Madras miscellany Columns

The first ‘Speaker’

P.A. Madhaviah  

Catching up with the history of the Madras/Tamil Nadu Legislature during a break I’ve been enjoying, I came across the information that there was a bust in the Legislature (is it still there, I wonder) of Sir P. Rajagopala Acharya (aka Rajagopalachari) who was elected in 1921 the first President (Speaker) of the Madras Legislative Council. Turning to Bharath Yeshwanth, who from time to time helps with research, I found out that Rajagopalachari had another distinction to his credit. He was the first Indian to be appointed Secretary of the Judicial Department. That was in 1914.

The journey to that position began in 1886 when this Presidency and Law College graduate was appointed to the judicial wing of the Indian Civil Service and served in the districts as an Assistant Collector and Magistrate. In 1896 he was appointed Dewan of Cochin and served there till 1901. It was then back to the Civil Service till 1906, when he was appointed Dewan of Travancore, an office he held till he was appointed Secretary of the Judicial Department of the Government of Madras.

His years in what is now called Kerala were marked by sowing the seeds for what is now the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry — Cochin (founded as the Native Merchants’ Association) and the Kerala State Archives (whose beginnings were the Central Records Office of Cochin State, inaugurated in 1901). In Travancore he was responsible for Dalit children being admitted to schools in the State, despite much opposition by members of the upper castes, and Dalits being given the opportunity to be elected to the State Assembly. Then came the senior appointment in the Judicial Department.

In 1917, he was appointed to the Governor’s Council that was the quasi-legislative body of Madras Presidency. Then followed years in the Madras Legislative Council, formed under the Government of India Act 1919 which introduced diarchy. Under diarchy, the Governor and his Executive Council would handle what were called Referred Subjects, while Transferred Subjects would be looked after by the Governor and Ministers from the 132-member Legislative Council, 98 of whom were elected and the rest nominated to represent special interests. The aim of diarchy, it was stated at the time, was to train Indians in the modern ways of administration and governance.

At the end of the Council’s term in 1923, Sir PR (he had been knighted in 1920) was appointed to the Council of India in London, but in 1925 he returned to India due to ill-health.

In India were three grand nephews — grandsons of Sir PR’s sister — who were in time to make names for themselves in completely different fields. C.T. Rajagopal was an outstanding mathematician who headed the Ramanujan Institute of Advanced Studies in Mathematics, C.T. Venugopal was one of the first Indians to be a senior officer in the Indian Railways Administrative Service, and C.T. Krishnamachari was an outstanding teacher and thinker, internationally known for the work he did at Madras Christian College’s Department of Philosophy which, as its chairman, he made the Department of Philosophy and Psychology.


Pioneering Tamil novelist

Did you know that ‘PéNaa’ Appuswami’s (Miscellany, July 29) paternal uncle, P.A. Madhaviah, was also a major literary figure, asks V. Visveswaran from the U.S., I’m afraid I had no idea about the relationship, but I had heard of Madhaviah as a pioneering Tamil novelist.

Madhaviah, from the Tirunelveli District, graduated from Madras Christian College in 1892 and then taught there. During his five years there he came under the influence of Principal William Miller and the Hindu Reform Association on the campus and began writing against child marriages, sati and the ill-treatment of widows, many of them little more than children. This was to be the focus of his writing throughout his life, during which he also kept in regular touch with Miller.

It was in 1892 that a serial, Savitri Charitram, began to appear in a monthly called Viveka Chintamani. The author’s name was given as ‘Savitri’ and it was presumed to be an autobiography. For reasons not known, the serial came to an abrupt end, but in 1903 reached the public in completed form as Muthu Meenakshi by A. Madhaviah, its beginnings narrated in the publication. But long before that, Madhaviah and his college-mate B.R. Rajam Aiyar had had their first novels published. In popular perception these are considered the first two modern novels in Tamil.

No sooner had Savitri Charitram dropped out of the pages of Viveka Chintamani than Rajam Aiyar’s Kamalambal Charitram began being serialised in it in 1893. It was later published as a novel. Five years later, Viveka Chintamani began serialising Madhaviah’s best known work, Padmavathi Charitram, which was then published as a novel. In 1900, Madhaviah wrote a second part to this novel and in 1924 a third part, but it was still to be completed when he suddenly passed away in 1925.

Meanwhile, he wrote a few novels in English. Satyanand, Clarinda and Thillai Govindan must be among the first English novels to be written by a South Indian writer and published. Jillai Govindan was later translated into Tamil but more interesting is the fact that Clarinda, first published in 1915 and which dealt with widow remarriage, sati, a Brahmin woman’s liaison with a British soldier in the 18th Century, and conversion, was reprinted in 2000 in Delhi with a note by Lakshmi Holmstrom.

Madhaviah, who retired from Government Service, started in the last years of his life a monthly magazine, Panchamirtham. Among its contributors were his son, M. Ananthanarayan, who became a Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. He also became well-known in the Madras world of letters. Though the journal carried poetry, short stories and political comment, its focus was on social reform, particularly ensuring a better place for women in society.


The Manila connection

A Filipino research scholar caught up with me the other day and wanted to know whether I could tell him anything about a Madras-Manila connection a couple of hundred years ago and I said that there were only two that I know of — if I don’t count Spanish Reals aka pieces of eight.

The first was trade going back to the early 18t Century. Gradually, however, the English East India Company allowed the trade to West Asia from Southeast Asia and the Pacific via the Coromandel Coast pass into Armenian hands. By the 1720s it was stated that the trade with Manila was entirely in Armenian hands and the Madras Council was not exactly pleased that they carried “their merchandise from Europe in Danish bottoms and consigned their oriental goods to Pondicherry and other foreign ports.”

But things changed after 1724 when Coja Petrus Uscan (mentioned several times in the past in this column) arrived from Manila where he had been looking after his father’s business. Uscan developed a close relationship with the British, and the Council’s attitude to the Armenians changed considerably for the better. Uscan himself became an envoy of the British and a major benefactor of Madras.

The other Manila connection was the attack in 1762 on the city by a British force for what reason I still haven’t figured out. The British Government sent out a naval force commanded by Admiral Samuel Cornish with a military contingent aboard led by General William Draper and asked George Pigot’s Madras Council to cooperate with it by supplying troops (Miscellany, July 1). Stringer Lawrence, in command of the military in Madras, was against the idea of supplying troops that the defence of Madras could ill-spare. Pigot, however, agreed to supply Madras infantry and artillery together with a prospective Deputy Governor for Manila. He also wanted to send an Agent who would ensure that Madras got a fair share of the great booty that was expected from the eastern Spanish capital. But while Draper and Cornish were willing to take the Agent along and have him join in the compiling of the inventory, they were adamant that Madras could get only 30 per cent of it and that General Draper would be in charge of the city until relieved by the British Government.

In the event, Manila was captured on October 6, 1762 but the booty seized was negligible. Eighteen months of occupation did not produce much more. In the end, the ransom the Spaniards paid to regain the city was the most profitable part of the venture. To commemorate the expedition and its ‘success’ a Manila Trophy was erected in Fort St. George and was flanked by two 12-feet-long Spanish cannon, San Lorenzo and San Pedro, cast in Spain in 1604. The remains of the Trophy, the two cannon and Danish and Mysore guns captured in Mysore are, I believe, now shared between the Government and Fort Museums.

The most important consequence of the Manila adventure was a consequence of the differences between the Madras Council and commanders of the expeditionary force before it sailed from Madras. The Directors of the Company defined the Governor’s role in its orders which stated, “We do hereby establish a Positive Order, never to be departed from, that the civil power in all our settlements shall be Superior to and Command the Military. That our Governor … shall be considered… as Commander in Chief of our forces, the Superior Military Officer, and in consequence thereof invested with a power of Commanding all Others…”

It is a tradition that survives in India to this day.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 11:05:29 AM |

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