Sree Venkateswara Students Hostel on Triplicane High Road is a handsome building in exposed brick. L-shaped in plan, it is built on two sides of a vast playground. Rather akin to the Victoria Hostel close by, its two wings, set at right angles have three floors each, with a series of arches running along the elevation.
The most interesting feature is at the front — a circular tower topped with a dome. It is also the most visible element, for much of the well-kept building is hidden behind trees.
The nameplate over the gate states that the building was constructed thanks to the munificence of Rao Bahadur Vemuru Ranganatham Chetty. He is yet another member of the Arya Vysya community that has left an indelible mark on our city thanks to its contributions to commerce, charity, the arts and architecture.
Born in 1879 to Venkatakrishnamma Chetty, a merchant, Ranganatham Chetty chose printing and stationery as his line of work. In Somerset Playne’s Southern India, its History, Commerce, People and Industrial Resources, we see that Ranganatham Chetty started young, for he was just 12 when he set up shop under the name of R. Venkateshwar & Co.
“He had a thoroughly practical training in the compositor’s room as well as in the retail shop,” notes Playne about his vocational training. By 1914, the enterprise was employing 220 people. It was divided into two parts. The retail, under the name of Madras Stationery Mart, was located in Broadway.
The printing works, styled the Ananda Press, was run by Ranganatham Chetty’s nephew V.A. Keshub Chandra and operated in a ‘very fine three-storied structure’ in Loane Sqaure (now the Sriramulu Park on Broadway).
Ranganatham Chetty was trustee of the Triplicane Parthasarathi and the Sriperumbudur Temples. He was also a philanthropist particularly interested in education. Even while running his business, he had pursued his education and graduated from Pachaiyappa’s College.
In order to provide a home away from home to indigent students coming to the city, Ranganatham Chetty planned the building of the Sree Venkateswara Hostel. Prayag Dossji, mahant of Hathiramji Mutt, Tirupati, laid its foundation on January 27, 1918.
In recognition of his philanthropic deed, the Government of India conferred the title of Rao Bahadur on Ranganatham Chetty in 1923. The edifice, constructed at a cost of Rs. 2 lakh, was completed in 1931.
Architecturally, this must have be one of the last buildings in the Indo-Saracenic style. By the 1930s, art deco had taken over.
Ranganatham Chetty passed away in the 1950s. Much of his wealth went to a charity bearing his name. His alma mater received endowments. The Government Museum was another beneficiary and still conducts an annual lecture in his memory. His residence, Lakshmi Sadanam on South Mada Street in Triplicane, is now a venue for public events. The trustees of his Charity built a ladies hostel later. Clearly, the good that he did has outlived him.
This article appeared in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories column on 6th November 2012
After this article appeared, two very interesting comments were posted in The Hindu –
Venkateswara Hostel, when I was a resident there 1945-1950, had the East-West wing only. The North South wing is a later addition, though in the same style. The residents in my time came from TamilNadu, Andhra, Kerala and some parts of Karnataka. Its mess was famous and we used to invite friends from other hostels to participate of its special fare .All in all I had a very solid happy time there.
Posted on: Nov 6, 2012 at 03:57 IST
I stayed in the hostel when I did my M.Sc., Students from different colleges stayed there and there was comraderie of rare type. The food was excellent and noon meals were arranged to be served in the respective colleges. It was famous for its Badam Halwa and Pineapple rasam. I enjoyed my stay there.
Posted on: Nov 6, 2012 at 04:56 IST