Reader Sharada Schaffter greeted me warmly on Madras Day with the postcard I feature today. I have reproduced the card as it is, even though I have a much better picture of the same scene, to give some indication of its age. I estimate the card dates to immediately after the Great War, when Klein was in between partners, Wiele having moved to Bangalore and Peyerl just taken in as an employee. The picture, however, would likely date to sometime after the Madras Times moved to Mount Road, judging by the sad state of its signage and the absence of the sign of its owners, the Gantzes, father and son, who had moved out to Vyasarpadi.
The Madras Times, a bi-weekly, was taken over in 1859 by Justinian Gantz, who ran a lithographic unit. The Madras Times then took over and amalgamated with it The Spectator that had been established in 1836 as a weekly by D.Ouchterlony and which had become a tri- weekly in 1846 and the first English daily in South India in 1850. Gantz moved what was the leading English daily in Madras to his printing press no sooner he acquired the paper, and its home on Popham’s Broadway is what you see to the left in my picture today. The paper flourished under the editorship of Charles Lawson and Henry Cornish – till they fell out with the proprietor and went on to start The Madras Mail in 1868.
The Madras Mail grew as the voice of the Establishment – the Government and the British Merchant Princes – while the Madras Times was seen as the voice of the humbler planter, trader, artisan, clerk and shop assistant. Under the much respected William Digby – known for his writings on the 19 Century famine – the Madras Times in the 1870s and 1880s began to show a greater interest in its Indian readers. This led to Indian capital trickling into the paper.
With more money available, the Madras Times moved to Mount Road in 1910 and the next year began recruiting more Indians to its staff. By 1913 it became fully owned by Indians and was being published by The Madras Printing and Publishing Co. But trying to be friendly with both the British and the Indians, it found its even-handed policy dooming it. And on January 1, 1921, the Company owning it passed into the personal possession of John Oakshott Robinson of Spencer’s, who was supported by a few friends, and had its name changed to Associated Printers. The name survives to this day in the printing press behind Higginbotham’s, but it is a press that no longer prints newspapers.
That same year, Robinson and his friends took over The Madras Mail and merged the Madras Times with it. They also took over Higginbotham’s and teaming it with the newspaper and the printing press called the new entity Associated Publishers. In 1928, The Madras Mail became The Mail, indicating to the world the wider reach it aimed at.
Kamaraj and the journalist
Reader Dharmalingam Venugopal of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre, Kotagiri, one of the regular contributors to this column, has sent me a brief biography of his late father, Andi Dharmalingam, a legendary correspondent in the Nilgiris for The Hindu for 30 years and for the United News of India for 20 years. There was no one visiting Ooty, administrator, politician, bureaucrat, professional or businessman, who did not know the immaculately booted and suited Dharmalingam who always had his felt hat in hand. But among the legion who knew him, a good friend was K.Kamaraj, in and out of office.
Two stories Venugopal relates about Kamaraj in the book he has compiled add interesting footnotes to the history of the Nilgiris. In the first instance, it is related that Kamaraj was responsible for the setting up of the Government Arts College in Ooty in the mid-1950s. but many of his colleagues, including his Education Minister, were dead against the idea and when it was established kept pointing to the meagre enrolment. In 1958, the Minister threatened to close the College if enrolment did not improve. This was on the eve of the visit to Ooty of Bulganin and Khruschev.
A delegation led by the local MLA and Dharmalingam rushed to Madras to appeal to the Chief Minister against the closure. Kamaraj, however, lost his shirt; how irresponsible could they be, he chastised them, coming to Madras when they should be in Ooty preparing a grand welcome for the Russian leaders and the Indian VIPs coming with them. If someone was foolish enough to say he would close down a college, how could all of you be foolish enough to believe it, asked Kamaraj. “I did not open a petty shop in Ooty to be closed the moment business is dull; I opened an educational institution that will educate generations of local people.” He then ordered them to somehow get back to Ooty and welcome the VVIP guests in a grand manner on the morrow. And they did – and the college still fulfils Kamaraj’s dream.
The other story relates to what I discovered was the first Tourist Bungalow in Madras State which became a Hotel Tamil Nadu. During one of his summer visits, Kamaraj was strolling through the Botanical Gardens with Dharmalingam when a group of middle class Indian tourists greeted him. As was his wont on such occasions, Kamaraj stopped to talk to them and inquired how they found the food and accommodation in Ooty. When they complained about the lack of proper lodging facilities, Kamaraj turned to Dharmalingam and asked what had happened to the tourist bungalow that had been sanctioned for middle class tourists. Sanctioned, Yes; a site found for it, Yes; but that’s as far as we’ve got, Dharmalingam responded. Kamaraj promptly asked Dharmalingam to take him to the site and from there went straight to where he was staying, rang the officials handling the matter, and ordered work to begin the very next day. And it did. That, writes Venugopal, is how the State got its first Tourist Bungalow – and began a chain of what are now called Hotel Tamil Nadu.