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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 7, july 16-31, 2010
Our Readers Write

The stories behind the names

Kilpauk, Nungambakkam, Mylapore, Royapettah and many other old areas of Madras had their streets, roads and public places named after prominent British personalities, whereas Theagaroyanagar, a new locality formed after 1930 (and other new localities), had the names of its streets, roads and localities named after prominent local personalities, particularly those who had contributed (by way of service) to the development of the City. They were mostly officials of the Provincial Government and the Corporation of Madras.

Vyasa Rao Street was named after an elected member of the City Corporation (1920 to 1926). He was a scholar who wrote many standard books on Indian politics, civics and personalities.

He was a popular citizen of Triplicane and I presume he must have been the Corporation Councillor of that area. The present name of the street, after cutting the appendix “Rao”, has become Vyasar Street! What exactly did Sage Vyasar do to rate a street name in Madras. Certainly, the younger generation, not knowing their Madras history, will wonder about this.

Be that as it may, many scholars and artists once lived in this street. M.E. Veerabahu Pillai was the Chief Translator to the Government of Madras and his house was on this street. He was one of the earliest citizens to live in Theagaroya Nagar.

Veerabahu Pillai, after retirement, published a Tamil literary journal called Ottrumai. S.S. Vasan canvassed advertising for this journal before he started his own magazine. The Veerabahu Pillai bungalow is now no more. In its place is a residential complex stretching from Vyasar Street to Somasundaram Street. Chittoor Nagaiah lived near this street. He was the founder-architect of Vani Mahal.

Regarding Pondy Bazaar, Nalli Kuppuswami Chettiar mentions in his book Theagaroyanagar –Then and Now that one Chokkalinga Mudaliar of Pondicherry had a small shopping complex with ten small shops near the present Geetha Cafe location and called it Pondi Bazaar. But now we seem to have a different explanation for the name: ‘Soundarya Pandianar Angadi’ being stated to be the source. But I can vouchsafe for the fact that the ‘Pondi Bazaar’ shopping complex existed, I visited it during the early War years.

In the Royapettah-Mylapore area, the first shopping complex was built on Royapettah High Road (between what is now the Children’s Club and the Sanskrit College). The owner was the famous film star Ranjan.

The Corporation should bring out a publication giving in detail the background to the street and area names of Madras. I’m sure it will prove a fascinating history.

V. Theertharappan

A road in memory of Ramanujan

It should be a matter of great pride to our State, Tamil Nadu, that three of the six Nobel Laureates whom India has produced are Tamilians. All three of them were scientists who came from fairly affluent families and had an excellent education in prestigious universities.

We could have had one more Nobel Laureate from Tamil Nadu in Srinivasa Ramanujan, but Mathematics is not a science recognised for award of the Nobel Prize.

As we all know, Ramanujan, unlike other Nobel prize winners, was born in abject poverty. His father was an assistant in a cloth shop in Kumbakonam on a meagre salary. Ramanujan invariably had to have his night meal in the house of one friend or another. He finished school, but did not get through the F.A. course (Intermediate/P.U.C). His genius was remarkable in that he by himself discovered many theorems and solutions to difficult problems which had already been known to the Western world. He lost a few years of his remarkable life due to lack of access to earlier discoveries. Poverty drove him to Madras and he got a job as a clerk in the Madras Port Trust, where the Chief Accountant, S.N. Aiyar, who was himself proficient in Mathematics, found that Ramanujan was a genius in his field and helped him in many ways till Ramanujan left for England.

In Madras, he lived in a small room during 1912-1913 in Summer House in Swami Pillai Street which branches off as a small street from Triplicane High Road. Summer House was a chawl with only rooms for bachelors and with common bathrooms. He made many discoveries in the Theory of Numbers during his stay there and showed them to Professor Seshu Iyer, Professor of Mathematics, Presidency College. The Professor found him to be a genius and, through the help of his friends, got Ramanujan’s papers sent to Prof. Hardy of Trinity College, Cambridge University, England. Prof. Hardy realised that Ramanujan was an unusual genius and got him to Cambridge where Ramanujan worked from 1914-1919. Since he was a strict vegetarian, it was difficult for him to survive there and the climate of England worked havoc on him. At the end of World War I, he returned to India, totally broken down in health and with advanced tuberculosis. He died in Madras in 1920 within a year. He lived only for 32 years.

A seminar to discuss his discoveries is being organised in August this year in Hyderabad where eminent mathematicians from all over the world are going to congregate and discuss his works. The Tamil Nadu Government is also setting up a Ramanujan Museum at the Periyar Institute of Science and Technology in Kotturpuram.

My request to the State Government as also to the Mayor of Chennai is that since Summer House where Ramanujan lived during his stay in Chennai is in a branch street from Triplicane High Road, the Triplicane High Road should be renamed Srinivasa Ramanujan Road or, in Tamil, Kanidha Medhai Ramanujan Salai; just as another main road in Triplicane, Pycroft’s Road, has been named after another prodigy, the great revolutionary poet Bharati who also lived in Triplicane around the same time.

K.S. Krishnaswamy

Know your Tamizh rules ...

I read a correspondent’s remarks on Tamizh news(?) reading, citing examples of Gandhi versus Kanthi (MM, July 1st).

Whereas I fully agree with the correspondent that such bad reading occurs even among those who claim to be champions of the Tamizh language, I wish to clarify that such misadventures in spoken and read Tamizh are mainly because of lack of understanding of the rules that govern Tamizh. The worst scenario is that 99% of Tamizh channel TV jockeys read and speak Tamizh in the most draconian manner, the worst being that none is able to say zha, the unique letter to Tamizh, which is mostly and badly pronounced either la or lha.

I have heard similar remarks from many who harp on this rather silly point. Tamizh consonants are 18, classified into three phonetics-based categories of six each: harsh sounding (val-inam), soft sounding (mel-inam), and intermediate sounding (idai-inam). Examples of val-inam consonants are: kk, c, it, ith, ip, ir, usually written as ka, ca, ta, tha, pa, ra for ease of reading and speaking.

The rule is that whenever a val-inam consonant is followed by a mel-inam consonant, the following val-inam consonant automatically takes on a soft sound. Example: we use words ka-k-kai and kagam for common crow (Corvus indicus). In this example, endings -kai and -gam follow ka. When preceded by ma (a mel-inam consonant), the second ka (a val-inam consonant)in ka-ka-ma automatically becomes ka-ga-ma and is read as kagam. In the word ka-k-kai the ending is a vowel ai and, therefore, the second ka remains ka, yielding ka-k-kai.

Thoroughly incorrect it is to say that ‘soft-sounding letters’ do not exist in Tamizh; letters do not, but sounds do and rules governing their application, as much as rules govern the sound of the ending –agne (e.g. champagne, French), which a non-French-knowing person would read rhyming with acne, whereas the correct diction is –ange.

I vigorously support retention and use of English language in Madras. We – the people of Madras – are an enriched lot with extraordinary English language skills, starting from the 20th Century master of English language Valangaiman Sankaranarayana Srinivasa Sastriar. But just to defend the English language, I would not criticise lack of different sounds in Tamizh. Undoubtedly, they exist, but none knows how to use them and what rules govern such usage. Pity that even those who claim to be Tamizh supporters do not know this rule, but readily criticise that English is killing Tamizh, which to me is nothing but the peak of ignorance.

Tamizh as a language has survived several millennia and is growing and has given birth to other southern Indian langauges. Let us remember that every language is rich in its own merit and has much to contribute to life and culture. The fanatical attitude of both camps, Tamizh supporters and its critics, leads us nowhere.

Footnote: I read your remark on pandaram. In chaste Tamizh pandaram means treasury. Unfortunately, this word is lost in contemporary Tamizh; but it exists in Malayalam: Raja’s (king’s) pandaram (treasury). In some parts of modern Kerala, they pronounce this word as bandaram replacing ‘p’ with a ‘b’. The Sinhala name ‘Bandaranaike’ refers to the keeper of the treasury.

Dr. A. Raman
Charles Sturt University, Orange
New South Wales, Australia

...& some linguistic practices

Changed terms

‘A learning exercise’ (MM, July 1st) reminded me of what the Hindi ‘fanatics’ tried in the 1950s. A Hindi scholar of repute, Dr. Raghu Vira, concocted a lot of complex terms for simple English words like ‘ticket’, ‘platform’, ‘train’, ‘number’, ‘car’, ‘cycle’, ‘bus’ etc. – terms which even illiterate people all over the country used and understood with no difficulty or complex.

If my memory is right, the learned scholar prepared a dictionary giving the pure Hindi equivalents of English words. Some of them were quite hilarious. For example, manhole was nara-chidra; necktie was kantha langoti; trunk call was peti pukar.

Sane people, luckily, were not prepared to adopt such terms. Even the State Governments in the northern states did not find any compelling reason to enforce these terms by law. So the exercise ended in futility. Can we learn a lesson from this?

K.R. Baliga
2 B, Parkland Apartments
7, Nathan Street, Harrington Road
Chennai 600 031

Getting it right

After reading Thomas Tharu’s letter (MM, July 1st), I suggest that the Tamil Nadu Government initiate action to correctly transliterate the State’s nomenclature as Thamizh Naadu instead of the present incorrect English ‘Tamil Nadu.’

S.R. Rajagopal
7/12, Peters Colony
Royapettai, Chennai 600 014

Invalid changes

I was pretty horrified to read the other day that the Vice-Chancellor of Madras University, fresh from the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore, had ordered all teachers attached to the University to “change” their signatures to Tamil! How can you “change” your signature?

Even if we do use a certain language as the base for our signatures, a signature is actually beyond languages. You could sign in English, but your signature could still be an illegible scrawl. But as long as it is consistent, it is accepted as your signature. A person cannot be told how he or she must sign. If you are illiterate or handicapped, you use your thumb print. I hope the VC will realise this and will not enforce his ‘diktat’.

This subject also brings to mind a similar issue – the one of number plates of vehicles rewritten by their owners. Many consider it ‘patriotic’ to change the ‘TN’ in a Tamil Nadu registration plate to TAMILNADU. Some even go further, by writing it in Tamil. What they do not understand is that this is not patriotism, but sheer ignorance. They should understand that the ‘TN’ does not stand for Tamil Nadu, but only represents it. It could have been represented by ‘XY’ or even ‘AB’. You do not interfere with a given identifying number. So it is wrong even to write 0027 as 27. Supposing your passport number is E123456 and your name happens to be Elango, you are not going to enter the number as Elango123456, are you? But then the authorities are to blame too. They have not taken any action against these wrong-doers. In fact, even Government vehicles, buses for instance, carry the number in Tamil as well! This is very wrong.

I hope that someone will one day see these mistakes and correct them.

Ravi Kumar

Schwartz’s protégés

Schwartz’s protégé, Veda- nayaga Sastriar (MM, June 16th), was also a pioneer in the domestication of the knowledge of modern science in Tamil. His poetical masterpieces Bethlehem Kuravanji (1800) and Gnanathatcha Natakam (1830), for the first time in Tamil, presented a Copernican world-view and verifiable empirical facts in modern sciences of anatomy, astronomy, botany, geography, etc.

Sastriar’s VI and VII generation descendants, based in Madras, still render sath kalakshepams in classical mode and proclaim the Christian Gospel. However, it is not correct to state that Sastriar was ordained as a minister by Schwartz. (Ordination, in Christian terminology, pertains only to that of Priests or Ministers of the Sacraments.)

Schwartz’s other protégé, King Serfoji, planned and established the Saraswathi Mahal Library. Being a poet in his own right, he also authored Devendra Kuravanji which celebrated a new cosmography minus Christian connotations – a very indigenous accomplishment. The elegant epitaph which Serfoji himself composed in English, as a tribute to Schwartz (found in the church at Tanjore), makes him the first Indian ever (1798) to write an English poem.

As I mentioned some time ago in your columns (MM, August 1, 2009), Schultze was probably the first European (1726) to conceptualise an Indo-European language family, sixty years earlier than Sir William Jones, considered the pioneer of Indo-European philology.

Following up Dr. Raman, in another context (MM, June 16th), a brewery owned by a certain Samuel Honeywell did exist in Madras. Though Honeywell originally supplied beer to the British troops in the Nilgiris from the Nilgiris itself as early as 1857, when the Government imposed an excise duty he had to abandon his Madras venture.

Rev. Philip K. Mulley
St.John’s Church
Mount Road, Coonoor 643 102

Changing times

Kamadhenu Talkies at Luz, Mylapore, is now taking a new look as a Kalyana Mandapam. Kamadhenu and Kapali Talkies were two famous cinema theatres and they are both part of history of Madras that is Chennai.

Kapali is where MKT’s Haridoss ran for three years continuously, still a box-office record in the annals of Tamil cinema. The lowest price for a seat was 4 annas, equal to 25 Paise. It’s a film evergreen in memory!

Kamadhenu, busily situated in a very busy location, is where I saw K.B. Sundarambal film Avvaiyar. Kamadhenu was a bigger theatre, had better infrastructure and was more sophisticated. The audience was full of the middle calss elite.

Sampurna Ramayanam by APN, which had two intervals, was screened at Kamadhenu on its release.

Kamadhenu also had its early connection with the Reserve Bank of India. Before moving to the Fort Glacis opposite Port Trust, the RBI had its office where the Kamadhenu came up. Perhaps that is why the theatre was so named. Kamadhenu is still a landmark in ever-busy Luz.

S. Venugopalan
7-A, Prashanthi Apartments
T.M. Maistry Street
Vannandurai, Chennai 600 041

Names will stay

Once again the name of the game seems to be changing street names! This is basically a futile exercise since no one ever uses the new names. We still go to Mount Road to shop, not to Anna Salai. Similarly, Chamier’s Road still remains so for all practical purposes. Many might not even know that Poonamallee High Road is now EVR Periyar Salai.

If someone wants to give new road names, there are many candidates in Anna Nagar. 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue and 3rd and 4th Avenues are all long and broad roads. Not to mention the maze of Main Roads that criss cross these Avenues. But one thing is certain. Even if it is done, years from now, 2nd Avenue will still be referred to as 2nd Avenue.

Ravi Kumar


In this issue

The first steps to saving some built heritage
Madras Day... Week... Fortnight... Month?
Gearing up to celebrate Madras
Celebrating a thousand years:
The Rajaraja masterpiece
The City’s Fire Temple 100 years old
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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