I'm delighted to hear that yet another institution is getting down to recording its history. I'm also happy to hear that the collection node for material for that history is Tiruchchirappalli, for that was the headquarters — and not Madras — of that institution in the days when that city was known as Trichinopoly.
The institution whose history is being recorded is the South Indian Railway, which, together with the slightly older Madras & South Mahratta Railway, is now the Southern Railway. The M & SM served an area above an arbitrary line between Mangalore on the west coast and Madras on the east, reaching up to another imaginary line between Poona and Vizagapatam. South of the Mangalore-Madras line was South Indian Railway (SIR) territory.
The SIR had its beginnings in the Great Southern of India Railway Co. that was formed in England in 1853. Line construction in the Southern reaches of the Presidency was begun in 1859 and the tracks were opened for traffic in 1861, the 150th anniversary of which is what the celebrations are to be all about. The GSIR's first line was planned from Negapatam to Trichinopoly and the Negapatam-Tiruvarur link (about 15 miles) was opened on July 15, 1861. The nearly 35-mile extension from Tiruvarur to Tanjore was opened in December, and the rest of the line was completed on March 11, 1862 when the 35-mile long Tanjore-Trichy stretch was opened. Trichinopoly to Erode was connected by January 1, 1868. The GSIR, I'm told, is still remembered in markings on two grandfather clocks, one in the house of the General Manager, Southern Railways, and the other in the house of the Divisional Manager, Tiruchchirappalli — both true heritage pieces, like the houses.
While the GSIR was extending its reach in the Deep South of India, the Carnatic Railway Company was formed as a successor to the Indian Tramway Company that had been established in 1864 to build light local railways in South India. The Carnatic Railway began its operations when it opened an 18-mile track between Arkonam and Conjeevaram on May 8, 1865. A third company that was formed in the South was the Pondicherry Railway Company that was founded in 1874; it built an eight-mile track that was opened to traffic on December 15, 1879.
On July 1, 1874, the GSIR and the Carnatic Railway merged as the South Indian Railway, which, in 1880, took over the Pondicherry Railway. W.S. Betts headed SIR's operations in India in its early days. It was in 1890 that the South Indian Railway Company was registered in London and Trichinopoly was made its headquarters. At this time, it owned nearly 1,850 miles of track in India's Deep South. In May 1931, SIR added the Madras Suburban Electric Train Service to its mileage, opening up nearly 20 miles of track between Madras Beach and Tambaram, with 13 stations in between. At one time, this commuter service ran 100 trains a day. On April 14, 1951, SIR became a part of Southern Railway.
SIR's headquarters office and its railway station in Trichinopoly were built c.1900 by T. Samynada Pillai, a leading Bangalore contractor. But he outdid his Trichinopoly and later Madura work when he built the Egmore station, the SIR's main Madras terminus, which was inaugurated in 1908. Both in design and construction, this was intended to outshine Harding's and Chisholm's work on Central Station — and it did. Samynada Pillai, as a consequence, won the contract to build the M&SM headquarters building, now the Southern Railway headquarters.
The man who made the Minor
It was a notice of homage I noticed last week that reminded me of a signal contribution that J.V.P. Rao made to the Amalgamations Group that, sadly, did not lead to the Group becoming a major player in Indian automobile manufacture. If what Rao got started at Addison's had not been rather rudely stymied by another manufacturer, the Morris Minor could well have become India's ‘ people's car' long before the Maruti.
It was in 1941 that Rao, just out ofcollege, visited Amalagamations' headquarters to get a letter of recommendation — his father was the Municipal Commissioner and the Group had a history of its European Directors serving as Councillors — for a post in the M&SM Railway. He was persuaded to try Simpson's for three months — and he stayed for a lifetime.
In 1949, he took over as General Manager of Addison's which was then agents for Nuffield's Morris, Wolseley and Riley cars and vans and Chrysler's Plymouth, Dodge and De Soto cars and trucks, and found the company slowly running out of business with the Government's refusal to allow the import of ready-for-road cars and trucks.
Addison's, however, did have a small assembly line going to assemble Dodge trucks from CKD (completely knocked down) packs, but too few were being sold. Why not, he thought, use the assembly skills of the workers to assemble a small car. But that's when he discovered that his predecessor had informed the Industries Ministry that Addison's had no intention of setting up assembly facilities for CKD car packs!
For the next few months, Rao virtually lived in Delhi getting the powers-that-be to ignore that letter. They eventually did — but while assembly of Morris Minor CKD kits was permitted, the jigs and other assembly fixtures were not. Rao, who had trained with Nuffield's before his appointment at Addison's, had, however, brought back drawings of several such requirements — and Simpson's set about making them, a field Addison's was to specialise in years later.
On November 15, 1950, the first assembled-in-Madras car rolled out of Addison's works on Smith Road in the heart of town. At the wheel was Anantharamakrishnan, then on his way to chairing the Group. Starting with the assembly of two cars a day, production was pushed to five a day within weeks, and within a year, the 1000th Morris Minor was on the roads.
After about two years of successful assembly operations, Rao began thinking about progressive manufacture — and, Anantharamakrishnan, dreaming of indigenised production, felt it could be achieved in five years.
But that's when lightning struck; the bolt out of the blue was a letter from Hindustan Motors, Calcutta, which was assembling the Hindustan 10 (Morris 10), stating that it had the first rights on the manufacture of any Nuffield vehicle in India. Even Anantharamakrishnan's offer of royalty was turned down by G.D. Birla. Anantharamakrishnan, as was his wont, did not push his case.
Addison's continued to assemble the Minor till its CKD packs lasted and then closed the line in 1952. Hindustan Motors, thereafter, took up assembly of the small car for a short while — but killed it in favour of the bigger, pricier vehicle. After all, at the Rs. 5,200 Addison's was selling the Minor, the margins were not particularly attractive even if the car was helping get Indians on four wheels.
Addison's for the next two years went into the assembly of Ford trucks and tried to get an agreement going to assemble, then manufacture, the Ford Popular. But when it did not materialise, and as India began industrialising, Rao decided to get into machine tools.
By 1965, Addison's was the largest cutting tool manufacturer — and exporter — in the country. Addison's also went into the foundry business. And at every step, Anantharamakrishnan told Rao: “I do not want details. If you are convinced, go ahead. I believe in giving people a long rope. Use it to climb up or hang yourself.”
Climb Rao did. In 1977, he became the first technical staff member to join the Amalgamations' Board. The recent homage indicated that the Anantharamakrishnan family has not forgotten his contribution to the Group.
When the postman knocked…..
* V. Krishnamurthy who was an Assistant Professor of Botany at Presidency College in the 1940s and 1950s, recalls taking students to the Agri-Horticultural Gardens (Miscellany, April 19) to study the flora in the “beautifully maintained gardens” that were called the “Teynampet Botanical Garden”.
He recalls an “imposing gate at the corner of Mount Road flanked by two magnificent Parkia biglandulosa”, a lily pond with giant water lilies, and several greenhouses. A building that housed the University Botany Laboratory between 1931 and 1934 was later the house of the Garden Superintendent and still later, a part of the Woodlands Drive-in restaurant. The gate was demolished, he regretfully writes, the giant trees felled and a part of the garden taken over to make way for the Anna Flyover.
* Referring to the Sullivan's Garden Seminary (Miscellany, April 19), M.A. Nelson tells me that the institution offered two years' theological training and students came to it from all parts of the Presidency. Copies of pages from a directory of clergymen he sent me with his letter list several whose qualifications included study at the ‘Sullivan's Garden Seminary'. From seminary it became part of St. Ebba's School and then, the CSI Bishop Newbigin College of Education.