Chennai is as cricket crazy city as any other. While the game was introduced here thanks to the British, the credit for ensuring that Indians had facilities to play the game goes to M Buchi Babu Naidu of the family of ‘Dare House’ Naidus.
Moddaverapu Dera Venkataswami Naidu, the patriarch, was dubash or agent to Parry & Co (whose HQ was Dare House) in the 19th century and hence the family name. He became enormously wealthy and acquired twenty acres in Luz, building the family home Lakshmi Vilas there in the 1830s. He subsequently built Luz House on the same property in the 1850s. He also owned shops and houses in Triplicane in the vicinity of Big Street. One of the by-lanes off Big Street is Dera Venkataswami Street.
Venkataswami Naidu had only one daughter who bore five sons, the eldest of whom was Venkatamahipathi aka Buchi Babu. He was adopted by Venkataswami Naidu. Buchi Babu and his brothers were brought up in the best English tradition and this included having British nurses and governesses all of whom inculcated a great love of cricket and all other sports in general in their wards. In time Buchi Babu became a fine cricketer and a pillar of the Madras United Club (MUC) which he founded and to which cricket playing Indians owed affiliation, the Madras Cricket Club then being only for whites.
Buchi Babu ensured that Indians were given proper kits and trained to play well. He also persuaded the MCC to have an annual match between Madras Indians and Europeans. But he died in 1908, a few months before the first match, the early widowhood of his daughter and the subsequent death of his wife sapping his will to live. Buchi Babu Street, also branching off Big Street commemorates this sportsman. The match that he instituted became an annual fixture and the MUC instituted the Buchi Babu Trophy in his memory.
Buchi Babu’s three sons, Venkataramanjulu (Bhatt), Baliah and Ramaswamy became great cricketers and carried on the family tradition. With independence and subsequent legislation that acted against vast landholdings, the family was forced to sell its surplus lands. Baliah Avenue came up on Luz and is today a thriving colony of houses with the gates to Luz House at one end. Lakshmi Vilas has long vanished.
Tucked away behind what was once the Buchi Babu property is Bangaru Ammal Street. Residents of that cul-de-sac aver that it is named after a kinswoman of the family, probably Buchi Babu’s wife. If that is true, it means four streets being named after members of one family, surely a record of sorts.
( On 11th November 2008 I have verified that Bangaru Ammal was indeed Buchi Babu’s wife. Buchi Babu’s grandson has confirmed this. Interestingly, the street for some reason is now called Bangaru Ammal Koil Street!).