Friday Review » History & Culture

Updated: October 27, 2012 15:59 IST

Madras Miscellany

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The first Madras team to play Calcutta as listed in the MCC team book
The first Madras team to play Calcutta as listed in the MCC team book

He filmed Gandhi's life

There came out of the blue the other day, extracts from The Straits Times, Singapore, dating to 1939 and 1940 and featuring a film-maker I had written about many moons ago (Miscellany, July 26, 2004). The March 28, 1939 report relates that A.K. Chettiar, “managing director of Documentary Films Ltd., Madras”, was in Singapore and was on his way to Europe and America where there was a “great demand” for pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and “picture corporations were willing to pay high prices for such films”.

Documentary Films had been making films on Indian cottage industries and he was taking them with him to exhibit at the World Trade Fair in New York a month later. Work on his Gandhi film — which is what he became best known for — was underway at the time.

This account records several little-known facts of the early life of Chettiar, who had been the Editor of Thania Vanikan, a Rangoon weekly devoted to Nattukkottai Chettiar business interests. After that foray into journalism, his interest in photography took him to the Imperial College of Arts, Tokyo, during which course he did a training stint with the Tokio Asahi newspaper's process department. Next we hear of him in the United States, working with Pathé News and doing a course at the New York Institute of Photography. Then, it was work and training in the U.K. and Europe, including working with Karl Vass, one of the chief photographers of the Nazi Propaganda Bureau.

A year later, he was back in Singapore, on his way to the United States to screen the Gandhi film there. A Straits Times columnist, ‘The Onlooker', not unlike yours truly, wrote that “this is the first complete biographical film on the Indian leader, Mr. Gandhi, himself playing the title role.” ‘The Onlooker' reported that A.K. Chettiar had been at the Ramgarh Congress Sessions filming Gandhi in the political milieu and in Wardha capturing his daily routine. The film, the columnist wrote, was to be made in 21 languages; the Indian versions would be 12,000 feet each, the English and European versions 3,000 feet each. Famed commentator Lowell Thomas was to give the English commentary. A.K. Chettiar planned to show the first copy of the English film to President Roosevelt in Washington.

Indeed, this was rare enterprise for the times, particularly from a man from a tiny village, Kottaiyur (then in Ramnad District).


The ‘first' Madras teams

G. Reuben takes me to task for captioning the team from the Madras Cricket Club records that I published last week as “the first Madras team”. It may have been the first team to play Ceylon, but, he points out, if the first game was an inter-city match, it should have been the team that played Bangalore, and if it was an inter-port/Presidency match, it should have been the team that played Calcutta. Point taken.

But now that reader Reuben has raised this point, let me set the record straight. Madras'first inter-city match was against Bangalore and was played in Guindy in 1862, Madras winning. No other information is available. Thereafter, almost annual matches were played, the venues alternating. The first record available of a match in the series, however, dates to February 1875, when Captain J. Pennycuick routed Madras with his underarm bowling. That Madras team included the Rev J.W. Wynch, a Private Lloyd, a Sergeant Hague and G.G. Arbuthnot, then on his way to leading Arburthnot & Co. to fortune before being instrumental in its collapse. Given the composition of the team, it would seem there was a surprising sense of egalitarianism in Madras cricket in those early days.

Described as India's first inter-State match and, therefore, India's first first class game, was the Calcutta-Madras match the former hosted in 1865. I give alongside the Madras team that played in that match, taken from the MCC team book. Given as the players are in alphabetical order, it might not be wrong to presume that H. Linton was its captain — and, therefore, Madras'first captain in an inter-Presidency match. Linton, who top-scored in Madras's winning effort, was the Head Assistant Collector of Godavari District. Hutchins, later to become a judge of the Madras High Court and to be knighted, held at the time of the match the same post as Hutchins in the South Arcot District.

And Brandt, an Oxford Blue, followed Hutchins' path to the High Court bench, but from Cuddapah. Breeks was a judge in ‘Cumbaconum', Leman an Agent in Ganjam and Melville Deputy Director of Settlement, Madras. The rest of the team were Captains in the Army, Jago to make his name in the Ooty Hunt.

Judging from contemporary reports of such matches in the second half of the l9th Century, it would appear that boundaries had still not been introduced: “… One hit of Beckley's, a five….deserves special mention…” and “Lushington got a splendid ‘leg hit' for 7; this was the best hit of the whole match…” and “Symonds got a good hit for six and Sandford …for 5. Fours and Threes had become quite common during the course of the match.”

What, however, might be considered THE first Madras team was the one which played in the first Ranji Trophy match, winning it at Chepauk by an innings, in one day, on November 4, 1934. With A.G. Ram Singh, C.P. Johnstone, and M.J. Gopalan doing the damage, Mysore were routed for 48 and 59, Madras struggling to 130 in between. That first, truly Madras team was, in batting order, A.V. Krishnaswami, Johnstone, Ram Singh, N.N. Suvarna, C. Ramaswami, M.A. Uttappa, A.L. Shaw, Gopalan, P.V. Ramanathan, S.V.T. Chari (wk) and P.S. Ramachandran.

Reuben can take his pick from all these teams as to which was Madras' first representative side.


When the postman knocked…

I've received a couple of questions from readers overseas. I wonder whether any of my readers here have any answers.

* Henry Noltie of the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens is working on the huge collection of drawings Hugh Cleghorn, the ‘father' of the Indian Forestry Service, took back with him. He wants to know whether anyone knows anything about a Dr. Lobo of ‘Sydapeth' who lived there in 1856.

Apparently, Dr. Lobo was a pillar of the Catholic Church, but, more significantly in the present context, was a bit of an artist and had done some plant sketches for Cleghorn. The only Lobos I know of are Ida Lobo's family who live in the Graeme's Road area — and they have no links, I'm told, with the Sydapeth Lobo of the 19th Century. Saidapet, incidentally, is where Dr. James Anderson had his Nopalry and first botanical gardens in the late 18{+t}{+h} Century. It is also where the Government Cattle Farm used to be. Could Dr. Lobo have been a veterinarian?

* My second question is from Christopher Penn and he wants to know whether I know anything about a ‘Canterbury Week' that was celebrated in Calicut c.1879. He wonders whether it could have been anything like ‘Canterbury Week' in Kent, which is a cricket festival that has been celebrated since 1842. Well, I've heard of the latter, but not of the Calicut Week; I wonder whether any of my readers have. But, in my search for information, I came across a Planters' Sports Club Cricket Week in Ooty from about the 1890s to the 1930s. And, I also came across reports of a Wynaad-Calicut cricket match, always played in Calicut, from 1910 till the 1930s. The participants could certainly have made a Canterbury Week of it if they had thrown in a bit of racing. Of note in this series is that E.A. Cowdrey, father of the M.C. Cowdrey who captained of England, turned out for Wynaad for a few years in this series.

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