The following is an article on what happened immediately after Subramania Bharati died
The following is an article on what happened immediately after Subramania Bharati died
Remembering this great soul 50 years after his passing. I owe most of this information to Sri S Thyagarajan, his grandson and Alathur Sivasubramania Iyer’s son. I spent a happy day with him in Srirangam in 2004.
Victoria Hostel Road, named after the Queen Empress of India during whose reign the British Empire reached its zenith, is a thoroughfare you would normally never take, for it leads nowhere in particular. It is one of the numerous roads that branch off to the right of Bharati Salai as you drive down following Kannagi’s pointed finger, from the beach into Triplicane.
There are just two buildings on either side of this road. On your left is the Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital. It was founded in 1885 as the Royal Victoria Gosha Hospital for Women, thanks to Mary Scharlieb, who in 1876 was the first woman to be admitted to the Madras Medical College. It was meant for the ladies who observed purdah and was initially located in Nungambakkam before land was granted for it in Chepauk. In 1890, following munificent donations by the Rajah of Venkatagiri, the main block, in true Indo Saracenic style was built and the hospital moved in. In 1921 the government took over its management and in 1948 it was given its present name. Today it is a recognised centre of excellence for reproductive and child health issues and is a premier institution in the field of uro-gynaecology. The buildings in the campus are worth a detailed look for their architectural beauty.
The building that gives the road its name is the Victoria Hostel, which stands opposite the hospital. The College of Engineering operated from the Presidency College before its shift to Guindy and the Hostel was meant for its students. Built in 1900, it is now the common hostel for all of Madras University’s colleges. Construction was by T Namberumal Chetty, the leading contractor of the times. Its reading room is a work of great beauty. The entire building is fronted by a row of arches on all three floors. The building was originally designed to face the Buckingham Canal, but thanks to that water-body becoming a gutter, the entry is now from Victoria Hostel Road. The compound alos houses the Presidency College’s Poondi Ranganatha Mudaliar Block, named after one of its first Professors. The Warden’s Lodge, attached to the Hostel is an Indo Saracenic beauty and fronts the road. It was once the residence of Col. Henry Davidson Love, who wrote Vestiges of Old Madras, among the earliest compilations of the city’s history.
The entire road is a nature lover’s delight for the trees of the hospital and the hostel provide a green canopy. At the end, you are rewarded by a fantastic view of Chepauk Tower, across the Buckingham Canal, which thankfully remains hidden under the bushes. But there is no protection from an attack on the nostrils.
Senate House slides into decay
The Man from Madras Musings could only put on a quizzical expression and leave it at that. But inwardly he was seething as he is sure are most of the corporate houses and the alumni of Madras University who contributed in cash and kind towards the restoration of Senate House. As MMM has written earlier, the building, was sealed off owing to sheer cussedness and petty politics just before its restoration was completed in full and has since been out of bounds to everyone. There are horror tales of the interiors rapidly deteriorating and an impeccable source from within the University has confirmed to MMM that the place is now being used as a dumping ground for answer papers which is exactly how it was being used prior to the restoration.
And what riled MMM considerably was the recently held stellar convocation to coincide with the conclusion of the 150th year celebrations of the Madras University. It has always been the tradition in any university worth its salt that convocations are held in its convocation hall. And there are many universities around the world that would give anything to have a convocation hall/senate house like the one that Madras University possesses. And yet where was the convocation held? In the University Centenary Auditorium just next to Senate House. The reason given is that Senate House was ruled out on security considerations. Considering that the President of India attended the inauguration of the 150th year celebrations in Senate House, MMM is puzzled as to what Senate House lacked by way of security.
Anyway, MMM, now an ardent practitioner of yoga, has decided to sit like ‘patience on a monument and smile at grief’. And smile turned to laugh when he saw the numerous digital banners being put up all along the side-walks of Beach Road to coincide with the convocation. There was a huge one, repeated at regular intervals, which appeared to have been sponsored by the University itself for it was sans any political affiliations and guess what was the backdrop for the banner design? Senate House, no less!
The various political banners added colour and ‘visual noise’, though MMM wondered as to what was their place in a University convocation. They also blocked off most of the side-walk and ensured that people had to use the road. Apart from those that extolled the virtues of mothers, fathers, suns, stars, rulers, chieftains, kings (of hearts), deities and just about any feudal character, there was one that said “XYZ party welcome’s”! Surely a University convocation would merit better attention to where an apostrophe is to be used.
Among the various events that took place in connection with the celebrations was the laying of the foundation stone for a new arts and language block. MMM hopes and prays that those in charge realise that all previous constructions in the Chepauk campus have been done in styles that harmonise with the Senate House. A new tasteless multi-storeyed monstrosity can ruin what has been a lovely skyline for over a hundred years.
The Chief sets a blistering pace
“How does he do it? And at his age?” asked a sweet young thing the other day. The Man from Madras Musings while initially taken aback realised that this was a question asked in wonder and awe at the Chief’s record of books this year. In the last twelve months, there has been a book on the Madras University, a volume on Senate House, one on the Port Trust, “Born to Dare” which was a biography of Lt. Gen. Gill, the book on the Connemara Hotel, the Gazetteer on Madras and now the book on Ashok Leyland. The last three have seen the Chief set a new record of sorts, for these have been released on three consecutive Sundays. MMM who prides himself on being privy to the Chief’s projects knows that there are more on the anvil. Here’s more power to your pen Chief! Or should MMM say more power to the two fingers that type out the words on the ancient typewriter?
Parents – police yourselves
The last few days have seen the Man from Madras Musings frequenting a place that is quite close to a prestigious school, which like most such institutions of a reasonable vintage is located in a cul-de-sac and was built in the days when not many children came by car. But now the times have changed and hardly any kid comes in by cycle or on foot. And MMM, perched in an eyrie well above road level was able to see the kind of chaos that builds up each morning and evening in the narrow alley that leads to the place.
The school has done its best. It has built an exit gate on the road at the other of the school so that cars can drive through during opening and closing times, rather than reverse in the cul-de-sac and add to the chaos. They have put out notices asking parents not to get out of their cars but pause just long enough for their children to get off and then drive on towards the exit. There is also a policeman stationed at the entrance to the school just to ensure that traffic is orderly.
With so many regulations in place, the area is a nightmare both mornings and evenings and MMM has come to the conclusion that it is the parents and chauffeurs who contribute the most to it. Some will not drive through the school and take the exit on the next street, they prefer to reverse in the narrow space available (and sometimes not available), make three point turnings and honk and plough their way through the traffic that is building up behind them. Some parents indulge in long and lingering farewells which involves getting off the car (and this sometimes includes a doddering grandparent or two) and proceeding in a body to the gate where some words of advice are given to an increasingly embarrassed child who is all eager to enter the building and be rid of it all. All the while the car is idling, with irate parents hooting and cursing behind. Then there is a third variety where the child takes ages to get off the car. The door will be opened and all will be set for the star to emerge, but the personality takes its own time. MMM suspects that such children brush their teeth, have their baths and wear their clothes in the car just before getting into the school and which is why they take so long.
If all this is not enough, some parents and chauffeurs consider it their duty to pass some time of the day in idle banter with the policeman, no doubt commiserating on the terrible traffic discipline in the city.
At the end of it all, MMM realises that what Chennai needs is better traffic discipline and not more flyovers. If only there is an appreciation of what happens to traffic in case someone suddenly makes a U turn or pauses to answer a phone or simply decides to cut across lanes, the city would be a better place to drive in.
Raja Seetharaman – A Heritage Warrior
Had he been around, Raja would have turned 42 just as this issue of Madras Musings rolled out, for his birthday was on 15th September. But it was willed otherwise. Barely a couple of days after Madras Week celebrations had concluded, he had called at my office, to collect a copy of my book on the historic residences. He had gently reminded me that his own house could have merited an inclusion and I promised him that if there was a second volume, I would definitely do so. Conversation then moved to the success of the celebrations. He was very excited about the response to the exhibition on stamps, coins and other artefacts related to the city that he and his friend D Hemachandra Rao had organised at Rajaji Hall. Next year, he promised, it would be an even grander affair. The city will turn 370 he said and we will have a postage stamp released and not just a special cancellation. As he departed, I asked him the secret of his ever ready smile and his sprightly talk and walk. He attributed it all to yoga and a happy frame of mind and that was that. A couple of days later, Vincent D’Souza informed me that Raja was gone. Dead. Killed in an accident in Mambalam Railway Station. It is something that I am yet to come to terms with.
My acquaintance with him was not a very old one. And therefore grieving even more in his memory was Hemachandra Rao with whom he had worked since 1996 or so. Rao remembers first seeing Raja at the Madras Coin Society’s exhibition at the Vaishnava College. He remembers how Raja and his sister Ms Lakshmi Srinivasan would go through each and every exhibit and talk about them animatedly. The friendship between Rao and Raja ripened and a year or so later, they worked in helping Mahatma Gandhi’s secretary V Kalyanam in putting together an exhibition on the Father of the Nation. In 2002, Raja under Rao’s guidance put together the Coin Society’s annual issue. From 2005, the two worked each year in organising an exhibition with Madras as its theme, which took place in Madras Week. The first year, 2005 it took place in the then newly restored Clive House in the Fort. It later shifted to the Museum Theatre and for the past two years was held at Rajaji Hall. Rao says that Raja was one man who never hesitated in spending money from his own purse for this event or for that matter any other event connected with heritage. His logic was simple- if the event was not exciting enough for the organiser to sink in money, then who else will?
Dr Prema Kasturi, who worked with Raja on the Coin Society’s issue, says that from being a collector of coins and stamps, Raja graduated to becoming an academic and gave talks and wrote papers on the subject. She remembers in particular a series on archaeology that he wrote for a magazine brought out for HR specialists. He also teamed up with noted archaeologist and historian Dr Suresh. Raja contributed a piece for the Gazetteer on Madras brought out by the Association of British Scholars. The release of the first volume of the Gazetteer was the last public function in which he participated.
Raja was a magpie collector of sorts. He collected not just coins and stamps, but also wedding invitation cards and copies of the neighbourhood journals that come out in Madras. His name was regularly featured in the “Things People Keep” column of The Hindu. He was also very proud of his house and was very happy when I included it in my itinerary during the Chindadripet Walk I did on 24th August this year.
The way Raja and his family regained possession of their ancestral home on Iyah Mudali Street, Chindadripet would fill a book. Legal battles stretched over twenty years before the squatters could be evicted and Raja’s mother gained possession of the place. When they moved in, the 140 year old building was a mere skeleton, the previous occupants having stripped it of many of its doors and windows. Even the spiral staircase was to be sold to someone. Raja and his sisters along with their mother decided that since the house was structurally strong, they would restore it and live in it. Today it is a building that stands out and locals always point it out to those who come searching for old, architecturally significant buildings in the area. And the staircase was the apple of Raja’s eye. Raja’s visiting card had the motto “Lets be proud owners of our heritage” and carried a photo of his house.
His line of activity- investment consulting took him all over the city and he covered the entire area by public transport and walking. He felt that this was the best way to observe the city! Perhaps if he had owned a vehicle and used it instead of trying to board a train on that fateful night, we would not have lost a true heritage enthusiast.
Raja’s sister consoles herself by stating that perhaps the role which he was to fulfil on this earth was over. But the heritage movement is poorer by his passing. His cheerful attitude and his “can do” spirit will be hard to match.
T Nagar – A showcase for plan violations
The recent fire at a high profile retail store in crowded Usman Road area has brought to light the large-scale regulation violations that have taken place over the years. It lays bare the inability of the CMDA and the local authorities to implement their own regulations. It also poses a big question about the validity of the new proposed master plan which is based on more vertical growth in the city, adding to congestion.
Investigations have revealed that there were no fire-safety measures in the building that caught fire. There was no emergency escape and despite this staff was allowed to stay during the night in the building.
The access to the building is along a narrow road which has become steadily narrower due to encroachments and violations by every building in the neighbourhood. It is impossible for police and fire-safety personnel to access any accident site in the vicinity. The fire in question was put out because it happened in the early hours of the morning. Even then water lorries found it impossible to move in, overhead cables prevented the use of skylifts and hoses could not access the interiors owing to the absence of windows. Close proximity of buildings caused the heat to spread thereby resulting in cracks on the walls leading to fears of buildings crumbling. Large signboards and grilles further encumbered the rescue effort.
In the event of a similar fire happening during the day with a number of shoppers coming in, the result would have been catastrophic. There is no doubt that the congestion and violations in T Nagar make it an area extremely vulnerable to any disaster. However what is amazing is that despite all this and more being written about in the popular press, shoppers returned the next day in the usual numbers. Should we put this down to ignorance or the traditional belief of the Chennai-ites that such disasters will not occur to them?
Historic Gokhale Hall gets reprieve
- High Court stays demolition
The ninety-four year old Gokhale Hall, witness to many historic events of our city and nation, may have a future other than demolition. The High Court of Madras, based on public interest litigation by a member of the Young Men’s Indian Association, granted a stay on the demolition of the building, further to its interim order of a few weeks ago.
In a significant move, which may have a bearing on future attempts to demolish other heritage structures, the Court also ordered the examination of the possibility of “whether the building can be preserved as part of the heritage and culture of not only Tamil Nadu but the whole nation”. This assumes importance in the light of the fact that in the absence of a Heritage Act in the state, earlier judgements on similar issues (such as Bharat Insurance Buildings) have restricted themselves to prevention of demolition and not examined the possibility of restoration. The Gokhale Hall case has more or less taken the same direction as the case involving the demolition of the Director-General of Police building on the Marina. Then too, the Court had ordered the examination of whether the building could be preserved, with happy results.
Passing orders on the stay, the first bench of the High Court stated that all attempts to demolish the building on Armenian Street should be stopped and not carried out till further orders. The court ordered the Tamil Nadu chapter of INTACH (the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage) to visit the place and make a detailed survey of the building and whether it could be repaired.
The court also took cognizance of the fact that earlier, part of the structure was demolished in a hurry even while the interim stay was granted. It has asked INTACH to examine whether the portion which has been demolished can be re-constructed in tune with the original structure. The INTACH, it has said, will take the assistance of Mr S Muthiah and file its report in a sealed cover within three weeks.
The Court also came down heavily on the Government and has questioned as to how the demolition of such a historic structure was permitted. It has also asked the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority to clarify its stand on heritage buildings.
All these developments only go to highlight the crying need for a Heritage Act in the city and the state. As background to such an act, INTACH has already listed out the heritage buildings in the city and the report has been gathering dust in some government department for over two years now. The draft Heritage Act, also worked out by INTACH has met with the same fate. It remains to be seen whether the latest orders of the Court have any impact on this.
The recent trend of the High Court appointing independent and neutral experts to study aspects of heritage and culture prior to any action is something the Government could do well to emulate. An earlier instance has been the case pertaining to illegal advertisement hoardings where a similar committee filed a report on heritage (built and natural) spots in the city where such billboards ought not to be located.
An article on the inauguration of the Shanmukhananda Sabha hall in the 1960s.
The ‘Carnatic’isation of the Clarinet
Carnatic music like all other art forms has evolved continuously thanks to various influences. The era of the British Raj saw composers such as Tyagaraja, Muttuswami Dikshitar and Patnam Subramania Iyer experimenting with western tunes. A Western instrument that was assimilated into Carnatic music thanks to the efforts of Muttuswami Dikshitar, his younger brother Balaswami Dikshitar and disciple Vadivelu of the Tanjavur Quartet was the violin. So successfully was this done that today it is hard to imagine Carnatic music sans the violin. Indeed latter day violinists such as T Chowdiah went so far as to say that the violin was an ancient Indian instrument called the Dhanur Veena.
An instrument that appeared on the scene at around the same time as the violin is the clarinet. It was brought to India during the reign of King Sarabhoji II of Tanjavur. The ruler who had voluntarily become a pensioner of the British in 1799 after reigning for a year, devoted himself to the arts. Having had his education under Father Schwartz and later at the St George’s School, Madras, he had a ear for Western classical music and imported several instruments of that genre for daily use by an orchestra in his employment in Tanjavur. Thanks to the monumental work of Dr S Seetha, former Head of the Department of Music, Madras University, compiled in the treatise “Tanjore as a Seat of Music”, we know of Sarabhoji’s correspondence regarding his musical instruments. A letter dated 26/12/1802 and others of the same period from a Silvester De Costa to Sarabhoji state that the palace had four clarinets among other musical instruments. The clarinet was part of the Western music ensemble put together by the king.
According to Dr Seetha, it was Mahadeva Nattuvanar who first used the clarinet for performing Carnatic music. Even during Sarabhoji’s reign it was being used as an accompaniment for the chinna melam (the lesser ensemble) which accompanied the dance performances of the Devadasis. In an era when a prudish Victorian morality was categorising the dancing girl as being the root cause of all social evil, perhaps the clarinet also suffered, for it took the instrument an inordinately long time to be accepted as a Carnatic music instrument. One has to only compare the relative ease with which the violin came to be accepted. Several of the Trinity’s disciples were violinists while not even one attempted the clarinet.
The clarinet was also considered to fare poorly in comparison to the nagaswaram. It was felt that like many other Western instruments it could not produce gamakas – oscillations and karvais- the long sweeping curves. It however found a ready place in Carnatic music orchestras that began doing the rounds in last years of the 19th and early years of the 20th century. The Mysore Palace Band, the Corporation Band of Madras and the Nathamuni Band, all had clarinettists. In a radio interview given in the 1940s, ‘Tiger’ Varadachariar spoke warmly in praise of Clarinet Abbayi and his rendition of the raga Balahamsa followed by the kriti Ninu Basi. In his view it was Abbayi who gave the clarinet its status as a Carnatic instrument.
‘Veena’ Dhanammal, notoriously conservative in matters musical, was however all for the clarinet and appreciated Abbayi and Balaraman of the Nathamuni Band. Records also speak of a Balakrishna Naidu who was a well-known performer on the instrument. T Balasaraswathi regularly featured Radhakrishna Naidu, an AIR artiste on the clarinet in her dance performances.
The die-hard conservatives however took time to adjust to the clarinet. It was in fact banned at the Tyagaraja Aradhana! This was at a time when after the unification of the various factions, the Aradhana had several leading nagaswaram artistes at the helm of affairs. The clarinet according to them was a Western instrument and therefore had no place in a homage to Tyagaraja. They had conveniently forgotten the violin which was of the same vintage as the clarinet. It is also ironical and perhaps poetic justice that AKC Natarajan not only succeeded in revoking the ban in later years, but also served as a Secretary of the Tyaga Brahma Mahotsava Sabha, the organisation which conducts the Aradhana.
AKC is a third generation clarinettist. His grandfather Kuppuswami Naidu played the clarinet for Sadir performances and his father Chinni Krishna Naidu was a well-known clarinet player. But it is really thanks to AKC that this instrument has gained acceptability. Not only has he worked on the instrument to remove its perceived flaws, but he has also perfected a performing technique which has made the instrument most suitable for Carnatic music. He has brought to a logical conclusion what Sarabhoji and Sylvester De Costa began two hundred years ago.
The author can be contacted at email@example.com
The article appeared in The Hindu – http://www.hindu.com/fr/2008/08/08/stories/2008080850980300.htm