Madras Week again

Madras Day that's become Madras Week is on us again and is formally being celebrated from August 21 to 28. But many institutions have already started celebrating from the first week of August the founding of Madras and the celebrations promise to go on till the first week of September, making it a Madras Month.

All events that are part of the celebrations are voluntarily organised by various organisations and leading the pack this year has been the Rotary Club of Madras South, where the enthusiastic S.R. Madhu has ensured that the speaker at every one of the five meetings from August 2 to August 30 will focus on Madras. And the Club has ensured that a couple of other Rotary Clubs will join it at each of these meetings. That's the spirit that makes Madras Week a success.

Just preceding Madras Week have been an exhibition of maps organised by the Association of British Scholars and one of model heritage buildings by Asan Memorial School. Padma Seshadri School, K.K. Nagar, DakshinaChitra, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Mylapore Times, Nizhal and Yellow Bus are organising other exhibitions. There are about a score of talks at different venues in the city, with Chennai Heritage arranging eight of them. Chennai Heritage, teaming with the Freemasons, is also organising a week-long programme of performances at the Freemasons' Hall in Egmore. Several clubs, schools, institutions such as Anna University's School of Architecture and Planning and IIT-M and art galleries have announced programmes. And there are about a score of Heritage Walks scheduled.

With several hotels and restaurants hosting programmes, L&T supporting all Mylapore Times programmes and the Murugappa Group sponsoring a Madras Quiz for schools on August 28, conducted by veteran quizmaster Navin Jayakumar for grand prizes, it's good to see the corporates too getting into the spirit of the Week which promises to get bigger and better by the year. I hope that many of the events in the coming days will provide grist for this column's mill in the days to come.

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When the postman knocked…

*The mail to this column is getting bigger and bigger every week — and this past week much of it has been on Count Curly Wee. There's also been a whole heap of material bringing me up to date on Bishop Heber, but the extent of the latter makes me reserve it for another day.

To start with Curly Wee (Miscellany, August 8), Geeta Doctor writes in her inimitable style: “My Mother, who is in her nineties, remembers how she and her four brothers were avid readers of the Count Curly Wee strip. They often got their copies of The Madras Mail very late, as they lived in the mofussil, as the term goes, but they would wait for further news of the Count, who presided over ‘`Fur and Feather Land' with the other animals mimicking the manners and machinations of their superiors. The rabbit family led by Gwendolyn were upper class, while the wheelers and dealers were the sly foxes and weasels. The best part of the Count's escapades (they were not meant to be comical, but satirical) was that each panel was accompanied by a rhyming verse.

“She recalls a time when the whole family was billeted at Mangalore, in the Circuit House, under the stern eye of her Forest Officer father, when one of her brothers on reading of the Count's adventures in an early morning dispatch of The Mail shouted out: “He's dead! He's dead!” “Who has died?” asked his father rising up in alarm, loaded gun in hand. “Count Curly Wee,” squeaked her brother, a crime for which he was thrashed by his agitated Dad.

“Would a Jiggs or Archie comic raise such passions, I wonder.”

*Paul Chellappa, a New York doctor, writes how “we used to save the daily Curly Wee clippings and read them at leisure over the weekend. And Elizabeth Jeyaraj, who I would guess is his sister to judge by other content in the two messages, adds: “Curly Wee was our childhood hero. My father (Bishop) the Rev. David Chellappa was the Principal of St. Paul's High School and we used to surround him when The Madras Mail arrived every evening. He would read us the story and we were so engrossed that nothing would distract us. Some of the characters I remember are Gillian Jane, Gussy Goose, Patrick Porker, and Mr. Fox, the villain. Santa Claus would give us the Annual every Christmas and we children would get it by turn. Receiving the Annual was the high point of Christmas celebrations!” Paul Chellappa adds, “It was a beautiful, large colour edition (Rs. 5) and a great Xmas hit.” He then contributes a footnote: “When Hayles, the Editor of The Mail (Miscellany, July 25) died in 1955, we occupied his Meston compound mansion in Royapettah till we moved to the new Bishop's House on Cathedral Road.” They both conclude on a note of thanks for “reviving beautiful childhood memories.” I hope these recollections will revive such memories in many more.

*A bit of Heber information that cannot wait has been provided by N. Vittal who feels that I have not been as vigilant as I should been when writing about the Bishop Heber schools . In fact, he thinks I was “unfair” in mentioning only one school (Miscellany, August 1) when there were two Bishop Heber Schools in Trichinopoly. The one I mentioned, which became a College, was apparently the one at Teppakulam. The other was the Bishop Heber High School in Puthur — of which he was a student and graduate. Vittal candidly adds that he had no idea who Bishop Heber was in all those years he studied in the school. When he appeared for his IAS interview in 1960, one of the members of the interview board, Sardar K.N. Panniker asked him about Bishop Heber and his poem on the Ganges. Vittal was stumped but obviously he knew several other answers, Bishop Heber therefore proving no stumbling block to Vittal entering the Service.

*R.K. Balasubramaniam, Principal Parliamentary Law Consultant, adds a couple of little known — or is it remembered? — facts connected with the Vanchinathan case (Miscellany, July 18). Apparently eight persons in their twenties met in a Kali temple to draw lots on who should shoot Ashe. Vanchinathan drew the short straw, metaphorically speaking, and paid for it with his life. Gomathi Sankaran drew the next short straw and was picked to carry the revolver and hand it over to Vanchinathan in the station. Dr. Balasubramaniam says this Gomathi Sankaran later became Gomathi Sankara Dikshidar, who was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1957, 1962 and 1967. He died in 1970. Neelakantan, the latter-day sanyasi, passed away only a couple of years ago, aged 92.

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