My only knowledge of Mandayam Parthasarathi Tirumal Acharya (MPT) was a brief reference to him I had read in a biography of M.N. Roy that ardent Communist. But to complete my knowledge of Acharya several readers have sent in much material which I combine below to introduce him to readers who may well have not heard of him till I mentioned him last week.

Born in Madras, Acharya, as a teenager, joined India, the outspoken weekly Subramania Bharati helped start. When things got too hot for the publication in British India, both fled to Pondicherry. With them, fleeing the Madras Police, was S.N.T. Acharya, the owner of India and MPT’s uncle. In 1907, as a 20-year-old under threat of expulsion from Pondicherry, MPT disguised himself and made his way to Colombo from where he shipped out to France, suffering all the way due to his strict vegetarianism. While he was in Paris, he was put in touch with V.V.S. Iyer from Trichinopoly who was practising law in London. Iyer, more importantly, was involved with India House established in 1905 by leading Indian nationalists living in the U.K. There, Acharya came under the influence of V.D. Sarvarkar and teamed with him in writing material the British considered “inflammatory and seditious”. By 1909, India House was on its last legs consequent to pressure on it after the assassination of the Secretary of State for India’s ADC by a member of the India House coterie. Once again, Acharya had to seek pastures new.

After unhappily holding hands with extremists in Morocco and Portugal, Acharya arrived in Paris in 1910 to join Madam Bhikaji Cama’s Vande Mataram she had founded in 1910. He also fell under the spell of Socialism. On a visit to Berlin to meet the leaders of the socialist movement, he met Champakaraman Pillai who had founded an Indian revolutionary group there to oust the British from India. V.V.S. Iyer too was there. From Berlin, Iyer headed for Pondicherry where, it was alleged, he trained Vanchi Iyer who in 1911 shot Collector Ashe near Tirunelveli. An official report in 1918 accused Acharya of planning the assassination. Meanwhile, Acharya and Champakaraman Pillai teamed together on what was called the Berlin Committee that tried to spread disaffection in the Indian Army’s ranks and sought German help to foment revolution in India. Acharya himself tried to raise an Indian National Volunteer Corps to fight with the Turks and against the British in Turkey and Mesopotamia.

The Russian revolution had Acharya heading for Russia where, in October 1920, he, M.N. Roy and others helped to found the Communist Party of India. Before long, the Party split and Acharya and Roy found themselves on either side of the ideological divide. MPT returned to Berlin in 1922 where he found himself a man without a country to call home and an idealist disillusioned with all the ways he thought would make India a free and better country to live in. He returned to India in 1935-36 and spent the rest of his life in distressed circumstances with few to call friend.

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From infirmary to regional institute

Reminding me that the Government Ophthalmic Hospital is 125 years old this year is Joanne Silva. She is not quite right. What is now called, since 1985, the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, had its beginnings in July 1819 when the Madras Eye Infirmary was established a year after the London Eye Infirmary (Moorfields), the oldest specialist eye hospital in the world. The quasiquicentenary commemoration is of the year, 1888, the Infirmary became the Hospital.

The East India Company sent out from London a Mr. R. Richardson, an eye surgeon, to set up the Infirmary and he did so in Royapettah, somewhere behind what is the Express Avenue mall today. But within a year the number of patients had increased so much that Richardson had to look for new premises which he found in what is now Kannapar Thidal after having served as the major tram shed of the city. And still the number of patients grew, so land was acquired at the Institute’s present Marshall’s Road site in Egmore in 1884 and three blocks were built as well an out-patient dispensary facility. These buildings were inaugurated in 1888 as the Government Ophthalmic Hospital, the driving force behind it Dr. E.F. Drake Brockman (Superintendent, 1873-94).

Substantial expansion of the hospital took place after Lt.Col. R.H. Elliott I.M.S. took over as Superintendent in 1904. Before he left in 1913 he had set in motion plans for the establishment of a School of Ophthalmology. The building for the School was completed by year-end 1919. Honouring his contributions, the School was named ‘The Elliott School of Ophthalmology’ when it was inaugurated in the new building on February 7, 1920. The plans of Elliott for further enlarging the School, the Hospital and getting both institutions the latest equipment were implemented over the 25 years that followed his departure. Serving for 18 years through this period, the longest anyone has headed the Hospital, was Lt.Col. R.E. Wright, I.M.S. It was during Wright’s tenure that he conceived and implemented the establishment of a museum in the Elliott School. The Elliott Museum acquired a world reputation, which it still has even though it could do with a little more attention and maintenance, just like the other striking heritage building in the campus.

Dewan Bahadur Koman Nayar was appointed Superintendent in December 1940, the first Indian to be selected for the post. Dr. R.E.S. Muthayya, who was appointed Superintendent in 1947, was the first and only head of the Hospital to have a Doctorate in Ophthalmology from Oxford. During his nine-year tenure, he established the first Eye Bank in India, a Master’s degree in Ophthalmology, and laid the foundation for the acquisition of Shawfield Gardens, across the way from the College. When the garden house and its considerable acreage were taken over in 1960, nurses’ quarters and a School for Optometry, also named after Elliot, were built here, the School opening in 1962. In 1969, a new building was raised in the Shawfield campus to host an Outpatients Block and an Administration Block. And the hospital has continued to grow ever since, befitting an institution with a significant international reputation.

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When the postman knocked…

Several readers have been in touch with me stating that they were barely able to read the modern Tamil and transliterated versions of one of the first titles of the Tranquebar Press that appeared in this column last Monday, but worse they were not at all able to read the English translation. Please publish at least the translation again, they’ve appealed. And so here it is, with regrets for what it was: “ ‘The abomination of Paganism or the way of Pagans to be saved.’ Printed at the Printing Press owned by the Danish Missionaries in Tarangampadi after 1713 years of the birth of Jesus Christ.”

Last Monday too I had indicated doubt about the correct name of the tank in which Carlos D’Angelis, a leading hotelier in Madras, drowned. A couple of reports of the accident in the vernacular press makes it clear that the jheel was called the Panapakkam Tank.

A regular reader of this column, Prof. M.S.N. Annamalai, got in touch with me no sooner he had seen last Monday morning the request for information about Magda Nachman to tell me that she was Polish, not Russian, and that M.P.T. Acharya, her husband, himself had stated so in one of his articles. Annamalai also lamented that there has been only one biography written of this fascinating man in search of an ‘ism’. Titled M.P.T. Acharya, it was written by C.S. Subramaniam and was published in English by the Institute of South India Studies. Nallathambi Street (is that the road to Pammal?). Despite the information I have been able to troll today (above), I’d like to get my hands on a copy of the book for my library, giving as it does, I’m told, a detailed story of MPT’s adventurous life.