Archive for the ‘Chennai (Madras) History’ Category
Continued from part I
For almost a year Lady Connemara had confabulated with legal luminaries on the grounds for divorce. There had been frank discussions on the Connemaras’ private life and, based on certain proclivities of his, it was agreed that there were sufficient grounds for divorce on the charge of technical cruelty to the partner. But what clinched the decision to pray for annulment of the marriage was the confession of Hannah Moore, a maid-in-waiting, that she had committed adultery with Lord Connemara while in Madras in 1886.
Hannah Moore’s testimony was taken on commission, which meant she deposed in private to officers nominated by the Court. Her story was that she had been in the service of Lady Connemara from 1880 and in 1886 had accompanied the Governor and his wife to Madras. While there, Lord Connemara had committed adultery with her on more than one occasion. In 1887, she had informed Surgeon-Major W. H. Briggs about the matter. Lord Connemara, on being confronted by Dr. Briggs, confirmed that it was the truth and requested the latter to hush it up. Hannah Moore was then sent back to England and had subsequently found employment elsewhere.
The testimony of Surgeon-Major Briggs was, therefore, of vital importance and he sailed for England. In any case it became impossible for him to stay on in Madras for Lord Connemara had spread the story that his estranged wife had committed adultery with Briggs. The latter confronted the Governor over this and managed to obtain a written apology but, sick at heart, he decided to go on home leave. From far away Madras, Lord Connemara began using the official machinery to intimidate him. Threats and blandishments were held out to get him to leave England before the trial. He was posted to Ireland. Surgeon-Major Briggs then met the Director General of the Army Medical Department and informed him in detail of the necessity for his having to stay back in England. He was posted to Woolwich from where he regularly travelled to London to meet Lady Connemara’s lawyers.
A few days before the divorce case, however, he was ordered to leave for India. It was clear that someone high up wanted him out of the way. Dr. Briggs decided to resign his commission with the army and stay on. Realising that the game was up, Lord Connemara went on leave on November 8, 1890, proceeding to England immediately.
The visitors’ gallery of Divorce Court No II was bursting at the seams on November 27, 1890, when Sir James Hannen sat to hear the case of Connemara vs Connemara. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was present at the behest of the Government. The trial was without a jury. Lady Connemara was present, heavily veiled and clad, rather appropriately, in black. A battery of Queen’s Counsel represented her – Sir Frank Lockwood, A. F. Bayford and G. Tahourdin. Lord Connemara was neither present nor represented. The case began with a summing up of the family backgrounds of the two parties and the distressing events that had followed. Doctors who had attended to the Connemara couple as far back as 1875 were summoned and they deposed on the nature of illnesses that they had treated. From what was said, it was surmised that Lady Connemara had suffered ‘cruelty’ at the hands of her husband almost since the early days of marriage.
The deposition of Hannah Moore was then read out. Dr. Briggs was asked to vouch for the veracity of it, which he did. He was then questioned as to whether he had committed adultery with Lady Connemara, which he denied. When Lady Connemara came up for questioning, there was considerable excitement. She slowly lifted her veil and mounted the stand, where she was allowed to sit. She detailed her version of the story, and when asked, said that there was not a word of truth in the canard that she had had a liaison with Dr. Briggs. Further evidence was to be called but the judge ruled this unnecessary as the respondent “had not thought it proper to appear”. The two charges had been established and a decree nisi with costs was granted.
Dr. Briggs then lobbied to get himself reinstated in the army. The Secretary of State for War, the Hon. Edward Stanhope, promised assistance and, in 1891, Dr. Briggs was taken back in the army. To his shock, however, he realised that he had been demoted by several ranks. He refused to accept the offer. Negotiations were opened once again. Questions were raised in the House of Commons, with Lockwood, Lady Connemara’s lawyer being an MP, taking up the matter. Stanhope assured the House that Briggs would be reinstated in full. The assurance was, however, never followed up with a gazette notification.
In the meanwhile, interests inimical to Briggs planted a letter in the Army and Navy Gazette. Signed by ‘Veritas’ it questioned the need for reinstating a man who had been a witness in a divorce. Dr. Briggs was quick to take offence. He wrote a long and detailed letter to the same publication, in which he accused the Director General of the Army Medical Department of succumbing to pressure from higher quarters and doing his very best to scuttle the career prospects of Dr Briggs. The letter was published and brought to the attention of Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. He ordered that reinstatement proceedings of Dr. Briggs be dropped at once as he had made serious allegations against senior officials.
The matter was once again raked up in Parliament by the indefatigable Lockwood. But Henry Campbell-Bannerman (later to be knighted and Prime Minister of England), who had succeeded Stanhope as Secretary of State for War, refused to go against the C-in-C’s orders. Dr. Briggs lost his commission forever. It was some consolation that he had through his ardours secured Lady Connemara’s affection. The two married in 1894 and lived a happy life till her passing away in 1898.
Lord Connemara, whose public career was finished with the lurid details of the divorce, married again in 1894. His new wife was Gertrude, widow of the mining millionaire E.J. Coleman. Queen Victoria never forgave Lady Connemara. In her view, it was less of a case against an erring peer of the realm and more of a besmirching of a Governor of Madras. It was the duty of the white races to set an example to the natives and by exposing her husband to the world Lady Connemara had brought down the image of the empire. She was never received in court while Lord Connemara with his new wife was made welcome. The second Lady Connemara died in 1898. Lord Connemara passed away in 1902.
What of Hannah Moore in the meanwhile? In 1891, a year after the Connemaras had gone their individual ways, the Marchioness of Huntley sued the Brighton Hotel Company for the loss of 1000 pounds worth of jewellery at the Bedford Hotel.
The hotel decided to fight the case, accusing Lady Huntley of carelessness. It also insinuated that her maid Hannah Moore had stolen the jewellery. She denied it and, to support her claim, furnished several testimonials from former employers. Among these was one from Lady Connemara, written after the divorce. She could not speak too highly, Lady Connemara wrote, of the fidelity and trustworthiness of Hannah Moore. Was this a character certificate a wife would ever write on a woman who had had an affair with her husband?
The newspapers speculated on whether Lady Huntley would have taken on a self-confessed adulteress into her employment. Those present in court felt that Hannah was hardly the type to have foolishly involved herself with any man, no matter how highly placed he was. This led to a debate on whether Lady Connemara and Dr. Briggs had paid Hannah to confess to adultery, which Lord Connemara had never committed, at least with her.
The last word is best left to The Star, published from New Zealand. Reporting on the matter on June 10, 1891, it ended its article thus – “The law of libel being what it is, one had better not speculate further”.
Last week brought the heartening news that the National Art Gallery at the Egmore Museum complex is to be restored at a cost of Rs. 11 crore.
For years, heritage activists have feared that the weak dome would soon collapse.
The Empress Victoria Memorial Hall as it was originally named, had its foundation stone laid on January 26, 1906 by the Prince of Wales, later King George V. Designed by Henry Irwin, it is inspired by Akbar’s Bulund Darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri, though much smaller in size. Completed in February 1909, it became home to the Victoria Technical Institute. In 1951, it became the National Art Gallery, displaying some of the country’s best paintings.
A personal favourite among these, and which I hope will be displayed at a prominent place when the building is restored, is Raja Ravi Varma’s Going Out.It is a rather unusual work of the painter who was better known for his portraits of gods, goddesses, kings, queens and stunningly beautiful women. This is a portrait of a shy Parsi girl, clutching a parasol and setting out for a walk. The story behind the painting is given in Rupika Chawla’s Raja Ravi Varma, Painter of Colonial India (Mapin Publishing, 2010).
The subject is Allamai (Aloo) Khareghat, of a well known Bombay-based Parsi family. Ravi Varma and his brother Raja Varma were frequent visitors to Bombay and while there, became very close to the Khareghats. The artist, according to his sibling, greatly enjoyed conversing with Allamai, who was, “a very intelligent lady having a thorough English education.” One day, Ravi Varma was particularly fascinated by a pose that Allamai struck as she stepped out for a stroll and captured it on canvas.
In 1902, Allamai moved to Madras where her brother Meherwanjee Rustomji Khareghat worked for the PWD. She married Rustom T. Patel, a businessman of Ooty and made her home there. In 1926, the couple’s daughter Mary married Nogi P. Clubwallah, who came from a front-ranking Parsi family of Madras.
Widowed early, Mary dedicated her life to social uplift, joining the Guild of Service, becoming an honorary presidency magistrate and remaining for life a magistrate of the Juvenile Court. Her contributions to the war effort earned her the sobriquet ‘darling’ of the Army from Gen. Cariappa.
In 1952, she founded the Madras School of Social Work, which is now recognised by the government as an institution of higher education. The MSSW pioneered several things we take for granted today — meals on wheels, health centres, bakery units and schools for the deaf. Mary Clubwallah-Jadhav (she married again) was nominated to the Madras Legislative Council in 1946, serving three terms. All this is only a part listing of her contributions and achievements.
In 1952, the Khareghats donated the Ravi Varma painting to the Government Museum. Allamai Khareghat-Patel was present in person as was her daughter. A photographer captured the old lady, standing beside her depiction in the first flush of youth.
This article appeared in the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu on 14th May 2013
Inspired by your’s truly’s writing on the above subj. in The Hindu, ye ed of Madras Musings, aka S Muthiah and known to close followers as The Chief, requested that I write in greater detail for his paper. And so here is the first part.
“A date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit for divorce brought by Lady Connemara against her husband, Lord Connemara, Governor of Madras,” reported the Tararalgon Record of Victoria, Australia, on March 1, 1890. By then, ‘The Connemara Divorce’ had become a permanent headline story in most newspapers across the world. Who would have imagined that what was once considered a brilliant match would come to this?
Born on June 11, 1827 as the third son of the 5th Earl of Mayo, the Hon. Robert Bourke qualified in law and had a successful career as a barrister. In 1863, he married Lady Susan Georgiana Broun-Ramsay, eldest daughter of the 1st Marquess of Dalhousie who, when Governor-General of India, had applied the doctrine of lapse with ruthless efficiency. She was also the grand-daughter of the Marquis of Tweeddale who was Governor of Madras in 1842-48. The Hon. Robert Bourke’s elder brother, the 6th Earl of Mayo, would also become Viceroy and Governor-General of India in 1869, only to fall victim to an assassin’s knife in the Andamans.
Robert Bourke entered the House of Commons in 1868 as a Conservative member. He was appointed Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1874 when Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister for the second time. He relinquished the post in 1880 only to be reappointed in 1885 when the Lord Salisbury administration was sworn in. The next year he was made Governor of Madras. It was generally believed that this was a step in the direction of greater things.
Arriving in Madras, the Hon. Robert Bourke proved to be a hard worker. He personally oversaw famine relief measures in Ganjam, lobbied with the Government in England to extend the Madras Railway along the east coast up to Waltair and interested himself in civic works in the city. The drainage of George Town was a pet project. In 1887, the year he was made Baron Connemara, he took the unprecedented step of entertaining at Government House the delegates of the Indian National Congress, then holding their annual session in Madras. The papers of the time praised the Governor for his tact, kindliness, industry and caution. He was known to be a tireless traveller, going up and down the vast Presidency repeatedly, his faithful secretary (later Sir) J.D. Rees in tow.
But there were whispers that all was not well in Government House. Lady Connemara, it was rumoured, had not taken well to India. She complained of the mosquitoes and the heat. Above all, she could rarely sleep without the help of sleeping draughts. Even before leaving England, her health was not good. Indeed it had never been the same since the time when, shortly after marriage, Lord Connemara had come down with ulceration in his mouth. She soon suffered from the same complaint and contemplated going to the Continent for a cure when her husband brought her a medicine that helped her recover. But she had remained sickly ever since.
At Government House, the duties of the hostess were more or less taken over by Lady Eva Quinn, Lord Connemara’s niece. She was married to Captain Quinn of the 17th Lancers, who had been appointed ADC to the Governor. It was said that Lady Connemara, rather than being grateful to Lady Eva for helping her out, felt that her official position was being taken over by the younger woman. She suspected her husband of taking an undue interest in Lady Eva. There were other rumours as well. “Losing his head with the greatness of his position,” went an analysis in the New York World (28.11.1890), “he began a career of moral licentiousness that was the scandal of the little Governmental court, to the disgrace of English representation.” Whatever that meant, Lady Connemara was not so much bothered with it as she was with his Lordship’s closeness to Lady Eva.
Matters came to a head in 1888, when the Connemaras retired to Ootacamund for the hot weather. Lady Connemara insisted that Lady Eva could not be a guest at any of the gubernatorial houses and, so, was lodged in Coonoor. The Quinns decided it was time to return to England, and Capt. Quinn resigned his commission. In October the Governor’s household moved back to Madras, Lady Connemara remaining in Ooty, tended by Surgeon Major Briggs. Back in Madras, Lord Connemara, overlooking his promise to his wife, permitted Lady Eva to spend her last few days in India in Government House. He needed a woman there anyway, for the house was overflowing with guests, several being members of the British aristocracy, among them the Earl and Countess of Jersey.
What happened next is best given in Lady Jersey’s own words (Fifty One Years of Victorian Life): “Shortly after our arrival, Lady Connemara, who had been staying at Ootacamund, arrived at Government House, accompanied by the doctor and one of the staff. The following day she migrated to an hotel just as a large dinner party was arriving and we had to conceal her absence on the plea of indisposition.” Newspaper reports had it that Lady Connemara had drawn up a paper listing out her demands as preconditions for her staying on in Government House. When Lord Connemara refused, she had no option but to move, Surgeon Major Briggs arranging her accommodation at the hotel and helping her to shift.
The Quinns having left for England, Lord Connemara had to request the Jerseys to stay back so that Lady Jersey could help in taking care of the house guests. Among them were Sir Harry Prendergast of Baroda and his daughters. The absence of Lady Connemara was concealed so skilfully that most thought she was ill and confined to her rooms. Fortunately, as Lady Jersey recollected, the servants knew no English and did not communicate with the guests.
Eight days and several imploring letters later, Lady Connemara returned. But it was only for a brief while. During her stay in Government House, she discovered the true nature of her illness. Her condition, Dr Briggs explained, was of a nature that could have been transmitted only by a wayward husband who was infected himself. That decided Lady Connemara. It was back to the hotel and from there to England in March 1889.
Left behind, Lord Connemara continued with what was considered by The Madras Mail to be a “bright epoch in the annals of British administration.” The foundation stone for the Madras High Court was laid in 1889 and, a year later, work commenced on the Connemara Public Library. Shortly thereafter, a market in Chintadripet was named after the Governor. But the storm clouds were gathering for, in early 1890, Lady Connemara, much against the wishes of her family and Queen Victoria, filed for divorce.
To be concluded…
Where is Aal Thottam, a journalist had asked a year ago. I had never heard of the place, I said. But it is in a movie song, he riposted. Perhaps a figment of a lyricist’s imagination, I hazarded. No, he insisted, it must be somewhere around, and there the matter rested.
The question would periodically resurface and I would half-heartedly search for it, occasionally cursing the journo for having planted it in my mind. Youtube revealed the song to be from a Vijay-Simran starrer titled ‘Youth’, and it was a raucous dance number. The first line went: Aal Thotta Bhoopathi Nanada (I am the king of Aal Garden). Now what or who was Aal?
I looked in several books about Madras. There was not a single area named Aal’s Garden or Al’s Garden. Finally, I found the answer in a 1933 streetwise directory of Madras. It was Hall’s Garden! I had been searching under the wrong letter. Hall’s Garden Street said the directory, connected Peter’s Road and Rasool Oomer Bahadur Street. It also added that the thoroughfare was 415 feet in length and 15 feet wide.
Both garden and street have now vanished. But the name still persists. Rasool Oomer Bahadur (now sadly ROB), that defiant scion of the Arcot line, has five streets named after him. The area around ROB Street, which is now a rabbit’s warren of houses and offices, is still referred to as Hall’s Garden or Aal Thottam. As to the garden, I can only speculate that the YMCA grounds and the Wesleyan church and school must all have once been Hall’s Garden.
Of Hall, there were three in Madras. The first was Joseph, a commissioner of the East India Company who came from England in 1668, to sort out differences between Sir Edward Winter and George Foxcroft, both of whom fancied themselves governor of the place. Winter had jailed Foxcroft. Hall made peace and having instated Foxcroft as governor, he withdrew. He did not stay long enough to own property here.
The second was James Stuart Hall, who arriving in Madras in 1775, became advocate, attorney and proctor at the Mayor’s Court. He later bought the city’s first newspaper – The Madras Courier, and became its editor. Among his first acts was to publish a story describing a mythical kingdom run by despotic officials. Unfortunately, several government officials of Madras saw themselves mirrored in the story and forced Hall to publish an apology.
The third was Hamilton Hall, who entered the service in 1781, and rose to become a general in the Army, dying in charge of the southern command in1827 in Tiruchi. Gen. Hall owned extensive properties in Madras. He had garden houses in Egmore and Kilpauk, and two roads in the city, one in each locality, are still named after him. Interestingly, there existed a Hall’s Garden in Nungambakkam too. It is likely that Gen. Hall owned gardens in Royapettah as well, making him the original Aal Thotta Bhoopathi.
From there to a movie song is a long journey.
This article appeared in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories column
Bradis Kesil Road, says a signboard towards the end of R.K. Mutt Road. This is what lack of awareness and official apathy have done to one of the most intriguing places in the city.
Brodie’s Castle on the banks of the Adyar is one of the historic homes of Chennai. It is said to have brought ill luck on several of its residents. James Brodie, of the firm of Jarvis and Brodie, built it in 1796. Perhaps inspired by an eponymous castle in Scotland, he designed it with sloping outer walls and two castellated turrets. The nearest settlement was Mylapore and the road leading there became Brodie’s Castle Road. Today most of it is R.K. Mutt Road, with the last short stretch alone retaining the old name.
Shortly after he moved in, Brodie’s businesses failed forcing him to rent out his castle. The first tenant was Sir Thomas Strange, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Madras. Brodie moved back in 1802 only to drown in the Adyar. The business family of Arbuthnot then purchased Brodie Castle. They rented it out as a house by the river fetched high rent in hot Madras. It was also an artist’s delight making it a favourite subject for watercolours.
In 1810, Edward Vaughan, chaplain of St. George’s Cathedral, moved in, only to lose his wife immediately. He rose to become archdeacon and stayed on at Brodie’s Castle till his retirement in 1829. In 1866, Brodie’s Castle was in the news for the wrong reasons when James McIvor of the Bank of Madras was its occupant. His two daughters, an aide-de-camp to the Governor and the president of the Madras Corporation were killed in a boating accident.
In 1906, the firm of Arbuthnot crashed and Brodie’s Castle was bought, in the distress sale that followed, by Subramania Pillai of the firm of P. Venkatachellum, famed for its condiments and curry powders. It became one of the 75 houses that Pillai owned in Madras. He chose to rent out Brodie’s Castle. Charles Cotton, chief secretary, was a tenant, and he filled the house with fine furniture and art. He was one of the few lucky residents.
Chief Justice Sir Lionel Leach occupied it in 1937. One afternoon in October 1943, the Adyar burst its banks and destroyed many of Sir Lionel’s possessions. Lawyers had a good time imagining the dour Judge sitting in his high-backed chair and futilely commanding the river to rise no further. In 1949, Brodie’s Castle became the residence of P.S. Kumaraswami Raja, the then Premier of Madras State. He lost his post following a stunning electoral defeat in 1952, despite contesting from his family stronghold of Srivilliputhur.
Brodie’s Castle was never a residence thereafter. In 1956, it became home to the Central College of Karnatic Music, now the Isai Kalluri, and in 1968, was renamed Thenral. Maintained after a fashion, by the PWD, it survives, and is worth a visit.
This article appeared in the Hidden Histories column in The Hindu.
I initially thought of adding that the Isai Kalluri has never produced a single star in recent times. But decided that The Hindu won’t publish that.
27th November 1890 saw London all agog. The final hearing of a sensational high society divorce case, of the Governor of Madras from his wife, was taking place. The petitioner, Lady Connemara, daughter of Lord Dalhousie, once Viceroy of India, was there in person. The respondent, Lord Connemara was neither present nor represented.
In 1886, Robert Bourke, a successful career politician was made Lord Connemara and posted to Madras as Governor. In the Governor’s household were his niece, Lady Eva Quinn and her husband who was ADC to the Governor. Lady Connemara suffered from the Madras heat and Lady Eva Quinn began acting as hostess at all social events, which the former deeply resented. Quarrels ensued especially when the gubernatorial party retreated to Ootacamund and Capt Quinn resigned his post and returned to England, leaving his wife to follow. Lord Connemara returned to Madras in October 1888 with his niece, leaving his wife in the hills. The Governor’s doctor, Surgeon Major Briggs stayed on to attend on Lady Connemara.
Once in Madras, Lady Eva stayed at Government House and acted as hostess to a large house party complete with several aristocrats from England. Lady Connemara arrived suddenly with Dr Briggs on the eve of a ball, and was mortified at what she saw. She left at once to stay at a hotel. Incredibly enough, barring a few of the inner circle, none knew of Lady Connemara residing at the hotel for four long months. She refused to return to Government House even after Lady Eva was sent home. In March 1889, Lady Connemara sailed for England.
In November 1889, Hannah Moore, one of Lady Connemara’s former maids confessed to adultery with Lord Connemara while at Government House, Madras. Lady Connemara immediately filed for divorce citing infidelity. Lord Connemara countered by accusing his wife of having an affair with Dr Briggs, which she hotly denied. The Governor resigned his post and returned to England but chose to stay away from the divorce proceedings. His political career was finished.
Dr Briggs testified in Court that Hannah had confessed to him about the adultery. Lord Connemara being absent, the divorce was granted at once. Shortly thereafter, Lady Connemara married Dr Briggs. Hannah Moore went on to a good position with another aristocratic family. Lord Connemara married a rich widow. In short everyone lived happily ever after. Several years later, a newspaper speculated on whether Lady Connemara had connived with the girl to stage a drama of adultery to enable a quick divorce. It cited a character reference that Lady Connemara gave Hannah in which she had praised the latter’s faith and trustworthiness.
Government House where all this happened has since made way for the new Assembly cum Secretariat now the multi-speciality hospital. As for the hotel, it changed its name to Connemara and remains so. A portrait of Lord Connemara is in the lobby. A picture of his first lady would have been more appropriate.
This article appeared under the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu dated 16th April 2013
Sidhalu Street in the Choolai area commemorates Gazulu Sidloo Chetty a man in the business of indigo, dye and cloth in the 1830s.
He was also to become the first Indian member of the Madras Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1836. In the picture is his son Gazulu Latchminarasu Chetty, born in 1806. He succeeded to the business and the Madras Chamber’s membership in the 1840s. But it was through his activities outside of business that he attained immortality.
In 1852, he began the Madras Native Association to counter missionary activity in the Presidency. Evangelists were then bringing out a periodical, The Record, and to oppose it he bought a foundering local publication, the Native Circulator and renamed it The Crescent, publishing it from The Hindu Press, Armenian Street.
He realised early that the East India Company was not the final court of appeal as there was a British parliament that could be petitioned directly. Those were also times when backbenchers in the House of Commons, especially those in the Opposition, could be induced to ask an uncomfortable question or two about conditions in India. Thanks to his frequent letters and articles on the subject, MPs came to know about native cultivators tortured by landlords if they failed to pay their rents and taxes. This led to Danby Seymour, an MP, coming to Madras to investigate.
Seymour and Latchiminarasu toured the Presidency and the former was much moved by what he saw. Back in England, Seymour got Parliament to set up a Commission of Enquiry. The Madras Native Association provided material for what became known as the Torture Commission, which held most of its hearings on Mount Road. While nothing much came from this, Latchminarasu became famous enough to attract the friendship of advocate-general JB Norton. This was to get him a seat on the board of Pachaiyappa Charities.
However, his paper, which specialised in investigative journalism, was to land him in trouble. The governor, the Marquis of Tweeddale took exception to its reporting confidential government information and an enquiry was launched. A mole in government service was discovered and The Crescent had to close.
Undaunted, Latchminarasu launched a new paper – The Rising Sun. In 1855, he got a petition signed by 14,000 people sent to England demanding that the governance of India be taken over by the Crown directly. This was to become a reality after the Mutiny of 1857.
With the East India Company fading away, the new administration favoured Latchminarasu. He became a member of the Madras Legislative Council in 1863, the second Indian to do so.
Such a life of activity though, did not leave him with enough time for his business, which collapsed by the 1860s. It was to be revived later by his kinsmen. His paper folded up in 1863 and he died in 1868.
This article appeared in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories Column
Thanks also to Karthik Bhatt, who first gave me details of Gazulu and who also wrote an article on the man for Madras Musings. Later, a page on Gazulu appeared in my book – Championing Enterprise, 175 years of the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
KV Krishnaswami Aiyar – Part 3
Even though K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar (KVK) was associated with the Music Academy from its inception, he became fully involved with it only from 1935 when he took over as its President. Several of his juniors and associates, such as G.T. Sastry (who later joined All India Radio and became its Director General), Basheer Ahmed Sayeed, and C.K. Venkatanarasimhan (both eminent lawyers, with the former being elevated to the Bench) were roped into the committee. A new era began.
Punctuality in programmes, a credo for which the Academy is a byword till now, was strictly followed. Musicians who had meandered beyond their allotted time would find the curtains lowering even while they were in the midst of a song. KVK brushed protests aside, stating clearly that a musician exceeding his or her time slot was unfair to whoever came on next. He was also uncompromising on presentation of tickets at the entrance. The Boy Scouts were instructed not to allow entry to anybody, no matter how important that personage was, if a ticket or pass was not shown.
Once, it so happened that KVK forgot his ticket. A Boy Scout, not recognising him, stopped him at the gate. Other office bearers berated him for this, but KVK had only praise. He waited at the entrance till his own ticket was brought by his driver. He was equally clear that requests for free passes could not be entertained. Judges and Government officers were firmly told to buy tickets. Once, Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar had wandered in in his absent-minded fashion and nobody asked him for his ticket. Next day, a politely worded letter with a debit note for the ticket amount was sent to his office!
In its initial days, the Academy was not the powerful body it now is. Its finances were in a bad way, it having survived for five years thanks to the generosity of its first President, Dr. U. Rama Rau. KVK was clear that the institution had to stand on its own feet. He hit upon the idea of sponsored programmes, with the first such being held courtesy Lord Erskine, the Governor of Madras. KVK also decided that the Academy would bring out a souvenir each year for its annual season. This would carry advertisements from patrons and sponsors, besides including the programme details. This is a practice that continues till now, with the early souvenirs in particular being valuable historic records – in terms of music and corporate entities. With the money that came in, the Academy’s journal, an annual publication dedicated to the theory of music, could be published without any difficulty.
The Academy had till 1935 functioned from Dr. Rama Rau’s clinic and erstwhile residence on Thambu Chetty Street, George Town. Under KVK it began its journey South. The venue of the annual conference, which had till then been a pandal behind Ripon Building, was shifted to General Patter’s Road for a couple of years and, after that, to the Woodlands Hotel on Westcott Road for yet another year. In 1939, thanks to his clout with the Madras University, KVK organised the concerts at the Senate House which was the Academy’s venue for its annual conference till 1941. The acoustics of Senate House proved a challenge and it was KVK’s idea of hanging sack cloth on all the windows that saved the day. The Academy may have functioned from Senate House forever had it not been for the Tamil Isai movement.
KVK, despite his great love for Tamil, did not believe that it was a musical language. In this he was supported by the Academy die-hards such as TTK, T.L. Venkataramana Iyer and others. This led to the Academy taking a tough stance on the Tamil Isai movement, which estranged the institution from M.S. Subbulakshmi for over five years. With the Tamil Isai Sangam (TIS) being dominated by Justice Party members, who also dominated the University Senate, the Academy had to move. It shifted to the R.R. Sabha.
The rivalry with the TIS was taken as a positive challenge. In order to wean away artistes, KVK came up with the idea in 1943 of declaring the Sangita Kalanidhi an annual award for musicians. The medal and the citation were designed by him and proved major attractions. This, he decided, would be given away each year on the last day of the conference in an Oriental convocation which was appropriately called the Sadas. It is a practice that continues. That this award was to be copied by other organisations and would lead to a near farcical situation each year in December is another matter.
With the TIS embarking on a grandiose auditorium, the Academy had to follow suit. Thanks to the persuasive skills of Basheer Ahmed Sayeed, the institution overcame its hesitation to borrow money and invest in a large property. The necessity for funds saw KVK and team building bridges with M.S. The rest is history. A high point was when Prime Minister Nehru came to lay the foundation stone for the new auditorium in 1955.
Over the years, a closely knit group came to handle Academy affairs. KVK was the leader and his Vice-Presidents included Kasturi Srinivasan of The Hindu, the movie moghul S.S. Vasan and TTK. There were three secretaries, C.K. Venkatanarasimhan, Dr. V. Raghavan and K. Soundararajan. Other members, who would later become Presidents, were Justice T.L. Venkatarama Aiyar and the industrialist K.R. Sundaram Iyer.
As KVK steadily weakened physically, some began to wonder whether it was not time for a new President to take over. Feelers were sent to Kasturi Srinivasan. But he made it clear that as long as KVK was alive, none else could take his position. Sadly, it was Kasturi Srinivasan who predeceased in 1959. Sometimes, in pessimistic vein, KVK would wonder as to how much more time he had. He worried that he would die before the Academy’s new auditorium was complete. On hearing of this, TTK wrote to him assuring him that he, TTK, would ensure that the Academy auditorium was complete in time for KVK to see it.
Sure enough it happened. The grahapravesam took place in December 1961, with KVK wheeled in to witness the event. He lived to see Jayachamaraja Wodeyar declaring the auditorium open in December 1962. In a throwback to the Senate House days, the acoustics of the new hall were as bad, and sacking had to be used once more! He had three more years to struggle through physically as a skeletal wreck, though his mind remained as alert as ever. His faithful team kept him updated on progress – the acoustics were rectified, G.D. Birla had sponsored air-conditioning and there were permanent seats.
Rather aptly, KVK passed away while the December Music Season was in progress, on 24th December 1965. He had been President of the Music Academy for thirty years. His portrait now adorns the main auditorium. Opposite his is the portrait of TTK, the man who gave the final impetus to ensure that his dream came true. In 1976, a bust of KVK’s was installed in the lobby of the Music Academy.
Mylapore’s history is inexhaustible and everyday something new comes up. My latest discovery has to do with Devadi Street, a small thoroughfare that links Appu Mudali Street and Kutchery Road. For long I had assumed that this was once the courtesan quarter of the old town of Mylapore-San Thome, arguably one of the oldest parts of what is Chennai. That was because the name sounded exactly like the Tamil term for the handmaidens of God.
Recently, while reading the biography of the dramatist Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, I came across an interesting reference. He lived on Acharappan Street in George Town. A part of this street he wrote was known as Mahfuz Khan Devadi as it housed a garden belonging to a noble of the Nawab’s Court.
That set me thinking. Could Devadi Street in Mylapore too have some link to a Muslim nobleman? A search in old Corporation records threw up a surprise. The street was registered as Deodi Sardar-ul-mulk Dilawar Jung Bahadur. Deodi or Deorhi is the Persian/Urdu term for a doorway and that made this the street that led to the door of Sardar-ul-mulk Dilawar Jung Bahadur, whoever that was. Over time evidently, the owner was forgotten and only his door was remembered. More probing revealed that this was not a name but actually a string of titles that belonged to none other than Mohammed Ali Wallajah, the Nawab of the Carnatic who was such a staunch ally of the British. By the 1760s, he had moved from his capital at Arcot to Madras. According to S Anwar, the photographer who specialises in the Mohammedan history of this region, Wallajah first settled in Mylapore. By 1768, his Chepauk Palace in Triplicane was completed and he shifted there.
So did Deorhi or now Devadi Street once lead to his garden? It may well have, for this was once the outskirts of Mylapore, beyond which was the pasture land of Mandaveli. An ideal location for a ruler to settle; close to the town and yet just outside of it. The fact that this was once a garden is further confirmed by the presence of a mosque, named the Char Chaman (four garden) Masjid. An old structure that became dilapidated before being modernised, it still has an interesting archway with minarets as can be seen in this picture. This is on Appu Mudali Street, an extension of Devadi Street. Buildings hem it in but a walk around shows that it formed a block by itself once, surrounded by Syed Hameed Hussain, Syed Nadimullah and Syed Wahab Hussain Streets. More Islamic clues follow. Mosque Street is not far away. And just after Devadi Street meets Kutchery Road is an even older shrine – the Jumma Mosque built in 1699. All this makes Mylapore an amalgam of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths. What better example of secularism can there be?
This article appeared under the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu today.