MADRAS MISCELLANY Columns

Have they got them right?

There were several respondents to my quiz of May 7, but only two came up with names for all 13. One was, as I expected, Sriram V. who is possibly one of those most conversant with 20th Century Madras history, and the other was 82-year-old Saraswathi Vasant Dole, writing all the way from Gurgaon to say that she “had met/seen all these eminent personalities when I was young.”

The following is the listing I adjudicate as correct, based on their listings (B=Both, S=Sriram and D=Dole):

Standing: Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer (B); C.E. Wood (S); K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer (B); Vidya Sagar Pandya (S); S. Satyamurti (B); and E. Vinayaka Row (D).

Seated: V.V. Srinivasa Iyengar (S); Arcot Ramaswami Mudaliar (B); M. Krishnan Nair (S); V.S. Srinivasa Sastri (B); C.P. Ramaswami Aiyer (B); Govindoss Chaturbhoojadoss (S); C.S. Ratnasabapathy Mudaliar (S).

Skipping the better-known names, here are a few short notes on the others:

Wood, later Sir Edgar and a Chairman of Parry & Co., represented the Madras Chamber of Commerce in the Madras Legislative Council, a nomination he reluctantly accepted as he thought it would interfere with his work at Parry's.

K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer, a lawyer, was the Zamindar of Konur in the Tanjore District. He was closely associated with the University of Madras and P.S. High School. He was chairman of the Tamil Lexicon Committee, founded the Madras Library Association and was President of the Music Academy. He was also nominated to the Legislature.

Pandit Vidya Sagar Pandya was Secretary of the Indian Bank from 1907 to 1928 and Honorary Secretary of the South India Chamber of Commerce in l909. The Chamber chose him to give evidence on its behalf before the Currency Commissions and Committees. He was Managing Director of the Bank of Hindustan. He was later a member of the Central Legislative Assembly.

Vinayaka Row, the father of Saraswathi Vasanth Dole, was a Tanjore Maharashtrian who helped to found the Mahratta Education Fund to help Marathi-speaking boys and girls complete higher education. The Trust is nearly 100 years old and is still operational. A successful lawyer, he was the Secretary of the Madras Liberal Party and, later, the General Secretary of the National Liberal Federation of India.

Krishnan Nair, a lawyer, served as the Chief Judge of the Travancore High Court from 1910 to 1914 and Dewan of Travancore from 1914 to 1920. He had previously been elected four times a Member of the Madras Legislative Council, from 1903 to 1910, and, later, was Law Member of the Malabar Legislative Council from 1928 to 1934.

And Ratnasabapathy Mudaliar (whom most respondents took to be Arcot Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar without a naamam) had been President of the District and Taluk Boards of Coimbatore and Chairman of the Coimbatore Municipality before being elected to represent Coimbatore District in the Madras Legislative Council.

Does anyone want to challenge that listing I arrived at from the two complete lists sent to me?

******

The Fyson clock

A clock is a clock is a clock. No, it isn't, Harry Miller once enlightened me during my early delvings into the story of Madras. There's the Doveton Clock, the P. Orr Clock, the Fyson Clock and several others — and they each have a story to tell, he told me, urging me to follow up on them. Well, some I did and some I didn't. And one I didn't was the Fyson Clock, a couple of times making a bloomer about it, describing it as “ a Fyson Clock”, treating ‘Fyson' as a brand name.

I was reminded about this the other day during one of my rare drives along the Marina south of the ‘Triumph of Labour' statue. Presidency College, I was pleased to find, had received a facelift. Perhaps not in the manner that would delight a heritage purist but, as I have always said, something is better than nothing. I don't know whether this attempt by the College to freshen itself up has also extended to the interiors, which were a shambles the last time I visited, a couple of years ago, but if it hasn't I hope it happens soon. But while musing over this I also noticed that little attempt had been made to improve the look of the Centenary Dome, which had replaced Robert Chisholm's original ‘dome' in 1940. That new dome also hosted — and still hosts, as it continues to tick away — the Fyson Clock, which too had been installed as part of the centenary celebrations.

The Fyson remembered in this fashion was Philip Furley Fyson, Principal of Presidency 1925-32, but who was better known for his botanical studies. A Cambridge graduate in Natural Science, Fyson, soon after graduation in 1904, arrived in Madras to teach Botany at Presidency. After spending 1920 to 1925 in the northern Andhra Districts as Inspector of Schools, he returned to Presidency and remained there as its head till he retired and returned to England in 1932.

While Professor of Botany, Fyson published his Botany for India in 1912, a text book favoured by many institutions. He followed this up with Madras Flowers, a book with 100 plates, and Flora of the South Indian Hills. The hills of South India is where he spent every vacation and whenever else he could — and they gave him the meat for his two best-known books, Flora of the Nilgiri and Pulney Hill Tops and Flora of the South Indian Hill Stations. Nearly half the illustrations in these two books and many others in his other books were done by his wife Diana Ruth Fyson.

Little remembered today is the fact that the Journal of the Indian Botanical Society evolved from the Journal of Indian Botany, whose founder editor was Fyson. The earlier journal, printed and published by W.L. King of the Methodist Publishing House, Madras, and funded in its early days by a T.R.D. Bell, came out in September 1919, even before the founding of the Indian Botanical Society in 1920. The Society took over the journal after it became functional. To the best of my knowledge, this is the fourth pioneering Indian scientific journal to have roots in Madras. The other three focused on mathematics, medicine and veterinary science.

*****

When the postman knocked…

*Sriram V., who led a walk last year in the precincts of St. Matthias' Church, Vepery, tells me that Johann Fabricius (Miscellany, May 14) is certainly remembered there in a tombstone; “he is not in an unmarked grave,” says Sriram who goes on to tell me that other German missionaries from Tranquebar who served the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, like Johann Rottler, Wilhelm Gericke, and Christian Breithaupt, all lie beneath tombstones in St. Matthias' cemetery. In the case of Fabricius, however, I must point out that several accounts of his life refer to his pauper's grave and his burial expenses having been met only by passing the hat around. The tombstone could well be a later addition when the SPCK was more affluent. Fabricius, however, is remembered in the name of a school in Vepery, the E.L.M. Fabricius School. Its buildings were pulled down some years ago, but I hope the school survives.

*The reach of this column often surprises me. This time it is an answer from Denmark. Reader Tine Elisabeth Larsen writes, “Last October (17th), you wrote about Ester Faering: ‘How that correspondence (with Gandhiji) started and more about Faering I would certainly like to know.' I don't know if the mentioned postman has delivered an answer so far, but I think I can provide some answers, since I have been working with this subject for quite some time.” Larsen's answers provide the information that Faering was a Danish missionary who came to India in 1915 to work with the Danish Missionary Society. Here she met another missionary, Anne Marie Petersen, and they became friends. In 1917 they travelled to several places in India including to Gandhiji's ashram in Wardha. Their meetings with Gandhi changed them; they resigned from the missionary society and decided to serve India. Petersen founded Seva Mandir, a boarding school near Chidambaram, where she was known as Periamma. Faering married an Indian doctor, Kunhi Menon. The two women kept in touch with each other and with Gandhiji, their “very interesting correspondence” reflecting their support for the non-cooperation movement. Larsen tells me that she wrote a book, Anne Marie Petersen; A Danish Woman in South India, that was published by the Gurukul in Madras in 2000, and is now working on another book “almost with the same subject”. She also recommends that I read Thomas Weber's Going Native, which deals with “Western women and Gandhi”. Will someone do that for me?

*Correcting my statement that Kisan Kanya (Miscellany, May 14) was the first Indian film shot in colour, V.A.K. Ranga Rao says it was Sairandhri (Hindi, Marathi), made in Poona by Prabhat Films in 1933. There is even a report, he writes, that Bilwa Mangal (Hindi,1932) was shot in colour. By this reckoning, Kisan Kanya was either the second or third Indian film to be made in colour. But my source tells me it was the first one to be shot in Agfacolour and processed indigenously; Sairandri was processed and printed in Germany.

*Following the trail of the Jagir of Arni, Bharath Yeswanth writes to tell me that the Arni Palace in Madras used to stand where the Children's Hospital now is in Egmore. Anyone with further details?


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