When the postman knocked...
* I' m once again doing that rare thing of starting this column with what the postman and others have delivered, this time because they once again led me to a couple of splendid pictures few readers would have seen. Today's treasure is the result of a message from Pradeep Chakravarthy who started off in his usual manner when he's disappointed in me: “Whaaat, Mr.Muthiah!” This time he was referring to the fact that in writing on the Egmore Fort (Miscellany, October 4), I had missed the opportunity of using today's pictures. “Surely,” Pradeep had gone on to plaintively add, “you should have looked at your Glyn Barlow.” Sadly, I hadn't at the time, but better late than never.
Glyn Barlow (who I believe was with Oxford University Press, or was it the Department of Education?) was the author of The Story Of Madras, a slim book published in 1921 by Humphery Milford, OUP. Focussing on several buildings/areas of Madras, he has illustrated it with his own sketches, such as the two accompanying ones. The first picture is of, in Barlow's words, “a side view of the redoubt of Egmore (which is) a great deal older than the one at San Thomé.” He adds that its guns had once fired at the horsemen of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, and when Tippu was later killed, bringing to an end the Mysore Wars, there was no longer need for the fort in Egmore.
The second picture is an early 20th Century one, showing the fort transformed into quarters for South Indian Railway officials. As SIR property, it acquired a first floor and steps led up to it as well as to the rather-elevated ground floor, accessing doors set in the old walls. Much of its battlements, however, were recognisable despite the transformation
* Kausalya Padmanabhan sets me straight on the history of Maconochie & Co. (Miscellany, September 27) when she writes that Knopp, when retiring to Britain, handed over the firm to her father, V. Rangachari, and Noronha. Sivasubramaniam become a partner in the firm after the death of Rangachari in 1964. Her father, she adds, was twice President of the Madras Stock Exchange, and it was during that second tenure that he died in the U.S. while leading a delegation of Madras stockbrokers on a visit there.
* Before the Madras Club (Miscellany, October 4) moved to Adyar from Club House Road, I think it moved to another Mount Road address, writes reader T.M. Raghu, “Could you tell me where that was ?” It was then 123 Mount Road and the five-acre property, Branson Bagh, was owned by the Maharajah of Bobbili. The Club, which sold its first home to Ramnath Goenka for Rs.1.4 million, bought Branson Bagh for Rs. 2,54,000 and moved, in 1948, into a purpose-built clubhouse it had raised there. In 1963, it moved into Moubray's Gardens in Adyar, which it acquired after selling its second home to Khivraj Chordia for Rs.2.7 million. The clubhouse in Branson Bagh became Income Tax offices (till they were pulled down) and in its gardens there were raised, on one side of what had been its driveway, Safire Theatre (now no more), and, on the other, Khivraj Motors.
Now, ‘Namma Arcot Road'
Emerging from the Mylapore Times' annual Mylapore Festival was ‘Namma Mylapore'. Now emerging from Madras Week, which the last three or four years was successfully celebrated in the Arcot Road area by Binita Sashi, Gargi Advaithi, Jeeva the storyteller and a few others teaming with the Hotel Green Park, is ‘Namma Arcot Road'.
And, they recently got it off to a rousing start when a large audience, whose size, ages and personalities surprised me, turned up at the inauguration by Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy.
The role Padma Seshadri school played in helping K.K. Nagar develop by giving people the confidence to move into what was the back of beyond is what Mrs. YGP spoke of. And, it was a view endorsed by many others who spoke; they pointed out that other Padma Seshadri schools were doing the same thing for development in other parts of the city and suburbs.
This concept of good schools helping new suburban areas to develop was also pointed out by S.P. Muthuraman, well-known film director, who recalled the contribution that Av. Meiyappa Chettiar made when he started Avichi School in Saligramam — followed by others — which helped AVM Nagar and AVM Colony, initially developed for his studio personnel, to become sought-after residential areas and also contributed to the development of Virugambakkam-Saligramam.
Reminiscing about AVM, Muthuraman recalled another bit of Chettiar's foresight. In his day, the Censor Board scrutinised films in the Minerva Theatre, George Town. Work on films went on till almost the very last moment before the reels were canned and raced to the Censors. But, often, a railway gate in the area threatened the progress of the speeding car. AVM's answer to that was to always have another car parked on the other side of the gate, and, whenever they were closed, the cans were transferred by head-load from one car to the other.
Other film personalities such as Hariharan and Nazar had their reminiscences to add, but no one had an answer to Sriram V's question about why most of the studios in Madras congregated around the Arcot Road area. “Was it because new — and surplus — power supply had been introduced there at the time?” he wondered.
This was the opportunity for your columnist to get on his favourite hobbyhorse and suggest that ‘Namma Arcot Road' should go beyond talks, walks , quizzes and entertainment programmes and get into documentation of its ‘territory'.
The film and processing studios which gave the Indian film industry most of its technicians, the large printing presses such as Prasad Process and AVM that followed, pioneering offset printing in the city, the beginnings of corporate medicine in the city with Vijaya Hospital, and a host of other institutions needed to be documented.
As did, he added, every street, the old shops and markets, the schools, temples, churches and mosques. To do this, ‘Namma Arcot Road' needed to get the whole community involved.
And, if it succeeded, there could be other ‘Namma Areas' throughout the city following its example and helping to compile a magnificent record of Madras that is Chennai, particularly as the existence of so much computer literacy today would make compilation easy. Will ‘Namma Arcot Road' bite?
He who greeted Gandhi
Palm Grove, now part of the Kesari Matriculation School campus in Royapettah, was the house L.A. Govindaraghava Aiyer (Miscellany, October 4) built for himself, Sriram V. tells me. This many-pillared house, with much wrought-iron work on its first floor and a battlement design beneath the pediment, was sold by the lawyer to a fellow lawyer, S. Doraiswami Iyer, who, when his son suddenly died, sought solace in the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Palm Grove then came up for sale and was bought by the famed Ayurvedic physician K.N. Kesari for Rs.70,000. The good doctor then started a Telugu medium school in it, which, in time, became Kesari High School. The Kesari Educational Trust now owns the property.
I've only been able to lay my hands on very little more information about Govindaraghava Aiyer who, it would appear, was better known for his unstinted hospitality and limitless generosity, particularly to students in the latter instance, than for leadership at the Bar. He had practised in Chittoor District before coming to Madras. In the Presidency capital, he was successful enough to be appointed acting Public Prosecutor. But, malpractices on the part of a relative, a young vakil with access to his chambers, led to the Government not making the appointment permanent. But, his friendship with many of the well-known figures of the time, such as V Krishnaswami Aiyar, V.C. Desikachariar and Anandacharlu, led him into the Congress fold. And there he appears to have made a mark, to judge by his being asked to welcome Gandhiji in 1915.
Now, that's as scanty a bit of information about a leading Madras personality as you can get. I look forward to more.