METRO PLUS

When the postman knocked

THE PIECE on A.K. Chettiar last week kept the postman busy. Among those who offered additional information was reader C.A. Reddi, who says he saw the film in 1942 and recalls that it had scenes from Gandhiji's life in Johannesburg and his meeting with Gokhale, Tilak's funeral, his stay in England and his attendance at the Round Table Conference, his presence at King George V's party, his meeting with Charlie Chaplin and Tagore, his reviewing Fascist troops with the Italian Prime Minister and his participation in the Dandi March. Krishna Menon, then living in London, I'm told, helped A.K. Chettiar get much of the footage collected there.

Dr. S. Gopalakrishnan tells me that he understands from "reliable sources" that a full-length copy of the documentary was presented to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 and could very well be in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Teen Murti Bhavan. Reader Gopalakrishnan adds that the BBC is planning to bring out a documentary on Gandhiji in 2005 and when the BBC team was in India recently, it interviewed two persons with close connections to the Mahatma and Madras — Gandhiji's and Rajaji's grandson, Raj Mohan Gandhi, and V. Kalyanaraman, Gandhiji's P.A. in 1947-48.

And a reader from A.K. Chettiar's village Kottaiyur points out that besides the film-maker, the tiny village produced more noteworthy personalities than its numbers warranted. There was K. V. Al. Rm. Alagappa Chettiar who helped found A.C. College of Technology, now part of Anna University, sowed the seeds for what is now Alagappa University, in 1952, and refused a knighthood. Then there was Roja Muthiah Chettiar whose magpie habits proved to be the nucleus of the Roja Muthiah Library in Chennai with its vast collection of Tamil publications ranging from bit notices to the classics. And P. M. A. Muthiah Chettiar, who was the first Nattukottai Chettiar to settle in Madras, buying a home in Purasawalkam which led to other Chettiars following his lead, and making the area `Little Chettinad' in the 1920s and 1930s.

* Reader M. R. Anantha Narayanan, referring to Dr. Md. Habibullah's murder (Miscellany, July 19), says that the murderers lay in wait for him in his office room, having entered it through the roof after removing the tiles in the early hours of the morning. The RMO's stern action against them for adulterating the GH's milk supply was the motive for a murder for which all the culprits were convicted.

* My reference to Chettur Sankaran Nair (Miscellany, July 5) had reader Parvathi Thampi agreeing that he was a "controversial" figure but was also "a man of towering personality, integrity and independence." As an exemplar of his principled behaviour, she narrates an example. He was the first Indian Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, but resigned after the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre in 1919. Receiving his resignation, the Viceroy asked, "Sir Sankaran, whom do you recommend as your successor?" Sir Sankaran pondered over the question a moment, then pointing to the immaculately dressed chaprasi standing at the door, said, "Why not him? He's a tall, handsome and will do exactly as you wish!"

* Dharmalingam Venugopal of the `Save Nilgiris Campaign' writes that Charles Hilton Brown (Miscellany, June 28) was the Collector of the Nilgiris District in 1933-34 and never forgot it. In 1936, he wrote a poem, `Nilgiri Sunshine', in which he claimed:

The Nilgiri sunshine!

... its message - `life's excellent; Life never ends'. The sunshine of England... It hasn't the art Of the Nilgiri sunshine That kindles the heart...

S. MUTHIAH

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