When the postman knocked…

The illustrated postcard featured today was printed by Higginbotham’s in 1916, tells me Pradeep Chakravarthy, who wants to know whether I agree with him that the temple in the postcard “looks remarkably similar to the one just next to Valluvar Kottam - the one to your left as you pass Valluvar Kottam and before the Park near the roundabout.” I'll leave readers to answer the query, but the card itself intrigued me from a historical point of view. Higginbotham’s were probably among the earliest to print picture postcards in Madras and they were probably printed at its own printing press. But earlier than the Higginbotham’s cards were those of Wiele & Klein (later Klein & Peyerl), who had printed in 1903 a Coronation Durbar series and in 1904 a series using pictures from Madras, Ooty, Tanjore, Madurai, Malabar and other South Indian destinations. These cards, it is said, were printed in Saxony (Germany). Many of these Wiele & Klein photographs in the original negatives are now in the Vintage Vignettes collection in Madras. Others are in a museum in Heidelberg. Wiele & Klein allowed publishers in Bombay and Calcutta to use their photographs for picture postcards for a handsome fee and those of topless rural beauties were bestsellers worldwide.

It is also stated that Spencer & Co had picture postcards printed in 1897, just three years after the Royal Mail allowed private publishers in Britain to print picture postcards. But this is a claim that needs greater substantiation.

K.R.A Narasiah, a marine engineer, recalls a fellow marine engineer who passed away recently, Achanta Rama Rao, the youngest son of Rukmini Lakshmipathi, the freedom fighter and one of the earliest women legislators in the country.

While his mother spent time in jail in the cause of freedom, Rama Rao was aboard the training ship Dufferin in Bombay, preparing for an officer’s career in the Merchant Navy. He was later to write, “It is an irony that while my mother was actively involved in the ‘Quit India’ Movement, I was saluting the Union Jack twice a day. When someone asked her why I had been sent to a British institution, she replied that sooner or later India would attain her Independence and would need trained officers to take over when the British left.”

The Dufferin , incidentally, is no more, its history as a training ship at the Ferry Wharf in Bombay from 1927 coming to an end in 1972. Its place was taken from 1972 to 1993 by another training ship, the T.S. Rajendra. In 1993 the Rajendra was replaced by the T.S.Chanakya, a shore-based training establishment.

Many a merchant navy cadet from the Madras Presidency passed out from the Dufferin, but the South Indian connection continued in the name Rajendra , no doubt a tribute to Rajendra Chola's sea-going exploits, and in Chanakya, which is the Mumbai campus of the Madras-based Indian Maritime University, the country's first.

A naval footnote to this recounting is reader Narasiah's recollection that Rama Rao’s elder brother Srinivasa Rao was born on the day the Emden shelled Madras and he was ever after called by all by the name of that marauding cruiser!

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