CITYSCAPE An instance where a property was sold to aid the expansion of another

War re-writes dynamics. The repercussions of the First World War were felt subtly and in pronounced ways in the Malabar. Post the War, organisations with a prolific profile suddenly found themselves on the back foot, cash-strapped. Friends turned foes and the sense of alienation prevailed for a while. The British were suspicious of missions that did not belong to the Allied powers, particularly if they had German, Austrian or Italian roots.

Intriguing file

Going through the index for 1924 at the archives, what struck me was the tag of “enemy property” on a seemingly ordinary sale. When the file is pulled out the subject matter happens to be the sale of certain Basel Mission properties in the Malabar.

The Mission appears to be on a selling spree. In a letter from Reverend J.S.N. Hooper, the Chairman of The Mission Trust of Southern India (TMTSI), to the Chief Secretary, Government of Madras, he seeks sanction to sell a handful of properties. Most of them are schools in the villages of Chalat, Chalil, Manbara and Perampra. “Financial difficulties” are often cited and most schools have already stopped functioning.

For sale among this clutch is the Sea View Bungalow in Tellicherry. It seems to be a treasured asset of the mission, but is curiously for sale. Hooper writes: “The bungalow is in Tellicherry in a very important centre of the town and fetches a rent of Rs. 75 per month.” He gives a reason for selling it: “But being situated very close to the sea it is exposed to the weather thus necessitating very large repairs almost every year. The Board therefore recommends the bungalow may be sold.”

The British government grants sanction for the sale rather quickly. But as per law, there is a rider and the Mission is informed of it. The sanction for “the sale of immovable properties of the Basel Mission in the Malabar district” is given “on the condition that the sale proceeds are invested in government securities.”

The twist

This condition gives a new twist to the story. Within a month, Hooper again writes to the chief secretary, this time giving a different reason for the sale of Sea View. Investing the sale proceeds in government securities will not be possible at least with the bungalow, according to him.

“The request for permission to sell ‘Sea View’ Bungalow Tellicherry was made in order that the Malabar Mission might be in a position to make a contribution towards the urgently needed additional accommodation for the Malabar Christian College (MCC),” he writes. The request to aid the college was made to the Malabar Mission by the German Missions Committee in a resolution, Hooper further explains in his letter.

To help out was a decision made before the War and time has come to keep the word. Hooper quotes from the resolution, “The urgency of the need for buildings is a need recognised by the Basel Mission prior to the War and for which they had drawn the plans.” To raise capital in the present scenario the option of selling another property not of use now is considered. According to the resolution, the “Proceeds of the sale is to be devoted to the capital expenditure on the new buildings for the MCC.”

The Mission Trust, says Hooper, has the “fullest sympathy” for the recommendations of the German Mission Committee and requests the government to sanction the sale proceeds for the college’s benefit.

The various missions in the scene with each going out of the way to help the other confuse the government and E.M. Gawne, the deputy secretary to the government expresses them in his letter to Hooper. “State the relation that subsists between TMTSI and the Malabar Mission and also between the Madras Christian College and the MCC,” he writes.

Hooper replies in detail explaining the intricate link between all these bodies. “The Malabar Mission is one of the mission bodies in direct charge of the properties held by TMTSI … The Madras Christian College is similarly the mission body directly responsible for carrying on the MCC which was previously the Basel Mission College, Calicut. The whole of the property comes in the schedule of properties handed over to TMTSI,” he writes.

The capital for the MCC, he says, is to be raised through the sale and also “contributions from missionary bodies interested in the development of an efficient college at Calicut and by a building grant by the government.”

The British assume the value of Sea View to be Rs. 7, 087 according to an estimate drawn up by the Collector of Malabar in 1919. Finally, notes mention that sanction was given to use the sale proceeds for the college. “Under certain provisions the Mission Trust can, with the approval of government, divert the amount as proposed.”

But the disparities in Hooper’s letter about the reasons for selling the bungalow, especially the first instance when he cites the weather and ensuing repairs, is not missed by the British.