Madras miscellany Society

The last picture?

Leon Prouchandy saying farewell to Netaji in Saigon  

When Prof. Prasanth More spoke to the Madras Book Club recently (Miscellany, May 9) about the Tamils in Saigon and showed the audience a picture of Subhas Chandra Bose saying farewell to Leon Prouchandy, I had asked for the picture to accompany what I had planned to write at the time. But Prof. More told me that as soon as Discovery Channel aired its programme on Netaji (July 18), he would send me the picture. And here it is today, possibly the last picture of Bose before he vanished — from the earth or into self-imposed anonymity.

Leon Prouchandy, of Pondicherry and Saigon, Prof. More’s step-grandfather, was a wealthy man who donated handsomely to the Indian National Army and the Indian Independence League, to whom he gave a part of his mansion in “the posh White Town of Saigon” in order to serve as its Secretariat. It was to this mansion that Netaji came before he flew out on what could be described as the last leg of his flight into mystery. Prof. More’s mother saw Bose in the house on August 18, 1945, the day he left Saigon.

Prof. More says that the family think Netaji had confided to Prouchandy the whereabouts of the INA’s treasury of “100 kg of gold, as well as cash and jewellery donated to his cause by Indians in Southeast Asia”. He probably had also told him his final destination. When the Allies took over Saigon, they arrested Prouchandy and he was subjected to torture. After he had revealed where the INA’s hoard (and, probably, Netaji’s plans), he was released, a broken man. He never spoke again. Neither was he able to recognise anyone. The family brought him back to Pondicherry in 1946 and he died there in 1968, relates Prof. More.

As for the treasure, no one but Prouchandy’s captors know anything about it.

Prouchandy’s association with Subhas Chandra Bose began when Netaji visited Saigon for the first time in August 1943. While Bose was being taken in a motor cavalcade, Prouchandy stopped Bose’s car and ‘garlanded’ him with a gold necklace, Prof. More recounts.

The other picture Prof. More sent me is of the Prouchandy mansion as it is today on Hai Bha Tung Road, Ho Chi Minh City, once 76 rue Paul Blanchy, Saigon.

Malayalam in Madras

Yet another picture of the past was brought to me the other day by the postman and this one, from K. Balakesari, had this as its caption: “Photo taken at the inauguration of Jayakeralam.” Balakesari wants more information about the picture which he found in the collection of his father, Dr. T M B Nedungadi.

He says he recognises his grandfather (his mother’s father), Dr. K N Kesari (seated fifth from left), Dr. C R Krishna Pillai standing second from right in front row, and M G Menon, manager of Dr. Kesari’s ‘Kesari Kuteeram’. Balakesari wonders whether readers can recognise any others in this rather historic picture.

My interest in the picture was because I have been recently looking for material on Malayalam writing in Madras and not getting very far.

With this picture and Balakesari’s inputs, I’ve at last been able to make at least a beginning to my quest. Jayakeralam was, it turns out, a Malayalam magazine started in Madras in 1947 by C R Krishna Pillai to encourage literary writers in Madras as well as in what is now Kerala. The journal, edited by C N Appukutty Guptan, was printed at the Janatha Printing Press which had been set up by Krishna Pillai. Two friends of mine, Kurup and his son Vijaykumar, were for long associated with this printing house; I wonder whether the latter could shed some light on all this. The magazine, with an editorial board comprising such leading Malayalam writers as P Baskaran and Pavanan, was a prestigious publication when it started and published as serials many Malayalam literary works of repute. Its popularity, however, began to wane by the 1980s and it called it a day about a decade later.

Balakesari says that he recognises the picture’s background: the old Kesari Kuteeram Building on Westcott Road. Dr. Kesari also ran a printing press in the building, the Lodhra Press, and the journal was probably printed there initially before increasing circulation would have made a bigger press necessary. Lodhra, I am told, also printed Telugu magazine Grihalakshmi, which too was established around 1947.

Working on introductions

How do you introduce a speaker at a meeting? I usually make it as short as possible, mumbling a few words which hit just a highlight or two of the speaker’s career. Most say the speaker needs no introduction and go on to read out an interminable sheet-full of biodata of the speaker that they had requested. A few make an art of it with wit. But no one that I know of works harder on it than S R Madhu, of the Rotary Club of Madras South, who, for 18 years, as its Programme Committee Chairman, has been writing every week an enticing circular to introduce the week’s speaker and subject. This meticulously worked on announcement of the programme ensures the members know the speaker and his subject to some extent before the meeting and would not only make sure of an interested audience but also a prepared one that would not ask inane questions at the end of a meeting. There have been nearly a thousand such circulars to date and Madhu has now picked around 175 of them, slotted them into 15 subject categories, and brought out a book titled Windows to the World, which was released recently.

What every one of the entries reveals is the amount of trouble that Madhu has taken to prepare each circular. Using biodatas received he’s gone on to meet or speak to the subject to find out interesting aspects of the speaker’s life as well as his subject and produced entertaining circulars that are both potted biographies as well as brief summaries of the views of the author. The book, therefore, is a handy reference book not only for other clubs’ speakers but also for people who require a Who’s Who for quick reference.

I offer below a sampling of Madhu’s style.

Introducing an urban planner speaking on the delight of walking, Madhu writes “We are walkers, all of us, and should be able to empathise with Mike’s informative and anecdotal take on walking.” He then adds some quotes on walking, like Mark Twain’s “The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking.”

Writing about “a corporate hotshot…who dramatically switched careers and set up PatientsEngage,” he quotes her: “It’s vital for a patient to take charge of his own health. In effect, to become the CEO of his own health system.”

Having introduced the speaker and his subject, ‘Improving electricity governance, empowering consumers,” Madhu concludes, “The power crisis debilitates all of us. We must unite to meet the crisis and support worthy causes — or resign ourselves to prolonged darkness.”

Gitesh Agarwal’s meeting was titled ‘The Elephant and the Kangaroo’ and was on Indo-Australian business cooperation. Urges Madhu, “In a word: Whether you want to import Aussie gold or coal, get Aussie money for your business or put your own money with the Aussies or just have fun listening to Gitesh — Savera is the place to be on the evening of January 11.”

On another occasion, the speaker’s subject may have been Nagesh, the film comedian, but the speaker, says Madhu, is India’s only ‘entertrainer”, entertaining while offering unconventional management training. And the introduction to a meeting on Indian Railways — “India’s daily miracle,” as the speaker describes it — starts off with a ‘Do you know’ set of questions, the last of which states “That the only station that hosts all three gauges is … Siliguri”.

Madhu has been a lifelong journalist and editor, working with The Times of India, Span magazine and the publications of FAO programmes in India and abroad. He has now at last turned to writing books. A second one is to follow soon.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 11:51:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/The-last-picture/article14504787.ece

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