In 1912, a young man from Philodi, Rajasthan, migrated to Madras in search of a prosperous future. He had little education, not much money, but was shrewd enough to spot an opportunity. That was in healthcare, and, so, in 1914, S. Lalchand Dadha started Dadha & Co, “pharmaceutical chemists”, in George Town. It was a business that was to grow and thrive and continues to do so today, when it is in its centenary year. Of all the other pharmacies that existed at the time — and there were not many for a city with a population of a little over 500,000 — I can think of only a couple or so that have survived.

The earliest pharmacy in Madras, as far as I can trace, was Dr. W.H. Haller’s, which had its beginnings in the mid-19th Century. Then there came W.E. Smith & Co with beginnings c.1870s. Allbutt’s opened in 1881. Spencer’s may have opened a pharmaceutical department earlier, but I can find mention of it only when its landmark building opened, in 1895. Around the same time there opened R. Maclure & Co on Mount Road and then there came Asvin & Co in 1902, U.R. Bagdy & Co in 1904 and Smith, Stocking & Co and Ripon Pharmacy in 1913. Of all of them, only Dadha & Co has remained with the same owners, the same family, throughout its existence. Even more significantly, it has been a family that has contributed to Madras in more ways than by only supplying pharmaceuticals.

Once he had founded Dadha & Co with his two older brothers at 262 China Bazaar (now N.S.C. Bose Road), across from the George V statue, Lalchand Dadha began to look for ways to get the firm to set the pace. He pioneered the import of sulphonamides. He flew in, personally carrying the drugs, penicillin during World War II. And he played a significant role in establishing the Pharmacological Research Institute in Madras in 1922 to manufacture indigenous herbal medicines. By the 1940s he had made Dadha & Co the largest importer of drugs in South India, if not India. After his son Milapchand joined the business in 1939, the Dadhas began to look at manufacture and a bulk drugs manufacturing facility was set up in due course in what became Dadha Nagar, Pallavaram. Sadly, Milapchand died in an air crash in Bombay in 1976. His brother Mohanchand has since led the family business.

Over the years, the family has founded or helped schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, as well as medical projects and Jain religious institutions. One particular donation that particularly struck me was the priceless collection of 700 Jain manuscripts, from the 14th to the 19th Centuries, that belonged to Milapchand which were gifted, together with several religious artifacts to the Dadabari Sri Jin Kusalsurji Sri Jin Trust in Madras. It is a family with, obviously, a consciousness of heritage.

*****

When the postman knocked…

The rest of today’s column is devoted to four significant responses the postman brought to some recent items of mine together with my findings while travelling the paths they pointed to.

* A Catholic cleric who wishes to remain Rev. Fr. Anon tells me that the shrine in Perambur (Miscellany, April 21) was indeed designed by J.R. Davis (as I had suspected) and not “Davies” as my source had had it. And then the Rev. Fr. set me off on another trail, which Archbishop Mathias had first blazed. The Archbishop, I discovered, had on September 5, 1942 in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Armenian Street, made a solemn promise that after the War (World War II), he would construct in Kilpauk or Chetpet a votive shrine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary if Madras was spared the horrors of war. No sooner said than done. A collection drive was started to build the church. As soon as the drive started, the Archbishop received several unexpected offers. N.T. Patel who had built the Catholic Centre, offered to build the Shrine at cost. Then J.R. Davis agreed that his firm would design, draw the plans and supervise the building of the Shrine free of charge. His partner, Kiffin-Petersen, then got down to work. And in May 1951, a Frenchman who had been a resident of the area for 50 years, a Monsieur Edgar Raphael Prudhomme, who had suffered a stroke, told the Bishop that he was donating his house and grounds, Fentenoy, to the church so that the Shrine could be built in its compound and the house used as a home for the destitute. He also contributed a cheque for Rs. 150,000, towards the building of the church, as well as a property adjacent to Fontenoy, Albuba, which he owned, to be used as the priests’ quarters. The foundation stone was laid in April 1952 and the church was consecrated by Archbishop Mathias on December 6, 1953. Prudhomme was there to watch the ceremony.

* My notes on Nagarathar journalists (Miscellany, April 14) reminded K.R.A. Narasiah about Chettiar flyers who had helped to pioneer amateur flying in Madras and the aircraft of one of them he had found in a junkyard near the police headquarters. That aircraft is now owned by an avid collector of items out of the past and he is, I am told, restoring it, hopefully, to flying condition. That aircraft, a Puss Moth, was owned by Avudayappa Chettiar. And it is about plane and pilot that a friend of Narasiah recently sent him an extract from a news item in The Straits Times, Singapore, of January 7, 1934. The report stated that Avudayappa Chettiar had flown from Madras to Rangoon and then to Singapore and had been looking forward to flying on to Australia when business summoned him back to Rangoon. But flying to Australia remained this “22-year-old airman’s ambition”, particularly as the Aga Khan had offered a prize to the first Indian to fly solo to Australia. Earlier, the ‘Flying Chettiar’ had two crashes — both before flights he planned to Japan. Heavy loads, extra fuel tanks in one instance and food supplies in the other, brought him down both times. On the first occasion the plane was badly damaged, on the second he was able to take off after reducing the load but had to turn back from Saigon after the Chinese refused to give him permission to land in China.