Madras miscellany

Updated - November 10, 2021 12:27 pm IST

Published - June 03, 2012 02:10 pm IST

A record ofDewanship

When Saraswathi Dole identified E. Vinayaka Row (Miscellany, May 21s) as her father and a Tamil Nadu Maharashtrian, little did I think it would lead me to another Tamil Nadu Maharashtrian family of eminence. Sir T. Madhava Rao I had heard of as one of India's most eminent statesmen in the latter half of the 19th Century. But of his equally eminent family I had not heard till Dole sent me her two compilations on Eminent Maharashtrians of South India.

A Maharashtrian of Kumbakonam, Goudopunt, I learnt, was the father of Venkat Rao and Ranga Rao, both of whom became Dewans of Travancore. Venkat Rao, Dewan Peishkar of Travancore became Dewan in 1822 and remained in that position till 1832 when he was transferred to Mysore as Native Assistant to the (British) Commissioner and was recognised as “the first native revenue servant in this part of India.” He was bestowed the title Rai Raya Rai by the Government of India in 1838. That year, he returned to Travancore as its Dewan, succeeding his brother Ranga Rao to the post. Ranga Rao had held the post only for a short time and Venkat Rao held it for just two more years during his second tenure before resigning. Venkat Rao's lasting achievement was the construction of the canals that linked Trivandrum and Cochin.

The third Dewan of Travancore from this family was T. Madhava Rao, to be knighted in 1866 and receive the title of Raja in 1877 when Queen Victoria assumed the title Empress of India. Madhava Rao was the youngest of Ranga Rao's sons and was, in 1846, one of the first Proficients of the High School of Madras that became Presidency College. This star pupil of Eyre Burton Powell, who headed the School and then the College, joined the Accountant General's Office and moved from there to become the Dewan of Travancore, a post he held till he relinquished office in 1872. But he was not to lead a quiet life in Madras. He was appointed Dewan of Indore in 1873 and, then, in 1875 requested to step into the mess that Baroda was and sort it out as Dewan Regent; Mulhari Rao, the Gaekwad of Baroda, had been deposed and Madhava Rao was appointed to guide the minor who had been made Gaekwad. After straightening out the princely state, Madhava Rao retired in 1882 and spent his retirement studying Marathi literature, composing Marathi poems and making his voice heard among the Congress moderates. He left both Travancore and Baroda with the reputation that he had made them ‘modern States'. In the former, he had courted unpopularity with fiscal reforms and working out a compromise on the ‘upper cloth' issue. He had also gone up against the Madras Government when he insisted that a European could be tried in a court in a princely State. This kind of even-handedness as well as his contributions to education, healthcare and the Travancore High Court, however, also made him respected by all.

A fourth Dewan in the family was R. Raghunatha Rao, the son of Venkat Rao. He succeeded Sir T. Madhava Rao as Dewan of Indore, after having built up a high reputation in government service in the southern districts of the Madras Presidency. His stint in Indore was, however, short, finding himself caught between the differing views of the Maharajah and the Government of India. In time, he became one of the founders of the Indian National Congress and also served as a member of the Madras Legislative Council.

Trivandrum-born T. Rama Rao, a cousin of Sir T. Madhava Rao, after long years in Travancore Government service, was made Dewan of the State in 1886 and was in office till 1892. Revenue Survey and agricultural reforms were his signal contributions to the State. Rama Rao's daughter married T. Ananda Rao, Rajah Sir T. Madhava Rao's eldest son. And Ananda Rao became Dewan of Travancore after serving in the Mysore Government service. In both he had a splendid record.

Another Kumbakonam Madhava Rao, V.P. his initials, was another Principal Porter-influenced success story from Kumbakonam Government College. As the first Indian Inspector-General of Police of Mysore State, he set up a Police Training School to which the Police Training School in Vellore owed much. In 1902 he was appointed Dewan of Travancore and then went back to Mysore as its Dewan in 1906. After he retired in 1909 he was requested in 1914 to become the Dewan of Baroda. There he served till 1918. By 1919 he was an ardent member of the Indian National Congress.

Other Maharashtrian Raos who were Dewans were Reddy Rao (Travancore, 1817-21 and 1843-45), ‘English' Subba Rao (Travancore, 1830-37 and 1839-42), and K. Krishnaswamy Rao (Travancore, 1897-1903, after having been for 13 years Chief Justice of the Travancore High Court).

I wonder whether there is any other community or extended family in South India that could boast of so many ‘Prime Ministerships'. It's quite a record the Maharashtrians of Tanjore — and the graduates of the Kumbakonam Government College — can boast of.


When the postmanknocked…

*The postman has once again been busier than usual, so the rest of today's column I'll devote to a few of the contributions he has delivered.

Several readers following the Egmore trail have come up with the fact that Arni House (Miscellany, May 14th), was on Hall's Road. That's a fact that Bharath Yeshwanth has found attested to in a July 1997 issue of my own journal, Madras Musings. How memory flies with time! However, there seems to be some difference of opinion on what's taken its place today. T.M. Sundararaman writes that he used to attend Swami Chinmayananda lectures in the “palatial building” in the 1950s and that the building was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Sindhi Sadan and, adjoining it, an ESI hospital. But all others who have written in say it was used to expand the Institute of Child Health, adjacent to the Women's and Children's Hospital. Yeshwanth goes a step further and specifies that it was replaced by the Paediatric block of the ICH. P.K. Senthilnathan sends me two pictures of what he found described as Arni House on the net but does not know where they were.

*Having mentioned Hall's Road in his contribution on Arni House , M.S. Sundaram wonders how it got its name. According to what I have found it was named after General Hamilton Hall or his widow Flora Tondeclair Hall. Hall joined the Madras Army in 1781 and died in Trichinopoly in 1827. His widow owned two houses on this road in 1837, Ottershaw and East Nook . Do the names mean anything to anyone?

*There are in all 23 inscribed tombstones/memorials in the St. Matthias' Church cemetery, writes K.R.A. Narasiah, including that of Coja Petrus Uscan whose private chapel this was before it was taken over by the British post-1749 and handed over to Johann Fabricius and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Referring to both Fabricius and the SPCK, James Wilson says that I appear to have forgotten that they should be considered the parents of printing in Madras. No, I hadn't forgotten; I just couldn't go on and on about Fabricius in that item in Miscellany, May 14. But now that the question has been raised, let me briefly re-tell a story that I have in bits and pieces related at different times in the past in this column. During the loot of Pondicherry in 1761, “a hand press and some cases of type and other equipment” were found in the Governor's mansion by Eyre Coote's soldiers. The finds were brought to Madras where Fabricius, who knew all about printing from his Tranquebar days, requested Governor George Pigot for the equipment, promising to give priority to Government work. Thus was born what were known from 1761 to 1769 as the East India Company Press and the Vepery Press. Fabricius considerably expanded the press with the help of the SPCK from 1766. Then, in 1769, Government sought its share of the press and installed it in Fort St. George; this was the forerunner of Government Press. The Vepery Press remained where it was, developing as the SPCK Press, and, then, as the Diocesan Press on Hunter's Road and remains as the CLS Press. This was the first printing press in Madras, and what's left of the CLS Press is the oldest surviving printing establishment in India.

*A. Raman from Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia sent me a review he had written of Raman Sukumar's The Story of Asia's Elephants and drew my attention to the fact that Patrick Stracey (Miscellany, April 16th) was an expert on keddah operations and the training of trapped elephants. Stracey has also written much on the subject, describing the differences between elephant-trapping in Mysore and Assam. I presume neither method is used today, with the days of keddahs over. But how are elephants now trapped for training?

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