Madras Miscellany

Another Armenian connection

My latest visitor during this ‘Season of Search' has been Lucy Arathoon from Guatemala of all places. Married to a Mexican academic who teaches there, they'd been combining a holiday in India with a search for her roots in Madras. And that search took them to Arathoon Road in Royapuram, just to the west of West Mada Church Street. But though road there was, answers to their question were none. Who was Arathoon of Royapuram?

Arathoon is a well-known Armenian name in Calcutta and I once knew several rugby-playing Arathoons from that city. But of Arathoons in Madras I knew of none till Lucy Arathoon turned up. And she introduced me to John Arathoon who married Margaret Baboom in 1819 at St. Mary's of the Angels (now the Co-Cathedral in George Town). John Arathoon was Lucy's great-great-grandfather and family lore has it that he was in the precious stones business.

The John Arathoons had two children, Eliza (l827) and Albert John Fidelius (Felix) Arathoon; a third child, Josephine, died young and was buried in Madras. Elizabeth, who married a Captain Holmes, died with her five children when their ship, the Lady Nugent bound for Rangoon in 1854 foundered in the Bay of Bengal. Felix Arathoon, born in Madras in 1823, was the father of Lucy's grandfather Albert John Andoe Arathoon (born in Madras in 1865). Felix Arathoon had married Irish-born Louisa Andoe and sent her and their children to live with her family in Bath c.1871. Felix Arathoon himself died in the Gulf of Aden when the ship he was travelling in to catch up with his family sank — and with it, legend has it, went a fortune that he had made in Madras. Now I wonder after which of these Arathoons the road in Royapuram was named.

Searching for the Baboom name, I found that Baboom too is an Armenian name and that Daniel Rafael Baboom was a pillar of the Catholic Church in Madras. He appears to have had a kinsman in Madras, Michael (Marcar) Johannes Baboom. D.R. Baboom is said to have died in Constantinople in 1821 while M.J. Baboom died in 1810, aged 80, in Madras, probably making him the father of the former. A tombstone in the San Thomé Basilica is that of a Baboom, but the writing on it is indecipherable. It is perhaps that of Michael Baboom.

What's curious is that three Arathoons died in Madras and there is no record of their tombstones.

An ascetic's collection

The home of the new State Library is fast coming up on Gandhi Mandapam Road, I recently noticed, and I mused to myself that the enormous task of moving collections into it should commence not too long in the future. From what I have been able to gather, the entire collection of the Connemara Public Library plus those of several other State Government departmental libraries are likely to find a home here.

Among the Connemara Library's Collection is the Maraimalai Adigal Library's holdings that were gifted to it in 2008, almost to the day of the Golden Jubilee of the latter. When Maraimalai Adigal passed away on September 15, 1951, his 4000-book collection of Tamil books passed into the hands of the Saiva Siddhantha Works Publishing Society to whom he had bequeathed them, and the Society, with this nucleus, opened the Maraimalai Adigal Library on August 24, 1958, in a historic building in Linghi Chetty Street, with which Ramalinga Vallalar had been associated. Over the years the library grew, it had 35,000 books, rare manuscripts and journals. At the time the Society was no longer able to maintain it and handed it over to the Connemara Library.

The person who started the collection was born C. Vedachalam Pillai of ‘Negapatam' in 1876. A self-taught scholar, he evolved as the advocate of a pure Tamil that did without loan words. His commitment to this cause had him being called ‘The Father of Tamil Puritanism'. He himself changed his name to Maraimalai and his admirers added the Adigal.

From 1898 to 1911, Maraimalai Adigal taught Tamil at Madras Christian College. In 1911, he gave up his post at the College and became an ascetic. To play a considerable part in his life from here on in was Va. Thiruvarangam Pillai who was working in Colombo. In 1914, he invited Maraimalai Adigal to visit Ceylon on a lecture tour. The Adigalar proved a most popular speaker on Saivism and the donations he received from the Island enabled him to start the Thiru Murugan Press in Madras in 1916.

Thiruvarangam, who had arranged for the donations from well-wishers in Ceylon, moved to India in 1920, and, with others, started the Saiva Siddhantha Works Publishing Society in ‘Tinnevelly'; it later moved to Madras. In 1927, Thiruvarangam married Neelambigai, Maraimalai Adigalar's daughter who had taught Tamil in Vidyodya and Northwick girls' schools. The Society published over a hundred books by Adigalar, the bulk of them on Saivite philosophy and Tamil literature. In 1948, it started its own printing press in Madras, Appar Achagam, on Broadway. The Society published all of Adigalar's books, but its bestseller has been Dr. M. Varadarajan's Tirukkural and its translations . It has also brought out a match-box-sized copy of the Tirukkural.

Apart from the Maraimalai Adigal Library collection, another collection headed for the State Library will be the collection of Kasi Viswanathan Chettiar of Paganeri in Sivaganga District which he had donated to the local government authority in 1986, shortly before his death. This classical collection is now the core holding of the library in the village and is widely used by the residents of the area. If moved to Madras, the village will be deprived of a treasure. The answer is to preserve the well cared for holding in Paganeri but have the State Library digitise it bit by bit for electronic storage in Madras. That would be the way to go for numerous other such cared for collections in the State.

When the postman

knocked ….

*There was a quick response from V.T. Theetharappan, a former advertising executive, to my query about Past Presidents of the Rotary Club of Madras (Miscellany, January 4). He tells me that P.S.G. Rao was a Director of D.J. Keymer's, one of the first major advertising agencies in India. He was the head of the Madras branch of this Calcutta-headquartered agency which was the first of the Calcutta and Bombay agencies — where business was considerably larger — to open a full-fledged office in Madras. In the 1950s, Rao, considered a stalwart of the advertising world in India, helped many young newcomers to the profession in Madras develop their skills.

*Nick McIver (Miscellany, November 30) tells me that Ren(shaw) Nailer, the Madras cricketer (Miscellany, December 14), is indeed related to his family, according to Patrick Nailer who was 12 years old when his family migrated to Australia c.1955. Patrick Nailer and Nick McIver share the same great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas William Nailer, who came out to Madras in the early 1800s and married Anne Quinn here in 1811 and started the Nailers-of-Madras story.

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