Madras Miscellany Metroplus

Better in Madras than at Essex

Long Tank map Photo: Special Arrangement  

When the postman knocked…

With the postman bringing in questions demanding rather longer than usual answers, this week’s column is devoted to them.

Better in Madras than at Essex

Wasn’t E H D Sewell (Miscellany, October 19) a renowned cricketer, wonders reader S. Parthasarathy. I don’t know whether “renowned” is quite the word, but he certainly had a noteworthy cricketing career in South India but nowhere one like it at Essex where every follower of the county had hoped he would live up to his Madras reputation. But though the burly Edward Humphrey Dalrymple Sewell proved a fielder of the first order, taking catches which were once described as deserving “to take rank among the historic instances of such feats,” and regularly picked up wickets with his medium pace, his batting never measured up to what was expected when he was recruited by the county in 1902 as someone who would emulate an earlier Essex player, Jessop, as a mighty hitter.

During his three years with Essex, Sewell enthralled the small crowds present when he played in minor matches. He once scored 66 runs in 16 minutes and on another occasion hit 77 off four consecutive overs. After his stint with Surrey, he coached the county and played in minor county cricket before becoming a cricket writer of repute.

In Madras, Sewell’s career was a different story. Born in India, educated in England, he qualified for the Indian Civil Service as a 20-year-old in 1892. He resigned eight years later hoping to make a career in cricket in England. Soon after his arrival in Madras, he was picked to play for the Presidency against Lord Hawke’s team, generally considered the first international team to tour India. Sewell didn’t do too much with the bat – in a forerunner of things to come – but took several catches and nine wickets. From these beginnings, he went on to set an impressive record in the years that followed, playing mostly for the Madras Cricket Club. Between 1892 and 1898, he scored 7800 runs, made 22 centuries and took 760 wickets. One year, he scored 2665 runs at an average of 140.26 and took 152 wickets at 9.5 each! In 1894, playing against a regimental team he hit a ball a measured 147 yards and in 1896, playing for the Madras Salt Department against another regimental team, he made 74 out of his team’s score of 78 in the first innings and 51 out of 56 in the second!

Summing up his cricket, Wisden wrote that “he punished moderate bowling in matches in minor class with merciless severity,” bowled “medium pace with marked effect against any batsman but the best,” and fielded “with dash and certainty.” Referred to elsewhere as a “brilliant fielder”, he once wrote about the art of fielding: “In two matters the cricketer like the poet is born, not made. He must be born a fieldsman or else he will never shine in that department of the game and he must be born a Cricket Captain.” A Chepauk personality, Chepauk was not his only home ground in the Presidency; he turned out for Bangalore and Ooty too and played on grounds all over the Presidency.

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The Tamil-Chinese of Naduvattam

Reader Nina Varghese, who keeps in touch with me from the Nilgiris from time to time, refers to my item on the Chinese prisoners in Naduvattam (Miscellany, October 12) and draws my attention to them being forefathers of a mixed community and treated as a separate community, the Tamil–Chinese, by Edgar Thurston in his classic Castes and Tribes of Southern India (1909). Personally I think the community should be more accurately called Chinese-Tamils or Sino-Tamils, given the male line, but, whatever they are called, Thurston found them living between Naduvattam and Gudalur, midst the cinchona plantations and growing vegetables and coffee and rearing cattle.

On hearing about them, Thurston wanted to meet the community. He writes, “An ambassador was sent to this miniature Chinese Court with a suggestion that the men should, in return for monies, present themselves before me with a view to their measurements being recorded. The reply which came back was in its way racially characteristic between Hindus and Chinese. In the case of the former, permission to make use of their bodies for purposes of research depends entirely on the pecuniary transaction, on a scale varying from two to eight annas. The Chinese, on the other hand, though poor, sent a courteous message to the effect that they did not require payment in money, but would be perfectly happy if I would give them as mementos copies of their photographs.”

Thurston then goes on to describe a specific Tamil-Chinese family from the area. He writes, “The father was a typical Chinaman, whose only grievance was that, in the process of converting to Christianity, he had been obliged to ‘cut him tail off’. The mother was a typical Tamil (caste edited) of dusky hue. The colour of the children was more closely allied to the yellowish tint of the father than to the dark tint of the mother; and the semi Mongol parentage was betrayed in the slant eyes, flat nose, and (in one case) conspicuously prominent cheekbones.” Nina Varghese says the description matches that of a gardener she knew before she got interested in the story of the Chinese in the Nilgiris, when she first heard of a Chinese Hill Estate. She wonders where the estate got its name from.

These Chinese, I’ve since been told, were not only prisoners taken in the second Opium War but also Chinese prisoners from the Straits Settlements. With no space for them there, they were sent to Madras, whose prisons also did not have the space for them and so they were packed off to the Nilgiris. There they were joined by 500 Chinese workers sent from the Straits Settlements to work in the cinchona plantations. Whether they were indentured labour or prisoners is not explained.

Meanwhile, the question is whether there are any vestiges of the Tamil-Chinese community in the Nilgiris today or whether it has vanished into the mainstream.

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The tank that became a nagar

What was the Mambalam Housing Scheme, asks reader T S Mani Iyer. Mambalam was an ancient township that lay outside the boundaries of Madras which encompassed 27 square miles (130 sq km) at the time of the first official population census in 1871. One boundary of it was what was called the Long Tank, whose southern stretch was called the Mylapore Tank and northern – and larger – stretch the Nungambakkam Tank, both holding water only seasonally. The Long Tank hugged the western edge of Mount Road and beyond it lay Mambalam (once considered a part of Mylapore) and Nungambakkam.

With the city’s population growing from approximately 398,000 in 1871 to 527,000 in 1921, it was felt that more space was needed for a growing population and reclamation of land from the Long Tank was suggested. The Mambalam Housing Scheme was mooted by the Town Planning Trust in 1923 and approved by the Municipal Corporation. Mambalam was incorporated into the city and by the 1931 Census 2.5 square miles (about 10 sq.km.) were added to the city. Work began on the housing scheme, which involved planned residential and ancillary development over 1600 acres. This was called Theagaroya Nagar, or T’Nagar, named after the Mayor who initiated the scheme, Sir Pitti Theagaroya Chetty. And so Mambalam became divided as West Mambalam and T’Nagar.

Reclamation continued apace to find space for a population grown to 647,000 by 1941. The Nungambakkam Tank was further drained from that year to create Lake Area. Some time before that, c.1925, a part of the tank bed was reclaimed for the initial 54-acre Loyola College campus. In 1974, the remnants of the Tank made way for the construction of Valluvar Kottam.

The Long Tank giving way for urban development has been followed as a concept ever since. Of the ten major tanks and hundreds of minor ones the city once had, there are hardly any today. Now we are busy trying to recreate one – Spur Tank in Chetput!


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