With the Anna Centenary Library just opened in Kotturpuram, what is planned for the Presidency's/ Province's/State's premier library for nearly 150 years and which has been designated as a National Library? I refer to the Connemara Public Library.
That library, designated as the State Central Library in 1950 and a National Library in 1955, had its beginnings in 1861 when the Government of Madras received hundreds of books found surplus in the libraries of Haileybury College (where Civilians for India were trained) and the India Office in Britain. This collection was sent to the Government Museum which established a separate library section with these books as its nucleus. The Madras Literary Society too had its collection there till it moved into its own premises in 1906 and the Madras University Library was also housed in the Museum till it moved in 1928 to the Marina campus. It would appear each of the three libraries had its own staff, the Museum's being part of the Museum staff till it was separated from it in 1930. In 1939, the Library became a separate institution.
It had, however, in 1896 been named the Connemara Public Library, when it moved into a new building raised next to the Museum's main block which had developed from the old Public Assembly Rooms better known as The Pantheon. Named after the Governor who had suggested that it should be a separate institution, the Connemara's first home of its own was built by Namberumal Chetty to a design by Henry Irwin. That design featured a magnificent reading hall that was only recently renovated and which stocks the Old Book Collection. What, I wonder, is the future of this collection? Is it moving to the 21st Century library or will it stay put in its splendid old surroundings but with, hopefully, easier access — at least, even to view that splendid old reading room?
As a National Library, the Connemara, like the ones in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, is expected to be supplied with every book published in India by the respective publishers. Will these be accessible in Kotturpuram? It is a pity that at the time of writing, the linkages between the libraries in Egmore and Kotturpuram have not been spelt out.
Spotted in a winning team
A couple of phone calls in recent weeks have wondered whether I was right in saying that A.R. ‘Midlands' Srinivasan, Cheema to his friends, played for the Madras Cricket Club (Miscellany, August 30). To the best of our recollection, he played only for the Mylapore Recreation Club's A and B teams, they said. Yes, he did play for those two teams, but he also played for Triplicane and the MCC in the First Division League matches. He was the second Indian to do so for the Club, according to a history of the MCC published in 1998.
The history pays quite a bit of attention to him, both with quotes from him and his contemporaries. Referring to the first time the MCC won the First Division League title — in 1949-50 — it says that the first championship win was fashioned “by the batting of C. Ramaswami, Bert Wensley (the MCA coach), H.W. Horton, T. Murari, A.R. Srinivasan and A.V. Rajagopalan — the last three named were, in that order, the first Indians to play for the Club's first eleven — and the bowling of R.J. Taylor, J. Tate and E.W.D. Jeffares. C.N Reid captained the team which also included J.B. Beardsell, V.R. Lakshmi Ratan, P.N. Krishnamma, P. Whiteley and G.V. Cockburn.”
The only defeat the team suffered was against Minerva and it drew four matches and won six, all the games being played at Chepauk. It achieved this record with none of the team finishing high in the batting or bowling averages. The history states, “What was significant about this performance was that every Indian player was well past his prime and, except for Murari, all of them had spent their best years playing for other clubs in the League.”
This account was accompanied by, unfortunately, a rather poor photograph that included A.R. Srinivasan in it: Its caption read: “The first Madras CC team to win the League Championship is seen with Club President J.O.G. Barnes. This 1949-50 team included, seated left to right, J.B. Beardsell, C.N. Reed (Capt.), E.W.D. Jeffares and H.W. Horton, and standing left to right, H.R.J. Taylor, J. Tate, A.V. Rajagopal, A.F. Wensley, V.R. Lakshmi Ratan, P. Whitely and A.R. Srinivasan. (Absent: T. Murari, C. Ramaswami, P.N. Krishnama and G.V. Cockburn.” That, I think should clear all doubts.
Srinivasan, who went on in 1961 to become the second Indian President of the Club, following A.M.M. Arunachalam's tenure after a gap of a year, was invited to join the Club — a year after Murari had played for it — by his “boss” at Commercial Union Insurance, C.N. Reid. Srinivasan, however, played for the MCC only “on and off”. Racing proving a greater attraction, but he did much to persuade young Indian cricketers from good backgrounds to move to the MCC from other clubs, enabling the Club to have its best cricketing years in the 1950s and 60s. The year he become President, the Club won the title again, with these ‘young' Indians, all in their thirties. In 1977, Srinivasan resigned from the Club because he felt “it no longer had the same sporting atmosphere it used to have.”
Rajaji the Freemason
When the TAG Heritage Centre recently honoured Sriram V with the first Vedavalli Memorial Heritage Award for young heritage achievers, over 80 per cent of the 200-and-more-strong audience were well past their 60s; there were less than 20 in Sriram's age group or younger, and most of them appeared to be helpmeets of the elders they came with. This age disparity drew a cry of anguish from your columnist who was to felicitate Madras Musings colleague Sriram on the occasion. When will the young ever get interested in Heritage, he had wondered — and answered himself: Not till school and technical college syllabuses pay greater attention to the Humanities, and not till all those heritage enthusiasts in the audience volunteered to mentor the Heritage Clubs that the Government, in a welcome move, has made compulsory in schools.
One among the few young persons that evening was Karthik Bhatt, a chartered accountant who has become a dedicated researcher into Madras's past. And it is to him I owe today's information about Rajaji and Freemasonry. Rajaji, he states, was initiated into Freemasonry in the Lodge Carnatic in 1905 and was a member of it till 1913. By then, he had helped to found Lodge Salem in 1910. The next year, he became Master of the Lodge, its second, and was once again its Master in 1919. He gave up his Membership in 1923, 15 years after he began getting involved in politics.
Intrigued by whether the Lodge Carnatic had any connection with the Umdat-ul-Umara connection, I discovered that the answer was ‘no', that it was the first Lodge whose primary membership was Indian and that it had been founded in 1883 on the initiative of Dr. Senjee Pulney Andy, one of the first Indians with a medical degree from England. He had urged a small group of Indian Freemasons, who had gathered one evening at Cowasjee Eduljee Panday's house in Egmore, to found “a new Lodge for the special benefit of our countrymen”. The first Master of the Lodge was Panday, who was the first Indian to be a Member of the Harbour Trust Board, and the second Master was Pulney Andy, from whom the SIR bought the land on which Egmore station came up in 1900.
The Lodge, still going strong, has had among its members, apart from Rajaji, C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, P. Sambanda Mudaliar, M.Ct. Pethachi Chettiar, Gopinatha Tawker, and Sir C.V. Kumaraswami Sastri.
A footnote on Rajaji's multifarious interest is added by K. Vedamurthy, who says Rajaji used to regularly play Tennis at the Salem District Club, and one of his favourite opponents was a Dr. Littlewood of the Hosur Cattle Farm. I wonder how many know of Rajaji's sporting prowess.