Go, Thora, Go;

“Go, Thora, Go,” the girls from Colombo shouted, and responding to the shouts from their sister school, Bishop's College, the boys from St. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, a suburb just south of Colombo, came up with an all-out effort to row away with the honours — just as the shouting girls had done — at the recent Asian Schools' Rowing Championships held near Muttukkadu. Intrigued local journalists were keen to find out what ‘Thora' meant, but Thomian parents were as dodgy about the meaning as Balu Alaganan, former Ranji Trophy captain of Madras and an Old Thomian, was, when I asked him about it, after congratulating him on Thomians moving beyond cricket and swimming, and tasting success in a new sport — rowing.

Old Royalist as I am — like Gopi of the Madras Players — after a stint at its sister school, Ladies' College, though there was a spell at St. Thomas' Prep in between that influenced me considerably throughout my life, I have my own explanation. St. Thomas' is primarily a boarding school and, being right by the beach, boarders would have more than their fair share of Thora, seer fish in Sinhalese (a mackerel we call vanjara), and students from Royal College, landlubbers in the heart of the city, had a ball with the fishy term. But Thomians such as Ravi Menon, District Grand Master of the Freemasons, or my brother, S. Nagarajan, well-known in the heavy vehicle industry, might not have felt the full brunt of the Royalist angle to Thora,as they went to St.Thomas' branch in Gurutalawa in the hills.

Two things you might have gathered from this is that the Royal-St. Thomas' rivalry was akin to the Eton-Harrow one — and something lacking in Indian school circles — and that there was a time when several students from India studied in Ceylon schools. To take the latter point first, indeed they did. Many from the P.T. Rajan family and from the Madurai area studied at Trinity College, Kandy (schools were called colleges in Ceylon), many from the Tuticorin area studied at St. Benedict's in North Colombo, and several Chettiars, such as my father, studied at Ananda College, founded by Col. H.S. Olcott and the Buddhist Theosophical Society as the first Buddhist public school (in the British sense).

And, as befitting a British public schools ethos, long inter-school rivalries were a tradition. No matter what other schools you played against, the Big Match in every sport was against a traditional rival — Royal versus St. Thomas'; Ladies versus Bishop's; St. Joseph's versus St.Peter's; Ananda versus Nalanda in Colombo; Trinity versus St. Anthony's in Kandy (but Trinity versus Royal in rugby football); Richmond versus Mahinda in Galle; etc. During the Big (cricket) Matches the students of the rival schools would take over the whole town, and crowd the playing ground with not only numbers but drown it in song and dance. To this day, the annual Royal-Thomian match draws a bigger and more boisterous crowd than a T20 international featuring Sri Lanka. And I'm sure that, as in my day, that crowd takes time off ever so often during the match to take over the roads of Colombo, and barge into the girls' schools to serenade the awaiting young misses with ‘You Are My Sunshine'.

For the record, the Royal-Thomian cricket match is the second oldest schools cricket contest in the world, the first game in the series having been played in 1879. The matches were two-day ones initially, but three-day ones starting with the Centenary match to which thousands of Old Thomians and Old Royalists came from all over the world to scream “the Blue, Black and Blue Forever” or “The Blue and Gold Forever” respectively. This rivalry is only one year younger than the one between St. Peter's College and Prince Alfred College in Adelaide. The Chappell brothers played for Prince Alfred, which appears to have had a greater sporting record than that of the more scholarly and older St. Peter's.

I've often wondered why schools in India, even the public schools, have never been able to generate such passion over a match against a rival school. Does anyone have an answer? I'll also be glad to hear from all those who went to school in Ceylon in pre-Independence days, and have never forgotten the experience.


On the trail of Independence

A couple of weeks ago, I was kept busy following the trail of the Freedom Movement in Madras for a project I was working on, and it enabled me to catch up on a couple of places that I'd lost track of over the years.

Welcomed I was by some of the residents of a large complex in Mylapore, Viswa Kamal, but I was disappointed to find that what I was looking for had been replaced by an electrical installation just inside the gate leading to the apartment block. When I last visited this address on what was West Mada Street, Mylapore, and is now R.K. Mutt Road, there'd been the house and clinic of Dr. A.V. Rajagopal, Ophthalmologist, abutting the road and neighboured by Alliance Publishers. In it, my picture today, was the plaque, also featured, recording the genesis of the Indian National Congress at this site. The building Dr. Rajagopal occupied had been raised on the site of Krishna Vilas, the home of Raghunatha Rao, who had been a Dewan of the princely state of Indore. It was to Krishna Vilas that he had invited 17 eminent persons who had wanted to discuss what Allan Octavian Hume had spoken about under the banyan tree in the Theosophical Gardens a day or so earlier in 1884. Hume had urged Indians to form an organisation that would speak on their behalf to the ruling power, and seek a greater degree of freedom for the people of the country. When the 17, from Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Delhi, U.P. and the Northwest Province, met, they resolved that “a national movement for political ends” should be formed. The three from Madras who attended the meeting were former Justice S. Subramania Aiyer, P. Ananda Charlu and P. Rangia Naidu. It was in the last named's home, Ranga Vilas on Police Commissioner's Road, Egmore, that a few more meetings were held, and the idea of an Indian National Congress was crystallised. It was in Bombay the next year that the organisation was born, the first resolution at its First Sessions being moved by G. Subramania Aiyer, the Founder-Editor of The Hindu. Great was my disappointment to find that the commemorative plaque that had been in Dr.Rajagopal's clinic was no more; it had been broken — and the pieces thrown away — when the developers pulled the building down to raise the apartment block in its huge garden at the rear that was virtually an orchard.

A happier discovery awaited me at Tilak Ghat (Thilagar Thidal, later Seerani Arangam). All the efforts over the years of P.N. Srinivasan, Editor of Bharathamani, had at last borne fruit, and now, at the western end of the beach sands where Tilak Ghat had been, there is a memorial stone listing many of the eminent who had spoken there in the 20{+t}{+h} Century, from Gandhiji and Bharati, who had give the site its name, to Jawaharlal Nehru.


A question on heritage saved

That the first steps have been taken to save some of the city's built heritage is welcome news. A Heritage Sub-Committee formed by the CMDA has sent out notices to the owners of nearly 500 premises listed as important sites by the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee, which had been formed to identify such sites that should not be desecrated by hoardings. The notices stated that the buildings mentioned should not be pulled down, and any action being taken on them should be with the approval of the sub-committee.

The sub-committee has gone further, and, after inspection, stated that the Bharat Insurance Building should not be pulled down and should be protected from the elements. It has now inspected Gokhale Hall, and its verdict on this is expected shortly. Now while all this is welcome, how does the CMDA, or its sub-committee, ensure the protected buildings are not allowed to deteriorate, are restored, and, if vacant, put to suitable re-use after restoration.

Saving buildings is one thing, but making them re-live is another. And, that is the poser the CMDA and the sub-committee will have to find answers to in the near future.


When the postman knocked…

The reach of this column constantly amazes me. Jefferis Donald Evans D'Angelis writes from Santiago de Chile, referring to my piece on ‘The Flying Corsican', that appeared in Miscellany on July 16, 2003, and says his great-grandfather was Italian, and not Corsican. He was born in Messina, Italy, in September in 1843, he adds, and promises me much more information which I look forward to.

Keywords: historyChennai