him completely. On the morning of August 12, 1935, Abdullah Saheb was found lying unconscious in his bed. Doctors were summoned and their efforts were failed in saving him from the clutches of death. At the time of demise, he was just 53. He was one without a second.