People Professor G.M. Natarajan, an enthusiast history buff, has spared no effort to gather information and photographs about Coimbatore. K. Jeshi reports
A black and white photograph of G.D. Naidu with Dr. Ambedkar and his wife, Laxmi Bai taken at Coimbatore airport; a bus that was designed by G.D. Naidu; important visitors to the city such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Annadurai, Kamarajar, Indira Gandhi, C.V. Raman … Retired professor G.M. Natarajan’s collection of a whopping 1000 odd photographs take you back in time. Every photograph has a story attached to it. “Ambedkar and his wife stayed at Gopal Bagh on Avanashi Road for 10 days,” he says holding up the photograph.
His love for history took Natarajan on a wonderful journey. He cycled to villages in Kovilpalayam, Annur, Sulur, Alandurai, Vadavalli and Thondamuthur, all within a 30 km radius, took photographs, interviewed people, and gathered stories. He has over 1000 books on Kongu history, and the history of various communities. He has photographs of personalities, temples, archaeological findings and rock paintings. And he has a wealth of interesting anecdotes and information.
After he retired as the principal of Government Arts College in 2005, where he studied and later taught Zoology, he wrote a weekly column on Coimbatore for a Tamil daily. He continues to be the chief editor of the International Journal of Advanced Life Sciences.
“For the first column on Coimbatore, I wanted to meet Peelamedu V. Krishnan (photographer for the PSG family and who also made the first cowboy cinema titled Mullai Vanam in 1935), but he was away in Australia. Then I met S.A. Raju, a venerable old man in Singanallur with amazing memory. He told me about the glorious cinematic history of the city,” the professor recalls.
He continues, “Kalaignar Karunanidhi lived here at Annasamy Pillai Theru in Singanallur for a monthly rent of Rs.10 (the former Chief Minister mentions this in his autobiography Nenjukku Needhi); T.M. Soundararajan recorded the first song of his career at Central Studios. It was Etthanai kaalam thaan Aemaatruvar indha naatiley for MGR in Malai Kallan; Namakkal Kavignar Va. Ramalingam Pillai, an alumnus of Government Arts College, wrote the lyrics.”
Natarajan also researched the Kullalas and the barber community. “Tamil Seppedugal refers to the Kullalas as “Vinnil Parantha Vaetkovar” (people who could fly). They are pious people. We have 90-odd families in the city. They visited me after I wrote about their history,” he remembers fondly.
He has documented the life of Kongu chieftain Dheeran Chinnamalai, besides the Paala Vellala gounder community settled in Periyanaickenpalayam, Sanganur, Madukkarai (their deity Atthanoor Amman in Ganapathy dates back 600 years). “It was S.S. Anandan, a barber who gave E.V. Ramasway, the title of ‘Periyar’,” he mentions. Natarajan’s collection also includes pictures of Chola inscriptions at the Annur Manneswarar temple, stone inscriptions at the Lingeswarar temple at Avanashi and the Kaala Kaleeswarar temple in Kovilpalayam. He has photographs of terracotta beads excavated at Kodumanal, cave paintings of tribals in Narasipalayam forests, and the sumaithangi kal at Karadivaai village. Pointing to a photograph of a plant fossil, he says: “They found it 40 feet under at a construction site in Gandhipuram.”
He refers to the Sangam literature, Kovai Kilar’s 69 books on Coimbatore and a number of unpublished manuscripts of C.M. Ramachandra Chettiar (available at Perur Tamil College) to authenticate his work. Natarajan has nuggets of information about Coimbatore. He says Vadavalli was once called Aranamanaipatti after Alagathiri Naicker who built a palace there and that it was C. K. Subramania Mudaliar who stopped animal sacrifice at the Koniamman temple in 1942. He shares an anecdote about Bharathidasan and Kannadasan who had come for the first Tamil conference in Coimbatore in 1950. They declined an invitation to eat an all vegetarian meal served by G.D. Naidu at Gopal Bagh and preferred to go to Guru Hotel for non-vegetarian food!
He talks about the friendship shared by Robert Stanes and Kuppusamy Naidu, the founder of Lakshmi Mills. Their association opened the gates of a flourishing trade in textiles and engineering foundries in the city. Kuppuswamy was the first groom in the city to travel in a car for his wedding. The car belonged to his friend Stanes, says Natarajan. “The first simple marriage of the city was that of L.G. Balakrishnan (G.D. Naidu’s first son-in-law) in 1944. It was attended by leaders like Periyar and only tea was served. G.D. Naidu himself had a Dravidian wedding without any priests,” he says.
Natarajan plans to publish the information he has gathered in a series of six books on Coimbatore.
He recalls his professors, Dr. P. Govindan, Dr. Gopalakrishna Reddy, Dr. M. Rajendran and Mrs Susheela Clements, who were his inspiration. He says his Tamil professor P.S. Maniam was a towering personality. “Students thronged his classrooms to witness Sangam literature flow. We need teachers of such calibre to inspire the younger generation.”
lost and found
Natarajan spent one month and consulted 10 books to find out the name of G.D. Naidu’s mother. It is Allammal.
The LGB group produced the film Miru Chakadiga under Tirupur Talkies, which brought together the famous couple N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram
The word ‘Hawarden’ is inscribed on a ruined compound wall on Trichy Road. The house originally belonged to R.K. Shanmugham Chettiar, who named it after his law professor, Hawarden, in the U.K.
Poet Namakkal Kavignar Ramalinga Pillai was also an artist. He was awarded a gold medal by King George V at the Coronation ceremony in New Delhi.