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Madras miscellany Society

Putting pictures together

The test match at Chepauk

The test match at Chepauk  


Out of the blue there arrived the other day a catalogue that brought back memories of Mala Mukerjee who many years ago took photographs for my Madras Musings and for assignments I had worked on. Many others in Madras will remember her as the charming wife of a banking head in the city, hostessing very propah dinners by night and roaming the city by day handling her saree as she leaped about trying to get the best angles for a picture she wanted to capture just right. There are still others, particularly cricket buffs, who might remember her picture of that very last moment that made a Test at Chepauk an exciting tie in 1986.

Only the second tie in Test cricket, it was memorable for Dean Jones’ epic 210 scored while fighting fatigue and dehydration, the Shastri-Maninder Singh partnership that failed to earn a win but achieved a tie — and Mala Mukerjee’s picture of that final moment, the only picture of it taken by any photographer, Indian or international, amateur or professional. She was to later tell me, “I was so excited by what was happening on the field that I didn’t realise I was clicking and clicking and it was only when I got home and developed the rolls that I realised what I had got. And it was only after I saw the match pictures in the various papers the next day that I realised that I had got that once-in-a-lifetime shot.” That picture, my favourite of those she ‘shot’ for me — of how the MRTS was ruining the Buckingham Canal — and one of her pictures from the catalogue, showing how completely different her work is today, are the three contrasting pictures I present readers today.

Her photo-art is what she now showcases in her Mala Mukerjee Gallery (MMG) in Kolkata — where she also hosts exhibitions of the work of other photographers. MMG is a founder member of the China International Photography Museum and Gallery Alliance (IPMGA) founded in what is called “the first photography town in China”, Lishui, in November 2011. At the first International Congress and Photographic Art Exhibition held there that year, Mala volunteered to hold the second one in Kolkata to help reclaim its position in “the forefront of photography in India.” It’s the catalogue of that event that found its way to my table. It’s an impressive publication, but what bowled me over was the work of the “New Mala” — a photographer turned artist.


Always something new to learn

There is always something new to learn — even every day, as far as Madras is concerned, I always tell people who ask me how I keep this column going. And that learning comes from readers who keep sending me material, or leads to material about people, places and potpourri about Madras.

What made me think of this recently was two events: a visit by two Frenchwomen of Armenian heritage researching the Armenian presence in India and the release a couple of days later of the book Contemporary Facets of the Anglo-Indian Community written by Dr. Geoffrey K. Francis. Both produced nuggets of information that I had had no clue about, even though I had done much work on both the Armenians and the Anglo-Indians.

Chantal Satenig Batwagan-Toufanian, one of my visitors, told me she was especially interested in a book titled The Trap of Grandeur (aka as The Trap of Glory or The Trap of Vanity) and wondered whether, as it had first been published in Madras, I knew anything about it. And I let the side down by saying I’d never even heard of it. Whereupon I did hear about it — in an accent I struggled to decipher.

The author, I learnt, was Hakob Shahamirian (known better in Madras as Jacob Shawmier) who printed and published it in Armenian in Madras. The title page carries the following imprint: “In 1773 in the main Indian city of Madras in the print house of Hakob Shahamirian.” But what was most interesting about this book is that, besides narrating the history of the Armenian people, it suggested to them what is considered “the first republican constitution in the world.” Jacob Shawmier, the son of Shawmier Sultan (of Julfa in Persia, before he settled in Madras) had set up a printing press in Madras in 1772, the first Armenian press in the country.

The second bit of learning came from Dr. Francis’s collection of articles, speeches, and appeals. Those who know Anglo-Indian history are undoubtedly aware that John Ricketts, who worked with the nationalist poet Henry Derozio, took with him to London in December 1829 a petition seeking better living conditions for the East Indians (as Anglo-Indians were known before 1911). What I didn’t know was that with it went a petition from the East Indians of Madras, who were themselves planning to establish an association of their own. Interestingly, a public subscription was raised in Madras to support Ricketts’ journey to London with both petitions — and the first to subscribe to it was Governor Stephen Lushington!

The next bit of learning followed on this. On his return journey from London, Ricketts disembarked in Madras in late 1830 and spent a few weeks here. While here, Governor Lushington gave him an audience and invited him to a State Ball and Dinner. The East Indians, whose association had not got off the ground at the time, gave him a public dinner and a reception ball and supper and congratulated him on what he had achieved in London. In fact, he hadn’t achieved much by way of initiating action, but he did deliver the petitions to Parliament, Government and the Crown, and the Charter of 1833, during the preparation of which the East Indian petitions must have been considered, restored all the rights the East Indians had lost from time to time over the previous 50 years.

It was, however, to be some time, before the East Indians formed an association in Madras. The association was formed in October 1879 and registered as The Eurasian and Anglo-Indian Association of Southern Indian in 1882. It later became The Anglo-Indian Association of Southern India in 1908. The founding President of the Association was David White and presiding over it today is Geoffrey K. Francis, a leading educationist and correspondent of three Anglo-Indian Schools. He was Principal of A.M. Jain College and, after retirement, is Principal of the College’s second shift. He was also the MLA representing the Anglo-Indians in the Tamil Nadu Assembly from 1985 to 1988.


When the postman knocked…

*You’ve forgotten two others from Ceylon (Miscellany, March 10), who did much in India in religious and Tamil studies; in fact, you had written about one of them, S. Sivapathasundaram, writes R. Rajendran, chiding me. The other person he refers to is Yazhpaanam Kadhirvel Pillai, a Saiva Siddhantha pandit who had much to do in getting labour leader Thiru Vi.Ka. more interested in philosophy than in the labour movement after he passed the labour crown on to C.S. Anthonypillai. Sivapathasundaram’s contribution, as I have related in the past (Miscellany, November 12, 2012), was as much in broadcasting as in writing travelogues and partnering Chitti in writing the definitive histories of the Tamil Novel and of the Tamil Short Story.

*How can refugees, who have not been given citizenship or permanent residency of the host countries they have sought refuge in, be considered part of a diaspora (Miscellany, March 10), wonders S. Geetha, who says she is a student of international relations. That, I rather think, is a valid point, but I wonder what the editors of the National University of Singapore’s encyclopaedia on the Sri Lankan diaspora have to say to that.

*That picture you used to illustrate a crowded George Town street (Miscellany, March 10) is of the area’s main thoroughfare, N.S.C. Bose Road, and hardly shows how bad the congestion in the area’s cross-streets is, regrets L. Ramadoss. Can’t you give us a picture that shows it really like it is, he asks. Will today’s picture of Armenian Street do, reader Ramadoss?

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2018 11:18:39 PM |