Pradeep Chakravarthy, a Kodaikanal buff, is working on a book on Kodaikanal together with the local INTACH chapter. In it, readers are likely to find the most comprehensive narration of the life of Vere Henry Levinge, the Madras Civilian who developed the hill station.
Among the places Chakravarthy visited following the Levinge Trail is Tirukurungudi, not far from Cheranmahadevi, the Sub-Collector's headquarters where Levinge started his career. In Cheranmahadevi, there still stands a house with a plaque on its front wall that reads ‘Brig Stok, 1914.’
Brig Stoke was the Sub-Collector there in 1914, but it is not clear whether he remodelled the house or moved into an already remodelled house that had first been built by Levinge when he arrived in this sub-collectorate and found no house for him. He later gifted it to Government when he moved out. The house, Chakravarthy tells me, appears to have been not lived in for some years but seems in reasonable shape with lots of period furniture and books from 1910 onwards still in it that have not begun to deteriorate.
In Tirukurungudi, he found a massive Vaishnavite temple by the Nambiyar River to its south. The temple’s wealth of stone and wood sculpture fascinated him, but what grabbed his attention more was the marker on South Mada Street, the road between temple and river. The marker read ‘Levinge Agraharam – 1849’! Apparently the houses on this street had been regularly damaged when the river overflowed its banks, and in course of time, had vanished. Levinge had the banks rebuilt, the houses restored and the village’s Brahmin community settled in them. The marker proclaiming the agraharam’s name is at one end of the street. A similar marker is partly buried at the other end of the street and, hopefully, after Chakravarthy’s urgings, will be restored.
Ten minutes from Tirukurungudi is the village named Levingepuram. The old church that Levinge had built is no more, but a plaque saved from it survives. ‘VH – 1855’, it says and there’s a scrap of a Tamil inscription that reads ‘the very great VH Levingepuram.’
Close to Kodaikanal where Vere Levinge put down his last roots is Vellakavi, once the last stop before moving into the new settlement. There is a temple dedicated to Levinge here, and Levingedurai is still a name given to many a new-born boy. Here, as in the Cheranmahadevi area, Levinge is still not a forgotten name.
And pursuing the Levinge trail in Ireland, Chakravarthy caught up with several descendants of Levinge. They preserve a memorial tablet from St. Mary’s Church, Portnashangan, near the family seat in Knockdrin. The Church, once the Levinge family church, is now a restaurant and when it was being restored for re-use, the family saved for preservation this memorial to Vere Henry Levinge and others that remember other members of the family.
Levinge of Kodi, it would appear, has still not been confined to the pages of history books.
A jolly rover
Once again, I have to sadly record the passing away of another significant contributor to Madras, a nonagenarian this time. Our paths did not cross too often, but when they did there were always two things that K.S. Narayanan left in my memory: one, his ever-present smile and, two,a born raconteur that he was, the stories he’d always have to tell me. Given his personality in company, it is no wonder that he named the cricket team he sponsored from the 1960s the Jolly Rovers. There was a jollier side to life that he always saw.
KSN, another of those from the Deep South who have contributed significantly to industrial development in Madras and Tamil Nadu, first with India Cements and then with the Sanmar Group, will no doubt be remembered in the wider context for that signal contribution. But there are many, certainly most of all his closest friends, who will remember him for his passion for sport, particularly cricket and tennis - and those games of cards for which his friends would gather regularly at his home till almost his last week.
A similar KSN group would meet for tennis at the Madras Cricket Club every morning from six to about 7.30. Once the Club got its lights, they’d be on the courts at 4.30 a.m’! I remember when writing the history of the MCC. he got me out there one morning to meet the gang: Chandra Chellam, Mohan Punja, Jimmy Thambuswami, M.V. Pratap and Bobjee, and a perennial guest, C.C. Ganapathi. KSN was in his late seventies at the time and age certainly did not stop him moving about the court like a younger man.
And it was there that he had yet another story to tell me, just as he had wherever we met. This one was about another tennis fanatic, H.V.R. Iengar of Parry's. When Narayanan met Iengar at a party one day and commented on his long absence from the courts, Iengar told him that his doctor had asked him to stop playing tennis because of his heart condition, “so, I have taken up golf.”
KSN in characteristic fashion responded, “But I have heard of more deaths on golf courses than on tennis courts,” and was surprised to be tersely told to “shut up.” Later in the evening, when they found themselves a quiet corner, KSN wanted to know what that had all been about. And Iengar whispered, “My wife was standing by me. If she had heard you, she would have stopped my golf too.”
On another occasion, when he discovered that I had been in printing, he sat me down to tell me how he started his industrial career by fortuitously getting into printing ink manufacture. And then he chuckled, “If you ever used Ganges ink, I’m sure it would not have been like when I made Nanco in the 1930s. Ink is not what it was.”
Nanco Ink Ltd., instead of Nana & Co, is what he chose to start his industrial career with on Guindy Road, Adyar, When Ganges Ink from Calcutta, headed by a Norwegian, Emil Fjermos, took over Nanco, there began the family’s connection with Scandinavia.
This narration took place soon after his son, N. Sankar, had helped to resurrect Madras Musings. KSN was one of its most loyal readers. I’ll miss that occasional call from him commenting on one story or another.
This story was sent to me by a friend and former colleague, now settled in Australia but still on the same wave-length as me when it comes to our old home ground. Like me, he has always seen sport as a way of building bridges which is why he has included me in the loop, even though his information has little to do with Madras or the State of which it is capital, except for two things: One, that several people in this State get so excited about the issue that they do more harm than good, and they should be reminded how they can do some good, and the other, that the bridge-builder spends much of his time these days shuttling between Madras and Sri Lanka.
The present story has its roots in the Foundation of Goodness founded by legendary spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Kushil Gunasekera in the aftermath of Tsunami 2004 and which has now been joined by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, friends of both. Their latest project is the Murali Harmony Cup, a tournament to enable, according to Sangakkara, children from disadvantaged areas of Sri Lanka to come together and develop through support, an idea now being strongly backed by the Marylebone Cricket Club, London.
The first competition for the Murali Harmony Cup was organised in September in Oddusuddan, Mullaitivu Province, once, the heart of the fighting. The grounds and facilities for the inaugural matches and for the finals of the tournament, the IODR Oval, were constructed by the Army in a month. Other matches in the tournament were played in Jaffna, Mankulam, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya. A dozen under-19 boys’ teams and eight under-23 women’s team from across the island took part in the two T-20 tournaments that were played.
Commenting on where they think their initiative is headed, Murali and Sangakkara echo each other in saying, “It is about fostering better understanding between communities in Sri Lanka because that is the way to achieve lasting peace and racial harmony in the country.” They now plan to develop more cricket grounds in northern Sri Lanka, encourage more children there to take up cricket, and hope that one day more players from these grounds will represent the island-nation on the international stage.
All the information coming out of Sri Lanka is only about politics and trade. I’ve not seen a story on the Murali Harmony Cup and other such conciliatory initiatives. May be I missed the September story in the three newspapers I read daily, but I’ve asked around and no one else seems to have heard of the Murali Harmony Cup. I suppose, as usual, good news in no news. Be that as it may, I would strongly urge the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and the Board of Control for Cricket in India, not to mention the Chennai SuperKings, to get involved with this initiative to build bridges that will ensure harmony among communities in Sri Lanka.
For the record, Jaffna Combined Schools lost in a thriller to St. Peter’s College, Colombo, which had to get 20-odd runs for the last wicket and got them with 11 balls to spare. The Sri Lankan Army women won the other final.