This coming Sunday, over a hundred members of `The First Family' of Madras will, coming from all over the world, get together at a dinner organised by the Appah & Co. Trust to recall their ancestor, Beri Thimmappa. That Beri Thimmappa was one of the founders of Madras is not recognised anywhere in the city, but I'm delighted to see his family recalling him not only as the man responsible for their lineage but also as the person who helped create the city they now call home.
The present descendants of Beri Thimmappa trace their lineage to two of his great great great grandsons, Ketty Thimmappah Bashyam Naidu and Ketty Narayanappah Naidu. The brothers contributed generously to the city and each has been remembered for his contributions. A small triangular park - with a cupola and a bust of Bashyam Naidu in it - is called the Bashyam Naidu Park and serves as a roundabout near their home, Appah Gardens, on Appah Garden Road, off Taylor's Road, Kilpauk. The younger brother is remembered in a road name, Narayanappah Road in George Town, leading off from Rajaji Salai at the southern end of Customs House.
The two brothers, left fatherless before they were two years old, were brought up by their maternal uncle, Goday Parthasarathy Naidu, who guided them after their studies to set up Appah & Co. in 1894. This provision store was started in their then family house at 125 Audiappa Naick Street, Black Town. Two years later, it had grown into a wholesalers, dominating the chillies, coriander, turmeric and groundnut trade in Madras. In 1899, it moved into handsome premises it had built at 2 Chinnathambi Mudali Street, Black Town. The office was served by huge godowns near the Harbour.
As the next generation came along, diversification began. In May 1928, Bashyam Naidu's third son, K. Alavandar Naidu, and his cousin, K. Venkapathi Naidu - who was a few years later to qualify as a pharmacist - and two others in the two families who had, like them, just passed out of college started the business of Appah & Co, Pharmaceutical Chemists, in newly built premises at 286 China Bazaar Road (today's NSC Bose Road). The premises were re-modelled in 1934 to cope with the firm's increasing popularity. Venkatapathi Naidu was later to be elected the President of the Indian Pharmaceutical Association, Madras.
Bashyam Naidu's eldest son, K. Venkataswami Naidu, was perhaps the person whose name was most associated with Madras after the Beri Thimmappa contribution. He was a Mayor of Madras, Deputy President of the Madras Legislative Assembly and Minister for Religious Endowments and Registration (1952-54) in the Rajaji Government. As President of the Madras Cooperative Housing Construction Society he was deeply involved in the development of the new housing colonies in Gandhinagar, Kasturbanagar and Venkatesapuram, northeast of the B & C Mills. And carrying on his father's deep commitment to religious activities, he accepted the presidency of the Tirumalai Tirupathi Devasthanams. But the only place his name is to be publicly seen in the city is on a dilapidated shell of a building across from the Bata showroom and next to the Madras Mahajana Sabha building at the Anna Salai-Wallajah Road junction. (near Old Round Tana).
The last vestiges of the Appah & Co businesses was the Narayanappah Pharmacy in Nungambakkam. But that too passed out of the hands of a member of the family. Today, the family comprises mainly of professionals.
The story in a road name
On the verandah - and that Club verandah group's contribution to this column is something I forgot to mention in my recollection of its history in The Hindu's celebration on November 28th of ten years of MetroPlus - the talk turned to road names the other evening. And B.N. Reddi Road in T'Nagar (once the northern half of North Boag Road and now curiously labeled Narasimhan Road) was NOT named after B. Nagi Reddi, as I had always thought. It was named after his elder brother Bommireddi Narasimha Reddi, who long preceded him in films, I discovered. And the search for B.N. Reddi's work revealed how much he had contributed to the early film industry in Madras.
B.N. Reddi was a theatre buff, often seen at the plays regularly staged at the Victoria Public Hall. It was there that he met H.M. Reddi, who had already made a name for himself as a film-maker. The two teamed together with Moola Narayana Swamy, a business partner of B.N. Reddi's father, and, as Rohini Pictures, produced Grihalakshmi (1938). The film was a success but not the partnership. B.N. Reddi and Narayana Swamy then teamed with K. Ramnoth and A.K. Sekhar, to promote Vauhini Pictures - named after B.N. Reddi's daughter.
Vauhini's first film was Vande Mataram (1939), which Reddi directed and Ramnoth scripted. Its hero was Chittoor C. Nagaiah who Reddi had first spotted on the VPH stage. With the film's success Reddi was hailed as having launched the golden age of Telugu cinema; with it too was born a star. Over the next few years, there was every year a B.N. Reddy-Nagaiah hit. By which time the partnership had established Vauhini Studio with a Rs.2.5 lakh investment, the bulk of it Narayana Swamy's.
After 1942, Nagaiah moved into Tamil films. And so did others in the Vauhini team. B.N. Reddi continued to direct films till 1966, but slowly began to distance himself from the film industry. By then, his younger brother, Nagi Reddi, wanted to move on from the onion export business and was looking for a new opportunity. Teaming with his friend Sudhakar Rao, Chakrapani, he started Vijaya Productions. In 1948, Narayana Swamy was in financial difficulty with the government. Vauhini was leased to Vijaya and Vijaya-Vauhini was born. In 1961, Vijaya finally acquired Vauhini Studios.
`The Vijaya Twins', as they were to become known, launched Vijaya Productions with a serious Telugu social film, scripted by Chakrapani and titled Sahukaru (1949). Its cast of newcomers included N.T. Rama Rao, S.V. Ranga Rao and a feisty young woman called Janaki. The trio were to go far from these beginnings in a critically acclaimed film but one which failed at the box office. It, however, bequeathed Janaki a name that still remains with her: `Sowcar'.
Deciding that they needed to reach out to the popular market if they were to be successful, Nagi Reddi and Chakrapani decided to make a series of social comedies. Pelli Chesi (1952) was the first of them. Starring Rama Rao and Ranga Rao, the film was a runaway success in Telugu and Tamil - and later in Kannada. Vijaya Productions was on its way. To become one of the most successful film production units in India. But there's still no B. Nagi Reddi Road.
When the postman knocked…
Dr. A. Raman writes from New South Wales that the Madras naturalist who wanted Carnegie to bring him two orang-outangs (Miscellany, November 16th could well have been Surgeon George Bidie who was in charge of the Museum (1872-85) and, additionally, in charge of the Zoo. Bidie, however, it must be recorded, was a flora man and the Museum owes its botanical collection and the exotic trees in its garden to him. His successor, Dr. Edgar Thurston, the anthropologist, was the fauna man. Reader Raman adds that Sally Walker in an article titled `Zoological gardens in India' in Zoo and aquarium history: Ancient collections in zoological gardens edited by Vernon N. Kisling Jr., states that Balfour's collection in the Museum (Miscellany, September 7th started with the donation by the Nawab of the Carnatic of his entire collection. That collection was the nucleus of the Zoo which opened in People's Park in 1855 and which had, according to the 1876 Guide to People's Park, Madras, “a large, dark, male orangoutan, a female Asiatic two-horned rhinoceros, a male Malayan tapir and two great black-headed gulls (“rare in menageries,” according to Flower).
Offering a possible explanation for the `Ukant' in the `Ukantaatchi' name (Miscellany, November 1st is reader R.T. Chari who wonders whether it might not derive from the Tamil word ukantha “conveying the meaning proper/apt/appropriate/selected etc., which might make `Ukantaachi' a kind of manager/commander “who ensures discipline while at the same time caring for the welfare of subordinates.” Reader Chari wants me to ponder over whether his view is correct. Far be it, reader Chari, for me to comment on this; I'll leave it the experts and researcher Simon Schmidt who started it all.
Reader S.V. Ramachandran tells me that anyone interested in seeing copies of The Indian Review (Miscellany, July 9, 2007) might find them in the Ranade Library in Luz, if access to them is given. His father, S.R. Venkataraman, who at one time was President of the Servants of India Society, had a good home library in which The Indian Review was a valued collection. When he passed away, the family donated many of his books and the Indian Reviews to the Ranade Library.