Kerala

Munnar’s history caught in frames

The devastating flood in Munnar in 1924, popularly known as the Great Flood of 99, in a photograph by Param Jyothi Naidu.

The devastating flood in Munnar in 1924, popularly known as the Great Flood of 99, in a photograph by Param Jyothi Naidu.  

Param Jyothi Naidu’s photographs speak volumes about Munnar’s history during the plantation era under the Raj. His photographs of the ‘Great Flood of 99’ show the intensity of the devastating deluge that hit Munnar in 1924. The ropeway, the first Kundala Valley light railway, the first motorbike with its owner, celebrations and sports events in Munnar are all vividly caught by his camera.

His son Irudaya Sami Rathinam followed in his father’s footsteps. Rathinam died a few days ago due to age-related illness in Coimabtore.

Naidu opened the Royal Electric Studio in Munnar and the black-and-white photographs taken by him are still kept in museums, studios and landmark buildings in the town. Naidu’s photographs won much acclaim when they appeared in the Facets of Hundred Years of Planting, an in-house publication of Tata-Finlay Ltd.

A train of the Kundala Valley light railway launched by Britishers in Munnar photographed by Param Jyothi Naidu.

A train of the Kundala Valley light railway launched by Britishers in Munnar photographed by Param Jyothi Naidu.  

“In addition to the vivid description of life, the pictures capture the gravity of events in such a way that no narrative can explain,” said M.J. Babu who wrote the book Munnarile Kanan Devan Kunnukal (The Hills of Kanan Devan in Munnar).

Mr. Babu, a native of Munnar, has memories of Irudaya Sami Rathinam. By the time Rathinam entered the field, there were other photographers too in Munnar and he could not gain as much popularity as his father, said Mr. Babu. Rathinam’s son Johnson is a third generation photographer in Munnar and he keeps the slides of the photographs taken by his grandfather as a treasure.

In 1914

“Naidu reached Munnar in 1914 with the British planters as their photographer. The Britishers supplied him with the equipment and a German national gave him a camera,” said Joseph Raj, another grandson of Naidu.

The destroyed portion of the Kundala Valley light railway in Munnar in a photograph by Param Jyothi Naidu.

The destroyed portion of the Kundala Valley light railway in Munnar in a photograph by Param Jyothi Naidu.  

Naidu was entrusted with taking the photographs of tea plants as every one metre of the plants was insured then and photographs were needed for claiming insurance. He was also engaged for taking photographs of functions like transfer of British staff, Christmas celebrations and other sports competitions. The Britishers also gave him a house and buildings for setting up a studio, Joseph Raj said.

Though the plantation town of Munnar changed into a popular tourist destination, time is frozen in the photographs of Param Jyothi Naidu.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2020 7:01:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/munnars-history-caught-in-frames/article32277545.ece

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