I was initiated into sport while studying in Nellore in the early 1940s. I was able to play a number of games there including volleyball, soccer, tennis and even baseball (there was a U.S. unit stationed nearby during the war, and they were keen to promote the sport!). We had good facilities at V.R. College, and good players who had come to study there because of wartime evacuation from Madras.
I joined B.A. Mathematics in Madras Christian College in 1945, when Dr. A.J. Boyd was the Principal. His interest in soccer was such that every time we played an intercollegiate league match, he used to be seated behind the goal. There were three halls at MCC in those days — Bishop Heber, Selaiyur, and St. Thomas. I was given Selaiyur Hall in my second year (I couldn't be placed in any hall in my first year and travelled by train from Broadway. It cost just Rs. 13 a month!). It was quite an experience, studying there in the wilderness.
In 1949, I took off to the U.K. for my post-graduate studies. Of course, there was no question of going by air then. I went by the P&O liner called Strathaird, one of the best liners of the day. There were other students with me as well, going to Oxford and Cambridge. I bought a ticket for 147 poundsterling — at Rs. seven a pound! I journeyed to Ceylon for the 14-day voyage to Tilbury. My return was an adventure in itself. I didn't have enough money to come by any good passenger liners. So I went to Naples by train and caught a cargo-cum-passenger boat at Naples, and sailed for 21 days from Naples to Bombay!
Upon my return to Madras, I joined Parry & Co. (now EID Parry). It was then a public limited company under a mostly British management. They used to have one room on the top floor of Dare House only for bachelors coming to work from England. They had some very interesting traditions then. The invitation for lunch at the Dare House — a five-course meal! — would come from the chairman himself. I still remember, it would be a blue-coloured letter, and if you got one, it meant you had been recognised!
Christmas Eve was a special day. Drinks would be served at what was called the chummery (the dining hall) and they had to be served by the director who had been recruited most recently. They used to have special sweets prepared for those of us who had been invited to lunch to take home. These were called ‘Russian toffees', made especially for directors and managers at our factory in Nellikuppam, and not sold outside.
I was made a member of the Gymkhana Club in 1951 at a time when it was exclusively for the British. There was a very funny rule those days; once you were selected by the committee to join, you had to stand drinks for all those who were in the club! It was a very pro-British environment. There was an incident where Jawaharlal Nehru was questioned for wearing his pyjama kurta and Radhakrishnan for wearing a long coat and dhoti, as it was against the club's dress regulations!
My tennis, after I joined Parry & Co, was confined to Suguna Vilas Sabha on Mount Road. I used to be one of the worst players there, because all the rest had either represented India, been ranked in India or played in the Davis Cup! Sumant Mishra, P.S. Seshadri, Vishnu Mohan, M.V.G. Apparao — they were all stalwarts in the field. I felt fortunate playing with them.
I Remember: After our wedding, my wife and I moved to a bungalow on Nungambakkam High Road. It was a six ground plot, and my father purchased it for just Rs. 15,000! I would be scared to take this road because there was no traffic and not a soul to be found anywhere. On either side, there were only five houses, each having an acre-and-a-half of land. That gave it a rather eerie atmosphere.
BIO: Born in 1927, P.L. Reddy served as the counsellor and then secretary of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association, and the secretary-general of the All India Tennis Association. He remains the vice-president of the International Lawn Tennis Club of India. He has also served as manager of the Indian Davis Cup team numerous times, and was involved closely with the Britannia Academy of Tennis in the city.