MADRAS MISCELLANY A weekly column that nostalgically turns pages of history and culture of three-century-old city called Chennai
A few weeks ago (Miscellany, May 14) I had referred to Rathnavel Thevar who had been a staunch supporter of mofussil cricket and who had offered a helping hand to many a Madras cricketer. I had wondered at the time whether anyone could offer me more information about him. M.S. Pandian has now responded with a wealth of information about the Thevar who was passionate about cricket.
The Trichinopoly United Cricket Club was started by Thevar in 1914, the first cricket club in the town and reflecting in its name that of the Madras United Club which pioneered Indian cricket in Madras. The game in Madras had, however, been first formally played by the ‘Europeans only’ Madras Cricket Club. In Trichy, it was the TUCC that launched the game on a serious footing, a South Indian Railway club, comprising European and Anglo-Indian players being started only thereafter. When these two clubs met in an annual fixture, it was the Trichy equivalent of the annual Presidency match played in Madras between the Europeans and the Indians.
Rathnavel Thevar also sponsored annual matches between Trichy and Tanjore and Trichy and Pudukottai. Both these fixtures had their share of incidents whenever princely Tanjore and Pudukottai included Europeans in their teams; Thevar did not suffer Europeans kindly, though he once included one, a Maclaughlin of the I.C.S. who was a lusty striker of the ball. In one match against Tanjore, the team from the Delta included five British players. During lunch, Thevar found the five drawing up a table to lunch by themselves. His remonstration against this behaviour almost stirred up the crowd. On another occasion, G.T.B. Harvey, a good all-round sportsman and mentor of the young Rajah of Pudukottai, was coaching the Pudukottai team. During lunch he was heard lecturing the umpires on the LBW rule. Then, during the Pudukottai innings, he was loud in his bellowed protest when a Pudukottai batsman was ruled out LBW. Thevar could no longer keep silent and began loudly berating Harvey. Before the boos from the crowd turned into something nastier, Harvey left the ground.
The ground in question was the Puthur cricket ground that Thevar had developed for the TUCC after he had purchased it when he became Municipal Chairman in 1924 (a post he intermittently held till 1946). The ground was later taken over by the Government for a government hospital, on, it was alleged, the instigation of his political rivals. The last match played on the ground was a Madras-versus-Combined Districts game: the first, a competition mooted by Rathnavel Thevar, was played in 1939. The Rathnavel Trophy is today competed for in an inter-district schools tournament.
Thevar also regularly took the TUCC on a cricketing tour of Ceylon (where his kinsman R.M. Perumal, one of the best players in the Districts — which he often captained — learnt his cricket) and also hosted a match for any Ceylon team touring South India. In 1948, an ailing Thevar took TUCC hockey and cricket teams to Ceylon but returned seriously ill and passed away in May that year. During that tour he had stayed with P. Saravanamuttu, the President of the Ceylon Cricket Board and the Tamil Union club .While in Colombo he had promised his friend and personal host assistance to improve the Club’s facilities. Though he could not fulfil his promise, his friend N.S. Krishnan, to keep the promise, took his drama troupe to Colombo to stage a play for the Tamil Union, which, as a consequence, benefited to the tune of Rs. 28,000. The facilities that were developed made the Tamil Union’s Oval for many years the only venue for international cricket matches in Ceylon.
Thevar Vilas was a home that welcomed any cricketer or political leader visiting Trichy. Its walls hosted as many pictures of cricketers as of political leaders. Its library held a wealth of cricket literature. And in it Nehru and Satyamurti had dipped.
Thevar entered politics as a member of the Justice Party, but, after visiting Gandhi in Sabarmati Ashram in 1923, he became a Congressman. He was a member of the Madras Legislative Council from 1923 to 1946. He had been arrested during the Satyagraha movement and fell ill while in jail. His health never recovered fully, but that never stopped him from enthusiastically contributing to governance and sport.
The sarai a Nawab built
Asked to refer to Madras (Chennai) — A 400-year record of the First City of Modern India — a history of the city I’ve edited and of which two volumes of a scheduled three have come out, the second just a couple of months ago — to discover more about Siddique Sarai and Nawab C. Abdul Hakim, I duly — and rather sheepishly — followed S. Anvar’s advice. And came up with a wealth of information about one of Madras’s best-known philanthropists. Several other readers have echoed the same theme: Philanthropy Thy Name is Hakim (which is the name of his biography). And it was for his munificence that Abdul Hakim was conferred the title ‘Nawab’.
The 21-year-old Abdul Hakim arrived in Madras from his native Melvisharam (near Arcot) in 1884 to join his father Siddique Hussain Sahib. Having picked up the ropes of business, he started in 1907 a small business in hides and skins but grew it to such an extent that he became a merchant prince and a major donor to charities. Perhaps the best-known of those charitable contributions is Siddique Sarai, the Muslim choultry opposite Central Station.
When Abdul Hakim’s ailing father once arrived at Central from Bombay he found that there was no choultry nearby with facilities for Muslim travellers. Build one, he suggested to his son. And so Abdul Hakim bought land opposite Ripon Building in an auction for Rs. 50,000 and laid the foundation stone for the sarai in 1919. Claiming that the building was coming too near its tracks, the South Indian Railway raised objections to its construction. The consequent case went up to the Privy Council and, eventually, after its ruling, the building was completed and inaugurated in 1921. The sarai is now vested in the Jamath of the Periamet mosque.
Siddique Sarai is a three-storey building that offers 43 retiring rooms whose charges progress from the free to, after three days, the nominal. It also has a mosque for men and one for women, where prayers are said at the scheduled hours. On road level and road-facing are shops whose rental helps to finance the sarai. Before various constructions came up all around it, its Islamic architecture of arches, domes and minarets created a striking landmark in the area.
Among Abdul Hakim’s other contributions are the Muslim High School in Triplicane, of which he was one of the founders. In Melvisharam, a higher secondary school and an engineering college bear his name.
He was Sheriff of Madras in 1930 and in 1937 was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly from North Madras.
The Coromandel connection
That faithful reader of mine in New South Wales, Dr. A. Raman, reacting to my item last week on the Coromandel coast, says, believe it or not, “a colleague who lives not too far from me lives in a house called Coromandel.” When Raman rang him after my item triggered his memory, to find out how the house came by the name, he was told by his colleague that he had bought the property from one of two brothers, one of whom had a house in eastern Orange — the one he bought — and the other had his in western Orange. He inherited the name Coromandel with the house in eastern Orange and discovered to his surprise the house in western Orange was called Malabar!
Raman also writes that there’s a Coromandel Peninsula in North Island, New Zealand, and that Coromandel Valley and Coromandel East are suburbs of Adelaide. The three places got their names from HMS Coromandel, the second Royal Navy vessel with that name. The first dated to 1795 and was decommissioned in 1813. The second served the Navy from 1804, when she was named HMS Malabar, then renamed in 1815 HMS Coromandel and scrapped in 1853. It was this vessel that regularly landed British convict-settlers in Adelaide and visited New Zealand. A third HMS Coromandel was in service from 1855 to 1866 and a fourth from 1856 to 1870.
This column certainly picks up the oddest bits of information at times.