Looking for a definitive date for the beginnings of cricket in Madras, a Daniells painting seemed to indicate that it would have been 1792. By the 1840s, European clubs, British military teams and Planters’ XIs had begun to play the game a bit more seriously and by the 1860s, more competitively. By the 1860s too, they had introduced the game to Indians, who began to play it in schools and colleges and in friendlies between scratch teams. But it was the founding of the Madras United Cricket Club in 1888 that resulted in Indian cricket being born as an institution. That Club, now called the Madras United Club, will begin celebrating its centenary year from December 8, a few days away.

Responsible for founding the Club was M. Buchi Babu Naidu of the Dera Venkataswami Naidu clan, and a few of his friends who shared his passion for the game. Buchi Babu’s own passion for the game developed when the English nurses he and his four brothers had, used to take them to watch the sahibs at play. It was said many years later, “Buchi Babu lived and died like an Englishman with all the English love for horses, cricket, tennis and fox-hunting.” It was this love for the game that had him gathering as many teenagers as possible in his neighbourhood to learn the niceties of the game in the spacious grounds of the family mansion in Luz. His fellow-founders of the Club did the same in their homes. And these recruits were the nucleus of the MUCC team when it got its own ground on the Esplanade where its clubhouse still is, though those grounds have been taken over by Government.

With the MUCC having a ground and a team, Buchi Babu was determined to take on the first formal cricket club in South India, the ‘Europeans Only’ Madras Cricket Club. This was easier said than done, with Indians not being allowed the use of the pavilion. Buchi Babu, who came from a family of dubashes (of Parry & Co) and who himself was a dubash, was, as a result, on friendly terms with many of the members of the MCC. One of them was P.W. Partridge of that leading law firm of the time, King and Partridge, which had a big say in the affairs of the MCC. And when Buchi Babu and Partridge worked out a formula whereby the MUC could use the pavilion but lunch on Indian food at a separate table, the first MCC-MUC match was played c.1890. Indian cricket was on its way. This fixture was to lead to what was Madras’s ‘Big Match’, the Presidency Match played annually during Pongal between the Presidency Europeans and the Presidency Indians.

The first match almost did not come off, Buchi Babu passing away a few months before the scheduled dates at the end of December. But his lieutenant B. Subramaniam felt the best way to honour Buchi Babu’s memory was to play the match. The European XI was mainly a MCC team, whereas the Indian XI was mainly college players and Subramaniam, P.D. Krishnaswamy and R. Chari from the MUC. The next year (1909), Subramaniam organised the Buchi Babu Memorial tournament which is still with us. The MUC ran the tournament till the first representative organisation for Madras cricket was formed in 1933.

Over the years that followed its founding, the Club began looking at other sports activities. After all, its bye-laws stated that to become a member, you had to participate in some sport or the other. And so the MUCC became the MUC when the membership decided to introduce other sporting activities. A MUC team took part in the first hockey tournament played in Madras, the Madras Hockey Tournament, for which the MCC offered the trophy. The MUC team and a Royal Artillery team from Bangalore were the first to take the field when the tournament started on July 22, 1901. The MUC team included Buchi Babu at full back and its best player, as reported at the time, was centre half S.V. Chetty. But the Indian team was thrashed 15-0 in the match, something which did not happen in later years when M.J. Gopalan began playing for it.

Tennis too was a sport in which the MUC played a leading role in ensuring participation in the game by Indian clubs. This was in 1913, with J.G. Ramaswami Naidu of the Club playing a key part. When in 1917 the South Indian became the MCC Lawn Tennis Tournament, with Indians included in the competition; the MUC was offered two places on the organising committee. And by 1925, the MUC was organising an All-India tournament of its own on its courts.

When the Club started playing football, following the lead of the Madras Gymkhana, the two clubs teamed together with Harry Buck of the YMCA to form the Madras Football Association in 1934. The MUC members behind the formation of the Association were J. Subbuswami, Dr. V. N. C. Rao and ‘Comet’ Ramaswamy. The Association’s offices were at the MUC for many years and its grounds were one of the most popular venues of the game.

Billiards, snooker and bridge were all other games in which MUC players made a mark in the city and, in some, nationally. Today, these three games, tennis (on two courts) and cricket in a lower division, but with no home ground of its own, survive and are supported by an enthusiastic membership. That membership in the year ahead will remember that their Club was the first Indian club to be formed with a total focus on sport. Will the centenary year see the drawing up of plans to bring back those halcyon days when the Club was a leading representative of Indian sport in the city?

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Architect of the library movement

That indefatigable researcher of mine, Bharath Yeshwanth, has come up with an answer to my query this past week about who organised the All-India Library Conference in Madras in 1919 and was instrumental in getting started at that Conference the All-India Public Library Association. The name he has sent me is one I have not heard of before and I wonder how many others would have heard of this architect of the public library movement in India -- Iyyanki Venkata Ramanayya of East Godavari District, then part of the Madras Presidency.

Little is known of his background except for the fact that he appears to have been a person of some means. In 1914, as a 26-year-old, he organised the first State library association in India, the Andhra Desa Library Association. To spread the public library movement further, Ramanayya helped organise that first-ever conference in Madras and steered through the idea of an all-India association. Just as he was in the Andhra association, he was the first secretary of the All-India association too. And just as in the case of his Andhra office, when he toured the entire territory urging that libraries be established, he toured India too. During his Indian tours, he helped found library associations in Bengal (1925), Madras (1928) and the Punjab (1929). All this was truly volunteer work.

Of him it was said, in connection with his work in Andhra, “The Andhra library movement was conspicuous and significant (in the all-India context), unique and described as swayambhu (self-born) by Ramanayya. It was a social movement with popular participation, organised with democratic ideals, more for imbibing political consciousness and spreading literacy rather than for mere organisation of reading rooms and systematic libraries.”

Much of Ramanayya’s travels were spent on organising training camps for library secretaries and staff. As an extension of this, he started in 1916 the first vernacular magazine on library science, Granthalaya Sarvasvamu, in Telugu. His contribution to the library movement in India was recognised by the Government of India in 1972 with the Padma Shri, rather belatedly as usual; he was 84 at the time and had much earlier been recognised with awards from abroad.

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When the postman knocked…

“That was rather stupid of you,” said the voice at the other end of the telephone. “You of all people should have known when The Hindu started… long after 1862!” The voice chiding me was referring to my item this past week on Vembakkam Sadagopacharlu. Putting two and two together in an item in the Law Weekly I had given birth to a comment in The Hindu 16 years before the newspaper was born! In fact, the comment was probably made in the special issue of The Hindu in 1947 marking the birth of a new, free nation and was reproduced in an item in an issue of the paper in 1997 celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Independence. Though the juxtaposition I saw in the item made the confusion possible for the casual reader, I should have been more awake. Mea culpa.

Reader Nikhil Raghavan writes referring to my item last week on the disappearing water tanks of Madras, “As a regular commuter along the Chetpet bridge, I have been noticing the deliberate killing of the water body by not clearing the water hyacinth and the gradual encroachment behind the hospital by landfills. Even the tree in the middle is, I think, being poisoned to death.” Why can’t this water body, one of the few left in the City, be saved? Must it too make way for some monstrosity to come up here, he wonders. So do we.