I have to thank fellow heritage enthusiast R. Shantaram for this picture of G. Venkatapathy Naidu Building which used to stand on Mount Road, just next to the Madras Mahajana Sabha and opposite the New Assembly/Secretariat now turned into a multi-specialty referral hospital. It has since been demolished and the vacant plot awaits development.
This article has to do with one occupant of the old building — Allbutt & Co, whose signboard you see at the bottom of the photograph. This was one of the oldest pharmacies in the city, opening in Broadway in 1881. It shifted to Anna Salai/Mount Road in the 1930s. Together with another old pharmacy in the vicinity — JF Letoille that happily survives — Allbutt was a remainder from an era long gone.
The name was always a mystery and Shantaram had done some research on the subject, tracing it to a possible link with Dr. Henry A. Allbutt of England, a Malthusian who did much to propagate birth control techniques in England. He came to grief over the book he wrote on the subject in 1886, titled rather interestingly – The Wife’s Handbook. The General Medical Council found it too modern for its tastes and he was struck off medical register forever.
During the early 1880s, when he was researching the subject, the Madras Malthusian League invited Allbutt to be its patron. In that capacity, he established contact with several leading medical practitioners of India, one of them being Dr. Varadappa Naidu of our city. In 1888, Allbutt translated a French work on medicine into English. The New Handbook of Dosimetric Therapeutics or the Treatment of Diseases by Simple Remedies, was dedicated among others as a “token of admiration, friendship and esteem to Dr. Vurdapah Naidu of The General Hospital Madras, Introducer of Dosimetry into India.” The book has footnote references to Dr. Naidu’s experiences in Madras as well. It is obvious that Dr. Varadappa Naidu, when he set up a pharmacy in the city, named it after his illustrious friend in England.
There was more to Dr Naidu. In his Telugu memoirs, Chinnanati Mucchatlu, Dr. K.N. Kesari, the leading Ayurvedic practitioner of the city records that it was common for Dr. Naidu to refuse fees from poor patients, requesting that they use the money instead to buy milk for their children. He was personally well off, being the hereditary Shrotriemdar (landowner) of the Koyambedu area. In 1908, he gifted Rs. 30,000 and a plot of land in Vepery to the Madras Society for the Protection of Children. The Dr. V. Varadappa Naidu’s Orphanage came up here. This later shifted into vast premises of its own in New Washermanpet, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Naidu’s descendants. It continues to function from there.
As for Allbutt’s, it was run by Dr. Naidu’s kinsman G. Rangiah Naidu for several years. But with the owners of the Venkatapathy Naidu Building wanting to demolish and redevelop the space in 2012, Allbutt’s days were numbered. I wonder where it moved.
This article appeared in The Hindu dated November 8, 2014, under the Hidden Histories column http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/all-about-allbutt/article6574632.ece
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