A 125-year-old cricket link

The item the other day that the Gopalan Trophy series was being revived for the third or fourth time was news that delighted me, for I have been one of the strongest votaries of this cricketing contest from the time it was first mooted by V.Pattabhiraman in 1953, urging it in writing on both sides of the Palk Strait. The contestants in the contest have undergone many changes over the years, varying from Madras State, Madras City and Tamil Nadu on one side and Ceylon, Colombo District and Sri Lanka Under-23, or something like that, on the other. But whatever the names of this Madras-Colombo contest, it has over the years done much good for cricket on both sides of the Palk Strait, which is why I have from the beginning done everything I could to encourage keeping the series alive.

The Gopalan Trophy contest, however, is only 57 years old. The Madras-Colombo Cricket connection is 125 years old! It was during the Christmas–New Year season of 1885-86 that the first Madras-Ceylon match was played, with Ceylon, effectively the ‘Europeans only' Colombo Cricket Club (CCC) arriving in Madras to play the Presidency, effectively the ‘Europeans only' Madras Cricket Club (MCC). Unfortunately, thereafter, as in recent years, the proposed annual exchange of visits never quite came off, though, like the Gopalan Trophy series in recent years, there were sporadic exchanges of visits.

The Madras team, exactly as entered in the Madras Cricket Club's records, is given alongside. Of note in that team are:

Pennycuick, who was instrumental in getting the Chepauk ground for the Club's home turf and went on to gain renown for his work on the Mullai-Periyar Dam;

R.J.H. Arbuthnot, kin of Alexander Arbuthnot, the famous Civilian who founded the M.C.C.; and

H.C.King, that legal stalwart responsible for the famed Chepauk pavilion, the terms of agreement with the Madras Government for the Chepauk property, and for King & Partridge, who drew up the Constitution of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and registered it in Madras.

During the early years of the series, the MCC would play the Up-Country Planters, the Low-Country Planters and the CCC in Ceylon, and the CCC would play the Madras Mofussil, MCC and Madras Presidency in Madras. One of the most memorable early matches was the Presidency versus Ceylon game at Chepauk in 1902. Madras knocked up a total of 537 that was “without parallel in the history of first class Indian Cricket,” the main contributor to it being Capt. E.L.Challenor of the Leicester Regiment and an ex-Kent County player, who scored 216 of these runs. The first Madras player to score a double century in a first class game, however, was King, who piled on 206 against Bangalore in 1885.

When Madras visited Ceylon in 1906, its ‘Europeans only' team played against a Ceylonese team for the first time, the Colts Cricket Club. A popular member of the Colts in later years was Pattabhiraman. And it was in the Colt's pavilion in Colombo that he and K.S. Ranga Rao first mooted the idea of the Gopalan Trophy series though the Trophy's name came later, after it was donated by Pattabhiraman and D.L. Narasimha Rao.

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A heartening sight

When my grand-niece from the U.S., who had last seen the University of Madras's Senate House three of four years ago, when restoration work on it had just begun, entered it a few days ago, “Wow!” was her first utterance. And I was inclined to echo her. For the great hall looked truly spectacular – quite a change from what it had been during the last couple of years when the splendidly restored heritage building was treated virtually as a godown.

The occasion we attended was the award of the Ordre des Palmes Academiques to Dr.Chitra Krishnan, Head of the Department of French and other Foreign Languages, University of Madras, and Hema Parthasarathy, of the Alliance Francaise. Both have been teaching French in India for 30 years and received the French Government's recognition for their contribution to the language here. The awards were conferred on them by the Ambassador for France in India, and Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont concluded a brilliant address aimed at the students by thanking the University for holding the function in “this magnificent heritage building.” In her acceptance speech, Dr. Chitra too expressed how happy she was to receive her award in “this splendid building of ours.”

Truly was the interior of Senate House reflecting its glory of yore, showing that some care was being taken of it in recent times. The last time I peeped into it about a year ago, it was a storehouse for examination papers and looked like the inside of a warehouse. The building, however, could do with better maintenance of its exterior. Dust tends to dull it and this calls for almost daily care. Also in need of immediate attention is any damage suffered due to wear and tear; for instance, there was a missing stained glass window that allowed the pigeons in and cried for replacement. And the rooms on either side of the entrance that are in use could do with considerable refurbishing to make them worthy of the interior of the hall.

It would be wise if the University set up a Senate House Maintenance Committee to not only look after the building but also put it to best use and earn an income from the one well-restored heritage building both the public and visitors to the city would like to see.

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A forgotten Native State

It was a glittering function, the presentation of the book Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India to the art-enthusiasts of Madras recently (Miscellany, July 5). Shortly after the function, one of them came up to me and told me with some distress that the Maharajah of Vizianagaram had not been mentioned in the speeches or the book and that he had commissioned about twenty paintings, but whose whereabouts were not known. I suggested she talk to the author about it, as Rupika Chawla could well be planning a second volume.

I, however, decided to go and do some homework and was surprised to find that the Andhra country had received little attention in the text.

Given the fact that the Andhra chieftains and zamindars spent lavishly and were ever present at the court of the Governors of Madras, with whom Ravi Varma maintained a close relationship, it was indeed surprising that he did not do much work in the Andhra country or for its Rajahs. That's a mystery awaiting more detective work by Rupika.

Until then, however, let me note that one of the most magnificent reproductions in the book is of the Raja and Rani of Kurupam (near Waltair, I understand). And of this Andhra painting there is a rather sad story told. The Raja commissioned Ravi Varma to do the painting when the artist was passing through Vizagapatam in 1902. But when Ravi Varma came for the sitting, there was no Rani. She had passed away, much before her time, some years before. The Raja gave the painter a photograph of her and fetched for him, “with tears in his eyes,” her favourite jewellery and a pale, sky blue saree he favoured. Ravi Varma, using this ‘information',‘re-created' her sitting on a deep crimson, velvet-covered settee, inclining towards the Raja who stood to her left. Whether the ‘re-creation' is faithful to her or not, it's a striking picture that had found much favour with the Raja – and with Rupika too, for she has in her book full-page close-ups of the faces of the couple as well.