Where are the Georges?

Published - April 01, 2019 05:31 pm IST

Dr S Kannan sends me a photograph of a plaque from Vizhuppanur, 8 kilometrs from Srivilliputhur, the temple town famed as the birthplace of Andal. The inscription suggests that there was a statue of King George V unveiled in that village too, though as to what became of it later is a mystery. Kannan’s message suggests that the pedestal alone still stands. That brings to mind the various statues in Madras of King George V, the only King Emperor who visited India as a reigning monarch. In fact he came twice, once in 1905 as Prince of Wales and again in 1911 for the Grand Coronation Durbar. During the former visit he came to Madras and it was in its commemoration that Black Town in Madras became George Town in 1911.

The George V visits were commemorated with several statues. There were two life-size statues to George V in the city. One stood at the entrance to the harbour, just behind the war memorial. Sculpted by MS Nagappa in 1935, this was removed a few years ago because it stood in the way of the elevated road from Maduravoyal to the port. The statue now stands in the grounds of the Government Museum.

The better known one, which still stands, is behind the Flower Bazaar Police Station. Installed in 1914, it was presented to the city by Dewan Bahadur Kushaldoss Chaturbhujadoss and sculpted by Sir Bertram Mackennal. Costing ₹45,000, it was another act of munificence on the part of a man who gave Madras its Pinjrapole animal shelter.

A third, this one a bust, unveiled in 1936 by Sir Mohammed Usman, stood in the middle of Panagal Park. Over the years it lost its nose and remained that way till a decade or so ago when it vanished. Taking its place now is a statue of the Raja of Panagal, which had all along remained at the rear of the George V bust. Is this the George V bust hosted in the Fort Museum?

While these are all of 1930s vintage, HA Newell’s Topee and Turban , a travelogue of a journey across India by car, published in 1921, mentions a statue to the King Emperor, under a terracotta pavilion at the Guindy intersection. This was presented to the city by the contractor-builder T Namberumal Chetty in 1911 and stood near what is Raj Bhavan today. What happened to it later we do not know. Also missing is a bust of the King Emperor that Namberumal gifted together with a pavilion of seven cupolas in 1911 to the district of Chingleput.

When the postman knocked...

* The 1948 MGTF being cleared from Madras harbour (Miscellany, March 18) reminded me of a tale told by my father, TVS Manian, writes Ravishankar Subramanian. RM Alagappa Chettiar in 1948 imported a dozen Standard 8 cars from England. The cars were cleared and parked in Alagappa Chettiar’s Krishna Vilas in Vepery. A guest at a dinner there that evening wanted to know what they were doing there. Alagappa Chettiar replied, “It’s a gift for you”, and got the keys which he handed over to his guest.

I wonder whether anyone remembers the incident. And did it take place on Alagappa Chettiar’s birthday, April 6, wonders Subramanian whose father owned one of these cars in Karaikudi.

* Jayanthi Ramesh writes that both her brothers have Classic MGs in the US. The MG in my picture today is a later-than-1948 model, this Classic will relocate in India next year.

* Such structures as the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Egmore (Miscellany, March 18) are the pride of Chennai. And the public should rightfully protest against decisions to pull them down. I feel matters of this nature should be subjected to public debate and only when there is consensus extreme steps should be resorted to. Maybe a signature campaign can be thought of to urge the authorities to protect this heritage building, as happened in the case of police headquarters some years ago, suggests Dr TD Krishnamachari.

The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places, and events from the years gone by, and sometimes from today

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