And so the Sulivan name's erased
First there vanished the Sulivan's Garden Road name. Now, Sulivan's Garden, or at least the ‘castle' that was central to the property, could be under threat, though the school authorities say they are only “making structural changes” to the historic building. I hope these changes are being made with advice from a heritage-building conservation expert. Be that as it may, both changes to the cityscape warrant a bit of recollection.
The road abutting Sulivan's Garden to its east was perhaps appropriately named after the property it led to, but changing it to P.S. Sivaswami (Aiyar) Salai some years ago would not have drawn any serious objections — except for the one that few ever use a new name in place of the old. That objection aside, Sivaswami Aiyar certainly deserved a road to be named after him, particularly as the road led to his house, Sudharma, across Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai from what was Sulivan's Garden.
Sivaswami Aiyar may not have been the most eloquent of lawyers, but few presented better researched and more deliberately-argued cases. In his view, an advocate owed as much a duty to his client as he did to the Court; while doing his best for his client, an advocate should not identify himself with his client or feel responsible for the result of the case. This detached view had him once bring to a Judge's notice an authoritative ruling that could well have affected his client's case; it was a ruling the opposite side was unaware of!
He was Advocate-General of Madras from 1907 to 1912 and from then till 1917, a Member of the Governor's Executive Council. It was a period when he couldn't see eye to eye with many of the British in authority, both when it came to interpreting the Law as well as when it came to viewing wartime measures. Governor Pentland, it is said, was often irked by the strong minutes that Sivaswami Aiyar recorded during the period of the Great War. Nevertheless, Sivaswami Aiyar was knighted in 1915 — during the War. The Government's recognition of his erudition and fairness went ever further.
Sir Sivaswami Aiyar was appointed the Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras in 1916 and, after serving in that office till 1918, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the Benares Hindu University that year and officiated till 1919. From 1920 till 1923, he was a Member of the Imperial Legislative Council. Thereafter, he retired from public life and spent the rest of his years on study, particularly Sanskrit.
Known for his scholarship, Sir Sivaswami Aiyar may have been the second Indian Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras, but he was the first to serve a term. The first Indian Vice-Chancellor was S. Subramaniam Aiyar, appointed in 1904, but he quit in a couple of months in protest against British policies in India. Sir Sivaswamy Aiyar was also known for his philanthropy and he richly endowed the Boys' High School in Tirukattupalli and the Girls' High School in Mylapore that today bears his name.
A road leading to his house richly deserved his name; certainly, he was a better-known figure in Madras and a greater contributor to the Presidency than the Sulivan of Sulivan Gardens. The property dating to at least 1798 is said to have been Sir Benjamin Sulivan's. Sir Benjamin, in a curious coincidence, was Advocate-General of Madras and went on to be a judge of the Madras Supreme Court, the predecessor of the High Court. By the 1820s, the property appears to have belonged to ‘Sydahmud Baulider' and c.1837 was a De Silva's, but by then called Sullivan's Gardens.
In the 1840s, the Madras Diocesan Committee of the Society for Pronagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts bought the property for Rs. 20,000 and used it as a kind of seminary and ‘quasi college'. It later became the home of St. Ebba's Girls' School, which was started in North-Western Luz in 1886. Now, a house of many decades is undergoing transformation that could eventually threaten it.
What strikes me is that educational institutions that should know better are only too eager to tamper with heritage that they are supposed to be teaching their students to protect. In this case, the towered and battlemented building and its roofing are architecturally unique and deserve to be preserved in as close to the original as possible, as part of the architectural heritage of the city.
In another case, as I have mentioned before, those in authority are wanting to pull down Conway House, the oldest building on the St. George's School campus, the country's oldest Western-style educational institution. I can only hope better wisdom will prevail in this case too, where it is not architectural heritage that is threatened but a key marker in India's educational history.
Roe's gift to the Great Mughal
That query I had published about the gift from the East India Company that Sir Thomas Roe was to present to the Great Mughal (Miscellany, March 15) — one which he himself thought was of inferior quality — has brought me a reply from Tom Inglis, a heritage enthusiast in Scotland who has been a frequent visitor to India.
Inglis writes that the “glasses” referred to were probably goblets or some other type of glass vessel of a decorative character. He then adds: “These were gilded to resemble gold and appear to have been embellished with artificial precious stones. The term ‘paste' refers to the manufacture of these stones. The basic material is a highly refractive variety of glass to which is added rock crystal and alkaline salts. The colouring is from metallic oxides. The resulting material is melted, cast into jewel-like shapes, and then cut with facets to resemble genuine gemstones. These can be fixed to gold or silver-plated settings fixed to the body of the glass or vessel. Very often, paste ‘stones', where they are used as embellishments for clothing and for wearing, are called costume jewellery.”
Inglis wonders whether the East India Company was trying to pass off relatively valueless trifles to someone who was in possession of vast quantities of genuine stuff...a real insult. No wonder, even Roe was appalled by the gifts. And, to think they were ill-packed too! Presumably being the diplomat of the highest order that he was, Roe did not present these gifts to the Great Mughal. If he had indeed gifted the presents, it is surprising the Great Mughal did not hang him for his cheek! Inglis adds: “The leather cases, which some of the things were packed in, had seemingly suffered both inside and out during the seven-month voyage, but corrosion of the gilding from interaction with the damp salty atmosphere may also be implied here.”
A couple of weeks later, Inglis sent me a postscript. He wrote: “Recently, I happened to see glasses with answered the description on an historical programme on television. They were cylindrical and quite tall — may be eight inches high, with gilded metal bands round the tops and bottoms, and on the full-height handles. These bands were set with imitation [paste] gemstones.”
Will they be remembered?
This column is delighted to hear that the southern half of what used to be the Agri-Horticultural Society's gardens — where Woodland's Drive-in later put down roots — is being developed as a botanical garden that will open by the end of the year. It will, it is reported, have numerous specialty gardens and a host of facilities for visitors. It would seem that enclosed greenery is certainly getting a much better deal in the city in recent years.
Meanwhile, while these new gardens are being developed, will those concerned with the development spare a commemorative thought for those pioneers who followed the trail of flora in South India? Such as Robert Wight, who helped promote the Madras Horticultural Society in 1835 (it got its current name in 1860), William Roxburgh, Patrick Russell, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, Hugh Cleghorn, and Walter Elliott, among others, most of them with Edinburgh connections. I'm sure the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens would be only too happy to set up a gallery featuring the contributions to South India of these early amateur botanists, most of whom were medical doctors.