Not only has the postman been kept busy the past week or so, but so have other means of communication by several who have ferreted out how to get in touch with me. With all this information and several queries piling up, this week’s column is being devoted to my answering or adding to or commenting on readers’ contributions.

Time to revive sister-city links

An early morning call I received the other day from a Dr. Viswanathan from San Antonio, Texas — he seemed to have picked my name out of a hat — wanted me to do something to revive the virtually dead sister-city relationships Madras shares with Denver, Colorado, and San Antonio. The former was forged through a group of citizens in Denver teaming with the Indo-American Association in Madras which was encouraged by the then Municipal Commissioner. When the founding officer-bearers of the Association, and then Dolly Simon, moved on, the relationship virtually died.

As for the relationship with San Antonio, that came about when Dr. Viswanathan led a citizens’ team from there to Madras to meet the then mayor, M.K. Stalin, if I remember correct, among the things discussed was a restoration of the Cooum. If I am not wrong, a Corporation team, led by Stalin, visited San Antonio to see what that city had done to the San Antonio River flowing through it and the San Antonio River Walk it had created. Nothing more was heard of that study or the sister-city relationship.

Now, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do about any revival — knowing the ground situation — except to suggest that some such organisations like the respective city Rotary Clubs or Masonic Lodges, should get involved in re-establishing the sister-city links. And this would perhaps be the best time to revive the San Antonio-Madras link, with Madras celebrating its 375th birthday and getting San Antonio to join in it by persuading the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA champions and one of the best basketball teams in the world to adopt Madras/Tamil Nadu basketball which is possibly the best in India.

Noteworthies aboard H.S. Madras

They too contributed, it might be said of two persons who not only served aboard H.S. Madras but went on to make other contributions to society. T. Govindan tells me that Dr. T.M. Nair, after whom two roads are named it Madras — the only roads, as far as I know, where the caste name remains on signboards — served aboard the hospital ship. The other to serve on the Madras was a H.R. Rishworth who contributed to South Indian natural history, according to reader Kumaran Sathasivam.

Taravath Madhavan Nair from Palghat studied at Madras Medical College for a while before moving to Edinburgh where he got his M.D. in 1896 — with Sanskrit as his compulsory classical language! To specialise in E.N.T. he did further studies in Paris and then returned to Madras as a 29-year-old in 1897. With his interest in politics nurtured in Britain at Edinburgh University and by Liberal associations and Dadabhai Naoroji, Nair found an outlet for his voice in Madras in the Corporation, where he represented Triplicane for 12 years, from 1904. In 1912, he was also elected to the Madras Legislative Council. Two subjects which he returned to time and again were the quality of water — for which Chartres Molony, a Civilian of ‘Molony Mixture’ fame, became his favourite whipping boy — and the “inhuman” working hours in factories.

When Nair, a staunch Congressman from the time he returned to India, lost in 1916 an election to the Imperial Legislature in Delhi, he blamed it on the Brahminism that dominated Congress not backing him sufficiently and quit the organisation in 1917. In October that year, he joined hands with Pitti Theagaroya Chetty to launch the South Indian Liberal Federation which became better known as the Justice Party. He edited the Party’s voice, Justice, from its birth that year till his death in 1919.

As for Rishworth, he made several visits to St. Thomas’ Mount in February and March 1918, the Agri-Horticultural Gardens, Chetput Railway Station and elsewhere — and made notes on the “beautiful” dragonfly Rhyothemia variegate, he found swarming everywhere. They appeared at this time every year, he was told, but no one had paid any attention to them before. These sightings resulted in “the first work on the Odonata of Madras” which appeared in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society in 1919 under the heading “Libellulines at St. Thomas’ Mount, Madras”.

The Baby Hindustan

You’re not quite right, reader C.S. Ananth, a motor buff, tells me referring to my statement that Hindustan Motors did not continue manufacture of the Morris Minor in India (Miscellany, June 9) after Amalgamations stopped production. He tells me that HM manufactured the Baby Hindustan which was “the Morris Minor 1000”.

Just for the record, I’ve found that what was called the Morris Minor was manufactured from 1948 to 1953 and had a 918 cc engine. This was followed by the Morris Series II from 1952 to 1956 with an 803 cc engine and by the Morris (no Minor) 1000 with a 948 cc engine from 1956 to the 1970s when it was last manufactured in New Zealand. But such detailing apart, the fact is that HM deprived India of a small car long before the Maruti came along.

Madras also lost the opportunity to produce another small car in the 1950s, writes V. Viswanathan. This was the Ford ‘Popular’ which Amalgamations was rather keen to manufacture after George Oakes had imported eight of them. T.T. Krishnamachari refused Amalgamation’s a licence – and that dream of Anantharamakrishnan’s also came to an end. ‘Popular’, manufactured for a decade in England from 1953, was a rather stripped down successor of the Ford ‘Anglia’.

Making marks in civil engineering

Amongst the letters have been a couple regarding civil engineers. In one, George Ravel says that Jackson & Barker (Miscellany, May 5) was the home to many a civil engineer who went on to fare well in later life as architects, benefitting much from Jackson’s strict discipline and his rigid adherence to specifications and quality building materials. One of them was C.R. Narayana Rao who was a junior engineer with the firm and supervising much of the work when the Connemara Hotel was being re-created as an art deco building in the 1930s. The other letter, from E.S. Selvaraj, wants to know who was the first Indian to be appointed to an academic position in an engineering department — it would have had to have been in the Civil Engineering Department — in what became the College of Engineering. As far as I can find, it was P.V. Mannika Nayakkar, a graduate of the College, who was appointed Professor of Civil Engineering but whom I have been unable to trace. In 1920, G. Nagarathnam Ayyar, another graduate of the College, was appointed Additional Professor in the Department. Both were from the Public Works Department.

Nagarathnam Ayyar was superseded in 1921 by K.C. Chacko, who was probably the first non-PWD man to head the Department. He was also very likely the first with a D.Sc. degree to join an Engineering Department in the College. Around the same time as him, another with a D.Sc., S.N. Dhar, was in charge of Technical Chemistry.

That W.H. James was the first Principal of the College not to have been from the military or the PWD may have had a lot to do with this. James, whose M.Sc. degree made him less qualified than Chacko and Dhar, headed the College from 1907 to 1922, with home leave breaks in between, I wonder if there’s anyone out there who can add more to this, especially about Chacko, who later became Principal of the college.

The Harington of Harrington Road

Why the authorities have chosen Harrington Road to be the first road to be made a model road that will set the tone for other roads, I have no idea, unless it was the fact that some years ago the residents of the road of their own volition spruced it up. Be that as it may, I was set to wondering about the choice after the postman arrived with a query from M. Devanathan, written soon after the remodelling of the road was announced, wondering who Harrington was.

All I’ve been able to find is that a William Harington Sr. (with one ‘r’), who had joined the Madras Civil Service in 1764, had in 1796 received a grant of about ten acres to the south of the Spur Tank.

By 1799, he appeared to have been no longer in the Service and was listed in 1803 as a partner in a business house, Harington, Burnaby & Cockburn (pronounced Coburn). He was reinstated in 1813, just two years before his son, William Jr., was admitted to the Service. Harington Sr. died in 1821 and it is presumed the property passed on to Junior, who could well have sold it to that great builder Namberumal Chetty who once owned substantial property on the road.

To confuse matters a bit, there was a Harrington (with two ‘r’s), Watts & Co. who described themselves as “attorneys” for property-owners in 1800.

P.S. And I still haven’t finished with what the postman delivered over the last couple of weeks!