When Douglas Rice (67) decided to trace the path of his ancestors in India, little did he realise he was embarking on an exciting voyage of discovery.
The retired schoolteacher from England is the great-grandson of the illustrious Benjamin Lewis Rice, who holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Karnataka.
The very same B.L. Rice pioneered epigraphic studies in Mysore State in pre-Independent India. He published the 10-volume Epigraphica Carnatica and authored the two volumes of the Mysore Gazetteer published in 1877-78 (revised in 1897), and prepared the first Census report for Mysore State in 1881.
However, his enduring legacy was in the field of inscriptions and epigraphy. Apart from the monumental Epigraphica Carnatica, he collected thousands of manuscripts that were deposited in the Oriental Library (the present Oriental Research Institute).
Unaware of the full extent of his great-grandfather’s stature here, Mr. Douglas Rice came to Mysore armed with a modest note on the “Rice Family in India,” in which he described him as a “hardworking and expert scholar.” He was unprepared for and is “yet to come to grips with” the reverence with which his ancestor is still held.
“I knew something about B.L. Rice, but did not realise the immensity of his scholarship, nor was I prepared for this kind of an astonishing experience. We imagined back in England there could be something about him in the old libraries; but the enormity of his works, and the response to our visit from scholars and historians, is a complete surprise,” said Mr. Rice. Admitting that none of his grandfather’s descendents had pursued history or archaeology, he said he was perhaps the one who came closest as he was fond of Elizabethan history!
Accompanied by his wife Allison and son Richard, Mr. Rice arrived in Kochi earlier this month. The family’s next stop was Bangalore where they had an illuminating discussion on B.L. Rice and his contributions with Srinivas Murthy, a Ph.D. scholar. After that it was a pilgrimage of sorts with them visiting the Vani Vilas Sagar at the Marikanave Dam near Chitradurga on Tuesday, a structure that was built by his grandfather and namesake, Douglas Rice, who was Deputy Trade Commissioner for the Mysore government in London. This Rice was responsible for the construction of the road leading to Chamundi Hills in Mysore, construction of several railway bridges, and designing of railway stations in Mysore Kingdom before he retired in 1937.
The family paid a visit to the Oriental Research Library for a glimpse of the manuscripts collected by B.L. Rice.
An inspired Mr. Rice plans now to unearth information on his great-grandfather from libraries in England and create a website on B.L. Rice as a prelude to a book on this great son of Karnataka.