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Updated: October 26, 2012 17:36 IST
MADRAS MISCELLANY

The revolutionary manager

S.Muthiah
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C.G.K. Reddy
The Hindu
C.G.K. Reddy

The information the postman brought me this past week had Prof. M.S. Annamalai, a mathematician whose passion is history, promising to send me the two books he had written on the case and a copy of the judgement delivered against the 19 I had referred to. He also ruefully informed me that the two books - valuable bits of history - did not prove successful. But he remembered all the help C.G.K. Reddy (CGK to all) gave him with them - “the most authentic record of the events leading to the death of some and the incarceration of others in the 19 who sought to take on the Raj.”

I knew CGK when he was Business Manager of this paper and when he helped to found the Research Institute for Newspaper Development in 1979, still going strong in Taramani. I was in printing at the time and we shared a common interest. He was also associated with The Deccan Herald in Bangalore, where he retired. It was as a manager of considerable ability that I knew him; I never really paid particular attention to his political background and his commitment to struggle for freedom. The postman's knock this past week has had me catching up briefly with these aspects of his life.

He appears to have started life in the engine room of a merchant ship, which in 1942 was torpedoed by the Japanese off the Sumatra coast. He saved the life of a wounded shipmate from Dacca and together they drifted for days till they were rescued and taken prisoner by the Japanese. He and 18 other young Indians were then infiltrated into India by the Japanese to foment revolt against the British and provide military information to Japan. They were landed on the Travancore coast by submarine but they were soon captured and tried for conspiring “to wage war against the King”.

Five were sentenced to death, but the sentence was revoked in the case of one, when it was discovered that he was a citizen of the princely state of Travancore. The other four were hanged in September, 1943. CGK served a three-year detention. Fifty years later, CGK organised a commemorative event to remember the members of the Indian National Army and brought out a booklet titled ‘Lest We Forget’ which included the last letter one of those hanged, Abdul Khader, had written to his father.

Still fighting for freedom, CGK decided to fight the Emergency which Indira Gandhi had declared in 1975. Teaming with George Fernandes and others, he too went underground but they were all arrested in due course and tried in what became known as the Baroda Dynamite Case. They were accused of stockpiling dynamite to blow up Government property. Reddy and the others were arrested in 1976 and charged with waging war against the State. It was the second time CGK was so charged. All the accused who were imprisoned were released when the Janata Party came to power after Indira Gandhi lost the election. And then began Reddy’s managerial career.

Later, he helped to found the People’s Union of Civil Liberties and, till his death in 1995, he served as president of its Karnataka Chapter.

******

Of malaria and plagiarism

That indefatigable researcher digging through Madras medical history, Dr. A. Raman of New South Wales, struck by all the recent headlines on plagiarism, has a story to tell of scientific plagiarism connected with Madras and the search for a cure for Malaria.

An infusion of the bark of the Cinchona tree -- then found in Peru -- was known in the Western world from the 17th Century as a treatment for tropical fevers, including Malaria. Even as the East India Company territorially expanded by the end of the 18th Century, it began to find that not only the local population but also its employees were being decimated by Malaria in its eastern settlements. But with little access to South America, Cinchona was in short supply and a substitute was vitally necessary.

Dr. William Roxburgh of the Madras Medical Service (Miscellany, October 28, 2002) was charged, while heading the Samalcottah (now in Andhra Pradesh) Botanical Gardens, to find a substitute for Cinchona that would thrive in India. After several trials and experiments he found in 1793 that an infusion of the bark of an Indian mahogany (Swietenia febrifuga) was even more potent than Cinchona as a treatment for tropical fevers. His report to London that year appears to have been pigeon-holed in best bureaucratic fashion and now survives only in the British Library. Roxburgh’s notes were also published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery a couple of years later.

The recommendation of S.Febrifuga was made after Roxburgh had had it tested at the Halle Mission in Danish Tranquebar. There, the scientifically-oriented Rev. Dr. Christopher John, who was in charge, had two doctors of the Mission Hospital try the mahogany bark medicine on patients, including Mission staff, one of whom was Johann Rottler (Miscellany, May 21). Rottler, it is stated, was ‘saved from death’ and later wrote to Roxburgh, “Your Bark Swientinia Febrifuga gets here the highest reputation by Dr. Klein and Dr. Folly.”

The Madras Medical Board, after trials, accepted the efficacy of Roxburgh’s bark, but could do nothing to get the East India Company interested in it. And a disgusted Roxburgh virtually gave up on it c.1800. But a British doctor, Alexander Dalrymple, not long afterwards, published Roxburgh’s notes on S.Febrifuga under his own name, with no acknowledgement to Roxburgh, in a blatant case of plagiarism. And that too passed unnoticed with the Company preferring to focus on Cinchona. The Raj thereafter followed the 1855 recommendations. The first saplings from Peru arrived in Ooty in 1859 and the ups and downs of Cinchona in the Nilgiris began. That's another story.

When the postman knocked…

More from what the postman's knock brought while I was away:

The foundation stone for Robinson Park, reader Karthik Bhatt, tells me, was laid on December 5, 1878, by Sir W. Robinson. The Park, however, appears to have been developed by a Dr. Thompson who raised the funds for it. On November 30, 1882, the foundation stone for a fountain in the Park was laid by a Mrs. Grant Duff. The Fernery (Miscellany, July 23) was presented by A. Dhanakoti Mudaliar in February 1886 to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign. The initial ‘A’ in Dhanakoti Mudaliar’s name is thought to stand for Armoogam, the name I had mentioned when I wrote about the park.

* Following up on my reference to the St. Matthias’ Church cemetery, Vepery, reader Sriram V. tells me of two interments there which were later linked by road names in the area. One of those buried there is the Rev. C. W. Gericke of Danish Tranquebar’s Halle Mission who represented the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in Madras. Gericke had also founded the Female Orphans’ Asylum in Madras in 1787. His daughter Dorothea married Hunter, the first Cashier of the Carnatic Bank, and it is after this Hunter that Hunter’s Road, on which the Church is, was named. The other road is Breithaupt Road, named after Christopher Breithaupt, a partner of Pugh & Breithaupt. He owned five acres near the Church and would have been related to the Rev. John Breithaupt of the Tranquebar Mission but who too was working with the SPCK in Vepery. The Rev. Breithaupt also is buried in St. Matthias’ Church. John Breithaupt worked with Fabricius on a Tamil-English dictionary that was published in 1779; it was for many years considered the standard dictionary.

* Reader C. Shanmugam sends me an intriguing story which raises several questions and I wonder whether anyone has any answers to them. His story is about Agurchand Mansion abutting Club House Road. He says it was called Khaleel Mansion and was auctioned by the Government “as evacuee property after Khaleel and his family left for Karachi after Partition.” But as far as I know, it was Khaleeli Mansion and the Khaleeli family still lives in Madras and Bangalore. Or did one branch migrate to Pakistan? Reader Shanmugam then goes on to state that the bidding for the property was between Agurchand of Sowcarpet, one of its richest residents, and Adithanar, founder of Dina Thanthi. The former bid Rs.5.5 lakhs to the latter’s five for the building and much vacant land behind it. Periyar then offered a disappointed Adithanar a portion of the land off Rundall’s Road, where the tramshed had been, enabling the fast-growing Dina Thanthi to move into a more spacious space from its cramped one on Luz Church Road. Clarifications and further details are welcome.

* Reader L. Nathan wants to know which hotels in South India were owned by Spencer’s. Well, the Connemara in Madras, the West End in Bangalore and the Savoy in Ooty are still owned by it but have been leased on a long-term basis to the Taj Group. Other hotels it owned were Spencer’s (later Ambassador) and Brind’s in Madras, Cubbon in Bangalore and Blue Mountain in Kotagiri. All four are no more. It also managed the Cochin Port Trust’s Malabar (now managed by the Taj Group) and the Mascot in Trivandrum (now run by Kerala Tourism).

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