MADRAS MISCELLANY History & Culture

Madras miscellany

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The photographer on a bicycle

September 5 brought my participation in what was Madras Day/Week to an end after a little over a month and I was particularly happy that the last event introduced me to something new. Providing the surprise was D. Venugopal of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre who got the Indian Overseas Bank and the British Council to team together, belatedly though it was, with an exhibition of photographs of some ‘Landmarks of Madras' taken by Philo Irudayanath between the 1940s and 1970s.

To me Philo Irudayanath had always been a photographer to remember for his work done mainly in the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats, ‘shooting' the tribals of those high ranges. That he would also photograph the landmark buildings of Madras had never occurred to me. But shoot them he had — and left this collection of pictures dating to around sixty years ago. Irudayanath was not the greatest of photographers, but he was a documentalist — and a documenting statement is what every one of his pictures is.

Mysore-born (1916) Philo Irudayanath took his first name from Mysore's famed St. Philomena's Church. His wife too became a Philomena. Educated in San Thomé, Irudayanath became a qualified teacher but remained content to teach primary classes all his life. This no doubt gave him the time to write the 25 or so books he did in Tamil and the numerous articles he did for several Tamil magazines. As a collective work, together with his pictures, they made him an outstanding anthropologist, ethnographer, folklorist and sociologist — all without any kind of training.

All his knowledge he derived in the field, where he spent every bit of the free time he got. Travelling on a specially equipped bicycle, sometimes accompanied by his wife, he would visit remote tribal villages in the mountains and there, living with them in exactly the way they did — eating their food, participating in their rituals, worshipping with them, following the jungle trails with them, and talking to them about their communities and traditions — he documented tribe after tribe and made them better known to the wider world.

For over 50 years he journeyed into the world of the tribes of South India, learning something new with every visit. It was a world he had got interested in as a child, when he began collecting pictures of tribals. But it was as a young school-teacher in Madras that he became dedicated to exploring their world. This dedication began when a tribal woman examined a premature bald patch on his head and suggested a tribal remedy that worked. There then began a journey of discovery that had him going beyond documentation and linking the South Indian tribes with tribes elsewhere in the subcontinent and abroad, going back into ancient times, discovering languages links and roots, and learning traditional systems of medicare and agricultural practices.

Truly has his work on the tribals been monumental and it is time a professional collated it altogether and made it available for a wider, more science-oriented audience. Professional work on Irudayanath's material will also help eliminate what some critics have felt was a tendency to gild the lily in order to capture a wider lay audience.

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Two Saidapet colleges

It's been years since Agricultural Communications Consultant Venkataramani Govindan and I were in touch. Then the other day, there was a message from him out of the blue. He wanted information about the Agricultural College that had been in Saidapet and with his query he sent me two pictures of a building on that campus, one of them of it in its prime and another in the sad state it now is in, and wondered what the future of this bit of heritage was going to be.

As far as I can ascertain the Agricultural College had its beginnings in a Model Farm established by the Government in 1865 on the north bank of the Adyar river and east of the road to the Mount. This 350-acre farm was born out of the recommendations of the Madras Agricultural Committee set up in 1863 and the land for it was acquired from the Nawab of the Carnatic. The main focus of the farm was to introduce Western farming techniques. It focused on agricultural equipment (for which it imported a variety of ploughs, and other machinery, from Britain and America), experimenting with imported crops that could be introduced (such as cottons, tobaccos, sugarcanes, and paddy and corn varieties), and research and extension activities.

When in 1885 the Government found that the Farm's expenses were rather more than the results achieved, the Model Farm was closed and, in the later 1880s, the property was handed over to the Agricultural College. The Agricultural College, the first in South India — and perhaps in India — was established in 1876 with W.R. Robertson as its Principal. The acreage the College owned was, however, it was found, not suited to helping students get to know agriculture better and, so, the College was shifted to Coimbatore in 1906 where it has now grown into the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

The building in the pictures sent to me by Venkataramani did not, however, belong to the Agricultural College. It was the first building of the Teachers' Training College, which was born out of the first teachers' training institution established in India. This was the Normal School that opened in Vepery in 1857. In 1887 it was renamed the Government College of Education and affiliated to the University of Madras. The College's first Principal was J.T. Fowler. In 1889, the College moved to the Model Farm campus in Saidapet where the building seen in the picture had been raised for it. Among its graduates have been such eminent personalities as Srinivasa Sastri, S. Radhakrishnan and Ananthasayanam Iyengar, the Lok Sabha's first Speaker. That alone should be reason enough to restore the building.

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A time for quizzing

Quizmasters like Navin Jayakumar, V.V. Ramanan, Bharat Epur and many others as well as hundreds of quizzards had a ball during Madras Week /Fortnight. The quizzes ranged from those held at dinner parties at home to the Murugappa Madras Quotient inter-schools' quiz that offered over a lakh in prizes. The latter had an intriguing feature, with the six finalists requested to include a teacher or a parent of one of the team members as a third member of each team. It was disappointing to see two or three teams arrive without this third member and have to scramble around the hall for someone the quizmaster would be willing to accept. To me it showed a bit of indifference on the part of the schools concerned in supporting their representatives.

Some of the questions that caught my attention at different venues were:

A 17th Century picture of a fort and one of a glittering tomb were shown. Who was the link? (St. George)

A painting of a saint and a picture of a newly-restored, red-painted Madras building were shown. What place linked them? (Royapuram – Peter = Royappa)

What was the date on the document granting 3 sq.miles of land to the East India Company on which Fort St. George was raised? (July 22, 1639, an error for August 22)

Which statue in Madras always reminded a West Indian cricketer of an umpire permanently giving him out? (C.N. Annadurai at the Mount Road-Wallajah Road junction)

Which campus in Madras has the relics of two former lighthouses? (The Madras High Court campus)

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 8:51:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/madras-miscellany/article2441789.ece

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