When The Postman Knocked…

The postman's been busy these past couple of weeks knocking at my door — and so have others communicating by other means. I therefore devote this week's column to them.

Not happy with me

I must start with V. Subramaniam who says he is “a bit angry with me.” He writes: “I must congratulate the author for his Madras Miscellany of August 9, for including a para referring to the freedom struggle originating in Mylapore. But I have been feeling a bit angry that this weekly feature always refers to British notables who only contributed to the founding and consolidating of the British Empire.

“It would be a great idea if it would feature great educationists, doctors, philanthropists of the city, such as Pachaiappa Mudaliar, Calavala Cannan Chetty etc., as well as the old temples such as Kapaleswarar, Ekambareswarar, etc., schools like Hindu High School, great missionaries who founded the Christian educational institutions, and other foreigners who did yeoman service to good causes. “I am also sore about Madras Day which celebrates subjugation to foreign rule.”

Regarding the contents of this column, Subramaniam seems to have been reading a column that's rather different from the one I've been writing. Every subject he has mentioned has been written about in this column during its ten years of existence.

And, in case he contends that he is new to the column, I suggest he analyse its contents from January. He'll find over a third of it devoted to Indians and foreigners who have significantly contributed to Madras, about another third to places and institutions in Madras, and the rest to happenings in the city.

Elsewhere in his letter Subramaniam expresses his concern that not enough attention is being paid to the freedom movement. It's time he began referring to all that this column has written about Thilakar Thidal, the Satyagraha Memorial, and Gandhi's visits to the city, amongst a host of other items on happenings during the freedom struggle.

As for celebrating Madras Day, I wonder where he would have lived, worked and written in English if it had not been for Madras. Come on, Subramaniam, after 60 years of independence haven't we grown up enough to stop talking about those terrible, empire-building British?

No unanimity on Congress roots

S. Gopalakrishnan, a retired Professor of History, writes “There is no unanimity among historians on the immediate circumstances leading to the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885 (Miscellany, August 9). R.C. Majumdar states that the national conference held in Calcutta in 1883 triggered the foundation of the Congress. The meeting of the 17 in the house of Raghunatha Rao in Mylapore is the view of Annie Besant in her book How India Wrought for Freedom. Others held the view that A.O. Hume was solely responsible for the foundation of the Congress.

“Whatever it is, the role of provincial organisations such as like the Madras Mahajana Sabha in the establishment of a national organisation cannot be discounted.”

Undoubtedly, provincial organisations and pan-Indian groups meeting in Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Allahabad would have contributed to a groundswell building up for the creation of an organisation that would be the voice of the Indian people, but Annie Besant's statement linked with Hume's connection with The Theosophical Society and his words spoken under the banyan tree need to be given credit for the formulation of a concrete proposal born out of the nationwide groundswell.

“Go, Seetha, Go!”

V.N. Seetharam, who was in the book trade in Madras till a few years ago, found my “Go Thora, go” (Miscellany, August 9) taking him back to his schooldays at Trinity College, Kandy.

He writes, “A couple of years ago I was present at the 125th year of the Royal-Trinity Rugby encounter in Kandy. You will have to have seen it to believe it. The entire Kandy town wore a festive look akin to that of the Kumbhmela at Haridwar. Thousands of cars had to be parked miles away from the match venue, the famous Bogambara grounds, as there were over twenty thousand to witness the match. Over a hundred Trinitians from Australia alone flew in, apart from those from Europe and America, over a thousand in all. There were many get-togethers hosted by local Old Trinitians and millions were spent on these parties for Trinitians arriving from various parts of the globe and other parts of the island. All the hotels were booked well in advance by the various co-ordinators batchwise, yearwise. The night after the match was a night of non-stop revelry with every Old Trinitian re-living his youth midst his cups.”

A tale of two pioneers

Can you tell me more about Dr. G.I. Benjamin and his wife Dr. Sabina Benjamin, asks Sheila Doss. I'm afraid I can't, but I'm tossing the question to other readers with the few clues Doss has given. She tells me that he was the first Indian Director of the Barnard Institute of Radiology where he had done a diploma after graduating from Madras Medical College and before going to the United Kingdom for higher studies.

She was the first Indian woman to drive a motor car in Madras and Bangalore. She had studied at CMC Ludhiana and worked in General Hospital, Madras. Both were born in the 1890s, and had served with the British Army in West Asia during World War I. Can readers add to that?

The cricketing ophthalmologist

You've forgotten something that you had written about elsewhere in the past, pointed out Balu Alaganan, referring to my mention of Dr. A.V. Rajagopal, the Mylapore ophthalmologist (Miscellany, August 9) and so I looked back. Hard-hitting Rajagopal, ‘Sixer' to all at the Mylapore Recreation Club (MRC), was the third Indian to play for the Madras Cricket Club's (MCC) first eleven, following in the footsteps of T. Murari and A.R. Srinivasan.

He joined the Club in 1947 when he was a Major in the Army and helped it to win, in 1949-1950, its first First Division title since the League began in 1932-1933. The circumstances of his joining the Club was what happened during a MCC-MRC match. He took a MCC wicket, brilliantly caught the legendary C.P. Johnstone in the slips, and hit up 70-something.

While batting, he hit Johnstone for a towering six and found Johnstone who never swore, snapping at him, “Holy cross!” Whereupon he had retorted, “I'm glad you found something holy about that stroke!”

After the match, Johnstone came up to him in the pavilion and wondered, “How did I miss you all these years?” and added “Why don't you become a member?” And so it came to pass that Dr. Rajagopal moved from the MRC to the MCC.