Hidden histories Society

A diabolical dubash

Known for notoriety: Avadhanam Paupiah Road. Photo: V. Ganesan  

Avadhanam Paupiah (now Pappa) Road in the Choolai area commemorates one of the most crooked characters in Madras history. His notoriety was such that in distant England, Sir Walter Scott chose to include him in his book The Surgeon’s Daughter. But what exactly was his crime?

Paupiah rose to fame as the dubash or translator of two brothers — John and Edward Hollond. The former became acting Governor of Madras in 1789 and took corruption to new heights. In 1790, he resigned citing medical reasons and his brother became acting Governor for a week. During their ascendancy, their dubash became such a powerful figure that even the Nawab of Arcot had to seek his permission before meeting the Governor.

The brothers Hollond met their downfall owing to their inaction when Tipu Sultan invaded Travancore in 1789. The British were treaty-bound to support the Malabar kingdom and yet the Hollonds chose to remain silent. Rightly suspecting that money had changed hands, the Governor General Lord Cornwallis sent Major General Medows from Bombay to take over as Governor of Madras. A commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the doings of the Hollonds.

It is not clear as to what were the findings against them but in 1792, ‘Paupiah, his brother Avadaunum Ramah Sawmy, Suncaraporam Vincatachilliah Chitty and Appeyingar Bramin went on trial for conspiring against David Haliburton, an upright Company servant.’ Paupiah was convicted, fined Rs. 1,000 and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Haliburton got Walter Scott to ghost write a book on the trial and that in turn served as inspiration for his novel.

Paupiah next became Dubash to Thomas Parry of the eponymous company. Though he had come down in life, he still had enough, as is evident from a diamond in his possession that Parry was trying to sell for Rs. 3.5 lakhs in 1805. It was at this time that the scandal of the Nawab of Arcot’s debts surfaced. A Commission had been set up to investigate the extent of the Nawab’s indebtedness. Several of the claims proved to be forgeries and at the centre of these was Paupiah himself, his claim alone amounting to 13,76, 432 pounds, all of which was found to be fraudulent. His bitter enemy was Raya Reddy Rao, Sheristadar to the Nawab, who had an opposing claim on the Nawab, and these too were found to be forgeries!

It did not help that the Commissioners, the Law Officers and others were all interested parties. When the forgeries were brought to trial, Paupiah escaped by dying in 1809. Thomas Parry, for his role in supporting Paupiah, was banished to Ceylon but the order was never enforced. A jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty against Reddy Rao twice but the judge refused to pass sentence both times as he too had invested in the forged bonds! Reddy Rao committed suicide in 1810.

Such is the Paupiah whom we remember. His brother Ramaswamy has a road in his honour in Korukkupet!

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 10:35:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-diabolical-dubash/article6449281.ece

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