There’s more than the Fort

George Town in the 1990s. Photo courtesy: D. Krishnan

George Town in the 1990s. Photo courtesy: D. Krishnan  


I arrived back after a month out of town virtually on the eve of an all-day programme organised in Madras by the Union Ministry of Culture's Committee on World Heritage Matters and later heard that presentations had been made by the four southern States and Union Territories on heritage sites they thought warranted World Heritage status. INTACH Chennai Chapter made out, I hear, a strong case for Fort St. George to be placed at the top of the list. And that is something I’ve been asking for ever since UNESCO started granting the World Heritage Site status to several natural, cultural and historical heritage places around the world. But my recent trip has made me re-think that a bit. I spent a week in George Town, capital of Penang State, Malaysia, which together with Melaka, had been granted World Heritage status in 2008 and which has ever since been paying a great deal of attention to restoration and attracting not a few foreign visitors to admire what was being done. And that’s where I revised my thinking on Fort St. George and began to feel that, while the Fort should be the core of any appeal for World Heritage status, a wider area should also be included in any case being made out.

In the case of George Town, Penang, the argument it made out focussed not on Fort Cornwallis (200 years younger than our Fort and of which only the walls and a small church are left plus sundry pieces of artillery) but on the early settlements that grew from it, namely the British mercantile establishments and homes that lay immediately beyond Beach Road and then what lay behind them, one behind the other, the Eurasian, Chinese, Indian and Malay Towns. This is today the Core Zone of Penang's World Heritage Site. And spreading beyond it for a bit is a Buffer Zone, much of whose landmark features date to between the 1850s and 1940s.

Madras, it struck me, developed much the same way from a founding 200 years earlier than George Town, Penang. We had Fort St. George, then the first Black Town which gave way to the Esplanade and then to the High Court campus, and after the 1750s, the New Black Town, now George Town, with its European, Tamil, Telugu and North Indian settlements with their distinct cultures behind the European mercantile establishments of first and second Line Beach. If INTACH Chennai is asked to prepare a detailed dossier to back its brief presentation made the other day, this entire well-populated area, from the Fort's southern glacis to the Old Town Wall and from the harbour front to Wall Tax Road and the Buckingham Canal, is what it should look at as the Core Zone and Royapuram, Vepery, Egmore, Chepauk and Triplicane as the Buffer Zone. With UNESCO tending to favour settlements with strong cultural diversity rather than individual icons, any dossier by INTACH Chennai seeking World Heritage status for Fort St. George AND George Town, where Modern India began, might receive more favourable notice, particularly if Government also recognises the historical importance of Old Madras.

When the postman knocked…

Catching up on that whole backlog of mail I mentioned this past week, I hope to do a bit better this week than the single item I focussed on last Monday.

* Reader M.A. Nelson, who in the 1960s had worked in the Southern Railways’ construction division, recalls the restoration of the Scherzer Bridge across the Pamban Channel after it had been badly damaged in the cyclone of 1964 (Miscellany, July 9) and provides little-known information about the railway engineers and others who deserve recognition for the work. Strangely, popular Railway history doesn’t seem to record their contribution.

G.P. Warrier, Reader Nelson tells me, was Engineer-in-Chief of the construction division at the time. He himself was an expert in bridge-building and, as Executive Engineer of the Quilon-Ernakulam railway line, had been in charge of bridging the Ashtamudi Lake and the Paravoor Kayal. Warrier promoted an Assistant Engineer of his who had worked on the Quilon-Ernakulam Line bridges as Executive Engineer, and put him in charge of restoring the Pamban Bridge.

On taking over in Ramnad, the new Executive Engineer brought to the site a large number of Moplah khalasis who were experts in diving and working under water. It was this dedicated team of these hardy men and others who answered the Executive Engineer’s call and completed the work well under the targeted date.

That Executive Engineer later made it to the Railway Board and is today a well-known name throughout the country. He worked on the Konkan Railway, was the architect of the Delhi Metro, and has been the advisor for the Chennai Metro, work on which is underway. His name is E. Sreedharan, now a name well-recognised.

* In trying to find the etymology for Quibble Island (Miscellany, July 1), reader Bharath Yeshwanth found one of the early 19th Century residents of the island that used to be locked in between two arms of the Adyar River. A survey of 1798 showed two garden houses on it. One of these, I had earlier stated, probably belonged to a Col. James Brunton of the Madras Army who was granted seven acres there. The other, Reader Yeshwanth tells me, was at one time Henry Valentine Connolly of the Madras Civil Service. After holding several senior posts - Collector of Bellary, Canarese translator to the Government, and a Commissioner for the settlement of the Carnatic Debts, he was appointed Collector and Magistrate of Malabar. There he had outlawed a fanatical Muslim holy man, Sayid Fasal Pookoya Thangal, and had him deported to Jeddah. Not long afterwards, Connolly was murdered in his home in September 1855. Three men, the alleged murderers who had wanted Connolly to pay the highest price for the deportation of their spiritual leader, were shot dead six days later by Government forces combing the jungles in the area.

Connolly, Yeshwanth adds, was honoured with a monument in a cathedral in Madras (St. George’s?). For the record, there was a Valentine Connolly who was an Assistant Surgeon in Madras and it was he who, as Secretary of the Hospital Board, mooted the establishment of a Lunatic Asylum in 1793. Permission was granted to him to do so and he established the facility the next year at “the junction of `Pursewaukum High Road and Brick-Kiln Road.” I wonder whether there was a connection between the two Connollys. Father and son? The murdered Connolly was born in 1801

* Casting a shadow on Justice Elmar Mack (Miscellany, July 23) - and perhaps indicating a reason why there was a reluctance on the part of some to have his portrait hung in the Madras High Court after his retirement - is Reader C.A. Reddi. He recounts that while Mack was District Judge in Bellary, he was appointed Special Judge in Madras to try 19 young men who were charged under the Enemy Agents Act (1942). He sentenced four of them to death and they were duly hanged. The other fifteen, including C.G.K. Reddy, a kinsman of Reader Reddi, were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. V.L. Ethiraj was the Crown Prosecutor in the case. It was after this trial that the District Judge was elevated to the Bench of the Madras High Court, concludes my correspondent. Was this why many were reluctant to honour Justice Mack when he retired prematurely “due to certain circumstances”? I wonder whether there is anyone out there who can provide me with details of the trial of the 19 and why Justice Mack was not in any great favour with a section of the Bench and the Bar.

* A “victor on many fronts” is how many in Bombay in the 1960s introduced Victor Paranjoti (Miscellany, July 30), a popular speaker on the city’s lecture and seminar circuit, writes Reader S.R. Madhu, who was a journalist in Bombay at the time. Paranjoti delivered the first lecture on Public Relations I heard, recalls my correspondent. Reader Madhu adds, “As a PR Manager, he was always ready with a well-organised press kit and received journalists with courtesy and the genial wit he was known for.” ” I wonder how many in PR in Madras do the same.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 6:10:39 PM |

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