Madras miscellany Metroplus

A Turkish link with Madras



A recent report in this paper spoke of a book by the Turkish Ambassador to India, Burak Akcapar, being released in Kolkata. The title of the book, People’s Mission to the Ottoman Empire: M A Ansari and the Indian Medical Mission, intrigued me. Surely I had heard that name before. And checking my files, there it was in this column that had appeared on February 11, 2008.

Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari had come from the United Provinces in the late 1890s to study at Madras Medical College and had graduated in 1899. He had then gone to England for further studies and over the next ten years made a name for himself as a doctor in London. Returning to India to settle here, he became a staunch Congressman, a political party to which he had been introduced in 1898 when he was a spectator at the Indian National Congress sessions held in Madras. And this was the M A Ansari that Ambassador Akcapar has written about.

Dr. Ansari led a medical mission to Turkey and spent the first six months of 1913 treating the wounded in the Balkan War that the Ottoman Empire was involved in. This mission, the Ambassador says, was followed by many similar ones.

Ambassador Akcapar said at the release function that “the beginning or the turning point of the Khilafat Movement in India” could be traced to Dr. Ansari’s visit to Turkey.

The Khilafat Movement, its origins in Turkey, was intended to develop as a Pan-Muslim voice. In time, it became very restive in India where it had its formal beginnings in 1920. That was the year Gandhiji launched Non-co-operation to achieve Swaraj; it was also launched “to redress the wrong done to Muslims by the victorious Allies over the Khilafat.” The Hindu was to comment: “It would be idle to deny that the principle of non-co-operation has obtained a firm foothold in the country since it was first put forth by Mr.Gandhi in connection with the Khilafat question.”

The Ambassador recalling the Ansari Mission felt that it indicated “the almost unanimous support” of the Indian people for the Turkish people and the Ottoman Empire. Yet a year and something later, Indian opposition to Britain being at war with Turkey was negligible and Indian soldiers paid a heavy price at Gallipoli.

Tailpiece: Vice-President M H Ansari is the grand-nephew of Dr M A Ansari.

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Seeking World Heritage status

Srinagesh Barracks at Wellington

The Francke Foundation of Halle, Germany, which was responsible for German Pietists’ establishing the first Protestant Mission in India when it sent out Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plutschau to Danish Tranquebar in 1706, is seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for itself. And a good part of the case it is presenting is the work the Foundation and those it sent out did for nearly 150 years in Tranquebar and elsewhere in India.

The Foundation’s presentation to UNESCO states: “Transcontinental dissemination – India and North America, Denmark and England – were starting points and hubs for the global dissemination of Halle Pietism. The decision by Frederick IV, King of Denmark, to set up a Protestant mission at the Danish trading post in Tranquebar on the Coromandel Coast in southeast India in 1706 was the origin of one of two main streams of transcontinental dissemination. Officially the missionaries in Tranquebar were subordinate to the Danish Mission college in Copenhagen; in fact, however, they were trained, mentored and supplied by August Hermann Francke and his successors at the Francke Foundation ….

“In South India, after the amalgamation with existing local forms of school and in cooperation with the Indian and English authorities, schools modelled on the example of the Francke Foundation’s were set up, such as girls’ schools and mission schools (both from 1707) as well as the charity schools (from 1715). Schools were built in Tranquebar (five there alone), in all the districts under the care of the mission (Mayavaram, Tanjore, Maha-devipattnam, Tiruppâlatturai, Mannârgudi and Marrawa), in Tiruchirappalli as well as in Cuddalore and Madras. In 1712/13, London, and particularly the Francke Foundation, set up a mission printing shop in Tranquebar which was soon to become the most important printing shop in all of southern Asia until 1780 and marked the beginning of printing in the Tamil language. From the missionaries’ reports about the culture, knowledge and religious customs of India, the Hallesche Berichte were edited for the European readers’ market from 1710…

“In this perspective, the house of the first missionary of the Danish-Halle Mission, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg (1682–1719) and the New Jerusalem Church (1707–1718), both in Tranquebar, as well as the Augustus Church in Trappe (PA) built according to plans by Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg from 1743 to 1745, the oldest Lutheran church in the United States, could be the object of an extension application under a transcontinental perspective. Such an extension would document with concrete buildings both the impact of the Francke Foundation in South India and North America and, in reverse, the cultural influences of these countries in Germany and Europe in the 18th Century. The Francke Foundation has been in cultural and scholarly contact with joint projects and activities with both the responsible institutions for many years.”

Do I see in the last paragraph an indication of possible conservation of the German heritage buildings in Tranquebar? If that intention materialises into action, I hope that the contribution to printing in India is not forgotten. After printing was introduced on the West Coast by the Portuguese in the second half of the 16th Century — and it was they who first printed in Tamil, which they called Malabar – the craft died out altogether in India and it was Ziegenbalg who resurrected it and should be considered the ‘Father of Printing in India’.

Footnote: The Foundation’s presentation additionally says: “The delegation of Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg to Pennsylvania in 1742 was the start of the second main stream of transcontinental dissemination.” It reminded me that a little over 200 years later I visited Muhlenberg College, in what was then called “Pennsylvania Dutch country” for an inter-collegiate competition. Heritage meant nothing to me in those days or I would have discovered Ziegenbalg and Tranquebar earlier.

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When the postman knocked



Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg




• My reference to Sir Robert Stanes’ house in Coonoor, Fernhill (Miscellany, May 4), has reader Prema Davaram writing to me that she knows of two other bungalows he had in Coonoor. One is a bungalow called The Lodge, which her father, Mr.Williams, bought in 1959 from a Charles Gilbert and renamed Paloor House. The house was sold to TANTEA in 1973 and is still occupied by the Tamil Nadu Tea Plantations Corporation. She also recalls that her family owned a Bluthner upright piano. And as was the custom in the past, the piano tuner recorded tuning details on the underside of the bass keys. E L M Farrar, the Williams family found, had recorded that he had tuned the piano for Sir Robert Stanes on 13.3.1935 at Blightlings. That, she says, is a house near Sim’s Park. And searching for information about these houses – which I did not find – I discovered that Sir Robert had built a house called Highfield in Coonoor when he retired there in 1911. Now it’s up to reader Nina Varghese to follow the trail.

• On June 19th, friend and foe commemorated the Battle of Waterloo on the field where it was fought in Belgium as well as in their respective countries. But reader Dharmalingam Venugopal tells me that the day passed like any other in the town in the Nilgiris that was named by Madras Governor Charles Trevelyan in 1860 as Wellington, after the hero of Waterloo but in memory of the wars he won in South India where he learnt his soldiering; Assaye, many think, was a greater victory then Waterloo. Wellesley himself had never visited the Nilgiris; the closest he came to it was Gudalur, while on the trail of Kerala Varma. But he advocated establishing a sanatorium for the British soldiers, and Col John Ouchterlony chose the site and the Governor, the Marquis of Tweeddale, ordered in 1851 work on what is now the Madras Regimental Centre (with its Wellington — now Srinagesh — Barracks) to begin. And reader Anand Krishnan adds that Arthur Wellesley – Wellington still a while in the future – was stationed in Tellicherry c.1805 and he and his troops introduced cricket to the town, which claims to have hosted the first cricket match in India. A Tellicherry Cricket Club was founded in 1866 and the town became the centre of cricket in Travancore.

• Adding a few clarifications to what I had written about K R Rangachari’s house Yerolyte (Miscellany, May 25), reader K R S Ram writes that he thinks the name was coined by ARR to reflect the concept of air and light that he had ensured with verandahs on all four sides of the house. As for the property Gawoja on Lattice Bridge Road, it bounds on the north and east the Travancore Palace grounds, the western part of which was developed as Padmanabha Nagar. The eastern end of Gawoja was tenanted by Transformers & Switchgear, which was later taken over by Andrew Yule and Co, Calcutta.

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