When the postman knocked

S. S. VASAN (Madrascapes, November 26) continues to bring in a host of recollections: of how khaddar veshti, shirt and angavasthram were his trademark attire wherever he went, of how he took every opportunity to play bridge at the Mylapore Recreation Club, of how he entertained Stephen Spender at Movieland and of how "Chandralekha" cost him Rs. 35 lakhs and not Rs. 30 lakhs I mentioned. That Rs. 35 lakhs, given the free floating exchange rate of the time, made it the first million dollar film to be made outside the U.S. Reader T.M. Srinivasan recalls being told how happy Vasan was when a film magazine run at the time by a young film fan, T.T. Vasu, described it as "a million dollar Indian extravaganza".

* A motor car buff, T.T. Raghu, writes that another early owner of a Rolls Royce in Madras (Miscellany December 1) was Annie Besant who enjoyed driving the large limousine she owned, a Silver Ghost, he thinks, which was meant to be chauffeur driven. As for "Thiruvengathanam Chetty, of the Perumal Chetty family, a special feature of his Rolls was its high roof, presumably to accommodate him and his large turban". Ethiraj's Bentley, reader Raghu adds, belonged to that vintage when Bentley was owned by Rolls Royce and was "every bit a Rolls under the skin or, rather, behind the radiator". And of this era there is the tale of an Invicta, a sports car that was "the Jaguar of its day". There was only one in Madras, owned by an Englishman, and the moment Dr. Rangachari in his Rolls and the Englishman in his Invicta spotted each other, usually on the Marina, off the mark they went racing each other.

* And finally I caught up with Christopher Penn who'd been sending me messages about his ancestor, Albert Penn the Ooty photographer (Miscellany October 27). After a brief stop in Madras, my visitor was on his way to Ooty to catch up with Cranley Cottage, Cranley Lodge and Farington, which Albert Penn's wife Zillie ran as a hotel from 1905 to 1911. Back in England, Christopher Penn writes that he had seen the annual formal photographs of members of the Ooty Hunt at the Ooty Club, and spotted the signature of his ancestor on most of them between 1870 and 1910. From 1911, the signature is that of Willie Burke who "presumably succeeded Albert Penn as the court photographer". Christopher Penn is busy trying to catalogue as many pictures by Albert Penn as he can find and hopes they'll make a book like Omar Khan's "From Kashmir to Kabul" (Miscellany, December 8, 2002), which documented the work of Willie Burke's father, John, and his partner William Baker between 1860 and 1900.


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