Multiple hues of religion

October 13, 2015

Multinationals in Chennai, so The Man from Madras Musings is given to understand, are a confused lot. They had all along assumed, at least from reading the local newspapers, that religion in the city had only two colours – saffron and non-saffron. But it is only on being enticed from across the globe and then having invested that they come to know of several other colours in existence. They are now resigned to the fact that their employees can turn up all of a sudden in certain colourful outfits, sporting beaded necklaces as an added attraction. And far from being haute couture, this outfit, comprising usually of a faded dhoti, a crumpled shirt and a dirty scarf, can be of any garish colour – red, blue, black, ochre, green, yellow and even salmon pink. One other aspect completes this garb – the absence of footwear and the complete giving up of shaving.

A foreigner who has been here for a few years informs MMM that he has even come to accept the strange dresses, but he is unable to come to terms with the stubble – he has done a study and has concluded that the 3rd, 8th, 19th and 21st days of the growth of facial hair are the most unbearable for him and not the cultivator of the beard.

For those who do not know, MMM is obliged to explain that these sensational outfits, the abandoning of footwear and the growing of beards are all part of religious observances, usually culminating in a pilgrimage after which life returns to normal. During the observance, the devotees are considered to be embodiments of the deity being propitiated, and are addressed as such. Swearing at them is taboo, for that would be tantamount to insulting the deity, which could then retaliate with thunderbolts. Maddeningly, or so the foreign exec informs MMM, these para-deities do even less work than usual during these periods and the temptation to swear at them rises in proportion to the growth of the beard.

MMM understands that most companies have now begun to take a tough line on this matter. Braving the thunderbolts, they have said in no uncertain terms that religion is a matter of private practice and has no space in offices. People have been asked to conform but some, so MMM learns, have opted to resign on these grounds.

Knowing the readership of this column, MMM can see a considerable percentage of it fuming and wanting to ask if MMM or these foreign companies would be so bold if these observances were from a mi­no­­­rity community. That is where they make their bloo­mer. The blues, the greens and the salmon pink are all minority rites, and of recent origin. The companies have decided to clamp down on all of them, irrespective of majority, ­mino­rity, colour, creed and sex. It appears that at last we are well on our way to becoming a secular nation, something that was promised in 1950.

Eternally Backward

October 12, 2015

These are backward days, Chief, what with all kinds of people springing up, demanding that their community be declared backward. The Man from Madras Musings has it from a reasonably powerful authority (his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed) that there are moves afoot to declare the entire country backward – Our Backward Country or OBC will be the motto, she says. MMM does not know if this is true, but he does know that the good lady’s prophecies have generally come true, at least as far as MMM is concerned.

At the Middle School, Mint Street

But OBC matters were not what MMM wanted to write about. His lay for the week is on the Eternally Backward (EB) organisation that controls the distribution of electricity in our State. The tale that follows is not MMM’s personally but that of an elderly gent of our city of Chengapore or Chengai, who is a mentor of the highest order as far as MMM is concerned. This person believes in being at the forefront of technology – unlike you, Chief, with your typewriter, this Mentor of MMM’s (or should we just say MMMM) positively bristles with laptops, iPods, smart phones and all other kinds of gizmos. A man of that variety naturally opted to go with what he felt was the latest in electricity – tapping solar energy. Came a day when he contacted a solar panel company and asked them to install the facility at his place.
MMM will not go into the travails of MMMM in getting the company to do the needful. The panels arrived prom­pt­ly enough and then lay idle for months on end, the solar panellists not being ready. ­After relentless follow-ups, a task at which MMMM excels, and for which he maintains planning charts, the crew turned up and installed the panels on the roof, did the connections to the electric supply of the house and departed. A meter showed how much electricity was being generated by the solar panels. The power generated was fed into the grid and, so, if the panellists were to be believed, the EB was to give MMMM a rebate for the amount of electricity that he had generated via the solar panels.

MMMM was delighted. He spoke about this at length to his early morning walk friends and his family, and even emailed news about it to his extended network, which in MMM’s view, really extends. But the old man had overlooked one thing – namely the ability of the EB men to understand such a facility. Came the day for the monthly meter reading and the man in charge duly arrived, took one look at the new meter and promptly left. The next day, he turned up with another man. Both peered at the new meters, scratched their heads and left. The third day, there were four men and the fourth day there were eight and so on. The collective scratching of heads contributed generously to dandruff on MMMM’s lawns, but nothing happened beyond that.

On enquiries being made, it turned out that the local EB had no clue as to how to factor in power being uploaded into the grid. Realising that the due date for paying the electricity bill was fast approaching and that the onus was on him to clarify matters, MMMM orga­nised a summit conference – on the roof top of his residence, that is, near the panels, with solar panellists and the EB men attending. This came about after many days, as EB men are busy men, as you know, with no time to socia­lise. When it happened, with tea being supplied by MMMM’s good lady (whose motto unlike that of MMM’s is Obey), a solution was thrash­ed out. The reading was taken and everyone left. The next day, MMMM received the bill – it included a penalty for late payment of electricity dues! He is now, or so MMM understands, running from pillar to post to convince the EB that it is their fault and not his that the bill was paid late.

The PM and the pinprick

October 10, 2015

Hating heritage – with good reason for it

October 8, 2015

There are three reactions to heritage – some love it, and these are most often those who have no stake in it; the second variety is completely indifferent, this is largely the Government that sadly controls most of it; and some would rather wish it away, these are the private property owners who find themselves saddled with something they do not want and, more importantly, something they cannot profit from. Last month saw matters coming to a head at Pallavaram where residents protested against the heritage status that they feel has been imposed on their neighbourhood. A lot can be done by the Government to dispel any fears, but by keeping silent, it is only flaming discontent with heritage being the ultimate victim.

This matter in Pallavaram has been pending for over seven years now. It was in 2007 that plots of land were sold to people, all of them having purchased properties with the intention of developing them for residential purposes. The sale deeds were all registered as per due process. But when the purchasers began making plans to construct houses, they were asked to get No Objection Certificates (NOC) from the ‘appropriate authority’ which in this case is the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as the land falls under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act 2010.

The entire area, according to the ASI, is a centrally protected site, with ‘megalithic cairns and cists, showing clear structural postures’. However, as to what this actually implies has not been spelt out clearly by the ASI and the organisation has done precious little by way of actually protecting the place.
The owners on approaching the ASI were informed that the issue of NOCs could be considered only after the ASI conducted a joint survey of the area along with the revenue officials of the Kancheepuram District. A date was fixed for this in 2011 but matters made no headway as the residents, not understanding clearly as to what this implied, protested and prevented the survey from happening. Matters have been hanging fire since then and the residents approached the High Court of Madras, which in March this year ruled that it was necessary for the joint survey to be done. The Court directed the petitioners to file a request before the Collector of Kancheepuram who, on receipt of such a request, was to organise a meeting of the revenue officials and the ASI. This has not happened thus far.

It would appear that the Government is missing a golden opportunity to promote private participation in heritage. What is happening is that the owners are getting increasingly frustrated over the continued stonewalling. What is on the other hand required is a public meeting to be called so that the process of the joint survey and what it proposes to find can be explained to the stakeholders. This is to make the latter a part of the survey, which ought then to be undertaken without delay. The findings of this need to be published immediately thereafter.

What is likely to emerge from this is that not every property owner is sitting on a megalithic cairn or cist. Those that are not affected ought to be allowed to get on with their construction. The affected owners – whose interests need to be met with and their concerns assuaged – can either be offered land elsewhere or they can be permitted to construct on parts of their properties that do not have these remains. Lastly, the entire colony ought to be taught the importance of the pre-historic finds and how they need to be proud of what they possess. The residents can be made a part of a committee that administers these sites and helps promote tourism in the area. Revenues from such activities can be used for improving the locality and maintaining the relics.

All this calls for some enlightened thinking. Can we expect this from our Government – and citizens?

What is heritage, and what is not…

October 7, 2015
The Harbour Police Station - facing an uncertain future

The Harbour Police Station – facing an uncertain future

The past few years have seen a spate of writings on heritage, accompanied by a lot of media attention. This has naturally resulted in a huge amount of interest concerning old buildings, especially among the reading public, though this has admittedly not resulted in much action on the ground. It has, of course, created an enormous dislike among the bureaucracy about what it terms ‘heritage activism’. That body of officials would be most happy if there was no opposition to the complete demolition of all heritage structures, to facilitate their replacement with modern highrise. Unfortunately, this hostility is only enhanced by those who, even if in a well-meaning fashion, brand any reasonably old structure as heritage and begin questioning its removal. This makes any heritage activity appear obstructionist. The latest in this series is a newspaper article that mourns the proposed pulling down of the Esplanade police station.

A careful reading between the lines would reveal that the structure in question was built only in 1961. It is a modern PWD building that replaced an earlier structure even then. It is this 54-year-old structure that the Government proposes to replace with a modern building. What is the heritage value of the existing structure? None probably. And whatever there was earlier probably vanished with the demolition in 1961.

What cannot be denied, however, is that a police station has existed in the area since 1856. This needs to be commemorated. The Tamil Nadu Police has in the past displayed a sense of history – it has not only preserved its headquarters by the beach, it has also retained the old bungalow in Egmore that served as the Police Commissioner’s Office even after a multi-storeyed building came up alongside for the same. It is to be hoped that when it constructs a new police station at the Esplanade, the department will put up a plaque commemorating the history of the place. That would be more than sufficient.

The Triplicane Police Station, a survivor

The Triplicane Police Station, a survivor

While on the subject of new buildings for old, it must be pointed out that the Police has a chequered history when it comes to their stations. The one at Flower Bazaar made way for a tasteless piece of modernity. The Mount Road station was demolished but replaced by a new structure that vaguely recalls the architecture of the old Spencer’s showroom. The Grame’s Road station was retained in full, as there was sufficient space to the rear, where a new building has come up. The most fortunate among all of them is the Triplicane Station on Wallajah Road. This heritage structure, once the langar-khana of the Nawabs of Arcot, has been splendidly restored, ironically when all heritage buildings surrounding it – Government House, Cooum House, the bandmaster’s house, Gandhi Illam and Kalaivanar Arangam – were all demolished!

Hanging fire is the fate of the Royapettah station which was also slated for demolition but has not yet gone under. Also facing an uncertain future is the Harbour station. Both these buildings are undoubtedly heritage structures that date to over a hundred years. They certainly need to be preserved. If the Police needs to expand its activities in these two stations, it would be better off looking for new buildings in the surrounding areas rather than demolish these two to make way for highrise. While the Royapettah station is in use, the Harbour one is at great risk. It has been cordoned off and is now devoid of maintenance for over five years. The media would be better off highlighting the plight of these buildings rather than raising a hue and cry over structures that are of dubious heritage value at best.

Know Fort St George – 11, Charles (and James) Street

October 6, 2015
ECHS Building, Charles Street, once probably the Town Hall, Fort St George

ECHS Building, Charles Street, once probably the Town Hall, Fort St George

We have in the last two episodes focussed on two principal buildings on Charles Street – the Great aka Admiralty aka Clive House and Wellesley House. This extremely broad thoroughfare has very few buildings on it today. Between Clive’s and Wellesley’s houses is a large edifice belonging to the army and accessed through an arched gateway. This must have in its time been an important building. On the opposite, i.e. the eastern, side runs a long colonnaded building for most of the street’s length. This is today the Ex-Servicemen’s Contributory Health Service (ECHS) Centre of the Fort, but in its long years of existence has served several functions, most notable of which is that of the Town Hall for Madras. This was where the important residents of the Fort met to discuss and decide on important matters concerning the city. But this was not the only building to serve this role in the Fort. It was also till recently the embarkation headquarters for the Southern Command of the Indian Army.

San Thome Gate

San Thome Gate

Charles Street ends at the San Thome Gate of the Fort, an arched structure with alternating bands of white and black. This is today closed to the public but gets its name from the fact that it is the southern entrance to the Fort, the pathway from it leading along the sea to the once Portuguese settlement on San Thomè. In its time it must have been a busy thoroughfare with much comings and goings between the two settlements, of which, of course, San Thomè was the older and bigger. But by the time Fort St. George began growing, this once prosperous Portuguese settlement had seen better days and many of its residents began moving into the British town where they settled at the northern end, a place that came to be called Portuguese Square and which we shall deal with in detail later. Others commuted from San Thomè every day to work in the Fort or visit relatives. This influx of people must have happened via the San Thomé Gate.
Today there may be only so many visible reminders of the historicity of Charles Street, but in its time this was a very busy thoroughfare. While we wander along it, it may be worthwhile to pause a while and reflect on the various buildings that do not exist. But before that the broad width of the street also has a history. This was once two parallel streets running north to south, from Parade Square to the San Thomé Gate. The western one was Charles Street and its eastern counterpart was James Street. These, and the easternmost street of the Fort, named after St Thomas, were all connected at the northern end by the church of St Mary’s and at the southern end by road across which lay San Thomé Gate. Sometime in the 18th Century, James Street vanished – the buildings that separated it from Charles Street were demolished and the two roads became one broad thoroughfare – known in early years as Charles and James Street and, then, just Charles Street. Perhaps this was an early instance of renaming streets, something our city specialises in – in the early 18th Century, King Charles II was revered in public memory but not his successor King James II, who had been deposed in a bloodless coup in 1688!

In the early years, when the Fort was nothing more than the present area occupied by the Assembly and Secretariat, Charles Street had the Elambore River flowing along its western periphery. Difficult though it may now be to believe, there was once a river wharf on this street, with eight small guns mounted on it. This was constructed in 1740, following a petition by the street’s residents. The river not being perennial “left shallow grounds,” they said and added, “low swamps which, by the heat of the sun, became a nuisance to the Town. Your petitioners, at very great expense and trouble, have effectually prevented and remedied these mischiefs by building a Wharf Wall upon a foundation of brick wells and filled up with lime stones and other materials for cement. Your petitioners have also faced the said Wharf Wall with Iron Stone, and raised thereon Brick Pallisades, to the great Ornamentation of the River and Beautifying the Prospect of the Town.”

Today, not a trace of the river or the wall survives. Also not traceable are several prominent landmarks that keep surfacing in Company records. The most curious is ‘A Statue of the Goddess of Commerce’ which was set up in a rectangle between Charles and James Streets. It appears to have been there in 1734 and vanished by the 1750s, most probably brought down by the French. The principal cloth godowns of the Company were also on Charles Street, the one at the corner belonging to Thambu Chetty. Another dubash who owned a godown here was Tepperumal Chetty. These buildings were organised by function and bore names such as Calico or Sorting Godown, the Embaling godown and the Import Warehouse. Missing today is also Jearsey House, a stately residence with a long history. Built in the 1640s by Agent Greenhill and used as his residence, this was in 1699 acquired by the Company for its Calico Beating Godown and Granary. By then, it had passed through several hands. William Jearsey had bought it from Greenhill and enlarged it. A consortium of which Elihu Yale was a member later owned this building. In 1692, Sir John Goldsborough arrived in Madras to investigate charges against Yale. He was sworn in as President in Council (the equivalent of Governor), and eight months later, after a full investigation, exonerated Yale. He then embarked on a tour of Cuddalore and Bengal, leaving his wife and children as tenants of Jearsey House. Six months later he was dead and his family moved out. By the 1710s, the building had become a Charity School. All we know of this house today is that it stood close to the ‘Great House on Charles Street’.

Among the most important residents of Charles Street was the Nawab of Arcot himself. In 1758, shortly before the French unsuccessfully laid siege to Madras, Muhammad Ali Wallajah petitioned his friend and Governor, Pigot, for a house in White Town, where he might “lay in a stock of provisions and himself retire thither in case of necessity.” The house assigned to him was at the southern corner of Charles Street, once occupied by a Dr. Munro. On the approach of the French in December that year, Wallajah shifted in and remained there for some time. By the 1770s, with Fort House being in a deplorable condition, Du Pre, the Governor of Madras, shifted to Charles Street, as did his successor Rumbold.

On the same side as the ‘Great House’, but shown as standing further south of it, which means it stood where Parade Square is today, was another stately building. This was by the 1790s owned by Andrew Ross, Secretary to the Government. With its front on Charles Street and its rear on Palace Street, it was described as having ‘offices, the accommodation of a family, and large spaces of Ground (all of which open into the Back Street where the Arsenal stands, as well as into the street in Front)’ and was offered on rent of 80 pagodas a month for housing the new Courts of Justice. This office later moved to the Choultry Gate Street, which then came to be known as Court House Street.
Standing on Charles Street today, all this hustle and bustle can only be imagined. But in its peace and quiet, we can easily conjure the procession that went down it on July 24, 1727, to the accompaniment of “civic authorities, a foot company and with all English musick.” This was to celebrate the firman of the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar granting the English the continued use of Madras.

Pics courtesy: San Thome Gate – Mukund Vedapudi, ECHS – Ramakrishnan Mohan

This article is part of a series on Fort St George. Click on the links below for the earlier stories:

1. The Fort- Its Topography
2. The Flagstaff
3. The Sea Gate
4. The Moat
5. The Cornwallis Cupola
6. The Assembly and Secretariat
7. The Parade Square
8. The Barracks
9. The Great House on Charles Street
10. Arthur Wellesley’s House

Smart cities, at what price?

October 5, 2015

The Centre’s deadline for the release of its first list of 100 smart cities is rapidly approaching. Each State has been allotted a certain number of towns that it can recommend for this tag. Tamil Nadu, as one of the most urbanised States of the country, has the second largest number to identify – 12 – being next only to Uttar Pradesh which, owing to its size, has 13. The question uppermost in the minds of urban planners and others interested in holistic development is whether the race for being declared smart will mean sacrificing other and more pressing objectives.

A smart city, to quote Wikipedia, “uses digital technologies or information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.” The Centre considers this to be a highly desirable national goal and had earlier this year announced that it wanted 100 cities and towns to achieve this status in the next five years. Rs. 48,000 crore has been allotted for realising this target. Each town will get Rs 100 crore a year for the next five years to help it get on with the activity. A matching grant will come from the State and any additional requirements will have to be met by partnerships with the private sector. The implementation will be in the hands of special purpose vehicles, each to be headed by a Chief Executive Officer. As a first step, every State has been asked to identify a certain number of towns with potential and submit respective vision documents for each. The Centre will then shortlist the first set of 20 towns that will receive the first round of funding at once. It is naturally a matter of prestige for each State to get in as many of its cities as possible in the first list.

But is digital engagement a goal that is higher than many more pressing issues, is the question. It is certainly a laudable objective, but are local bodies capable of executing them effectively? To quote Wikipedia once again, for a city to be declared smart, it needs to enhance digital technology in the areas of Government services, transport and traffic management, healthcare, energy, water and waste management. Taking Chennai as an example, how can digital technology help? There will definitely be benefits in information dissemination – we will get to know of traffic loads, the status of water resources, waste management infrastructure, and energy usage. That means greater transparency certainly. But what are we going to do with this information? Taking into account our experience with the Right to Information Act, for instance, which also aimed at greater transparency, we do know that when an administration wants to stonewall, it can do so very effectively.

Will the plethora of publicly available information mean greater pressure on the administration to act? The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’. But does it have the wherewithal to act? Sadly, ‘No’. We are aware that one of the biggest banes of Chennai is the tacit builder-official nexus that allows encroachment of public space, construction of illegal structures and the consequent degradation of quality of urban life. We do know that our waste management strategy is woefully inadequate and our civic body is still resorting to outmoded techniques of landfills and non-segregated refuse. That our city is choked with slums is an open fact. How will all this change by making our city smart? Are we not there already?

What is therefore needed is that the smart city initiative be combined with a strong effort to clean up the administration. It is not enough that the technology becomes transparent; attitudes have to keep pace as well.

Know Fort St George – 10, Arthur Wellesley’s House

September 30, 2015
A still standing portion of Wellesley's House, Fort St George

A still standing portion of Wellesley’s House, Fort St George

Charles Street, on which the Great House that we saw last fortnight stands, also has some other stately buildings. Strolling further south on it, pause at the last house on the right, just before the erstwhile San Thomè Gate of the Fort that now leads to the Military Police headquarters. One half of that stately home has completely collapsed, while the other barely stands, held in place rather ironically by the roots of a huge banyan tree growing out of it. If you peer closely at a slate panel on the extreme edge of the house you can make out just three letters of an inscription. These read ‘TON’ and they are all that remain of the full text that once read “Colonel the Hon. Arthur Wellesley, later 1st Duke of Wellington, lived here – 1798.” Yes, this was indeed the residence of the man who would one day defeat Napoleon and also become Prime Minister of England twice.

Arthur Wellesley was of aristocratic stock, for he was the fourth son of the Earl of Mornington, born to the latter’s Countess Anne in 1769. In keeping with the choices open to all younger sons in the British aristocracy, especially those of highly placed but impoverished families, he joined the army in 1787, being commissioned as an ensign. His eldest brother Richard had succeeded to the title and was of great help, ensuring that Arthur was an aide de camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and also became a sitting member of Parliament. As time went on, Arthur, with financial assistance from his brother, was to repeatedly purchase promotions in the army, though it cannot be denied that he did have a flair for military matters. By 1796, he had become a full-fledged colonel and was then serving in the 33rd Regiment. That year, he set sail for Calcutta. Having spent a few months there, he went on an expedition to the Philippines and returned in 1797, only to learn that the new Governor General of India was none other than his elder brother, Richard, the Earl of Mornington.
In the meanwhile, even before his brother took charge in Calcutta, Arthur Wellesley had begun travelling around British possessions in India, his stature now considerably enhanced by his brother’s appointment. It is therefore in that light that we must view his being allocated such a large and brand new house (it was built in 1796) in the Fort when he reached Madras. According to Sir Charles Lawson in his Memories of Madras, Wellesley also “occupied for many a day” a small house at Teynampet, Madras “conducting incessant, and sanguinary warfare against the mosquitoes bred in the adjacent Long Tank.” Governor Lord Hobart had left the city by then leaving General Medows as the acting head of the administration. In 1798, Madras got its next Governor in Edward, the Second Lord Clive, son of Robert, the man who got for the Company much of its dominance over the Carnatic and its possession of Bengal. But Edward was not a patch on his father, preferring to lead a life of luxury and pomp. The Wellesleys, Richard and Arthur, did not think much of him.

This was partly the reason why they chose to largely bypass him when it came to the final war with Tipu Sultan. The conflict became urgent when news came of Napoleon landing in Egypt. It was believed that he would soon be on his way to India. Rumours gained ground about Tipu being in correspondence with him. The British were also worried about a large French presence in the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Fearing quite correctly that Lord Clive would do nothing about it, Richard Wellesley, the Earl of Mornington and Governor General of India, decided to take a leaf out of a predecessor’s book. In 1792, Lord Cornwallis shifted his office from Calcutta to Madras to wage the Third Mysore War. Now, Richard Wellesley would do the same.

Madras was however not enthusiastic about battle with Tipu. The Chief Secretary, Josiah Webbe (who has a memorial for himself in St Mary’s Church), remonstrated stating that the Government was unprepared – the deficit stood at eighteen lac pagodas and the Government’s 8 per cent bond carried a 20 per cent discount on it. But the Governor General would have none of it. Fortunately for him, the Commander-in-Chief, George Harris, was of the same view and it was decided that battle would commence. Arthur Wellesley and his 33rd would be a part of the force.

The march to Srirangapatnam began in February 1799, the Governor General remaining behind in Madras and keeping a close watch from there. His brother’s role in the war against Tipu always remains a matter of controversy. He certainly lost his way and on April 6th entered a dark grove at Sultanpettah where, in the confusion, troops of his regiment probably shot at each other. Be that as it may, the assault on Tipu, led by Sir David Baird, was successful and Mysore soon fell. Rather interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, it was Arthur Wellesley who was now given the command of Mysore, much to Baird’s disgust. In all the jubilation over Tipu’s death however, this was forgotten.

There were promotions all around. Harris became Lieutenant General and several years later would be elevated to the peerage, becoming 1st Baron Harris of Seringapatam and Mysore. Lord Mornington became the Marquis of Wellesley and left for Calcutta, but not before sitting down for a portrait of himself, depicted against a backdrop of the flagstaff of Fort St George. Arthur Wellesley went on to participate in the second Anglo-Maratha war in 1803 where he scored significant wins at Assaye, rising to the level of Major General. In 1804, he applied for home leave and when this was not forthcoming, resigned his commission. He came to Madras en route to England where a glittering reception awaited him. It was resolved by the European residents that a portrait of his be commissioned for the Long Room of the Fort Exchange building. He was received in a grand durbar at Chepauk Palace on February 18, 1805 by Nawab Azim Ud Daulah, the scene being the subject of a sketch by George Chinnery for a full length painting that was never done. On March 2nd, he was given a grand farewell dinner at the Pantheon, Egmore. A full-length portrait of his was unveiled on the occasion, as reported by the Madras Gazette. Wellesley returned to England with a large fortune, chiefly prize money. There he married his childhood flame, Kitty Packenham – the union was, however, not happy.

Wellesley being received at Chepauk by Nawab Azim Ud Dowlah, sketch by George Chinnery, courtesy: Wikipedia

Wellesley being received at Chepauk by Nawab Azim Ud Dowlah, sketch by George Chinnery, courtesy: Wikipedia

He was however destined for greater glory. He scored several victories for England, rising steadily in rank and title. In 1815, he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and earned his nation’s eternal gratitude. He was elevated to the highest rank in the peerage, becoming the Duke of Wellington. He also became Prime Minister of England twice, his first tenure being from 1828 to 1830 and his second for a brief while in 1834.

In 1808, the European residents of Madras, acquired by public subscription, a portrait of his. This had been executed a year earlier by John Hoppner of the Royal Academy. The portrait hung for several years at the Banqueting (now Rajaji) Hall and after Independence was quietly consigned to the storerooms of the Madras Museum. His house in the Fort is now coming apart, brick by brick.

This article is part of a series on Fort St George to commemorate 375 years of its construction. The earlier parts are linked below:

1. The Fort, its topography
2. The Flagstaff
3. The Sea Gate
4. The Moat
5. The Cornwallis Cupola
6. The Assembly and Secretariat
7. Parade Square
8. The Barracks
9. The Great House on Charles Street

More tales from Madrush Week

September 28, 2015

Who would have thought our own stinky river would emerge the hero of Madras Week? Yet, this was undoubtedly so. Journalists jotted entries on it, talkers talked, walkers walked and cyclists cycled along its banks, all with a view to bringing focus on its pathetic condition. It only now remains for a film star or two to adopt parts of it. Success will then be assured in its clean up. Presently, The Man from Madras Musings is of the view that it was those who were tasked with the clean-up who cleaned up big. How else do you explain the complete lack of results as far as the river is concerned?But let us pigeon-hole the Cooum clean-up for the nonce. What MMM wanted to write about was an event that was held at one of the oldest libraries of the city, which also stands on the banks of the river. The speaker for the evening was a person whom MMM had known practically from the cradle, and so MMM too was present. The weather was sultry and during much of the presentation MMM’s friend sweated profusely. At the end of it all he asked the audience if they had any questions when an elderly gent, who had all along been rather restless, stood up and launched into what promised to be a long story on the life of a famed dubash who after death became a philanthropist. It almost gave MMM the feeling that there were two speakers that evening. It was in vain that the organisers tried to catch the pretender’s eye and get him to sit down. But he, like the Ancient Mariner, was immune to it all. On and on he went. This was until someone dropped something or the other with quite a loud noise in the vicinity. The speaker paused and MMM, realising that this was where he did some good to society at large, prised the microphone from the budding Demosthenes, thanked him profusely and brought the event to a close.

A similar situation was witnessed by MMM at another event, which focussed on the Emergency of the 1970s. Here too was a heckler of sorts, into whose soul the iron appeared to have entered in a big way. Halfway through a rather erudite summing up of the Emergency by two senior journalists, he stood up and began to deride them for not mentioning anything about the death during the Emergency of ‘Sitty Babu, sitting yumpee’. It took quite a while before MMM realised that the man was referred to a sitting legislator who died under rather strange circumstances during the Emergency.

But all this paled into insignificance besides the behaviour of the wife of a retired bureaucrat. One of the programmes, involving a famed actress, who was present in person to hear an actor-turned-film historian speak on her film career, was scheduled to begin at 7.00 pm. The hall had filled up by 6.30. The better half of the retired bureaucrat walked up to MMM and demanded that the event begin at once. She had to go for dinner she said at 7.15 and so it would be good if MMM advanced the starting time so that she could hear a good part of the presentation and yet be home in time to receive guests when they arrived. MMM refused politely and the event began as scheduled. What intrigued MMM was that the lady in question stayed on till 9.00 pm when the programme ended. What happened to her guests is what MMM would like to know.

Tales from Madrush Week

September 27, 2015

Looking back on Mad Rush WeekYet another successful edition of Madras Week has wound to a close and everyone is singing its praise. From Ambattur to Zion Colony, Madras Week is the buzz. The Man from Madras Musings also joins in this raucous chorus of joy.

MMM and his good lady (also known as She Who Must be Obeyed) did the rounds of the events and it must be acknowledged that the audience numbers are growing, year after year. While MMM restricted his role to chiefly gubernatorial tasks – shaking hands, smiling graciously and, if strictly demanded by duty, occasionally kissing babies – his good lady was more the careful observer and possessing as she does an eye like Mars, to threaten and command, little escaped her attention.

Chief among these was the behaviour of some of the people who came to eat at the lectures that ye olde journal Madras Musings organised. As to their eating habits and plate grabbing tactics MMM will say little, as he has waxed eloquent on the subject in the past to very little effect beyond a letter or two from irate readers who consider such mass feedings to be among the publication’s activities. If the highest in the land can offer subsidised food in their names, why can Madras Musings not give it free is their opinion. MMM does not wish to quarrel with them on this and respects them for their views.

But to get back to the point at issue, namely what the good lady saw. Hovering around the food riots that were happening at a venue, she found one attendee doing rather well with the liquid refreshments. And by that MMM does not mean the bar, for we at Madras Musings stay clear of the stuff that cheers, but plain water bottles. The hotel that hosted that evening’s programme had opted to put out bottled water instead of filling glasses and one of the guests had decided that this was where he should stock up a month’s supply. He was loading the bottles into a rather capacious bag while MMM’s good lady chanced upon him. Not a word was exchanged as MMM was later given to understand by those present, but such was the power of MMM’s good lady’s eye that the man meekly put all the bottles back on the rack and sauntered off, no doubt to focus on the knives and forks.

The next evening featured yet another event, at a different venue. This time, too, MMM and his good lady were in attendance. And this time, she caught another man, stuffing his bag with tea bags! These too were disgorged after the good lady had bestowed her X Ray vision on the modern day Raffles.

Sad though such occurrences are, MMM would go with the Chief’s point of view, namely that such events are organised for everyone, irrespective of their table manners, to participate and so it cannot be just for those who know how to behave like gentle folk. And let MMM tell you here that some of the latter too are not above helping themselves to a coaster or two when it takes their fancy.


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