Lt. Col. G.S. Gill was among the first of the prominent Punjabis who settled in the city and made important contributions to it. Born on September 16, 1893, Gurdial Singh Gill was from Faridkot, Punjab. Sent to England to study law in 1912, he opted for medicine and moved to Edinburgh University from where he graduated in 1919, throwing in, for good measure, a few months’ service in the Indian Field Ambulance Training Corps during the World War I.
Dr. Gill and his Scottish wife Rena Lister Gill set up his practice and home in Bolton near Manchester for a while and raised a family of four sons. In 1923, they came to India where he joined the Indian Medical Service (IMS) and became Lt. Col. G.S. Gill, IMS. With the IMS being abolished in 1930, he moved to prison service and became Inspector General of Prisons, Madras, which meant all gaols in the Presidency were under him. Most Madras-based Congress leaders arrested during the Quit India movement became his wards and there developed a close affinity between them and the warm-hearted Sikh.
Post-Independence, Gill opted to stay on in Madras. He and other prominent Punjabis settled here at that time were to make important contributions to the city. The Punjab Association had been founded in 1937. The body was to be tested to the hilt in 1947 when it invited, with the backing of former premier C. Rajagopalachari, who had become good friends with Gill while in gaol, scores of Partition refugees to settle in Madras, most having no idea about the city to which they were making their way.
Lt Col. Gill would invariably meet them at the station. A ‘sharanagat rahat punarvas’ (refugee rehabilitation) committee was set up and with money obtained from donations it helped them put down roots. The enterprising newcomers soon became successful entrepreneurs and professionals.
Lt. Col. Gill was a close confidante of Maharani Vidyawati Devi Sahib of Vizianagaram, a princess from Keonthal near Shimla, who had married into a princely Andhra family and had, like him, been transplanted to the South. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had been an early protégé of hers. In her, Gill found a powerful patron and supporter. In 1949, when the Punjabis in Madras felt the need for a gurudwara, Gill led the committee that founded the Sri Guru Nanak Sat Sangh Sabha in T’Nagar. It was the Maharani who helped in making the dream a reality, donating generously for the building. Work began in 1952, with Gill personally supervising the construction. Lt. Col. Gill died in May 1982. A block in Guru Nanak College and Gill Nagar, a busy colony of the city, commemorate him. One of his sons was the celebrated Lt. Gen. I.S. Gill, PVSM, MC, whose life was documented in Born to Dare by S. Muthiah.
The gurudwara seen above has been completely renovated, modernised and expanded in the last decade, but has retained its traditional character and stands a landmark off GNC Road, T’ Nagar.
You may want to read about other landmarks of the city, past and present: