A story the letters tell

My mention of the Meteorological Department and Observatory ( >Miscellany, January 28) reminded reader Sujatha Shankar of a whole pile of 19th Century testimonials she has that tell a fascinating story. Through them, I trace the story of Tanjore Ramachendra Row.

Arriving in Madras as a 15-year-old in 1840, Row caught the attention of Major John Crisp, Mahratta Translator to the Madras Government and Acting Astronomer, who employed him as his personal Writer, taught him computation and calculation, and got him transferred to the Madras Observatory rolls where he served till the end of 1843. Row next served as Accountant and Writer in the Military Fund Office till the end of 1847 when he joined the General Police Office as Assistant Interpreter. Of him, it was said, “He is an able scholar in Tamil, Telugoo, Hindoostanee, Canarese, Mahratta and Sanscrit, in all of which languages he can interpret fluently…. giving his interpretations in very good English…”.

Five years later, backed again by Crisp, Row successfully applied to be appointed as Canarese Interpreter to the Supreme Court of Madras. Simultaneously, he served as Chief Interpreter to the Chief Magistrate and Superintendent of Police E.F. Elliot, who became his new benefactor. After Elliot retired, they appear to have kept up a personal correspondence, and in December 1857, Elliot wrote, “Your letters are always read aloud (presumably to the Elliot family) and create much interest. Your Photograph is always on the mantelpiece in the Drawing Room and never fails to attract the notice of all visitors.”

There appears to be a short gap here, the next noteworthy appreciation being from Col. J. C. Boulderson, the first Commissioner of Police, Madras. He writes, “My Native Deputy T. Ramachendra Row has displayed superior zeal and ability in several difficult cases and is altogether a most experienced, able and acute detective official.” The Commissionerate of Police, Madras, was first established in 1856 when Boulderson was appointed. Assisting him were two Deputy Commissioners of Police, one British/Anglo-Indian, the other Native Indian. Whether it was in 1856 or sometime soon after that, Row was appointed as Native Deputy Commissioner and, so, was the first Indian to hold a senior Police appointment in the South. P. Parankusam Naidu was the first Indian to be appointed Commissioner of Police, Madras, in 1919. Strangely, the 150-year story of the Tamil Nadu Police has no mention of Ramachendra Row!

Boulderson, when he retired in 1861, wrote to Row, in a personal letter, “You have been my most able Deputy in every sense of the word…. It is with regret that I leave you in a subordinate post, but I feel assured that the zeal which you have always displayed as an officer of the Government with your eminent legal ability, and long experience in all judicial affairs, will in due course secure your elevation to the Bench either as a Magistrate or Judge of a Court of Small Causes…”.

That was not to happen, but Row was to make a policing name for himself by the way he handled the food grain riots in 1866, the case of “General Pater’s kept woman and the missing Bond”, and the security arrangements for the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1875. There was also a ‘Great Forgery Case’ which he solved and about which I wish I knew more. He retired by the end of 1878 and died about 18 months later. The family lived in Triplicane and many years later, moved to a house on Moubray’s (now TTK) Road, where Mithila still stands as family property.


When the postman knocked…

Indeed, when he knocked last week there were several answers the postman brought to questions raised in recent columns. These responses should nicely round off several of those items.

Dr. Y.E.A. Raj, Deputy Director-General, of Meteorology and Head of the Regional Meteorological Centre, Madras, responding to my appeal to the Department ( >Miscellany, January 28), has cleared up the confusion over two like-sounding but differently-spelt names associated with Meteorology, particularly in Madras. He tells me that in 1899 R.L. Jones, Professor of Physics, Presidency College, Madras, was appointed part-time meteorologist, Madras. Jones retired in 1919, but it was to be 1921 before a replacement was found; Dr. S.R.U. Savoor “took charge.” The post was abolished in 1926 and a whole-time Assistant Meteorologist was appointed to be in charge of the Madras centre. When the centre was upgraded as the Regional Meteorological Centre on April 1, 1945, the first Regional Director was Dr.S.R. Savur, who served in the post till March 1949. After he retired, Dr. Savur joined Andhra University as a Professor. And so there's light at last at the end of the Sav(oo/u)r tunnel.

Shedding more light on ‘curry’ is reader Pradeep Chakravarty, who has long been chasing inscriptions. He says ‘curry’ is derived from kari, a Sangam Tamil word (a Tamil beyond me) meaning “anything useful for cooking.” He refers to many 10th-18th Century inscriptions which, when referring to food gifts, say amuthu (for ‘rice’) and kari amuthu (for ‘vegetable’). And he cites the origin for ‘curry leaves’, namely karivepilai (the special kind of veppilai - a neem species leaf - that is used for karikai (kaikari), vegetables, when they are cooked). As a footnote, he adds, “As an Iyengar married to an Iyer, I cause confusion at home saying kari amuthu for vegetables whereas she says kari - which means ‘meat’ to me!” All that’s fine, but shouldn't there be a spicy element to the origins of ‘curry’?

That T. Rangachariar, who lived in Ritherdon House ( >Miscellany, January 14), was a legal luminary is well-known to anyone who has followed the history of the Madras High Court, but that he was more I’ve just learnt from reader Bharath Yeshwanth, who has now regularly begun to add flesh to my stories. Rangachariar, I learn, was Deputy President of the Indian Legislative Assembly and the Viceroy’s representative at the ceremonial opening of Parliament House in Canberra in 1927 (this is now known as the Old Parliament House, a new one having been opened across from it in 1988). Despite representing the Viceroy during his visit to Australia, Rangachariar repeatedly stressed, wherever he spoke, that he sought “the same freedom for an Indian in India that an Englishman would enjoy in England.” He also made a study of agricultural education in Queensland and promised to help introduce what he had learnt in India. Though little came of those plans - as far as I can gather - Australia was remembered in his house in Pantheon Road in Egmore. He named it Canberra! His grandson K. Balaji, the well-known actor and film director of yesteryear, inherited the house and Balaji's son Suresh Balaji not only followed his father into films as a leading producer but into ownership of the house. The family film connection is intriguing because Rangachariar headed the Indian Cinematographic Committee set up in 1928 to study the film industry. The recommendations in the report were never implemented, but in more recent times, his descendents in the film industry have seen them come to pass.

Reader M.J. Gopalan adds another name to the list of Wranglers, that of a member of the I.C.S., Arunachala Thyagarajan, who was better known as A.T. Rajan. According to my correspondent, he was awarded the title ‘Senior Wrangler’ together with Paranjpye and three others. But as I have mentioned before (Miscellany, January 28), there could only be one Senior Wrangler, the ‘topper.’ Some clarification is obviously needed.

Another faithful. Joshua Kulapati, answers my query about a Kannada association ( >Miscellany, December 17). The Karnataka Bhashabhivardhini Sanghamu was started at Madras Christian College in 1928. The Hindi Premi Mandal was established in 1937 and the Sanskrit Association in 1938. As for V.V. Giri, reader Kulapati writes, he was “with the College as a non-formal student just for the year 1912-13, but would surely have attended the meetings of the Andhra Sanghamu, which you were wondering about.” Reader Kulapati adds another footnote, stating that Cadambi Meenakshi (Miscellany, February 4) was the first postgraduate woman student in the college’s History Department and her interest in the subject was stimulated by Prof. Ferrand E. Corley. His commitment to improving education in India led to his starting in Tambaram in 1932 what is now known as the Corley School.

Reader D.B. James too adds a couple of footnotes. He recalls that when Major Pandalay was the Second Surgeon at the Madras General Hospital (Miscellany, January 28), Major Bradfield was the First and his own grandfather Dr. G. V. James the Third. Dr. James’ son Frederick M. James joined the Army after his M.B.B.S., served overseas during World War II and retired as Col. Dr. James. Reader James also recollects that Lord Fenner Brockway once entered the House of Lords wearing a Gandhi cap (Miscellany, January 28). His sister, Katherine N. Brockway, was the Principal of St. Christopher Training College, Vepery

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