I've been doing some digging since last week's column and have struck some pay-dirt. A couple of answers have turned up to explain why Henry Irwin is the architect of record in the case of the High Court and Bank of Madras (now SBI Main Branch) buildings. And those answers are simple enough: He was the architect present and the original designers were not.
In the case of the High Court building, J.W. Brassington, the Consulting Architect to Government, had designed the Law Courts and had got the work started in 1889. Now it's not known whether he retired and left for England or passed away, but the bulk of the work up to completion in 1892 was done by Irwin, who succeeded Brassington as Consulting Architect to Government. And since he, along the way, made considerable changes to give us the building that survives today, it is considered an Irwin building and he remains the architect of record.
On the other hand, when work started on the Bank of Madras building in 1896, Irwin was the Consulting Architect to Government. But the building was designed in the course of a competition in 1895 which Swinton Jacob, then in Jaipur, won. Irwin retained much of Jacob's façade but developed a splendid interior, with a particularly striking banking hall. Jacob's small cupolas, Islamic domes atop slender pillars, were later used by Irwin when he designed the Victoria Memorial Hall (now the National Art Gallery), his final work, done in 1906 while in retirement (see pictures).
As a footnote it might be added that Robert Chisholm, the first Consulting Architect to Government, earned, in the position he held, what was a fortune for the times and was, it would appear, reading between the lines, very likely requested to resign as a consequence. This he did in 1887 and moved on to Baroda. Madras asked London to send out a replacement. What happened after that is not very clear. A Col. Morant of the Military Engineers was named as Chisholm's temporary successor and then Brassington, who had trained with Chisholm, was in late 1887 appointed Consulting Architect.
Easy oars, Borun
If ever a person almost single-handedly pushed India into a significant position in the Asian hierarchy of a particular sport, it was Borun Chanda of Calcutta and Madras. The sport was Rowing, a sport in which India in recent years has been making a noteworthy impact in Asia and is getting into a position to at least make the Olympic selection grade. Yet when he passed away a couple of weeks ago, only a few sporting sections of the media made a mention of him and the immense contribution he had made to Rowing.
Chanda, who rowed for Calcutta University and the Lake Club, Calcutta — the first all-Indian Rowing Club — arrived in Madras in 1971 and was to spend the next 25 years here. No sooner had he arrived than he was welcomed into the Madras Boat Club and he began focusing on making it one of the best club teams in Asia; that was the time when Rowing in Asia was very much a club sport dominated by the British. But as the expats began to leave and more and more Asians took to the oars, Rowing became another international sport in Asia. And Borun Chanda realised that India would get nowhere unless there were State associations, inter-State competitions, and a national championship that would lead to Indian participation in Asian, World and Olympic championships. Joining him in what had become a mission were M.M. Muthiah and R.R. Bangara and together they spearheaded the formation of the Tamil Nadu Amateur Rowing Association (TARA) in November 1974. TARA's only member at the founding was the Madras Boat Club (MBC) — and its office-bearers were all MBC members. But for years, TARA was virtually a Borun Chanda show — or, should it be said, passion?
Two years later, in August 1976, the Rowing Federation of India (RFI) was formed, with Borun Chanda playing a key role in getting the Calcutta clubs and TARA, then still an entirely Madras Boat Club affair, to found what was in effect at the time a two-member federation, the West Bengal Amateur Rowing Association and TARA the constituents. M.M. Muthiah was one of the two Vice-Presidents and Borun Chanda was the first Treasurer of the RFI. In 1977, the first RFI Championships were held and Tamil Nadu was represented by an all-MBC team. In 1983, the RFI for the first time sent a team to the World Championships (held in Germany) and Chanda once again was in the forefront of making that trip possible. Before long, he was on the international sub-committee that was appointed to draw up plans to include Lightweight Rowing in the Olympics. Chanda was convinced that India had the potential to be world class in this category — and that is being seen these days.
When the Asian Games were held in Delhi in 1982, Chanda and his fellow leaders of the RFI played a major role in getting Rowing included in the Games. Chanda was appointed Chief Coach of the Indian team, but disagreements over training methods with the British international, who had been brought in to train the team, led to Chanda resigning. But that did not dampen his passion for coaching.
Chanda, who coached Calcutta University, the Bengal Rowing Club, the MBC and TARA teams, has been described as “an unconventional coach who trod on many toes.” But he also, in “brushing aside every known training and rowing style,” instilled in his wards the conviction that what mattered was winning. And this aim he kept them always focused on as he drove them harder and harder in practice.
His passion for Rowing he passed on to his daughters and Shakuntala Chanda became so committed to the sport that she was elected the first woman Captain of Boats of the Madras Boat Club (2006). Chanda himself had been President as well as Captain of the Club. But his outspoken-ness had him often at odds with many. But this never prevented even his critics from recognising him as ‘Mr. Indian Rowing' during the period when the sport moved from being an amateur one to today's full-time activity for any would-be champion. His only regret was that he could not get more Rowing clubs to be formed in Tamil Nadu, which has lagged behind Calcutta in this respect.
The Gandhian of West Mambalam
I have written about him in the past in these columns in some detail (Miscellany, September 30, 2002 and May 12 and October 27, 2003) so I am not going to go over it all again. But given that today is the centenary of his birth, I can't but acknowledge once again the considerable influence he had on my life in Madras. He got me to start writing again at a time I was getting bogged down with management, he introduced me to a Madras which was not the beat I was to tread, and he put me in touch with a whole heap of journalists, writers, publishers, public relations personnel and advertising executives in a city I was new to. He was M.C. Subrahmanyam, a true Gandhian whose belief in the Mahatma's philosophy went beyond wearing khadi always and living in Spartan conditions. It was a belief that had him leading a team of volunteers to start in one of the poorest parts of West Mambalam a medical clinic and dispensary in a thatched hut and provide service to the needy of that neglected area and then, step by step, with the goodwill of many, build it up into the Public Health Centre it is today, a multi-specialty hospital whose focus still remains the poor and the marginalised.