Thanks to two readers I’ve been given a lesson in latter day Madras history and I hope many others too, particularly students, learn from what S. Natarajan and Dr. R.K. Balasubramaniam have to say about the presiding officers of the Madras Legislature, personages I mentioned in this column on September 9.

Natarajan in his lucid explanation says the Speaker is the presiding officer of the Lower House, which is the Assembly, and the President (or Chairman) plays that role wherever an Upper House (which is the Council) exists. In the case of Madras, it only had a Legislative Council, formed in 1921, till the Government of India Act of 1935 became effective in 1937 with a Legislative Assembly and a Legislative Council coming into being as a bicameral Madras Legislature.

My correspondent adds, “During the first election to the Provincial Assembly under the new Act, Bulusu Sambamoorthy was elected a Member of the Assembly and was chosen as its first Speaker. Meanwhile the Council continued to function under the new dispensation with Dr. U. Rama Rau as President from 1937 to 1946. The confusion was perhaps due to the two taking office in the same year, 1937, in the same setting, one as Speaker of the Assembly and the other as President of the Council, both strangely called ‘Presiding Officers’.”

Dr. Balasubramaniam reiterates this, stating emphatically that Sambamoorthy was the Speaker of the Madras Province’s first Assembly and Dr. Rama Rau was elected President of the Legislative Council when Madras got a bicameral legislature. When Rajaji formed a minority Congress Government in 1952, Dr. Rau’s son, Dr. U Krishna Rau, was made Industries Minister and Sivashanmugam Pillai was elected Speaker. On Pillai’s resignation in 1955 to take up his appointment as a Member of the Union Public Service Commission, M.N. Gopala Menon was elected Speaker for the rest of the Assembly’s term. After the 1957 elections, U. Krishna Rau was elected Speaker of the Assembly. Thus, a father and son served as Presiding Officers of Madras legislative bodies, one in the Upper House, the other in the Lower.

The man of letters

Of A. Madhaviah, the man of letters. I have written in the past, but in my latest offerings about him (Miscellany, August 12 and 26 and September 9) not enough attention has been paid to his contribution to Tamil Literature, feels Meenakshi Thyagarajan. Given what I’ve written about him in the past, I wouldn’t quite agree with Dr. Thyagarajan, but nevertheless record her view. She points out that “his works did not stop with novels but extended to many genres — poetry, short stories, plays, essays, translations, biography, literary criticism and children’s literature — some of this in English as well.” She goes on to state that his interest in social reform “did not supersede his creative talent and deep love for Tamil”. She adds, “He delighted in challenges, attempting new genres and ideas. For instance, long before the concept of ‘pure’ Tamil took shape, he wrote a book in a Tamil without Sanskritic influence – Sidharthan, a life of Gautama Buddha, which included a translation of Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia.”

Stating that in the latter part of his career he was more involved with literary form and style, Dr. Thyagarajan reminds me about the journal Panchamirtham he started two years before his death. This is a journal I mentioned in this column as far back as August 28, 2000. Thyagarajan writes that “to state the focus of the journal was on social reforms is not correct.” She says, “His objective in starting it, as he stated in the first issue, were twofold; to present to Tamil readers a journal with comprehensive coverage; and to aid the growth of the spirit of nationalism then just emerging. Nineteen issues of the journal came out before the death of the editor and there was a last, memorial issue. These contain material on an extraordinary wide range of subjects but there is no emphasis on social reform.”

All this may be true, but why try to downplay his concern with social reform — which many of us see as a greater contribution than what he has done for Tamil literature or the spirit of nationalism? But then each of us is entitled to his or her own views/assessments of a person.

Dr. Thyagarajan concludes that contributors to Panchamirtham included Rajaji, Satyamurti, Rangaswami Iyengar and the Rev. Francis Kingsbury. I learn from her that Kingsbury was the son of C.V. Thamotharan Pillai (Miscellany, August 9, 2004 and February 1, 2010) and was a friend of Madhaviah with whom he collaborated on a book, Kural Nanooru, a selection of 400 kurals with commentary and English translation. In Panchamirtham, Kingsbury wrote an article on Ramanujar and, in the memorial number, a long elegiac poem on Madhaviah.

When the postman knocked…

- Dr. M. Krishnan, referring to New Town (Miscellany, July 22), wonders what happened to the Nurses’ Association on Rundall’s Road (now E.V.K Sampath Road). He says the association was staffed by Anglo-Indian nurses and was the “the mainstay of private nursing care in Madras either side of World War II. They used to cater to all the big private nursing homes on Poonamallee High Road (then called by many the ‘Harley Street of Madras’), of which there were many, and also the Willingdon Nursing Home on Pycroft’s Road. They were smartly dressed young women who took pride in their work and, in return, were well paid by the standards of those days.” Krishnan, while wondering what has happened to the Association, thinks its board still stands on the site where it had its office, though new construction has replaced its buildings. He also wonders what happened to two of its neighbours, the Clarence Hotel and the Hoogly Ink Company.

- Responding to my remarks about the early women graduates of the Madras Medical College (Miscellany, September 16), A. Raman from Australia provides some additional information about Abala Das, LM&S. He says she married Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose in Calcutta and that, as Lady Abala, never practised medicine thereafter. Sir Jagadish Chandra was Calcutta’s famous physical and plant physiologist. She, for her part, concentrated on improving educational opportunities, particularly for women.

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