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Updated: October 27, 2012 16:45 IST
MADRAS MISCELLANY

The old Thomian

S. MUTHIAH
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R B Alaganan
R B Alaganan

It's been a sad, sad month with this column recording the passing of one person after another who taught me, a comparative stranger from Ceylon, much about Madras. The latest to pass on was a good friend, R.B. Alaganan, Balu to all, who till his last day was proud of being an Old Thomian and who forgave me for being an Old Royalist only because I had spent three years at St. Thomas' Prep School started by W.T. Keble, who had taught Balu at St. Thomas' College. Royal College and St. Thomas' College were the oldest schools in Ceylon and their rivalry was legendary; the Royal-Thomian cricket match, one of the oldest cricket series in the world, would close the town down! Balu played for the College team when he was only 14! Those were the days when many of the well-to-do families from our deep South sent their sons to one or another of half-a-dozen public schools in Ceylon to turn them into 'propah' English-speaking brown sahibs. Balu came from the Bodinayakanur zamin.

Returning to India, Balu went on to captain the two MCCs in Madras, the College and the Club, and then Madras State. Everyone connected with Madras cricket remembers that it was under his captaincy that Madras won the Ranji Trophy for the first time. But, strange, no one speaks of the key role he played in that historic triumph. They tell the tale of Murugesh telling Balu not to worry, that he'll defend his wicket (the last one) and urging Balu not to throw away his wicket. That Balu not only did not throw away his wicket but remained not out after scoring 56 no one talks about. Those runs by Balu, and Murugesh's determination, enabled Madras to add 96 runs for the last wicket in its second innings and extend its lead sufficiently to make life difficult for Holkar, a giant of Indian cricket at the time; it got to within 47 runs of victory before being bowled out. That innings of Balu I'd read about, but never heard him speak about; it was the team that brought us victory, he'd always smile.

Passionate about sport, Balu played squash, tennis and golf, playing a fine game in the latter two sports in which he won numerous titles at the Club level, in Kodi and elsewhere. Balu was the first Indian member and the first Indian president of the Kodaikanal Club, and playing a role in both was Justice Sir Sidney Burn, an enthusiastic sportsman, who spotted Balu's tennis talent as a teenager and made him his regular partner in what was then a 'Whites Only' club.

Indeed, his passion for sport opened many doors for Balu — administration, selection, management, commentating — but above all it was the fact that in an age of Gentlemen and Players, he was a Gentlemen's Gentleman who could yet be one with the players.

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A moderating voice

T.M. Srinivasan, a long-time member of the Madras Cricket Club, sent me a letter titled 'Requiem for Balu'. In it is a recollection of how big a role the moderating voice of Balu played in smoothening relations between the Club and the TNCA, in both of which Balu was a very involved member till he decided to withdraw from both a few years ago and watch the younger leadership come into play; this was characteristic of Balu, ever willing to step aside and give the young an opportunity.

But to get back to the requiem. Srinivasan writes: “When Balu became the President of the Madras Cricket Club(MCC) in 1967, that was the year I became a committee member. Even during that first year of working with Balu, I found him a very kind man who presided over the meetings by persuasion rather than authoritarianism. In 1973 when I became the President of the Club, that was the time when negotiations were taking place between the MCC and the TNCA with regard to the completion of the stadium. These negotiations took a long time, but with the help of Balu, C.D. Gopinath and the President of the TNCA, M.A. Chidambaram, on the TNCA side, and M.V. Murugappan, U. Prabhakar Rao, Vijaykrishna and myself on the Club side, we were able to hammer out a plan to complete the stadium, incorporating the clubhouse in which MCC is now housed. This would not have been possible to achieve so smoothly except for, among other things, the moderating voice of Balu.

“The most outstanding quality of Balu was his unfailing courtesy and politeness to everybody he met. I do not think that in his entire life he ever lost his temper. His generosity too was proverbial. I know he provided several cricket players with kit because they could not afford it. I could go on and on, but I shall conclude by saying `Abu Ben Adam, he loved his fellow men'.”

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When the postman knocked…

Last week's item on the Mahratta Education Fund had a couple of old civilians coming down heavily on me for describing Dewan Bahadur K. Krishnaswami Rao Sahib as “later being the Cabinet Secretary”. As one pointed out, “If only you had looked at the numbers carefully you would have discovered how impossible that would have been.” Mea culpa. I'm sorry for not looking more carefully at the numbers the dates told, resulting in that rather careless description. It was C.R. Krishnaswami Rao Saheb who was the Cabinet Secretary (1981-85); the Dewan Bahadur was Chief Justice of Travancore for 13 years in the late 19th Century and was Dewan of the princely State from 1897 till 1903.

But that's not all. Pointing out that I had jumped the gun in one place and was behind the times in a couple of other instances, T.R. Vasudeva Rao, an office-bearer of the Society, suggests there was a communication gap regarding the centenary celebrations. September 15 was the Centenary of the Fund, but the celebrations are scheduled to be held only from October 26 to 28. As for members, there are over 1,900 of them at present, with nearly 1,600 of them being Life Members. And the latest scholarship figures are a disbursement of around Rs. 50 lakh to about 5,000 students. My figures were a couple of years old.

Referring to my item on the composer of the Tamil Anthem (Miscellany, September 24), Prof. S. Gopalakrishnan faults me for not remembering that there is a university named after the composer in Tamil Nadu, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli. Gopalakrishnan adds that the composer of the anthem's melodious tune should also have been remembered. He was, according to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a recent celebratory speech, 'Mellisai Mannar' M.S. Viswanathan.

A reader from Texas adds a note or two that raises further questions about the origin of the name of the Texas township called Madras in Red River Country (Miscellany, September 24). She says that the town was originally called La Grange when it was founded c.1830, but when a post office was to be set up there the township decided to call itself Madras when it was found there was already a La Grange post office in Texas. Amongst the earliest settlers in La Grange that became Madras were the Hamilton and Latimer families. Robert Hamilton and Albert Hamilton Latimer were two of the five signatories from Red River County who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. Robert Hamilton emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina in 1807 and then moved on to Texas. Would Hamilton's Scottish connection have had anything to do with La Grange becoming Madras, speculates my correspondent. Our Madras had several Hamilton connections, the best known being Alexander Hamilton, a sea captain, who visited Madras regularly between 1688 and 1723 and wrote about it extensively. Then, in the late 18th Century, there was a Madras civil servant, William Hamilton, who was a member of the Board of Trade. And then there was the engineer Hamilton after whom a bridge was named, only to find it transformed to Ambattan’s (barber's) Bridge! Did any of them have links with the Hamilton in Texas?

D.B. James, a fisheries scientist, refers to my items on Abbas Khaleeli (Miscellany, September 17 and 24) and says that when Khaleeli was in charge of the Industries Department, the Fisheries Department was a part of that Department. James was told by a former Director of Fisheries that Abbas Khaleeli retired at Chief Secretary level in Pakistan. Reader James adds that Khaleeli began his career as Sub-Collector in Nandyal (in the present Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool District) and used to play tennis regularly with James' father who was at the time starting out in the Revenue Department there. The only tennis courts in town were in the campus of the Society for Propagating the Gospel. James' grandfather, headmaster for nearly 50 years at the SPG School there, was a champion tennis player who played on these courts for long years.

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