This column is delighted to wish Lalitha Chandrasekhar ‘A Very Happy Birthday’ on the occasion of her celebrating her 102nd birthday in Chicago today. It will be a quiet celebration, as the frail widow of Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar spends most of her day in bed now. But once, it was not like that; she led an active life, accompanying her husband to various parts of the world, sharing with him a deep appreciation of music, doing much writing, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear one day that she served as a sounding board for his ideas.

A niece of Sister Subbulakshmi, Lalitha Chandrasekhar was a fellow student of Chandrasekhar in the Department of Physics, Presidency College, Madras, from 1927 to 1929. After her Honours in 1930 and her Licentiate in Teaching from the Lady Willingdon Training College in 1931, she taught Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics at the National High School, Triplicane, for a year. She then enrolled for a doctorate at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, where she was a student of C.V. Raman. But when she married Chandrasekhar on September 11, 1936, she dropped out of her studies to focus on life with him.

Her life thereafter, till he passed away in 1995, was to look after him, travel with him to wherever he was lecturing or participating in seminars around the world, listening to music with him and sometimes even singing or playing the veena or the flute for him, and exchanging views on all that interested them. After his death, she wrote two essays for anthologies about him: ‘My Everlasting Flame’ in S. Chandrasekhar: The Man Behind the Legend edited by K. Wali (1997) and ‘Our Song’ in Black Holes and Relativistic Stars edited by R.M. Wald (1998). She also wrote the Foreword to Part II of Volume 7 of the Selected Papers of S. Chandrasekhar (1997).

After her husband’s death, Lalitha decided to stay on in Chicago where she first arrived in 1937 when he joined the University of Chicago where he was to spend the rest of his life. Her husband’s colleagues at the University gathered round her to celebrate her 100 birthday. Many of them will be there today.

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A 100- year commitment

This past Tuesday, The Mahratta Education Fund, which celebrated its centenary a couple of weeks ago on September 15, marked the inauguration of its home on T.T.K. Road, Alwarpet, in 1932. The building was raised in a little over year on the property bought on August 29,1931.The Fund as well as its headquarters is a celebration of the Mahratta settlement in what is Tamil Nadu today.

The Mahratta Armies first entered Tamil territory in 1638, under Shahji Bhonsle, father of Sivaji, and during those early years held Vellore and Gingee at various times. Sivaji’s brother Venkoji, who succeeded his father in the South, captured Tanjore in 1675 and moved his headquarters there. The following year, Sivaji, who moved his armies into the Carnatic, confirmed his brother’s suzerainty over Tanjore. And the Mahratta settlement in Tanjore dated from that year -- 1676.

Ruler succeeded ruler till the scholarly Sarfoji II ascended the throne in 1798 as virtually a ward of the British. He was succeeded by his son Sivaji in 1833, but when Sivaji died in 1855 without a male heir, the British invoked the Doctrine of Lapse and annexed Tanjore and its environs. And soon from these areas the British were to, in the years to follow, reap a host of able Mahratta administrators. Tanjore, Salem, North Arcot and Madras became the “southern home of the Mahrattas over the years.”

A community devoted to education, it was to ensure that no member of it would want for higher education that The Mahratta Education Fund was founded. It was a 21-year old lawyer E. Vinayaka Row who took the lead, convening a meeting on September 15, 1912 at the Egmore home of Rao Saheb P. Ramachandra Rao and inviting Dewan Bahadur K. Krishnaswami Rao Sahib (later Cabinet Secretary, Government of India) to take the chair. The 13 persons present unanimously resolved to start a fund that would ensure higher education for the Mahrattas of the Tamil districts as this “alone could lead to the economic betterment, social progress and cultural advancement of our small and scattered community.” Vinayaka Row was unanimously invited to be the Secretary of the Fund and this Founder-Secretary was to remain in office for 25 years. The Fund started with 129 members and by 1913, had given out three scholarships. Since then, it has awarded about 1900 scholarships valued at over Rs. 32 lakhs. It now has over 1000 Life Members and 400 Patrons.

In 1934, another of Vinayaka Row’s dreams came true when the S.S. Raghavendra Rao Elementary School established in 1916 in Triplicane, was acquired by the Fund. In 2002, the school premises was rebuilt at a cost of about Rs.30 lakhs and its students - mainly from homes in the lower strata in the area - were provided from 2003 the much improved facilities they needed.

To serve as its offices and to also help generate resources, the Fund acquired land on what was then Mowbray’s Road in Alwarpet and built a hall with attached office space. It was called Maharashtra Nivas and served as a kalyana mandapam, sufficient for the community small as it was. Starting from 2003, it was decided to enlarge and renovate the complex and a more modern and larger wedding hall with air-conditioned rooms was inaugurated in 2006, enabling accrual of additional funds for educational disbursement. Maharashtra Nivas now stands as a symbol of the Maharashtrian contribution to the Tamil country.

Footnote: The Jagir of Arni which has found mention in this column in the past (Miscellany, March 5 & May 14) was the zamin of a Maharatta Brahmin family who were given it as a reward for providing military support to the Bijapur kings in the 18th Century, I discovered while foraying into the history of the Mahrattas in the Tamil country for this item.

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A tomb in the Park

Fellow heritage buff Sriram. V’s search for forgotten tombs has had a couple of others on the trail. Reader Bharath Yeshwanth tells me that he recently spotted a Muslim tomb in Lady Wenlock Park across from the Marina and that he found several persons paying their respects there. No doubt, this tomb too has some connection with the Arcot family and I look forward to hearing more about this from S. Anvar who is following the Wallajah -- and Muslim -- trail in South India. It should be remembered that the original Chepauk Palace property of the Wallajahs stretched from the Cooum River to Pycroft’s Road (Bharati Salai) north to south and from the Marina to Triplicane High Road east to west. Lady Wenlock Park was developed at the southern edge of this property which could even have extended up to Annie Besant Road.

Lady Wenlock Park was developed by Governor Wenlock (1891-96) to provide a secluded place for the gosha ladies to enjoy the sea breeze. Today, it is the headquarters of the Bharat Scouts and Girl Guides and is their camping grounds.

Beilby Lawley, third Baron of Wenlock, married Lady Constance Lascelles, a daughter of the fourth Earl of Harewood. Wenlock named the Park after Lady Constance who loved all things beautiful. She was a good artist and is reported to have said when a suitable bridegroom was being sought for her, “I do not mind very much whom I marry as long as it is someone who will allow me to have proper drawing lessons.” During her years in India, whether after those drawing lessons or not, she painted numerous scenes from the Himalaya to the southernmost reaches of the country.

In a rare occurrence, the third Baron’s brother, younger than him by a dozen years, Arthur Lawley, was appointed Governor of Madras in 1906 and served till 1911. He became the sixth Baron of Wenlock only after his tenure in Madras ended. He married Annie Allen Cunard and she in her own right was awarded a Damehood. One of the blocks in the Regional Ophthalmic Institute, Egmore, is named after her, the Lady Arthur Lawley Block.

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