Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

Once, Theodore Baskaran, whose passion is the flora and fauna of India, told me that both the lion and tiger roamed all over the country. But I had never heard of tigers in these parts (except those in the zoo) till I read an article recently about their presence in and around old Madras. An incident of a young army officer killing one near the Pallavaram hills was reported in 1802. A second tiger was killed not far from the St. Thomas' Mount cantonment in 1807. In 1812, a young midshipman stabbed a tiger to death while being carried away by it from a weekend camp in the jungle near Madras. Then, in 1835, a British officer was killed by a tiger while hunting on the outskirts of Madras. And in the same area in 1842, a tiger killed a sepoy who was measuring what he thought his officer had killed!

The Journal of Fine Arts reported in 1878 that by then tigers were considered such a menace everywhere in the Madras Presidency that a reward of Rs.100 was offered for every tiger killed. A Captain Caulfield was appointed ‘Tiger Slayer' and he was assisted by Inspectors Mackenzie and A. Wedderburn. Using every method possible, from traps to poisoning to shooting, they reduced the numbers significantly within six months. There are no tiger tales told after that in and around Madras.

The earliest encounter recorded of a sahib meeting up with a tiger in the Madras area is in the early 17th Century. The record is found in an inscription in Battersea Parish Church in England marking the memorial raised to Edward Winter who died in 1686. It reads:

No less in Martial Honour was his name,

Witness his actions of Immortal fame:

Alone, unarm'd, a tygre He opprest,

And Crusht to death the Monster of a Beast.

Thrice-twenty mounted Moors he overthrew

Singly on foot, some wounded, some he slew;

Dispers'd the rest; what more cou'd Sampson do?

True to his friends, a terrour to his foes,

Here, now, in peace his honour'd bones repose.

Edward Winter, ‘Tiger Slayer', was Governor of Madras and leader of the first coup (1665) in the settlement against his successor, the mild-mannered George Foxcroft (Miscellany, July 9, 2001). Another victim of a coup in Madras was Governor George Pigot in 1777. When he returned from Madras to London after his first stint as Governor of the settlement (1755-1763) he too was associated with a ‘big cat' tale. This time it was with the smallest of them, a cheetah.

Sir George, as he was then, took back with him a hunting cheetah and a Mohamedan trainer — who called himself John Morgan! — and his assistant. In 1764, Pigot presented the cheetah to King George III who decided to test it in Windsor Great Park. Three times its handler let it loose against a hefty English stag, but it failed to bring it down each time. In fact, it was the stag that hurled the cheetah to the ground on the third attempt, whereupon, picking itself up, the cheetah raced into the forest and killed a deer. The cheetah, its attendants and the stag are believed to be the models for a large painting in oils which hangs in the Manchester City Art Gallery, according to Dr. A. Raman, writing from New South Wales.


The Row-Ramanujan friendship

You should have said something of the Srinivasa Ramanujan-Vinayaka Row friendship, was the unstated comment of V. Viswanathan on the short note I had written on E. Vinayaka Row last Monday. Indeed I should have, seeing that a profile of the lawyer that I had received had mentioned that he was junior to Ramanujan at Kumbakonam Town High School for Boys but had been good friends from then. Later, they were both at Pachaiyappa's College, where Row taught. Still later they kept up a regular correspondence. In fact, some of the letters Ramanujan wrote to Row from Trinity College, Cambridge, have been donated to the Ramanujan Museum in Royapuram. Others are in the Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Viswanathan sends me some quotes from three letters Ramanujan had written to Vinayaka Row, who appears to have wanted to get to Cambridge for higher studies. On June 14, 1914 Ramanujan wrote:

My Dear Vinayaka Row,

“Your kind letter to hand. Very glad to hear that (S.S.) Suryanarayanan has got the Scholarship. Please excuse me for the long delay in writing to you. It is because that I felt quite uncomfortable till now….

Living in the college is more costly than in lodging houses. Cambridge is a costly place, next comes Oxford(?)…I am staying in the college because there will be much inconvenience to the professors and myself if I stay outside the college. I would advise Suryanarayanan to try to live in lodging-houses and if he can fortunately live in an unlicensed lodging house, he will find it by far cheaper than other places.

As for the food I would have suffered much more had it not been for the good milk obtained here. For the first two months I felt why I had come here. Now I am alright. Suryanarayanan also will feel the same for two months…. Let him select such lodgings where good vegetarian food was given previously to the Indian occupant. He can easily get information when he is coming in ……

There is another (T.S.) Suryanarayan here who was a tutor in the Pachaiyappa's College. He says that he knew you all. He is living in a lodging where they prepare excellent vegetarian food. During voyage there will be no difficulty because most of them will be Indians and he may tell them whatever he wants. Let him be prepared to take meals in an English Restaurant in Madras, for it will be very awkward in the beginning if he remains taking food in his house to the last moment. It is also better for him to cook one or two things for himself after coming here….

As for my studies, I am attending a few lectures and have begun to write articles and publish my results. I have two articles, one on Definite Integrals and another on Elliptic functions. Another I am going to write soon on contd. fractions …”

Yours affectionately

S. Ramanujan

On March 24th 1915, Ramanujan wrote: “I was not well till the beginning of this term owing to the weather and consequently I couldn't publish anything for about 5 months. This term I have published 3 or 4 pamphlets and a long paper…..

Suryanarayanan is not appearing for the I.C.S. as he has a very bad short sight. He will not be selected even if he comes in the top of the list. He will enter the Education service. I am glad to inform you that he shines in public speech in various societies…” And on 10th September 1915, Ramanujan wrote: “Received your letter….. Very glad to hear of the birth of a son to you. But I am sorry that you failed in the examination. Tenati Suryanarayan also was sorry when he heard of your failure in D.T.M. He sat for the I.C.S. exam last month…

Tenati Suryanarayan and I were exceedingly sorry to hear of the sad death of Professor Singaravel Mudaliyar at so early an age. We came to know of this unexpected sadness for the first time from your letter which reached here before the Indian Math Journal.

Do you want the general information about Cambridge or special information about all the colleges here?”


The Grange that's Kanchi

A news item the other day spoke of the Government-run All-India Civil Services Coaching Centre moving into a new home that is being built for it as its present building in Anna Nagar is due to become another victim of Metro Rail's bulldozers. Here is at least one instance where the tenants are likely to be happier over the enforced move if for no other reason than they will be moving into a campus that's part of the heritage of Madras. The Centre's new home will be built in the campus of Kanchi, which houses the Anna Institute of Management, on Greenway's Road. I wonder how many of the IAS aspirants scheduled to be coached here will know the old name of the building. Kanchi was The Grange but was built as Norton's Gardens.

The story of this garden house begins with about 60 acres of temple land which appears to have been eyed from 1803 by various office-bearers of the “temples of Kadari and Kumeswara”, with an Alanda Narayanaswami Nayak, a rich landowner, eventually laying his hands on it. But heavy losses on speculation made him bankrupt and the Court in 1827 ordered his properties to be sold to repay his creditors. A civil servant, Leveson Murray, fourth son of the Earl of Dunmore and who lived in Murray's Gate Road, Alwarpet, became the new owner. After being owned by several other eminent Europeans of Madras, this property on the Adyar finally became that of leading lawyer John Bruce Norton in 1852 and he the next year built his home there, the building that still survives.

Norton's battle to hold on to the land became a cause celebre in Madras, with several claimants taking him to court. After all matters relating to the title were sorted out, Norton's Gardens was sold in 1865 to Alexander Mackenzie of Arbuthnot & Co. and became Mackenzie's Gardens. In 1907 it was recorded for the first time as The Grange, tenanted by Sir Murray Hammick, a Civilian who was in 1912 to act as Governor of Madras. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram appears to have been one of its many owners post the1870s. Its last private owner was P. Venkatachellum, who owned over 100 houses in Madras. Government acquired it from him in 1917 for Rs. 1,56,803-12-5 to use for a Rajkumars' College, but that never came through. Instead, it was used by Government as residence, meeting place, offices etc., till it came back to education with the establishment of the Anna Institute of Management.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 11:32:10 AM |

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