This evening, there will be released at the Madras Boat Club a book, Down by the Adyar, which will narrate the Club's story from its founding in 1867. The timing of the ‘launch' is most appropriate, for it comes midst the euphoria over India's best-ever showing in an international rowing competition, the haul including a Gold for the first time, three Silvers and a Bronze.
The appropriateness of the timing is due to the fact that the development of rowing in India to international standards, after having spread the sport in South Asia, is due entirely to the Calcutta Rowing Club and the Madras Boat Club who still take their rowing seriously, despite being amateurs, part-timers if you will, in a world where any competitive sport is now a full-time activity for the best sportspersons.
Making the timing even more appropriate is the fact that among those at the helm of rowing in India at this juncture, when the sport is gaining momentum, are two senior members of the Madras Boat Club, M.V. Sriram and Chacko Kandathil, secretary-general and treasurer respectively, of the Rowing Federation of India (RFI), and who, at the moment, are managing the sport nation-wide from the South.
The Rowing Federation of India, now the sport's governing body in the country, owes its existence to the Madras Boat Club and the Calcutta Rowing Club, who founded the Federation on August 30, 1976 with the founding signatories being from the two Clubs alone, the decision to establish such a body having been taken after a suggestion by Madras was agreed to by Calcutta. M.M. Muthiah, a founding executive vice-president, Borun V. Chanda the treasurer, and three others from Madras were half the founding committee (the same number were from Calcutta) of a Federation whose initial members were only West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
Predating the RFI, and as a consequence of looking far ahead to the day when all-India competitions would have to be for State and Institutional teams, such as the Services and Railways, as in other sports, the Madras Boat Club initiated the founding of the Tamil Nadu Amateur Rowing Association (TARA).
When TARA was founded on November 28, 1974, its only member was the Club and the founding fathers were all Members of the MBC, headed by its then — and first Indian — president, M.M. Muthiah. But the initiator of the concept — as well as that of the RFI — was Borun Chanda, who had rowed for both Calcutta and Madras, and was a President of the Madras Boat Club in the 1970s. It was he who pushed for the inclusion of rowing for the first time in the Asian Games, held in Delhi in 1982.
It was with this Asiad that the first steps were taken by the Services and the Sports Authority of India to have rowers focus full-time on the sport, leading to the noteworthy performances at the latest Asian Games in Guangzhou in China. But, contributing to those performances was the coaching, the foundations for which were laid by members of the Madras Boat Club, such as Borun Chanda, the brothers Abraham and Chacko Kandathil, and Sriram.
Till the RFI was established, the main rowing competition in this part of the world was that held by the Amateur Rowing Association of the East (ARAE) founded in 1933 in Poona with the Madras Boat Club, the Calcutta Rowing Club, the Royal Connaught Boat Club (Pune), the Karachi Boat Club, the Rangoon Boat Club and the Bombay Gymkhana (Rowing Section) as its first members. The ARAE's annual regatta was described as ‘The Henley of the East'.
Curiously, the Colombo Rowing Club was not a founding member (it joined a couple of years later), though the oldest inter-club competition in this part of the world is the Madras-Colombo regatta which was first rowed in 1898 and which has, but for the exigencies of wars and civil disturbances, been rowed annually ever since.
Following in the wake of the ARAE, the Far East Amateur Rowing Association (FEARA) was founded in Singapore in 1954, more focussed on Southeast and East Asia than the ARAE's South Asian waters, but many rowing clubs between Karachi and Manila are members of both associations and have competed in the two regattas.
The Madras Boat Club is one of the early clubs in Madras founded with an accent on sport and it still remains focussed on sport. Another is the Royal Madras Yacht Club, which decided in 1911 that sailing needed greater focus than what the Madras Boat Club, concentrating as it did on rowing, gave it.
But the Boat Club, which offered both rowing and sailing in its early days, has retained the reflective name it gave itself in 1867, the Madras Boat Club, host to both forms of water sports.
When the postman knocked…
The postman's been kept busy with several clarifications, additions and corrections to material than has appeared in this column past and present. The rest of today's column offers some of these contributions.
* Meenakshi Thyagarajan, A. Madhaviah's granddaughter, writes that there was “an element of exaggeration” in my stating that Madhavaiah “campaigned” for Tamil as a medium of instruction (Miscellany, November 1). He had a deep love for Tamil, she says, but he did not envision its academic role as a medium of instruction. With Tamil not being in the collegiate curriculum, what he wanted was Tamil to be “a compulsory second language in the collegiate syllabus” and that was the focus of his last speech.
As for M. Ananthanarayanan being a “novelist”, Thyagarajan points out that he wrote only one novel, The Silver Pilgrimage. What he should be better recognised for is as Chief Justice of Madras, 1966-69.
* R.B. Gopalakrishnan from Salem writes that ‘P. Adinarayana' should correctly have been recorded by me as ‘T. Adinarayana Chetty' (Miscellany, October 25). He goes on to state that Adinarayana Chetty was ‘The Father of the Co-operative Movement' in Salem District, helping establish several co-operative societies in the district in the 1930s. He was also the founder-president of the Salem Co-operative Urban Bank, now the Salem Co-operative Central Bank.
The Government of his day permitted the Bank to issue one rupee notes in the 1930s and 40s “for easy flow of small cash transactions in both rural and urban areas in the district.”
* Referring to my recent mention of the mathematical genius Ramanujan and those connected with him in India (Miscellany, October 25), M. Ramanathan advises readers interested in the subject to refer to Dr. S.R. Ranganathan's book Raman the Man and the Mathematician, published by Ess Ess Publications (New Delhi) for the Sarada Ranganathan Endowment for Library Science, Bangalore.
Sarada was the second wife of the ‘Father of Indian Library Science', SRR. The book is dedicated to “V. Ramaswamy Ayyar, the founder of the Indian Mathematical Society and first in the chain of the discoverers of Ramanujan”. M.S. Venkatraman's attempts to get the Ramanujan papers in the Port Trust transferred to the National Archives in New Delhi (Miscellany, November 15) became a reality through the efforts of K. Santhanam, the Union Minister for State for Transport and Railways, it is stated in SRR's book.
* K. Vedamurthy recollects that when Dr. Chandrasekhar (Miscellany, November 22) was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Delhi in 1971, he stated at the Convocation that he had made a special attempt to be present at it so that he would have “the honour of sharing the stage” with M.S. Subbulakshmi (who was being similarly honoured).