It had to happen to this column one day. I’m caught in the middle of two groups of descendants claiming that their ancestors were the persons who founded the Indo-Commercial Bank in Mayavaram (Miscellany, February 3). I’ll just present today the material sent to me by the rival claimants and look forward to readers who might know anything about the subject sending in more information.

It was on December 23, 2013 that I had mentioned “S.N.N. Sankaralingam’s Indo-Commercial Bank” and on February 3 I mentioned that the postman’s knock arrived with information that the Bank has been started by Rao Bahadur Subramanyam, T.R. Venkatarama Sastry, A.R. Vishwanathan, T. Sivaswamy and A. Venkataraman, and that S.N.N. Sankaralingam (SNN) was first Manager and then Managing Director of the Bank which had functioned in a house in Mayavaram in 1933 and then moved in 1935 into a handsome new building it built in Mayavaram.

This claim is what has brought a heap of responses from descendants of SNN. First, there are two pages from the Articles of Association of the Bank (the first page with the date is missing) stating that the “the first Directors of the Bank” shall be Rao Bahadur C.S. Subramaniam Pantulu, V. Venkatarama Iyer, R. Viswanatha Aiyar, K. Sivaswami Aiyar and S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer and that S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer “shall be the first Managing Director”. It adds, “All acts bona fide done by the said Directors on behalf of the Bank prior to the registration of these Articles are hereby ratified and confirmed by the Bank.” The “prior” in the wording probably refers to the activities of the Bank from its founding in, according to The Hindu, November 1932. This is supplemented by T.M. Satchit’s Who’s Who in Madras, 1935 stating that S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer “was doing business as an indigenous banker at Kumbakonam, Colombo and Madras very successfully until 1932, towards the close of which year he took up the management of the Indo-Commercial Bank Ltd., whose founder he was.”

Together with this material there’s a news report from The Hindu of 14.2.33 describing Pantulu as the President of the Board and “Sankaralingam Aiyar” as the Managing Director of the Indo-Commercial Bank, an advertisement for the Bank in The Hindu of 31.12.34 signed by “S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer” as Managing Director, an advertisement from The Hindu of 12.3.1953 mentioning SNN as Deputy Chairman of the Bank, and two articles from Compass (1973), the house journal of India Cements which was the major industry that SNN founded in Tirunelveli District. In one, SNN’s personal physician Dr. K. Vedantam writes, “At that time a friend of Sri Iyer, who was a relation of Sri K. Lakshmanan, suggested that he should start a public limited company with the object of rendering services in small towns and rural centres round about Kumbakonam which was a very big business centre… K. Lakshmanan, who was a law graduate and who had previously served in Indian Bank as an apprentice for a year, and Sri Iyer put their heads together and a public limited Bank was started with the help of the local educated rich mirasdars under the auspices of Rao Bahadur Subrahmanyam Pantulu, with its Registered office in Mayavaram…” In the other article, S.Y. Krishnaswamy writes, “In those day he (SNN) was a banker but he was also connected with the salt industry in the Tanjore District…. His first important act of consolidation was to convert his private banking business into a limited concern with funds which at that time were considered adequate with great potentials for growth. He established the headquarters of the Bank at Mayavaram and collected together a group of friends who continued to be his associates for life. While the Bank grew steadily in the early years, his own mind was occupied in exploring certain industrial lines.” And it was while at the bank in the 1940s that SNN drew up the plans to start India Cements in the Tirunelveli District in 1946 together with T.S. Narayanaswami.

The descendants of A.R. Vishwanathan, who sent me today’s picture taken at the opening of the new headquarters of the Bank in Mayavaram, wonder whether without the funding by the others in the front row in the picture (excluding the Chief Guest) the Bank would have ever got off the ground. C.S. Subramanyam Pantulu, they add, was a keen agriculturist and had handled many agriculture related problems. “Soon after harvest the mirasdars of Tanjavur used to lavishly spend money. When it came to paying taxes they used to borrow from moneylenders at very high interest rates which ruined many families. He came up with the idea of starting a bank to help develop saving habits. … they decided to rope in S.N.N Sankaralinga Iyer of Kallidaikurichi to manage the bank as he ran a successful finance business in Kumbakonam and was considered a very efficient go-getter and a livewire businessman. He also knew who had money. He brought in a lot of his clients into the Bank.”

As one of my correspondents says, “It is not very important” and “sources are scarce”. What is important is that a bank was started in an area which needed its help.


E & O.A.

T.R. Venkatarama Sastry was certainly an Advocate General (Miscellany, February 3), but of Madras Presidency, not of India. And even in the Presidency, he was not the first; that honour goes to V. Bashyam Iyengar, according to several readers who have kept the postman busy. Mea culpa.


A. Madhavan sends me a list of banks that had branches in George Town and which I had missed in Miscellany December 23, 2013, January 6 and February 3. Most of these are no longer in existence, he adds: Bank of Bikaner, Broadway; Bank of Jaipur, N.S.C. Bose Road; Bharatha Laxmi Bank, Govinda Nayak Street; Devkaran Nanjee Banking Company, N.S.C. Bose Road; Indo-Commercial Bank, Armenian Street; Indo-Mercantile Bank, Thambu Chetty Street; Nedungadi Bank, Linghi Chetty Street; Palai Central Bank, N.S.C. Bose Road; Travancore Bank, Thambu Chetty Street; and Travancore Forward Bank, Stringer Street.


Indo-Ceylon memories

My recollection of the Boat Mail and the ferry crossing had several readers keeping the postman busy. Stina Vasu was first off the mark recollecting travelling by the “simple Indian train to Dhanushkodi.” And she goes on, “the train from Talaimannar to Colombo was a sleeper train, which compared to the SIR was luxury.” In between, she said, “standing at the stern of the ferry, we watched thousands of flying fish leaping in front of us.” She also adds, “Ceylon itself seemed so modern compared to India. Imported cars and food items. Ladies in low-cut and sleeveless blouses…. To visit Ceylon in 1961 was like today’s trips to Singapore. Lovely… But what I regret today is not making another boat trip at the time… from Madras to Mahabalipuram!”

K.V.S. Krishna’s memories of that era are of two trips a year from 1938 to 1946, going from Madras to catch up with parents working in Ceylon. Before departure from Madras, they’d wait for the train “in a comfortable retiring room upstairs in Egmore station” and they’d time-pass admiring a replica of the small ship they would have to board next evening, the s.s. Irwin or s.s. Goschen. That model ship is now in the Government Museum, Egmore, and comes out for exhibitions from time to time. Krishna also remembers little local boys swimming around the ship as it lay at anchor at Dhanushkodi Pier. “Looking over the railings of the ship we’d see these podians touch the ship and call out to us. We would drop coins and they’d dive to retrieve them and show us their successes. One day our guardians stopped us doing this and told us to throw them fruits.”

And several readers from the southern districts of Tamil Nadu (who keep up with this column on the Net) remind me of the “very British type public schools” they went to on the Island after journeying on the Boat Mail. They recall Trinity and St. Anthony’s and Kingswood in Kandy, Royal, St. Thomas’, St. Benedict’s and Ananda (founded by Col. Olcott) in Colombo, among several others in Kurunegala, Matale etc. There were far more students going to these Ceylon schools than those who came to Madras and Kodai.