Archive for the ‘Hidden Histories’ Category
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
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.
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.
The Adyar is to us a peaceful river, but in its time it appears to have claimed quite a few victims. Among the earliest is that of James Brodie, builder of the eponymous Castle, which now named Thenral serves as the home of the Isai Kalluri, the Government College of Music.
But by far the worst tragedy was in 1866. Brodie Castle was then home to James McIver, Manager, Bank of Madras (which later became a part of the Imperial Bank– now the State Bank of India). On the afternoon of December 23rd, a tiffin party having just concluded, a group of five set out for a boat ride on the Adyar. Two were ladies – the daughters of McIver. The other three were well known figures of Madras. Lt.Col. John Temple, the Superintendent of Stamps, had just then taken over as President of the newly organised Madras Municipality. Capt. Frederick H Hope was ADC to the Governor Lord Napier. Harry Scuddamore Bostock was Agent of P&O, the shipping company.
The party set off in a China-built boat belonging to Brodie Castle. The idea was to row to the opposite bank, walk on Elliot’s Beach and return. They had rowed a short distance when the boat hit a sand bank. The water being shallow there, everyone got off and the vessel was dislodged after considerable effort. By the time it worked free it was getting dark and the group, having abandoned ideas of rowing across, decided to turn back. They had rowed a little to the shore when they found the craft rapidly filling with water. There was no option but to swim ashore. Bostock was asked to swim first while the other two men helped one lady each.
When Bostock reached the shore he found that the others had vanished. A short while later a coat and a boat cushion floated by. Fearing the worst, Bostock shouted for help and was heard by John D Mayne, then Advocate-General of Madras and living close by. He organised a search party and soon the body of Lt.Col. Temple was found. At 6.00am next day, the body of Capt. Hope came ashore and by 3.00 pm, those of the two girls were fished out. It was found that while Temple’s face registered peace, those of the other three were violently contorted, indicating a great struggle. Strands of Miss Kate McIver’s hair were in Capt. Hope’s clenched fist. An inquest was held, the editor of Madras Times, Henry Cornish being among the Coroner’s Jury. He, having frequently rowed in that boat, opined that it was meant for four people at most and not five. A verdict of death due to accidental drowning was brought in. The military men were buried with due honours at the St Mary’s Cemetery near Central Station, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief in attendance.
A broken-hearted McIver returned to England. Bostock was sent back too, in a state of shock. He never made it, dying en-route.
This article appeared in the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu dated 5th March 2013
Last week I went in the company of friends to the hill temple of Tiruneermalai just off Chromepet. It is one of the historic shrines around the city that I had meaning to visit for years. Picturesque beyond description, it comprises as can be seen in the picture, a large tank, a hill and two temples, one at the base and another at the top. Rather uniquely, Vishnu is in four postures, standing, sitting, reclining and walking.
Considering that Bhoothathalwar (7th century CE) sang in praise of the Lord here, the temple must be of Pallava vintage. Of that period is nothing to see for it probably was then an edifice of brick and wood that perished over time. The Cholas rebuilt it with stone in the 9th century and the rulers of Vijayanagar extended it in the 14th and 15th centuries. The work of the last named period is evident in abundance here though the sanctum is probably Chola. Inscriptions are in plenty all around the two temples, making them an epigraphist’s delight. These pertain to Chola, Pandya and Vijayanagar times. When you also consider that this is also a site of megalithic importance, you can see that Tiruneermalai has been a continuing witness to historic development over ages.
When Tirumangai Alwar of the 8th century came here and sang his 19 verses, the hill was completely surrounded by water. This must have been a frequent phenomenon, giving the place its name. Several historic accounts note the presence of water and lush green groves. And it is not so surprising considering that Chennai and its environs were once noted for their water-bodies. Even now, Tiruneermalai has plenty of water in its vicinity- apart from its own tank there are the Pallavaram Periya Eri, the Kadapperi and the Pallikaranai Marsh.
In the 19th century, the temple came to be governed by Venkatachala, a rich dubash. The Sanskrit work Sarvadeva Vilasa, (translated by Dr V Raghavan) notes that Venkatachala rebuilt the temple tower and car. The latter now stands outside the lower temple, shrouded in plastic sheets. The book has a fascinating description of a soiree conducted by Venkatachala in a large grove near the temple. Performing in it were the courtesans of the patron and Sonti Venkataramanayya, the guru of the noted Carnatic music composer Tyagaraja.
The British appear to have not considered the temple of importance though there are unverified stories that Clive camped here during the Arcot wars. In the 20th century Tiruneermalai became the venue for unostentatious weddings, the most famous being that of MS Subbulakshmi and T Sadasivam in July 1940, with Kasturi Srinivasan of The Hindu being witness. The place also became notorious as the venue where lovers fearing parental wrath got surreptitiously married, earning it the sobriquet of ‘Thiruttuthali Malai’. But that is another story.
This article was published in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories column on 26th February 2013
One of the great joys in writing this column is the volume of replies, rejoinders and recriminations that come about. Of greater happiness are the reunions that take place between long lost cousins or the discovery of ancestral greatness by younger generations. But first let me get on with the correction concerning Dr Chowry Muthu and the Tambaram Sanatorium.
This comes from Ramineni Bhaskarendra Rao who has a treasure trove of Telugu publications and delves into them to come up with nuggets. According to his account, Dr Chowry-Muthu before embarking on the Tambaram Sanatorium made an extensive study of existing facilities all across the country, visiting Madanapalle, Coonoor and Mysore. In 1923, he attended the Tuberculosis Conference in Lucknow and then submitted a memorandum to the Madras Government on the necessity of establishing a sanatorium in the city. Presumably, the Government encouraged him thereafter to set up the Tambaram facility.
Bhaskar also writes that Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar did not inaugurate the sanatorium but laid the foundation stone. Other dignitaries present on the occasion were Sir M Ct Muthiah Chettiar the business baron and philanthropist, Sir Aneppu Parsuramdas Patro, formerly Minister, Government of Madras and later Speaker of the Orissa Legislative Assembly, Justices Sir M David Devadoss and Tiruvenkatachariar of the High Court, and A Rangaswami Iyengar, Editor, The Hindu. The inauguration of the sanatorium, with four patients staying in isolated rooms was on 31st March 1929 with the Rt. Hon. VS Srinivasa Sastri presiding. Others who attended the function were Dewan Bahadur RN Arogyaswami Mudaliar, Minister for Development in the Dr P Subbaroyan Government and O Kandaswami Chetty of the Justice Party.
Another honoured attendee was Dr A Lakshmipathy, well-known physician and husband of Rukmini, Congress activist, later deputy-speaker of the Madras Legislative Assembly and Minister for Public Health in the 1940s. His presence at the inauguration was significant. Four years before Dr Chowry-Muthu, he had established a ‘health village’ for curing patients through Ayurveda at Avadi. The Arogya Ashrama as it was called flourished till the area was requisitioned by the Government during the Second World War.
The most surprising and delightful response was through a phone call. This was from S Damayanthi, grand-niece of Dr Chowry-Muthu. Her grandmother was the doctor’s sister. She added that Dr Chowry-Muthu’s son Bernard visited India regularly in the 1940s and 50s and would stay with her family at Tana Street, Puraswalkam. Conversing with him was great fun she remembers, for he knew no Tamil and she and her siblings very little English. Dining with him was even more entertaining as he used a knife and fork. The families have since lost touch and she would love to re-establish contact with the UK-based descendants of Dr Chowry-Muthu, if any.
This article appeared in The Hidden Histories column of The Hindu