Catching up with the world of Tamil journalism, thanks to a series of articles on it written by R.A. Padmanabhan — long associated with the Ananda Vikatan — for the resurrected The India Review in the late 1970s, I discovered that Kalaimagal could well be the oldest surviving Tamil monthly. It’s into its 81st year now — and though the character of its content has changed, it remains a journal focussed on the serious reader.
It was leading science writer P.N. Appuswamy Iyer who urged a friend, R. Narayanaswami Iyer, who had for some years before been publishing the Madras Law Journal (in English), to bring out a magazine focussed not only on Tamil literature and culture but also provide the Tamil reader “the best of modern knowledge in the arts and sciences of other lands”. Together they convened a board of honorary editors from among the intellectuals of Madras to advise on content. Among the nine were Appuswami Iyer, K.A. Nilakanta Sastry the historian, and S. Vaiyapuri Pillai and M. Raghava Iyengar of the Tamil Lexicon project. T.S. Ramachandra Iyer was named the Executive Editor. Stating its objectives in the first issue, which came out in January 1932, the journal said, “There are excellent journals in foreign countries, and in Bengal, Maharashtra and Andhra in our own land. Kalaimagal makes bold to venture out in accordance with the wishes of some of our leading men that we should have in Tamil also a similar vehicle for the uplift of the Tamil people.” Besides literature, it would also look at history and progress in science.
In that first issue U.V. Swaminatha Iyer wrote on ‘Kalaimagal’ (The Arts) and Nilakanta Sastry on ‘Bhagiratha’s Tapas’, now better known as ‘Arjuna’s Penance’. In the section titled ‘Sastram’ (Science), that leading zoologist Prof. M. Ekambaranatha Iyer wrote on snakes, while Appuswami focussed on ‘Red Flowers’. ‘Charitram’ (History) featured an article on ‘The Invasion of the Himalayas by Tamil Kings’. Vaiyapuri Pillai contributed an article on the history of printing and there was another on the ‘Madras polity’. Besides several other articles there was a women’s page managed by Visalakshi Ammal, a children’s page by C.K. Lakshmi Ammal and a book review of an English title, Mahabalipuram or Seven Pagodas by D.R. Fyson, by who else but K.A.N.
In the second issue, short stories and humour (by Kalki) made their debut as well as debate on some of the articles that had appeared in the first issue. Also promised for the future were some of U.Ve.S’s unpublished works and the translations of various lectures that had been organised by the Madras Library Association.
A couple of editors later, K.V. Jagannathan, who had joined the journal in 1934 as a sub-editor, took over and from the late 1930s was, to all intents and purposes, in charge of content. And with him came change. The journal “ceased to give attention to educative articles in science and history and to erudite dissertations on literature. Instead, it devoted great attention to fostering creative fiction and tuned the paper to the popular line.” This, however, in its own way, served Tamil well by discovering a host of talented new writers, not the least of whom was Akilan, the Jnanapith Award winner.
Padmanabhan himself felt that with Kalaimagal changing policy, serious cerebral journalism in Tamil “suffered such a setback that to this day (1980) it has not recovered to re-assert itself.” I wonder whether it has in the last 30 years.
The first Vice Chancellor
Among the first three universities to be established in India, the University of Madras, like the other two founded in 1857, Calcutta and Bombay, was one of the great universities of the world for a hundred years. Thereafter, there has been a diminishing, but never to the extent that has been seen in the last decade. I’m not a great believer in those ‘best’ lists published by various journals and grading organisations, but not to find the University of Madras among some recent ones and to hear of its problems with the AICTE and the loss of its five-star status can only sadden the heart. How a mighty institution has fallen!
But with what hope it was born. Getting it off the ground were the Governor, Lord Harris, the first Director of Public Instruction, Alexander J. Arbuthnot, and the first Vice Chancellor, Sir Christopher Rawlinson, at the time the Chief Justice of the Madras Supreme Court, the predecessor-institution of the High Court. Ask on the campuses of the University of Madras or of its affiliated colleges who the first Vice Chancellor of the University was and a correct answer would almost be a miracle.
Dignity, propriety, efficiency and meticulous routine were the chief characteristics of Rawlinson. Not for him the individualistic streaks of his predecessors in court or their lively enjoyment of life outside it. Yet, the members of one of the institutions he gave new life to, the Madras Volunteers, decided that ‘life is a ball’ was the way for them to go. The Volunteers, a volunteer European militia who could be called out in a law and order situation, had for long in Madras focussed on “dress and tamasha”. They wore “red peg-top trousers, a blue tunic and a red and gold cap with glazed black peak… (and) gold braid” and preened in this uniform while on parade. When the revolt of 1857 broke out, Rawlinson, who felt the South was likely to be quiet and would be quieter still if shown the flag, urged the British lawyers to join the Volunteers. John Bruce Norton, appointed a Captain, found his company being ordered to guard and patrol Triplicane, showing the regimental flag. But patrols began and ended, with breaks in between, at the local headquarters where the bottles were passed around freely, enabling the Volunteers to be in good voice on their rounds and helping the natives to be in good spirits.
What Rawlinson thought of all this is not recorded, but what is, is the attention he paid to Law courses at Presidency College where John Dawson Mayne headed the faculty Rawlinson insisted that before a student was admitted to the course he needed to pass a test to demonstrate that he could follow the lectures. The test included English language, History of England from the Revolution of 1688, History of British India, Geography and Arithmetic. Would that some such test was introduced today for anyone wanting a seat in college.
Shunning a life of parties and entertainments, the Rawlinsons were a couple completely focussed on the domestic life. Rawlinson, 41 years old when he got married in 1847, must be the only Chief Justice and Vice Chancellor in Madras to have had not one but three children born while in office! And to ensure that they got the best of nourishment, Lady Georgina Rawlinson imported a cow from England. To Sir Christopher’s credit, thus, goes the record of bringing into Madras the first English cow! The Rawlinsons’ practice of keeping the cow in their Harrington Road compound was followed by many other legal luminaries of the time, it has been reported.
Cows, happy-go-lucky volunteers and fatherhood may have been part of Chief Justice Rawlinson’s life in Madras, but the business-like decorum he brought to the Court was a character that rubbed off on the University itself. It may have at the time been only an examining institution, but it kept a Rawlinson eye on the colleges that were beginning to be established. It was a foundation well laid. Alas!
Governor in Court
I’ve recently been reading about the peccadilloes of Lord Connemara, a Governor of Madras, being sued for divorce while he was in charge of the Presidency. But the case came up for hearing in London after his gubernatorial stint and he did not appear in court. But appearing in court in Madras to answer charges against him, petty as they were, was his predecessor, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.
In 1879, Deschamps, a Frenchman, was the leading furniture-maker in Madras. The Governor visited his establishment one day and in broken French spoke to Deschamps. The Duke later maintained that he was only complimenting the furniture-maker on a particular item. But Deschamps had taken it as an order and delivered the furniture the Governor had pointed to when speaking to him. With the delivery came a bill for Rs.20,000. When Buckingham refused to pay, Deschamps took him to court and the case came before the newly arrived Chief Justice, Charles Turner.
The Chief Justice, instead of posting the case for hearing by a single Judge, constituted a three-judge Bench with himself presiding. And when the Governor entered the Court. His Honour not only got up and bowed a welcome to His Excellency but also offered him a seat with the Judges! However, Buckingham, who was deaf in one ear, requested a seat in the well of the court and then strode into the Jury Box to take his seat. Here, it was reported, “he used his deaf ear with extraordinary ingenuity and parried all the questions hurled at him”.
Fortunately for all, the Jury was not to be taxed and Chief Justice Turner was not to be troubled with the task of writing a judgment that he was not at all keen to do. The Governor and the furniture-maker settled the case out of court.
Buckingham was the Governor who formalised the practice of the Government moving up to Ooty every summer and it was he who had what is now the Raj Bhavan in Ooty built. During its construction, he would turn up every day to look into every detail and kept chopping and changing things. Of this practice it was said, “One of Buckingham’s chief amusements was constantly inspecting the work, altering the plans, making suggestions he considered equivalent to commands, and driving all those connected with the construction of the building to the verge of distraction.”
One particular master craftsman from England, not knowing who had been making suggestions to him on two consecutive days, blew a fuse on the third day and told his ‘adviser’ to “piss off” and let him get on with his work. The Duke took it in good spirit, introduced himself and got what he wanted — as he did elsewhere in the building, enabling him to move into a home that was just what he wanted that same year he was making an appearance in the Madras High Court.