Dear, you used to tell everyone so proudly that I had never missed a column since I first started writing Miscellany. This column, dear, is for you, wherever you are up there. Forgive me if it is shorter than usual.
On September 25 there will be inaugurated the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of V. Krishnaswami Aiyer, who helped set up the Sanskrit College, the Venkataramana Ayurveda College and Dispensary, the Ranade Public Library, the Mylapore Club, the Indian Bank and a few other institutions in the brief 47 years he lived. It was felt that the best way to remember him for all this was by a statue erected through public subscription.
But before the statue could be raised there was controversy. When it was decided to honour an Indian in Madras for the first time with a statue, many, including Krishnaswami Aiyer, then a lawyer on the way up, objected to Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer, the first Indian judge of the Madras High Court, being commemorated in this fashion. They argued that though Sir Muthuswami was an outstanding and pathbreaking legal luminary, it was against the tenets of Hinduism to have statues put up for people. Those in favour of raising the statue, however, had their way and Sir Muthuswami’s statue was installed in the centre of the High Court.
Seventeen years later, friends and well-wishers wanted to raise a statue for the lawyer who had pioneered so many institutions, become a High Court Judge (1909) and a member of the Governor’s Executive Council (1911), after his passing away on December 28, 1911. The Hindu and the Swadesamitran vociferously opposed the idea. Subramania Bharati in particular, writing for the Tamil paper, condemned him scornfully for accepting a place on the Bench of a British-dominated judiciary. At a public meeting in 1912, there was vociferous opposition to raising a statue for Krishnaswami Aiyer, the opponents to the idea arguing that he was the one who had opposed such memorials in the past. But Sir S. Subramania Aiyer, a much lauded Judge of the Madras High Court and a mentor of Aiyer, made a speech highly charged with emotion favouring the statue and just managed to carry the day. But The Hindu the next day deplored this display of emotion — it could, however, not change the decision.
And so the statue came up outside Senate House, facing the beach. A most appropriate place as Krishnaswami Aiyer had been a member of the University Senate and had opposed the plan to build a railway line along the beach. The statue was rededicated last Friday, the 20th, as a prelude to this week’s celebrations. Another statue, a bust, was installed in the Indian Bank.
Alongside the University statue, no doubt eyeing the re-unveiling of it, there is the statue of Sir S. Subramania Aiyer, the first Indian Vice Chancellor of the University, which had been erected in 1935.
The Dane and his memorial
Trying to revive interest in restoring that memorial on Elliott’s Beach has been S.B. Prabhakar Rao, the Honorary Danish Vice-Consul in Madras. And in his efforts to do so, he has dug up quite a few facts, some confirming what has already been known and others shedding new light on the person remembered. That person was Kaj Erik Gjølstad Schmidt, a Dane and not a Dutchman as some have sometimes held. In 1929 he arrived at the Danish East Asiatic Company’s new office in Madras, its first in India. He was 28 years old at the time and had been an EAC employee for eight years.
The EAC had been founded in 1897 as a shipping line serving a trade route linking Copenhagen with Southeast Asia. This connection appears to have had many thinking that Schmidt was a sailor. While he was an employee of the EAC, the notes about him and his colleagues appear to indicate that he was a boxwallah and/or a shipping official. The EAC once it established its passenger and cargo service entered into trade, its major business being teak from Southeast Asia and peanuts from Madras to Europe. From Denmark the company brought to its eastern offices milk and cement. The Madras office was only a year old when Schmidt joined it.
A newspaper report in the Aberdeen Journal dating to 1931 states that on December 29, 1930, Schmidt and four other Danish employees of the company went swimming at Elliott’s Beach. As they were leaving the water, Schmidt and a colleague, Werner Nielsen, noticed three swimmers in difficulties and plunged into the water again. They were followed by two of their colleagues. All seven were soon in difficulties till the only Dane on shore, A. Kragh, and some fishermen took out ropes and brought back all to shore, except Schmidt who could not grab and hold the rope thrown to him. The fishermen later found his body and brought it ashore.
In due course, Werner Nielsen became the CEO of the EAC. With air travel becoming more popular, EAC in 1969 closed down its shipping activities and concentrated on trade. Today it is in the business of production and distribution internationally of processed meats.
The brother who wandered
Dr. Kanakalatha Mukund writes from Coonoor that I might like some additional information about Sir P. Rajagopalachari (Miscellany, August 12) and tells me that Sir PR’s only brother, and a younger one, P.N. Chari, was a bit of a spoilt child who, when disciplined by Sir PR for doing badly in studies, ran away to England. From there he worked his way to Chicago and joined the Chicago Tribune. In Chicago, he met Swami Vivekananda at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893.
When Swami Vivekananda returned from the ‘Parliament’ and arrived in Madras, Sir PR learnt from him the whereabouts of his truant brother. Thus, after several years he was able to contact Chari whom the family had long given up as dead.
Sir PR persuaded Chari to return to India and join the family again. Chari then qualified as a barrister and moved to Rangoon where he eventually became a judge of the Rangoon High Court. He died in Rangoon in 1930. Both Sir PR and Justice Chari were fathers of families who distinguished themselves in education and medicine.