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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 22, march 1-15, 2009
An evening with ‘Ellis Durai’
(By K.R.A. Narasaiah)

Speaking at the Roja Muthiah Research Library recently, Thomas R. Trautmann, Professor of History, University of Michigan, USA, discussed his favourite subject, F.W. Ellis and the Dravidian Proof in three parts: 1. The Dravidian Proof; 2. Finding Ellis; and 3. Why Madras?

‘The Dravidian Proof’ is how Trautmann describes a text by F.W. Ellis published in 1816 which posits that the South Indian languages are from a family of languages related to one another but not derived from Sanskrit. According to Trautmann, this was a tremendously significant contribution to the knowledge of Indian languages. In fact, it was one of three new findings that came out of the colonial period that remains true to this day. They are: 1. The Indo-European family of languages, announced by W. Jones in Calcutta in 1776; 2. The Dravidian family of languages, proof of which was published by Ellis in 1816; and 3. The discovery of the Indus Civilisation by R.D. Banerji and Dayaram Sahni and its publication in 1924.

According to Trautmann, Ellis’s Dravidian Proof treated Sanskrit as a historical language and not as mother of all languages, which was a departure from Indian tradition as advocated by the scholars of Calcutta who believed that Sanskrit was the mother of all South and North Indian languages.

Ellis’s idea was to prove that though the South Indian languages were greatly influenced by Sanskrit over a period of 2000 years, the Dravidian languages constituted a different family.

Ellis and his work were widely forgotten by the time Trautmann ‘rediscovered’ both. Explaining this, Trautmann stated that the ‘Dravidian Proof’ was published in Telugu and the few copies printed were lost. But, strange as it may seem, one of these copies reached the University of Michigan, where he had read it. He then found a substantial amount of Ellis’s correspondence in the British Library and the National Library of Scotland, a few personal papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and large amounts of material in the unpublished colonial records preserved in the Tamil Nadu State Archives in Chennai and the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library in London. From these sources he was able to build quite a detailed picture of the ‘School of Orientalism’ which Ellis briefly presided over in Madras.

Another reason for Ellis being forgotten was the work of Caldwell published in 1856, A Comparative Study of the Dravidian Languages. Caldwell came to be better known, overshadowing the work of Ellis. Caldwell’s work was monumental, but he mentioned Ellis only in passing. So it came to be generally believed that Caldwell was the discoverer of the differences between the Dravidian and Sanskrit languages.

‘Ellis Durai’ as he was known in the Tamil districts is mainly remembered for translating a part of the Thirukkural into English and adding a learned commentary. Ellis is also remembered for his work as Collector of Madras. His contribution to the land system in Tamil country and the tax structure was also well known. Thus, his findings on languages were overlooked.

There is yet another reason for the obscurity of Ellis, Trautmann said. He did not publish any of his findings during his lifetime, as he wanted to do further research, but unfortunately he met with a tragic end when he was just 41. It has been said that after his death all his papers were used to kindle fire and singe chicken by his cook. That the story was probably apocryphal is likely, for Trautmann found quite a large number of unpublished papers in Bombay, London, Oxford and in Edinburgh.

Then Trautmann posed the question, ‘Why Madras?’. Ellis did not work alone. The colonial record gives us a clear view of the College of Fort St. George which Ellis virtually founded and supervised (as senior member of the Board of Superintendence). Ellis worked with the members of the Board, especially its young secretary, Alexander Duncan Campbell, the chief pundits of the College, namely Pandaram Chidambara Vadiyar (Tamil), Pattabhirama Sastri (Sanskrit and Telugu) and Udaiyagiri Venkatanarayan (English), who supervised the work of the language teachers assigned to the junior civil servants. Another crucial member of the circle was Sankaraya or Sankara Sastri, who served at different times as Ellis’s chief of Indian staff when he was Collector of Madras, and in the College as Head English master. Ellis and Sankaraya knew Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu and must have worked closely together. One result of their collaboration was published as the Treatise of Mirasi Right, which was a Tamil text by Sankaraya on the settlement of cultivators, and which was translated and commented upon by Ellis. The collaboration of all these scholars at the College is what made the ‘Dravidian Proof’ emerge in Madras. Their joint effort is what Trautmann calls the ‘Madras School of Orientalism’, to which Colin Mackenzie, the Indologist, and his pundits contributed much.

The College under Ellis sent scholars North and South to collect writings on the subject of language. Men of learning were also sent to collect manuscripts for Mackenzie’s work. When the College closed in 1854, the manuscripts were stored in a godown for a few years and then were sent to the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library.

Unfortunately, the list now available of the collection does not differentiate between the collection of the College and that of Mackenzie. Someone should now catalogue the papers to find out the ones from the College, Trautmann urged. It is also necessary to record the biographies of the headmasters of the College, he added. Ellis thought that Madras was superior to Calcutta in learning as there were many scholars available here.

The first two decades of the 19th Century in Madras were the greatest period of study of Tamil literature and Indian civilisation, Trautmann feels. The ‘Dravidian Proof’ was the most spectacular result, which challenged the Calcutta School of Orientalism. Only in Madras were there scholars who had an excellent knowledge of Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit, besides English. The Calcutta scholars had little knowledge of the Southern languages. Trautmann said it was the duty of present scholars to take further what the scholars of the past had begun.


The Heritage of Mylapore
(By S.R. Venkataraman, Secretary, Servants of India Society, Madras,
for an annual number of the Mylapore Academy in the 1950s.)

The historical and cultural background of Mylapore is one which we can justly be proud of. Their greatest asset is the spiritual setting in which their lot has been cast – the temples of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal, of Sri Adikesava Perumal and Sreenivasaperumal, of Mundakkanni Amman and Thiruvalluvar, are perennial sources of inspiration for simple, peaceful, harmonious living and high thinking.

Exemplifying this have been, for about 70 years, giants who had won renown in several fields of public activities, as judges of the High Court, administrators of Indian States, journalists, educationists, advocates, sportsmen, scholars, doctors, social workers, social reformers and front-rank politicians.

Let me begin first with Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer, who became the first Indian High Court Judge during the British rule nearly eighty years ago. I begin with him first because my father who had seen Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer dispensing justice in the Madras High Court used to tell us stories about Sir Muthuswami Iyer’s early life, of his native intelligence, hard work and integrity. He ultimately rose to the position of a judge of the High Court which was till then not occupied by any Indian anywhere in India. He was a great connoisseur of Bharata Natyam and music, in both of which his knowledge was deep and profound. He founded a Sanskrit school in his native village with a munificent endowment.

Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer thus paved the way for a brilliant galaxy of Indians to follow in his footsteps. Sri V. Bhashyam Iyengar, who was the next judge to be appointed, was as great a jurist as Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer, and their judgements evoked the admiration of the most eminent judges of the Privy Council in Great Britian. Sir S. Subramania Iyer was not only a great Judge but also a prominent member of the Theosophical Society and a coadjutor of Dr. Besant in her manifold activities for the progress of India. His name will go down in the history of Indian nationalism as the patriot who wrote a letter to Woodrow Wilson, the then President of the U.S.A., asking him to exercise his good influence with Great Britian to grant political freedom to India. The Montagu Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 may be said to be the outcome of Sir S. Subramania Iyer’s letter.

V. Krishnaswami Iyer’s title to fame rests not only on his eminence as a lawyer and judge, but more on his deep scholarship, his dynamic leadership of the Congress during its darkest days, on his far-sighted wisdom and no less on his practical philanthropy. The Madras Sanskrit College and the Venkataramana Dispensary are memorials to his large-hearted charity. The Indian Bank, the Mylapore Club and the Ranade Hall owe their origin to the initiative, drive and organising capacity of V.K. Iyer. V. Ramesam occupied the bench for long years. He was a great mathematician, naturopath, and an advocate of family limitation. M.D. Devadas, who was judge of the High Court, was another resident of Mylapore.

Legal luminaries who called Mylapore home were S. Srinivasa Iyengar, Alladi Krishnaswami, S. Muthiah Mudaliar, T.R. Venkatarama Sastri, K. Srinivasa Iyengar and K. Bhashyam, not to speak of the judges who had been distinguished lawyers in their times, who had their residences in Mylapore.

Mylapore can boast of equally great administrators. Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao was the Dewan of three Indian States, namely Indore, Baroda, and Travancore. He also took a leading part in the social reform movement of those days and once presided over the All India Social Reform Conference as well. Dewan Bahadur R. Raghunatha Rao was also the Dewan of an Indian State. But his claim to fame rests on the deep interest he took in all social reform movements and the Indian Social Reform Conference. He worked in collaboration with great all-India leaders like Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade of Bombay. The first meeting of the Indian National Congress in Madras was held in his house in Brodie’s Road in 1885. He was a typical example of the dictum that Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty. He used to write almost daily, it is said, in the columns of The Hindu on public questions, offering constructive suggestions based on his long experience as adminstrator in several capacities. N. Subramaniam who built the Kalyani Hospital was another who belonged to Mylapore. Srinivasa Raghava Iyengar, another resident of Mylapore, was the Dewan of Baroda, where he won laurels as an able, loyal and sympathetic administrator.

Sir P.S. Sivaswami Iyer, who lived to a pretty old age – I think he died in his 84th year – was in a class apart. I had the rare privilege of working under his guidance for several years. He was the President of the Sanitary Welfare League, of which I was the Hon. Secretary. For the first time in the history of Madras City, the League surveyed all the slums in the City and published a report giving facts and figures about the deficiencies in the provision of civic amenities, such as water supply, latrines, and drainage, in the slums. He regularly attended all the meetings of the League and, without seeming to criticise or find fault with some of the conclusions of our report, assisted us in stating out conclusions truthfully in simple and direct language. I learnt from him the secret that we should allow in all our writings the facts to speak for themselves. His greatest legacy to Mylapore is the Lady Sivaswamy Iyer’s Girls School for which he bequeathed all his life’s savings worth about Rs. 3 lakh. He was, besides being a great lawyer, well-versed in Sanskrit. He was a clear thinker and writer. He delivered the famous Kamala lectures at the Calcutta University and wrote a monumental work on India’s constitutional problems.

If you take those who had distinguished themselves in journalism, many of them, such as Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, his son K. Srinivasan, A. Rangaswami Iyengar, Swaminatha Iyer of Viveka Chintamani, Nageswara Rao of Andhra Patrika and G.A. Natesan of the Indian Review, were residents of Mylapore.

Among scholars and writers, there were P.N. Srinivasachari, a great student of Visishtadvaita philosophy, K.S. Venkata Ramani, the well-known writer in English and Tamil, Prof. Kuppuswami Sastri, the Sanskrit scholar, Dr. S. Krishnaswamy Iyengar, the historian, and M. Balasubramaniam, the well-known Tamil scholar who was also an authority on Saiva Siddhanta.

In the field of Education and Social Service, what greater examples can there be than Pennathur Subramania Iyer, the founder teacher of the P.S. High School, C. Ramaswami Iyengar and C. Ramanujachari, the twin brothers who built the Ramakrishna Students’ Home, Dr. Kesari of the Kesari High School, and Pundit Ranganatha Mudaliar, the great educationist and an intimate friend of Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer.

In the field of sports, Mylapore was no less distinguished. In the early decades of the century, Buchi Babu, Sundara Babu and Chitti Babu reigned supreme in the Cricket field.

Mylapore’s galaxy of distinguished doctors and surgeons included Dr. Sitapathi, Dr. Subramaniam, Dr. Rangachari and Dr. Nanjunda Rao, names still remembered with love and gratitude by the citizens of Mylapore for the very high standards they had set for themselves.

Nawab Mohamed Syed, a towering personality who presided over one of the sessions of the Congress, was a respected citizen of Mylapore. I must also refer to the Rt. Hon. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri who spent the last two decades of his life in Mylapore. As a Servant of India, he had risen to great heights, not with any adventitious aid, but all through his native talents and character. He won international reputations as a silver-tongued orator, as a great statesman, and as a man of wisdom and culture.

The soil of Mylapore has been sanctified further by the footsteps of such great men like Swami Vivekananda, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Saradamani Devi, Baba Bharathi and Subramania Bharathi.

The character and greatness of any community are commensurate with the public spirit of the community as evidenced in the variety and number of public utility and charitable, educational, and cultural organisations organised and maintained by it. In the case of Mylapore, these included the Sanskrit College, the Ramakrishna Students’ Home, the Ramakrishna Industrial Institute, the Ramakrishna High School, the Vivekananda College, the Ramakrishna Centenary Dispensary, Venkata Ramana Dispensary, the Vaidika Sabha, the South Indian National Association, the Ranade Hall, the Srinivasa Sastri Hall, the Rasika Ranjani Sabha, the Andhra Mahila Sabha, the Mylapore Club and the Lady Sivasami Iyer’s Girls’ High School, to name only a few.

What I have narrated is only illustrative and not exhaustive. Further, I have refrained from referring to several distinguished Mylaporeans who are still carrying on the tradition of the previous generation. But those I have mentioned contributed to a heritage of Mylapore which every Mylaporean has reason to be proud of. (Courtesy: The author’s son, S.V. Ramakrishnan)


On the Bookshelves
(By Geeta Madhavan)

A window on Pakistan

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin (Random House India, Rs. 395).

After a long time, here’s a debut novel from a Pakistani, which captures the attention of the literary world. The author comes up trumps in this satiric exploration of universal issues such as class, cultural idiosyncrasies, power, corruption and love in the middle and working classes of Pakistan.

Mueenuddin’s collection of stories which are linked together in the most subtle yet striking fashion, examines a people who are bound by one common man — K. K. Harouni, the patriarch of the feudal landowning class. The old man owns a farm and a mansion in one of the villages of Lahore, and the stories which unfold have as the protagonists his staff, including cooks and drivers, villagers who depend on his favour, and a network of relations near and far who have sought their fortune in the cities.

With wit and rare insight, Mueenuddin paints the picture of a culture where the rich-poor divide is very clear and where corruption is ubiquitous. (You have a man who steals electricity and another who does not hesitate to sell land that does not even belong to him!) The women in Mueenuddin’s stories are ruthless and are willing to go to any length to get what they want!

Like most South Asian cultures, Pakistan too has its share of complexities. And it is this aspect of the troubled nation that Mueenuddin tries to throw out to his readers. And succeed he does!

* * *

The train robbers

Engine Trouble
K. Subramannya (Rupa & Co, Rs. 295).

Here’s a edge-of-the-seat type thriller by a Chennai-based author, where as you read you encounter Hitler, Churchill and even the Royal Navy.

The story’s hero is cricket-crazy Yadu, a 16-year-old, whose father Ranganathan is kidnapped. Why? A gang led by an Englishman plans to hijack a railway coach belonging to the Reserve Bank of India, which is attached to the Mangalore Express. (Sounds similar to the opening train robbery sequence in Mani Ratnam’s film Thiruda Thiruda.)

Yadu takes upon himself two tasks – rescue his father and stop the heist from happening. In this he is helped by a girl he meets on the train.

“It’s just vanished, all hundred tonnes of it,” recounts Police Inspector Kripakaran after the robbery. “The engine and the coach simply vanished... No station in the vicinity reported seeing it... Robbing a coach is one thing. But hijacking a coach (along with its engine) is something else.” Were the hijackers egomaniacs or dunces to make such a blunder that would raise a hue and cry all over? But the criminals were too seasoned to be so stupid. They had a plan so intricate that even Intelligence Bureau sleuths could not work it out. Yadu, the teenager, succeeds in cracking the mystery with his ‘piggyback theory’ – an ingenious deception by the Englishman et al. The suspense reaches a crescendo when this incorrigible jigsaw puzzle is worked out. Then, suddenly, the reader is confronted with a second climax when the criminals vanish into thin air on the brink of capture.

It may have been meant as a book for teenagers, but it is a thriller that moves at a frenetic pace, gripping all who read it. It also has a wealth of information on the railways in South India on the eve of Independence.

* * *

Ravaged Kashmir

Curfewed Night
Basharat Peer (Random House India, Rs. 395).

“Beautifully written, brutally honest and deeply hurtful,” is how Khushwant Singh describes this moving portrait of Kashmir and its people who are torn apart by the ravages of war. In Curfewed Night, a compelling read, Basharat tells the stories of politicians and militants, of exploding bombs and destroyed ancient Sufi shrines and, most importantly, of the people of a war-ridden state, who live each day in hope even as they confront terror with courage.

Evocative and heart-rending all the way!


TN gives India another opener

Tamil Nadu has given India six openers. Krishnamachari Srikkanth was the first, in 1981. Then came V.B. Chandrasekhar. Next, a couple of middle order batsmen, W.V. Raman, the current Tamil Nadu coach, and Dinesh Karthik, the present State Ranji team Captain, were promoted to the opener’s slot. In between came the left-handed Sadagopan Ramesh, who was a regular opener like Srikkanth and Chandrasekhar. And the latest team has Murali Vijay, who, after one match, bides his time. Like Ramesh and Raman, Vijay is an orthodox stroke-maker, not prone to flamboyance and flashiness.

Vijay may have got his chance in a game fortuitously, but his choice did not have to wait for the call by Srikkanth and his fellow selectors. The young Tamil Nadu opener was already in the books of the previous committee headed by Dilip Vengsarkar. That led to his inclusion in the India ‘A’ team that played New Zealand and Australia at home.

He scored 200 runs in four innings and earned inclusion in the India ‘Red’ team for the Challenger Trophy, where he finished as the tournament’s second highest run-getter. He carried that form into the first game of the Ranji Trophy, with 243 against Maharashtra this season.

It was a very strange national call-up for Vijay after almost recording the highest first wicket partnership with his State partner Abhinav Mukund in Ranji Trophy. They had put on an unbeaten 377 on the opening day and were eventually separated at 462, three short of the record when Vijay was dismissed. His return to the pavilion coincided with an urgent summons to join the Indian team at Nagpur, after the one-Test ban of Gautam Gambhir.

To many an old timer, Vijay’s elegance in the one test he played brought back memories of the left-handed Nari Contractor’s handling of that lethal left-arm Aussie pace bowler Alan Davidson in the 1959-60 series. More of that elegance should be seen in the not too distant future. (Courtesy: Straight Bat).


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Historic residences...
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