A story without an end


Catching up with some of my reading on old Madras, or, at least, a Madras of about 85 years ago, I came across this story about C. Rajagopalachariar (Rajaji) and found that it was narrated without an ending. I wonder whether someone will tell me how this intriguing conflict was resolved.

Rajaji was a leading lawyer in Salem from the early 1900s and like many other professionals of the time, he became a Freemason. In due course, he was to become the Master of Lodge Salem No. 3400 which had been established under the English Constitution. Curiously, his having been a member of the Indian National Congress and having participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement leading to a spell in prison in 1921, seems to have been no impediment to his being accepted as a Freemason. But a decade later, he was again sentenced to jail for disobeying a Magistrate’s orders during the Satyagraha agitation in 1930. This time, A.Y.G. Campbell, District Grand Master, held an inquiry and issued a notice to Rajaji to appear before him in Madras to answer a charge of un-Masonic conduct reflected in his conviction. Rajaji sought time to appear, but though it was granted he still did not make an appearance by the end of January 1933 deadline. In February, Campbell issued an order which, among other things, said:

“Bro. Rajagopalachariar is a Past Master and a District Grand Deacon of Madras. His conduct was entirely inconsistent with the directions of the Ancient Charges…in so far as they relate to the obedience of the laws and constitution of the country in which we reside… He has not expressed any regret for his conduct. He is in my opinion unfit for admission to our assemblies or for the enjoyment of Masonic privileges. As, however, he may hereafter change his views and attitude towards lawfully constituted authority and I am unwilling to deprive him of the opportunity of repentance, I do not propose to recommend his expulsion, but I suspend him for an indefinite period, i.e., until he applies to have his sentence terminated and the sentence is terminated by competent authority.”

Rajaji responded, arguing that he had committed no un-Masonic action and had in no way violated the Ancient Charges of Freemasonry. The suspension order was unjustified and should be withdrawn, he concluded. Swarajya, then a Madras English daily, backed his case in an editorial in May 1933, calling Campbell's order “insulting.” Swarajya went on to stress an aspect of the order that should have been of concern to Indian Free Masons at the time: “The Masonic Lodge contains a large number of Indian members all over the country. We are not in the least interested in its doings, but if Freemasonry is to be used by officials in this country as another weapon for foreign domination, it is well that the country should know it now… From the action taken… it is now quite clear that the Masonic Lodge has admittedly allied itself with the bureaucracy in the country’s present struggle for freedom… (Indian members) should at once sever their connections with the organisation or satisfy themselves that the Masonic Lodge will not be used by the Government to attack the National movement…”

Lodge Salem thereupon expressed its solidarity with Rajaji and wrote to the District Grand Secretary that the Brethren agreed with Brother Rajagopalachariar that he had not violated any of the Ancient Charges and that therefore, the order should be withdrawn. And that is where the story I read ended. I would be delighted to hear what happened after that. Am I correct in thinking that the order was withdrawn and Rajaji then resigned from Freemasonry? More, hopefully, in due course.


Pathbreaking Indian doctor

A reader the other day wondered whether I could tell her anything about a road near the Royapettah Hospital that used to be called Andy Road. And going through a history of the Egmore Railway Station around the same time, I discovered that part of it was built on land that belonged to a Pulney Andy (Palaniandi? A southern district’s name) family. A search for the family led me to Dr. Senjee Pulney Andy, said to be the first Indian doctor to earn foreign degrees.

The Andy of this item did his First in Arts (FA -- what later became called the Intermediate and would today be a kind of equivalent of Plus-2) at the Madras Christian College and then joined the Madras Medical College where he earned his Medicinae Baccalaureus et Chirurgiae Magister (MBCM), which was awarded till 1857 when the MBBS came into use. In 1860, he arrived in Scotland for higher studies. He was around 29 at the time he joined the University of St. Andrew's. He obtained his MD there followed by his MRCS the next year.

He was keen on getting into the Indian Medical Service, the most prestigious medical appointment in India at the time. But for reasons unknown - though quite possibly racial - he was not called for the exam. He returned to India to face rejection by an orthodox Hindu family who felt he had lost caste by crossing the seas and, so, moved away from the family, a separation made easier when he was appointed Superintendent of Vaccination in Calicut, Malabar, at the time having the largest number of fatalities due to smallpox. One of his publications relevant to the disease was on the use of margosa (neem) leaves in cases of smallpox.

While in Calicut, he was baptised at the Basel Mission in 1863 and then began trying to establish a new Christian order in India, his National Church of India an attempt to wean Christianity in India away from its Western outlook (and the missionaries) and introduce Indian symbolism and culture in a church which integrated all Christian denominations. He was much before his time in this venture, which by 1898 began to fade into oblivion, only to be revived as a concept on the eve of Independence. Meanwhile, Andy had retired from service in 1886 and left for England. He married an Englishwoman and decided to make England his home. He however frequently visited India to keep the National Church on the boil, but after his death in 1909, the movement came to an end altogether.

Apparently, there are medals awarded by the Presidency College and the University of Madras for Botany in Pulney Andy’s name. But few of the recipients even know who he was and what his connection with Botany was. It was an interest he nurtured in Malabar after it had been kindled in him at Madras Medical by Hugh Cleghorn (to become known as the “Father of Forestry in India”) when he was Professor of Botany and Materia Medica there.


One for the quizmasters

Here’s one for the quizmasters. Who was the first Chief Secretary of Madras? Josiah Webbe (who appears to have added the 'e' to his surname somewhere along the way to differentiate himself from a couple of Webb-s who were part of late 18th Century Madras) is the answer, but little is known about his early career in the city except for the fact that he was a civil servant. A bit more is known about his later career.

Madras at the time had only two Secretaries to Government, a Civil Secretary and a Military Secretary. Webbe was appointed Civil Secretary in 1795. When the Military Secretary resigned in 1797, both positions were re-graded as Deputy Secretaries and a Chief Secretary was appointed as superior of both. Webbe was appointed to the post and, thus, became in 1797 the first in a long line of Chief Secretaries. His salary was listed at 10,740 pagodas a year at a time when the annual salaries of a Member of the Council was 17,000 pagodas. A pagoda at the time was about 3.5 Arcot rupees and it was about three pagodas to the Pound Sterling. What all that would be in today’s money, I leave readers to work out.

During his term of office - described as “distinguished” in one record, no doubt accounting for a Flaxman statue of him standing in St. Mary’s in the Fort - there were a heap of noteworthy orders he issued on matters like exchange rates, postal rates, location of the Sea Customer - out of the Fort and into ‘Black Town’ - and the re-creation of Fort Square. The most interesting one that I came across, however - noteworthy in the context of such occurrences worldwide today - was announcing censorship of the Madras Press on the orders of Lord Mornington, the Governor-General, after the fall of Seringapatam.

Addressing the Editors of the Madras Gazette and Madras Courier, Chief Secretary Webbe wrote: “The Right Hon’ble the Governor General in Council has been pleased to Resolve that the newspapers of this Presidency shall be submitted to the Secretary to Government before their publication. I am therefore directed to desire that they may be regularly sent to my Office for that purpose, according to the practice observed upon the first establishment of your paper.” I wonder what dark secrets about the Fourth Mysore War warranted hiding. Could Tippu Sultan have died not in the midst of battle but while a prisoner?

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 7:17:12 AM |

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