Know Fort St George -5, the Cornwallis Cupola

June 29, 2015
The Cornwallis Cupola

The Cornwallis Cupola

If you are not a VIP, you enter the Fort through a small side entrance – not for you the joy of sweeping up the driveway in your car, which is perhaps a good thing as there is hardly any parking space in the Fort. You are better off leaving your vehicle in the vast car park opposite the Fort, crossing the road and then queuing up at the side gate. You will need to enter your name, address and phone number in a shabby register and subject yourself to the mandatory metal detector and baggage scanner. And then you are on your own, inside the Fort.

Almost the first thing that strikes your eye is a Greek-styled pavilion. In essence it is an Ionic-pillared rotunda surmounted by a cupola. This stands all by itself in a grassy plot that also has a shade-giving tree. The only thing missing is the centrepiece and that is a huge marble statue of Lord Cornwallis that is now within the Fort Museum, which is to your right as you gaze at the rotunda. Between the two of them, the statue and the pavilion have quite a bit of history, going back 200 years or so.
Cornwallis was Governor-General of India twice, the first tenure being from 1786 to 1793. During that period he achieved what was till then considered impossible – the subduing of Tippu Sultan. Assuming direct command over the operations in 1792, he defeated the Tiger of Mysore. Unlike Lord Wellesley in 1799, he had always made it clear that his intention was never the elimination of Tippu and so imposed severe terms for peace. These included, among other things, an indemnity of Rs. 6 crore (later reduced to Rs. 3.3 crore), and the handing over of two of his three eldest sons as hostages for the due performance of the terms.

The princes were given two residences – Paul Benfield’s house in the Fort and the other on the Great Choultry Plain – and remained in Madras till 1794 by when Tippu had paid up in full. In the meanwhile, given that he had achieved an impossible task, the official and unofficial European inhabitants of Madras, started a fund-raising drive to erect a suitable memorial for Cornwallis, to be housed in the Fort. By then he had returned to Calcutta. A year later he resigned from the post of Governor-General and sailed home.

The subscription for the memorial was remitted to England and, to quote from Sir Charles Lawson’s Memories of Madras (1905), “someone there was authorised to negotiate with a sculptor for the production of a statue of his Lordship. Then it was that the services of Thomas Banks were enlisted…(He was) the first of his country to produce works of classic grace.” Those who visited the studio when the statue was being sculpted were amazed at the resemblance to its original, to the smallest detail, including “the outward cast of one eye in such startling detail.” To this Banks retorted that the “eyes looking to the right and left at the same moment would impart the idea of an enlarged and comprehensive mind.” A few generations later, we would dismiss the Governor-General as being pop-eyed.

The pedestal of the statue, also sculpted by Banks, has the figures of Britannia and Victory flanking a bas-relief of the definitive moment when Cornwallis received the two boys as hostage. An inscription at the base reads that the statue was erected “by a General Vote at the Joint Expense Of the Principal Inhabitants of Madras, and of the Civil and Military Servants of the East India Company Belonging to the Presidency of Fort St George As a General Testimony Of the High Sense they entertain of the Conduct and Actions of the Most Noble The Marquis of Cornwallis During the Time he held the High Offices of Governor General and Commander In Chief of All the Forces in India.”

The statue arrived in Madras in 1800. According to Mary Ann Steggles, in her book Statues of the Raj (2000), “The marble portrait statue of Cornwallis for Madras was the first publicly erected monument exported to India.” Early in May that year, M. Turing, Aide-de-Camp to Governor Lord Clive, bade the principal inhabitants of Madras to be present at 5.45 am on the 15th for the unveiling of the statue. A breakfast was arranged at the Exchange Building for all the invitees. The statue was placed under this cupola, located then at the Parade Square of the Fort, and unveiled by the Governor, after which the assembled troops presented arms, the drums beat a march and a salute of honour was fired. “The attendance of ladies and gentlemen, as well on the parade as in the houses, balconies and terraces of the square was,” according to the Asiatic Register, “unusually numerous and the concourse of natives was proportionally great.” Parade Square was ceremonially renamed Cornwallis Square.

The statue remained within the cupola long enough to be seen by Cornwallis himself. This happened in 1805, when in an “unwise moment” having again accepted the offer of a Governor-Generalship, he embarked on the HMS Medusa and arrived in Madras en route to Calcutta. Here the Governor Lord William Bentinck received him on May 6. The troops formed a ceremonial carriageway from the Sea Gate to Parade Square where an address bearing the signatures of 214 principal residents of Madras was presented to him. In response, Cornwallis made a speech, according to Lawson, “probably in front of the statue of himself that then occupied as it still does, the most important place on the parade ground of Fort St George.” This probably gave rise to a subsequent legend, quoted in full in Nirmala Lakshman’s Degree Coffee by the Yard, that Cornwallis was present in Madras to welcome his statue in honour of which he organised a grand parade and during which he saluted his own image.

The ceremony over, Cornwallis departed for Bengal. He died on October 5th the following year of “Bengal liver” at Ghazipore and was buried there as per his dictum, “Where the tree falls, let it lie.” The news of his passing reached Madras on the 31st. On November 5th, at the instance of the Sheriff of Madras, John Oakes, a meeting was held at the Exchange Building of the Fort to consider “proper measures for erecting a Cenotaph” to commemorate Cornwallis. The resolution was adopted, a long list of subscribers gave in plenty and, shortly thereafter, a large rotunda topped by a Burmese pagoda-like super-structure was erected in Teynampet, then the city boundary. The road that led from it to Adyar became Cenotaph Road. Lawson does not, however, mention that the statue moved to the Cenotaph and when he wrote his book in 1905, it was still at Parade Square in the Fort.

The Cenotaph itself was, however, shifted. By the 1880s it had moved to First Line Beach, “opposite the Presidency Post Office” according to Lawson. This gives rise to some confusion as it is now located not opposite the post office but in the compound of what was Bentinck’s Building, then the Supreme Court (and from 1862 till 1892 the High Court) of Madras, which was demolished in the 1980s to make way for the Singaravelar Maligai, the Chennai Collectorate. Did the harbour works of the 1880s necessitate one more shift of the Cenotaph within First Line Beach? Or was Lawson’s memory playing tricks? Photographs from the 1880s show the Cenotaph as it stands today.

In 1925, the Cornwallis statue moved out of Parade Square to the Cenotaph. It stayed there for just three years, moving in 1928 to the Connemara Library as the salt and moisture-laden air of the sea at First Line Beach began attacking the marble. The statue remained in the library till 1950, when it made its last journey, this time to the Fort Museum. The cupola in Parade Square remained where it was till 1935 when, at the orders of the then Governor, Lord Erskine, it was shifted to where it stands now. The Cenotaph on First Line Beach remains where it was, an empty shell now doubling up as a convenient urinal.

To read the earlier parts of this series, see links below:

Know Fort St George – Topography

Know Fort St George – The Flagstaff

Know Fort St George – The Sea Gate

Know Fort St George – The Moat

The Madras media man – The Hindu

June 27, 2015

June 25th was the 40th anniversary of the infamous Emergency – the then Indira Gandhi Government’s audacious attempt to stifle democracy. Very few from the South opposed it and yet much of the momentum for the resistance came from a feisty press baron of Madras – Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express Group of newspapers.

Having come to Madras in the 1920s, with reportedly nothing more than “a lota and a nine cubit dhoti,” to quote his biographer BG Verghese, Goenka was by the 1940s an all India figure. Though his papers would later be published from many cities, Madras was always his headquarters, his residence being Hicks Bungalow on Patullos Road. His businesses operated from neighbouring Express Estates, a 23-acre property that he bought from the Madras Club for Rs 14.85 lakhs in 1946. The quiet thoroughfare connecting the property to Mount Road is still Club House Road.

It is said that when Emergency was declared, Goenka was in the ICU of a Calcutta hospital, recovering from a heart attack. Raring to get into the thick of battle, he disconnected the tubes that connected him and “stole out to board a taxi but was detected in time and brought back”. The Indian Express came out on June 25, 1975 with a blank first editorial while the Financial Express published Tagore’s poem – Where the Mind is Without Fear.

A man who loved the good fight, Goenka challenged the Emergency in many ways. He helped in publishing Prajaniti, and its English counterpart, Everyman, vehicles that propagated the thoughts of Jayaprakash Narayan, the doughty opponent to Mrs Gandhi’s regime. The vast Express Estates was also where several leaders of the Opposition, most of them on the run from the police, could find safe haven. One among these was the firebrand George Fernandes. He had come first to the Spur Tank Road residence of tuberculosis specialist and Swatantra Party leader Dr Mathuram Santosham. On coming to know that the police were closing in, he was transferred to Express Estates.

The powers-that-be did their best to stifle Goenka and his publications. There were moves to acquire the business by media houses in sympathy with the ruling party, and when this was resisted, there were to quote BG Verghese, “raids, court cases, a long series of pre-censorship orders, stoppages of bank advances and advertisements”- in short, all the standard operating procedures of a draconian Government. Goenka however stood his ground despite being in poor health throughout. The stresses that he and his family withstood then later resulted in the early demise of his son Bhagwan Das.

The battle against the Emergency gained ground and culminated in General Elections in March 1977. That saw the landslide victory of the Janata Party and the first national debacle for the Congress. Goenka went on to fight other battles. The Express Estates is now a mall. But we do need a marker to commemorate the Marwari Media Man from Madras who fought the Emergency from there.
a href=’’>The Madras media man – The Hindu.

The Pain in Pin numbers

June 24, 2015

Do you own a credit card? If so, have you received the latest variety that has a chip embedded in your card and which requires you to memorise a certain four digit number that you are required not to disclose to anyone even if you are tied, gagged and have lighted matches stuck between your toes? No, no, before you imagine that The Man from Madras Musings has turned a credit card salesman, let him assure you that he has not. All he wants to know is if you have received the latest in credit cards or, to tell you the truth, the not-so-recent but definitely the most painful complication to life in addition to passwords, PAN Number, PIN Number, DIN Number, UID Number, and 16 digit account numbers.

MMM received such a card several months ago and forgot all about it till there came a day when he was seated in a restaurant and, on handing over his card for payment, was told that it was not valid. Fortunately for MMM, he had the cash and that saved him from doing time washing dishes or grinding the batter in the restaurant’s kitchen. Having reached home, MMM fished out the new card, duly memorised its four-digit number – ABCD – and placed it reverentially in his wallet.

Then came a day when MMM was once again at a restaurant (he does eat out rather too often, does he not?) and, on completion of the meal, airily handed over the card. Conversation continued at the table for quite a while before a man came rather deferentially and, having coughed, stood holding out MMM’s card. A hush descended on the table. Had the card been rejected, wondered MMM. The man then asked MMM if he would kindly step in to the manager’s office.

MMM could have gladly sunk through the floor. He felt as though every eye in the restaurant was following his progress. And what of his guests? What would they think? In the manager’s sanctum, however, MMM could detect an air of excessive fawning. The manager was most apologetic. The hotel, he said, did not have a portable card swiping machine and so they had to trouble MMM by getting him over. Could he please enter his four-digit number? It took quite a while for MMM to regain his composure and recollect the number. The transaction went through eventually.

The whole idea behind the P(A)IN number is apparently to reduce the incidence of credit card frauds. But it may in the process reduce the life of the cardholders. Next time you are at a restaurant and are asked to step into the manager’s office, do not panic. It is your PIN number calling.

Sanjay Subrahmanyan, portait of an artiste

June 23, 2015

This article written by me, appeared in The Wire today –

Demented by DeMonte Colony

June 22, 2015

Tis the season when, to quote a former Viceroy of India, everyone’s “brains are grilled before 2 pm and don’t get ungrilled till 2 am.” The Man from Madras Musings attributes this to be the sole reason for the spate of horror films that are being released. MMM uses the term ‘horror’ more for the way the movies are made than for the subject matter. Given that the central idea of locally made spooky films is for the hero/heroine to masquerade with an extra set of canine teeth, these could actually be classified under whimsical comedy.

But before you get the impression that you have wandered into a column by a celebrated Bald Reviewer (and here MMM must add that the BR in question, unlike MMM, goes around that way by choice, meaning he is not naturally endowed with baldness like MMM), let MMM get on with the subject of this article and by now his pet peeve – the story that is doing the rounds that DeMonte Colony is haunted.

Of course, in a city where every inch of land is looked at only for its real estate (aka BHK) possibilities, it must be a surprise for everyone that there is a colony of green trees, seemingly abandoned houses and deserted streets. And so the ghost story is one of three natural corollaries – if it has not been built over, it must be a star-crossed property or haunted or under litigation. In fact, on days when MMM is below the weather, he often thinks that the only protection that heritage buildings have is the above-mentioned trio of attributes. And he can list several structures and precincts that are standing only because of these.

The Chief has written reams on how this Demon’s, sorry, DeMonte, Colony came about and what are the real reasons for it to remain unoccupied and (thankfully) undeveloped. But those are not the kind of reasons that interest most people. They imagine ghosts and, in the absence of any, have begun demanding them. This is probably the reason why one of the signboards to this road now reads as Demandi Colony. And the popular press has been going to town on the subject.

Several of what is known as the Fourth Estate have been haunting MMM’s footsteps wanting to hear all about DeMonte Colony and its encounters with the Fifth Horseman. They lurk in his email, call him from unknown numbers usually in the dead of night, and one or two have also landed at his doorstep, thankfully not in winding sheets. MMM has been denying all theories of the area being a favourite destination for the spirits, his logic being that there is no bar anywhere in the vicinity. He has also been directing all callers to the Chief’s columns only to have them call back stating that they have read it all, but could MMM please give them a sound byte on the subject, a request that makes MMM grind his teeth in despair. The only option now available to MMM is to sport a set of fangs, sharpen his ears till they stick out, don a bedsheet and dance around DeMonte Colony in the dead of night.

The residents of DeMonte Colony (the still living ones that is) have, thanks to all this attention, begun to have delusions of grandeur. Thinking that they needed to become Greta Garbo-like after this publicity, they have barricaded themselves, denying public access to what is, after all, a public road. This demented behaviour has since been knocked on the head by the police who have opened the place up once again. MMM recommends the strewing of garlic and the strategic placement of some crosses (this is, after all, church property) as better deterrents.

Hidden Histories: From Russia, with love – The Hindu

June 20, 2015

Hidden Histories: From Russia, with love – The Hindu.

A long haul for Metro Rail

June 17, 2015

The decks are cleared for Chennai’s long-awaited Metro Rail system to roll out. Those in the know agree that these have been cleared for quite some time now, but who are we to cavil at the delay? Though a section of the media has gone to town over the inauguration and has written of it as the beginning of the end of all traffic woes in the city, we would advise a more cautious approach. For there is much that still needs to be completed if the service is to prove effective.

Firstly, this is only a part of the service – the line being used only connects Koyambedu to Alandur. The rest of the route which, when fully executed, will connect Central Station to St Thomas Mount, will take quite a while before it is completed. The second line, from Wimco Nagar to the Airport, also has to be completed. It is only when this is done will the full benefits of the metro service be enjoyed by the commuting public.

The delay in the execution of the project owing to various factors has caused an escalation of costs as well. Much will depend on the continuous funding of the project by the State and Central funding agencies for speedy completion.

Secondly, the completed section has quite a few issues that need immediate attention if the service is to see good patronage. The major problem is of last mile connectivity. As is well known, one of the chief causes for the failure of the Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) was its complete isolation from all other modes of transport. If this is to be repeated by the Metro, it would indeed be a futile exercise. At the initiation of the Metro project, last mile connectivity was one of the major promises made. Now it is not so clear. Certainly, there are no bus bays anywhere in the vicinity of the completed stretch that awaits inauguration.

What of parking facilities? If the Metro hopes to get car users to switch to public transport, it will have to provide parking bays, or at least make arrangements in the near vicinity for this. At present, no plans appear to be afoot to achieve this and those who live in the vicinity of the Metro stations fear that their streets will soon become unauthorised parking lots for the cars that await passengers using the Metro service.

By far the biggest issue appears to be the lack of pedestrian access. The Metro had committed to building footpaths extending to around 500 metres in the vicinity of each station. This appears to have been handed over to the Corporation of Chennai and there are no clear-cut target dates by when this will be completed. If passengers are unable to walk to the Metro Rail stations, the service is likely to remain underused.

While these are all issues pertaining to the first phase of the service, the Parrys-Saidapet line has run into problems of a different kind. The Russian contractor who was responsible for the tunnelling along this line has vanished, leaving behind equipment and a host of unpaid vendors. The latter have since been petitioning Chennai Metro Rail to make their payments. The vendors have also been staging protests outside the CMRL office. Metro Rail will now have to identify a new contractor to complete the work, a task that is not easy given the procedures involved.

Taken overall, Metro Rail has a long way to go before it becomes the kind of service it has been touted as. Much will depend on speedy execution, the addressing of concerns of all stakeholders and, above all, efficient operation. Time alone will tell if it is up to all this.

This article appeared in Madras Musings dated 1st June, 2015

Corrupt cartels at PWD

June 15, 2015
An early photo of the PWD office, Madras

An early photo of the PWD office, Madras

The first half of May was not as hot as it threatened to be when it came to the weather. But as far as the Public Works Department of our State was concerned, a considerable amount of heat and dust was generated. This had to do with the contractors who regularly bid for the PWD’s work threatening to release a list of the ‘most corrupt engineers’ of the Department. The issue has since blown over to an extent, but it has lifted the cover off a deep malaise that everyone knew existed but refused to acknowledge so far.

The modus operandi of the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department Contractors (Engineering) Association in bringing to light this problem had all the trappings of modern day protests. First came a flex banner outside the Chepauk premises of the PWD that said that the list of names of ten ‘most corrupt engineers’ of the Department would soon be released. A couple of days later, the list was put up at the same spot and this was soon removed by the Police, an alacrity that they do not usually show when it comes to dismantling banners of other kinds. The list was, however, soon put up on social media and went viral. Representatives of the Association then met senior officials of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption and handed over the names. The matter is said to be under investigation.

What ought to be a fight against corruption subsequently descended into bathos. Questioned as to what prompted this drastic action, the Association claimed that it was quite fed up with the evil ways of the Department’s engineers. It transpires that everyone was quite happy with a commission of six per cent that was the norm for all contracts. But a sudden hike in the money demanded made the contractors see red. They also felt that the PWD, when faced with the contractors’ refusal to pay up, had begun breaking up the contracts into small segments that did not have to go through the tendering process. These could be awarded to contractors who would be willing to oblige the Department officials.

The social media release also carried what purported to be an audio recording of an engineer of the PWD speaking to a contractor. In it he admonishes the latter for his lack of ethics in not answering phone calls which, as we all know, is something that all Government departments are experts at. In addition, the caller practically beseeches the contractor to pay up failing which his superiors would harass the caller.

The Association of Engineers and Assistant Engineers of the PWD has roundly condemned all this, and the release of names. This body is of the view that the names could be made public only after an enquiry establishes beyond doubt the complicity of the officials concerned. Meanwhile, schisms have appeared in the Contractors’ Association, a section of which has given the named engineers a clean chit and claimed that there is no such malpractice in the PWD.

There matters rest for the nonce. It is up to the State Government to look into the matter and clear it all up if it is serious about fighting corruption. If there is a political will, even the six per cent that has become standard practice ought to be done away with. But there are good reasons to doubt if such a clean-up will take place. It is not so long ago that a Joint Commissioner of the Corporation of Chennai was transferred when he tried to break the monopoly of cartels and questioned their business practices. That ended all further investigation in the civic body. Will the PWD go the same way? It would be a pity if it did.

This article appeared in Madras Musings dated 1st June 2015

Was Cooum originally Komaleeswaram? – The Hindu

June 12, 2015

Was Cooum originally Komaleeswaram? – The Hindu.

Songs on Sri Parthasarathy

June 12, 2015

The samprokshanam or kumbhAbhiShEkam of the Sri Parthasarathy temple in Tiruvallikeni will take place today. On this occasion, a brief article on some of the composers who have created songs in praise of the deity –

Chennai: Parthasarathy Temple, Triplicane. Photo: V. Ganesan.

Chennai: Parthasarathy Temple, Triplicane. Photo: V. Ganesan.

That the Tiruvallikeni Temple inspired composers from ancient times is evident from the works of the Alwars on it, all of which are well documented. The early 19th century manuscript Sarva Deva Vilasa of which only a part survives, describes the temple as a centre for the arts. It mentions a music loving Dharmakarta of the shrine – Annasami and also speaks of dancers dedicated to the Lord.

Of the Carnatic Trinity, Tyagaraja and Muttuswami Dikshitar are both said to have visited the temple. There is no song of Tyagaraja’s in praise of the deity that survives, but in a talk over the radio, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer mentioned a piece in the raga Saveri of which he said only the pallavi and anupallavi were available. Regretfully, even that is now lost. The song Sri Parthasarathina in Shuddha Dhanyasi is attributed to Muttuswami Dikshitar but from its prosodic error in the madhyamakala sahityam this would appear doubtful. However, it cannot be denied that it is popular on the concert platform.

Subbaraya Sastry, the son of Syama Sastry and the common disciple of the Trinity, visited the temple and composed Ninnu Sevinchina (raga Yadukula Kamboji) here. An interesting aside is that at least two others – Subbarama Dikshitar and Cheyyur Chengalvaraya Sastry have created songs on Parthasarathy in the same raga, probably inspired by the Lord’s yadukula origins. Mysore Sadasiva Rao, who through the Wallajahpet School traced his lineage to Tyagaraja, composed Sri Parthasarathe in raga Bhairavi. This is a monumental song with cascading sangatis and in classic Sadasiva Rao style, is full of flowing lyrics. His other work on this temple is Vachamagochara in raga Athana. The Tachur Singaracharyulu Brothers were a duo of the late 19th and early 20th century Madras who played an important role in the development of music in the city. The elder brother was a composer and his varnam raga Vasantha, Ninnu Kori a popular opener in concerts today, is dedicated to Parthasarathy.

Patnam Subramania Iyer, has left behind Samayamide Nannu Brova in Kedaram. This song is significant because in its lyrics it mentions three of the five important deities of the temple – Parthasarathy, Gajendra Varada and Ranganatha (referred as Kamalanabha). Ramanathapuram ‘Poochi’ Srinivasa Iyengar has composed Sri Parthasarathi Nannu in raga Madhyamavati at this shrine. Modern day composers who have been inspired by the deity here include MD Ramanathan, NS Ramachandran, Dr S Ramanathan (who was practically a neighbour), TG Krishna Iyer (Lalitha Dasa) and Ambujam Krishna. Surprisingly the moolavar, Venkatakrishna, with his handlebar moustache does not find mention in any song. Neither does the Narasimha shrine to the rear, which is in reality an independent temple by itself.

The temple also appears to have served as a concert venue and there is an account of the late 19th century singing sensation Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan performing here on three successive nights with record audience attendance. The streets surrounding the temple of course have their own rich musical history that needs an article by itself.

This article appeared in The Hindu’s special supplement on the Tiruvallikeni samprokshanam dated June 12, 2015.


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