Musings of a Madras past

rich legacy:Historians A.R. Venkatachalapathy (left) and V. Sriram narrated a number of nuggets from the city’s past —Photo: R. Ragu  

There is a dearth of original and lively recordings of Chennai’s past, eminent historians A.R. Venkatachalapathy and V. Sriram pointed out, at a session on ‘Speaking of Writing: The stories of Madras’ at the concluding day of The Hindu Lit for Life festival here on Sunday.

According to Mr. Sriram, while the repertoire of colonial recordings about the city was bursting at the seams, most of today’s Tamil books were mere translations.

“The other issue is the dullness with which our history is presented. Our biographies leave out anything that is harsh,” he said.

The historians presented several interesting nuggets from the colonial past as well as scandals of yesteryear. When asked what was his favourite Chennai story, Mr. Sriram was quick to narrate the story of the first woman medical MD in the world, Mary Anne Dacomb. She was studying in London in the 1870s, when she met her future husband, a lawyer.

They soon married and came to India, and while reading a book on law being edited by her husband, she realised that many women were dying during childbirth in India. “She pestered the Madras Medical College for nearly three years after which they relented and allowed her to join. She soon became a medical practitioner and started working. She returned to London and became the first woman MD in the world,” he said, adding that she expressed a desire to start a hospital in Madras dedicated to Queen Victoria. “This is the present-day Kasturba Gandhi Hospital in Triplicane,” he said.

From sharing stories of the songsters – people who used to gather and sing on road corners about current affairs – the trams and the scandal involving Edward Elliot, the historians peppered their accounts of history with humour.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:56:06 AM |

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