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Updated: October 16, 2011 16:14 IST

Madras miscellany

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Barnes Villa today (above); and Edward and Alice Barnes
Barnes Villa today (above); and Edward and Alice Barnes

The first couple

Mere mention last week that I'd have more to say about Edward (Ted) and Alice Barnes this week had the postman busy these past few days with several readers providing bits and pieces of information on a couple who, they agreed, should be called ‘The First Couple of MCC's Tambaram campus'. Indeed, no sooner work began on Madras Christian College's campus in Tambaram on January 5, 1932, the first building to be raised was a house into which the Barnes' moved in October that year. Barnes Villa, as the bungalow came to be known, was to remain their home till Ted Barnes passed away at the young age of 49 in 1941.

Prof. Barnes joined MCC as Professor of Chemistry in 1919. While in University in Britain during the Great War, he narrowly missed being arrested as “a conscientious objector”, being out of his ‘digs' when the warrant was brought. A member of the Society of Friends, he and Alice Varley, whom he married in 1930, were to be pacifists all their lives and dedicated Quakers. There may have at the time been no connection between the two events, but it was the year Barnes joined MCC that the College authorities decided they needed to move out of the city to more spacious surroundings and the search began for such space. This became a more formal decision in 1925 when a search committee was appointed. When it was learnt that the Forest Department was abandoning a block of scrub-and-palmyra land in Selaiyur, near the new railway station in Tambaram, the College zeroed in on it and, in April 1927, Ted Barnes was asked to inspect it. The College thereafter applied for 600 acres of this scrub forest and was granted 400 acres by Government on March 15, 1930 together with Rs.16.4 lakh, half of what it had sought for buildings. The fact that Madras had two Prime Ministers that year, Dr. P. Subbaroyan and B. Muniswami Naidu, who were alumni of the College certainly helped.

The first persons to move into the wilderness, the Barnes were to play a major role in transforming it into the tree-shaded, green campus it is today, rich in flora and fauna. Hundreds of species of plants and trees, many of them exotics, were introduced in the campus by them, several supplied by other members of the faculty as well as alumni. The couple nurtured the seedlings in their home and supervised their transplantation. Barnes not only documented all the species in the campus but he wrote profusely about them to international journals. But perhaps his most valuable written contribution was The New Environment: Detailed Description of the Tambaram Site (1937) which detailed “the physical boundaries, nature of water and soil, the kinds of tests done on them, the climatic conditions, the meteorological descriptions, and the wild life of the campus,” according to Joshua Kalapati and Ambrose Jeyasekaran in their history of the College.

Even while he worked on greening the campus, Barnes teamed with Henry Schaetti, the Swiss architect, and, it is said, played a signal role in the planning of the lay-out and the buildings that were inaugurated on January 30, 1937. Truly were Ted and Alice Barnes the first curators of the Selaiyur campus.


The Kotagiri Quakers

A reader from Kotagiri tells me that once Alice Barnes moved into Ilkley, her companions there were two other Quakers, Mary Barr and Marjorie Sykes. Kotagiri apparently called them “the three graces” or “the three witches”, depending on whom you spoke to. After Alice Barnes' death in June 1968, Marjorie Sykes continued to stay on in the Ilkley acreage, for several years, building a house for herself below Ilkley. In those years she edited The Friendly Way, the Quaker magazine that Alice Barnes and Mary Barr had first edited. The three, it is said, felt that Gandhiji's values were very similar to those of the Quakers.

Referring to Alice Barnes' fascination with Gandhi, Joshua Kalapati and Ambrose Jeyasekaran state she also edited a book on Gandhi by a young Danish missionary, Esther Faering who later became Esther Menon. Faering not only spent time at Sabarmati Ashram but also carried on a correspondence with Gandhiji for years. Out of that correspondence was born Letters from M.K.Gandhi to Esther Faering, published in 1951. How that correspondence started and more about Faering I would certainly like to know; I wonder whether the postman will bring me some answers.

Besides editing the book, Alice Barnes wrote its ‘Introduction'. After listing Gandhi's crusades, Barnes writes in her Introduction, “… in a life so crowded with multitudinous business of national and international importance, Gandhiji never forgot the value of the individual. Of this fact the letters in this book are a convincing and moving proof. They are proof too, if proof be needed, of the fine sensitiveness and generosity of his spirit; there is no attempt to influence the ‘child' to who he writes, against the foreign rulers of India, no self-glorification or self-pity, no bitterness or rancour. On the other hand there is, as Dr. Ramachandra Rao has pointed out in his Foreword, a revelation of the motive springs of the whole of Bapuji's life and work, his complete devotion to Truth and Love, his utter surrender to the Will of God.”

Kotagiri, in the days of the Raj, must have had a whale of a time discussing the residents of Ilkley, trying to make sense out of them and their lives.


When the postman knocked…

*Did you know that there is a Tank Bund Road linking Loyola College and Valluvar Kottam, asks Gratiaen de Mello and adds, “Where could it have got its name from? There's no tank here.” There certainly was a large water body here till the 1920s, de Mello. From Saidapet to near Gemini, west of Mount Road, was the larger Long Tank and it flowed from there to near Aminjikarai, along Sterling Road, as the Nungambakkam Tank. T'Nagar was developed on land reclaimed from the Long Tank, and the Loyola College area from the Nungambakkam Tank fill. The bund must have been the northeastern edge of the Nungambakkam Tank and I think the road's correct name should be Nungambakkam Tank Bund Road. There is, another Tank Bund Road in Perambur, south of the ICF campus — and here the tank is very much there.

*Is the Wallajah Mosque (Miscellany, October 10) the oldest mosque in Madras, wonders M.A. Kuthdoos. From all that I've been able to find out, I wouldn't say so. There is mention of a mosque in Old Black Town which grew from 1640 on what is now the High Court campus. This, it is said, was located about where the High Court subway now is, and was probably destroyed when the Esplanade was created in the mid-18th Century. Better recorded is a mosque in Muthialpet built in the late 1670s. This mosque was built on Moor Street (not Moore), later known as 2nd Line Beach, and is said to have been Chief Merchant Kasi Viranna's gift to the Muslims of the area. Kasi Viranna, who succeeded Beri Thimmappa as Chief Merchant, was so close to the Golconda Sultanate that he was also called Hasan Khan. A mosque that's still in this area is said to be a later development of the Kasi Viranna mosque.

*Sister Broughton certainly carried on her shoulders the nursing home of Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar and then of his son Dr. A. Venugopal, writes Nalini Ramakrishnan. But, she corrects me, she did not emigrate; she died in Madras in 1986. Her daughter Pamela emigrated and is now a pathologist in the U.S.



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