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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XXI No. 5, June 16-30, 2011

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A Madras in Oregon

Tamil Nadu heritage briefs

When India tuned to Radio Ceylon...

... & planters turned to their Directory of South India

The film photographer

A Madras in Oregon
(By Dr. A. Raman)

How many of us in Madras (India) are aware that a ‘Madras’ exists in Central Oregon, USA? Madras (Oregon) began modestly on the initiative of farmer and homesteader John Palmehn in 1902. Palmehn came to the region in 1893. The town was formally established in 1911, coinciding with the construction of the Oregon Trunk Railway. Today, it exists in Jefferson County, OR, and has a population of about 6000 people.

According to oral history, the town was to be named after Palmehn, the founder. But a spelling error in the formal registration process (‘Palmehn’ spelt as ‘Palmain’) led to the rejection of the name by the Postmaster, the registration authority in Central Oregon, because ‘Palmain’ sounded closely to ‘Palmer', a name already existing elsewhere in America. As the story goes, a by-chance noticing of a ‘Madras’ fabric prompted the proponent to register this ‘new’ town as ‘Madras'.

Other unsubstantiated stories indicate the name ‘Madras’ was chosen because of the early settlers’ connections with Madras (India). In the 1930s, Madras (Oregon) appeared briefly in print. Erskine Caldwell, novelist of the rural South, visited the town and, in Some American People, wrote about Madras’s (Oregon) progress through the Great Depression:

“At ten o'clock in the morning all the stores in the town of Madras that were going to open had opened. Half of them have been vacant and boarded shut for nearly a year; the hardware merchant and the dry-goods merchant couldn't get by on just taking in each other's washing.”

Madras (Oregon) grew as an agricultural market town. However, novelist Caldwell blamed Madras's poor economy on dry farming which, he felt, was inappropriate for the area. (Source: Ward Tonsfeldt & Paul G. Claeyssens, Telling Stories, Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society, 2004,

Pity that Madras (Oregon) has not secured a sister-city relationship with Madras (India).

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Tamil Nadu heritage briefs
(By K.S. Kalidas)

The Coimbatore Clock Tower, with its clock specially imported from England, was built in memory of philanthropist and social activist Rao Bahadur A.T. Theroovengadaswami Mudaliar (1855-1923). INTACH’s Coimbatore Chapter has restored the Clock Tower and a plaque engraved with its history was unveiled recently.

* * *

The Udagamandalam Head Post Office was recently declared a Heritage Post Office. A Divisional Training Centre was inaugurated at the Post Office to celebrate its heritage status and a Heritage Walk was organised as part of the celebrations, with white caps with ‘Ooty Heritage’ printed on them being distributed to the participants.

* * *

The representations made to the authorities by INTACH about the deplorable condition of the Government Museum and Mahatma Gandhi Philately Museum in Salem were of no avail, as there was no space available in Government buildings. Artifacts lie unprotected in an open space without walls, inviting vandalism. The Philately Museum is one of the best in the country. It has a collection of stamps on Mahatma Gandhi released both in India and other countries.

INTACH also raised concern over the sudden disappearance of a historic lamp post installed at the intersection of the Shevaipet roads. The lamp post was erected in 1885 to commemorate the founder-editor of the Madras Law Journal Ramasamy Mudaliyar’s visit to London as the leader of a delegation seeking redressal for the people’s grievances against the British Government.

The Mani Koondu, an old clock tower atop an Indo-Saracenic building, has long been the pride of the people in Salem. It was built by the noted Mysore architect Sir Vishveshvaraya in 1924. It has a historic past associated with its first occupant, the Salem Bank, and has hosted visitors like Gandhiji and Rajaji during the days of the freedom struggle. Later, it was taken over by the Indian Bank whose management has readily agreed to the Salem Chapter’s suggestion that steps should be immediately taken to preserve this heritage property. A technical study and feasibility report has resulted in restoration work being initiated with cleaning and barricading at this site in the heart of the city.

* * *

The Thanjavur region is a treasure trove of paintings, many decorating the vast pillared halls of its numerous temples. These have fascinated renowned Indologists. Prof. David Shulman, for instance, visited the temples year after year but saw these paintings virtually disappearing before his eyes! In an act of desperation he brought photographer V.K. Rajamani who lay on his back to capture each panel mapped by Shulman at the Thyagarajaswamy Temple.

After eight years of seeking help from various sources for their restoration, Ranvir Shah, Founder-Trustee of the Prakriti Foundation, responded positively and funded the work undertaken by the Chitrakala Parishath Art Conservation Centre which worked for three years on the 17th Century paintings of the temple’s Devasiriya Mandapam. It was opened to the public recently.

A book was released on the occasion, explaining the paintings and chronicling their restoration. The Mucukunda Murals, with stunning photographs by Rajamani, takes readers from the Ocean of Milk to the Heavens and to Tiruvarur. – (Courtesy: Virasat – the journal of INTACH.)

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When India tuned to Radio Ceylon...
Down Memory Lane with Advertising
(By R.V. Rajan)

Most people switch off their mobiles or put them on silent mode when they go to sleep. I don’t, because I set my alarm for 4.00 am every day on my multipurpose one. This means I am often woken up by the sound of an incoming SMS – invariably an advertisement for some product or the other, and mostly about some weight reduction programme, promising me that I can lose upto 10 kg in a month without going on diet or exercise. They don’t realise that at 70 I don’t care about my ‘overweight’ any more!

Today, thousands and thousands of advertising messages are sent day and night to gullible customers through a variety of media. Television, internet and mobiles are the most common weapons of the advertising mafia these days to attack consumers at home!

I am reminded of a time when the consuming public was exposed to much fewer messages through newspapers, outdoor (hoarding, posters, wall paintings) and radio advertising. You were exposed to cinema advertising only when you went to the theatre to see a film – which would be once a week if you were a young man and once a year if you were a family man! Television had not entered the scene yet.

In the absence of television or internet, most youngsters were glued to then popular Radio Ceylon, belting out the latest film songs both in Hindi and Tamil. In Tamil, it was the melodious voice of Mayilvahanan, both announcer and radio jockey, whom we heard. In Hindi, it was the golden voice of Amin Sayani, the younger of the Sayani brothers who ran Radio Advertising Services, representing the business interests of Radio Ceylon in India. They had a branch in Madras, managed by S.V. Venkatraman, father of actor and politician S.V. Sekhar.

For my generation of radio listeners, Amin Sayani and Binaca Geet Mala were inseparable. They became household names, thanks to the reach of Radio Ceylon which covered the length and breadth of the subcontinent. Every Wednesday night, between 8 and 9, young and old, rich and poor, from Kashmir to Kanniyakumari were glued to Radio Ceylon, listening to Binaca Geet Mala. It was a programme which presented 16 popular Hindi film songs, in the ascending order of popularity, with the No.1 rated song presented with a lot of sound and flourish, much to the delight of the listeners. Many music directors of yore were made or unmade, depending on their songs being featured in the top 16 songs of the week in BGM!

Apart from other popular programmes based on film music, I still remember some of the popular radio spots of the time. Most of them were simple in terms of ideas, but memorable in terms of presentation, like the spot for Gopal Palpodi (tooth powder) with its straight announcement format. Another spot, for T.P. Sokkalal Ramseth Beedi, used a conversation between two people and was one of my favourites.

Gopala! Engey porey? … Kadaikku poren … Enna vanga? Beedi vanga. Enna beedi? T.P. Sokkalal Ramseth Beedi! ... Indrey vangungal T.P. Sokkalal Ramseth beedi!

Ponvandu… Ponvandu … was a very catchy jingle for a popular soap. It was produced by L.R. Swamy Advertising, who also represented Radio Ceylon in the South.

A spot which used the voices of three generations of mothers (daughter, mother and grandmother), each claiming that her mother gave Woodward Gripe Mixture to her baby whenever it had a stomach problem, was an interesting idea. The product continues to be a popular remedy among young mothers, especially in the South. And the idea too has been repeated in more recent advertising for it.

Who can forget TAS and NS Pattinam Podi, the popular brands of snuff powders! Or Cow & Gate, the baby food which was an integral part of the diet of babies in the well-to-do families of those times!

Before the advent of television, press was an important primary advertising medium for most of the brands. Newspapers and magazines were full of advertisements for all types of products, including Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) – both local and national brands.

Alvitone and Maltova, health drinks from Madras, tried to provide local competition to the nationally popular Ovaltine and Horlicks. While Horlicks has survived and continues to be a market leader, Ovaltine lost out its premier position long ago to Bournvita from Cadbury’s. Alvitone and Maltova made a silent exit from the market like many other popular local brands of their times.

Some of the other brand names that come to mind are McLean’s and Kolynos toothpastes (Kolynos – the only toothpaste with fluoride); Gibbs Dentifrice; Peps, Brooklax, Philip’s Milk of Magnesia and Andrew’s Liver Salt for stomach problems, Cibol and Nixoderm among the skin care products and Raja, Afghan Snow, and the Remy range of cosmetics.

Among the consumer durables were Pye, Marconi and Murphy radios, the last with a beautiful baby face as its mascot, and Solidaire, Dyanora, Sears and ECIL – the popular television brands from the South. All became victims of globalisation, when MNC brands with deep pockets arrived on the scene! I am sure readers can come up with names of many more older brands made memorable by good advertising!

While the advertisers of the yesteryears had limited choice of media and were very clear about what they could expect from each medium, today’s advertisers are confounded by too much choice – thousands of publications, hundreds of radio and television channels, a multitude of new media opportunities – resulting in enormous wasteful expenditure! Wise guys are spending less and less on expensive mass media and more money on BLA (Below the Line Activities) involving direct marketing efforts focussed on specific target audiences! Now, could that be the subject of another article?


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... & planters turned to their Directory of South India
(By K.V.S. Krishna)

I was always interested in historical documentation, a habitinculcated in me by my father. I still have his testimonials dating to 1925.

I was recently looking for the background on Walter Seton Scott, my first Periya Dorai (PD) in Katary Estate. I worked with him from 1957 to 60. I was also looking for information on Seward Brice (his brother-in-law) with whom I worked during 1960-65 in Sutton Estate. And in my research I found the 1924 Planting Directory of Southern India. And found it fascinating.

What is so interesting about the 1924 Directory? Well, I would think it has all the qualification to find a place in a museum of rare documents. When you go through the pages you walk back into a period of time and history nearly 90 years ago.

The Directory has 247 pages and has as many pages between them for writing notes. The advertisements are not included in the page numbering.

The imposing signature of H. Waddington, Secretary of United Planters’ Association of Southern India (UPASI), decorates page 1 and most pages of notes are filled in with his own handwriting of changes of managerial personnel or company structure. The first advertisement is of Harrison & Crosfield Ltd. and is half blocked with UPASI’s label and the Madura Company Ltd. It proclaims, “Twenty years reputation in India – Imperial Tea Chests are the best, cheapest and most efficient.” Other advertisers are Aspinwal & Co., Coorg Coffee managed by V.L. Wynyard-Wright and proprietors of Consolidated Coffee Estates Limited, and then we have Pierce, Leslie & Co Ltd trying to sell Ford cars, Michelin tyres and tubes as well as Monkey brand 1250 kerosene oil, while proclaiming “Why buy ‘P.L’ fertilisers? Because they are good, sound Manures”. Then comes an honest ad: “Correspondence Kept Strictly Confidential, Enquiries solicited. Liberal Commission on all orders to canvassers and securers of orders from Estates and Firms.” This from a company selling Cooly Cumblies, Cooly Clothing etc.

For the sports lovers there is an ad “by John W. Roberts (Son of the late Champion), 1, Commander-in-Chief Road, Egmore, Madras.” “Billiards tables of various sizes costing Rs. 535 to Rs. 1085 depending on size of Table” are offered.

Konar Dairy is a premier house for butter and cream – Re 1-4-0 per pound and 1-8-0 in tins. ‘Try us’, they say in a quarter page ad. There is an ad for Remington portable typewriters – which now have an antique price – and an ad for the sale of Citroen cars. The 11.4 H.P. five seater, it proclaims, gives 35 to 40 miles per gallon. The 7.5 H.P. one is a two-seater giving 50 miles per gallon and has electric light and starter. Interestingly, there is an ad showing a page of The Madras Mail dated Monday evening, May 14, 1923, costing annas two. The ad in that is for Durante cars and shows a price tag of Rs. 3000.

There are so many other ads, but the one which caught my eye was for Standard Inks – it promised “Fluid penetrative, permanent, non-corrosive. Write a beautiful blue black, rapidly turning full black. Testified to be excellent. Used in Government offices,” and also an ad from the South India Nursing Association having Her Excellency Lady Willingdon as its President. It offered “Fully trained and experienced Nurses for all cases of illness, both among Europeans and Indians, always available.”

Finally, the Secretary, UPASI, Coimbatore, takes half a page to advertise:

Rs. A.P.

Book of proceedings of all recent Annual Meetings
of UPASI per copy 2-8-0

Practical Coffee Planting by F.H. Sprott 8-0-0

The Planter’s Chroncile. Bound Volumes per year
(1918 out of print) 5-0-0

Brown Bast by A.R. Sanderson. Issued free under
the instructions of R.G.A., and will be sent in return
for 8 As in stamps to cover postage and packing

Planting Directory of Southern India 7-8-0

Today, the Planting Directory sells for Rs. 485.00, and subscription to Planter’s Chronicle is Rs. 400 a year. I counted to see how many expatriates were listed. There were some 740 in the planting districts, and about 100-odd companies in 1924. By 1960, this figure dropped to 550 personnel and today we do not have any. It is said that not one is around.

I was checking the Directory to see how many of the people listed in 1924 were known to me. There were just a handful. They were W.S. Scott, P. Beaver, D.M. Melntyre, W.F. Imman, and C.J. Madden. I last met Madden in 1968 when he toured South India.


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The film photographer
(By T.K. Srinivas Chari)

“I still can’t believe my father let me pursue my interest in movies,” says that veritable storehouse of information on the Tamil film industry, 87-year-old ‘Film News’ Anandan who got his prefix after he started giving his working stills (not what producers offered) to the monthly Film News. Earlier, he had trained with cinematographer C.J. Mohan whose project failed to take off. Then he became a still photographer with the Rs. 3000 Reflex camera gifted to him by his father.

'Film News' Anandan.

Reminiscing about the past, he recalls that in 1956 he saw one person in an old man’s get-up on the campus of the studio and learned to his surprise that it was none other than Sivaji Ganesan waiting for his scenes for the movie Raja Rani. Warily approaching the actor and asking him in Tamil if he could take his photo, the reply he received was in English: “Of course, you can take it.”

For the 1958 MGR-starrer Nadodi Mannan, the stills he offered were widely published, and he became the Tamil film industry’s first PRO. He continued as such for hundreds of movies, the last one in 1991.

But there is a lesser known side to ‘Film News’ Anandan who has chronicled Tamil film history from 1931 to 2003 in his 738-page magnum opus Sadhanaigal Padaitha Thamizhthiraipada Varalaru (Milestones in the history of Tamil cinema) which includes 1500 pictures. And that he has acted in eight films, one in Telugu, the rest in Tamil.

His first foray as an actor was as a police photographer in the 1962 film Policekaran Magal, a successful film directed by C.V. Sridhar based on S.V. Sahasranamam’s drama. He acted in the same role in the Telugu remake, Constable Koothru.

Then, in 1964, the multi-faceted Veena S. Balachander asked him to don the greasepaint for the movie Bommai, for which Anandan was the PRO. A thrill-a-minute film about a bomb planted in a walking doll, he appears as a doctor who assures the patient, a taxi driver, that all will be well and refuses to take his fee because the patient and his family will have to incur expenses on medicines.

In the film Nakshatram, produced by actress Sri Priya and directed by Dasari Narayana Rao, he plays the role of a press reporter, posing questions to the actress who plays the role of a disillusioned star, and who announces her retirement. Many actors appeared in guest roles when they paid their respects to the heroine who met with a tragic end.

In the 1986 crime/action film Oomai Vizhigal produced by Abhavanan, he plays the role of a press photographer who, at the request of a police officer, played by Vijaykanth, gets the permission of his newspaper editor to postpone the deadlines because there is important news breaking for the morning papers.

In Sugamana Sumaigal (1992), he plays the role of the heroine’s father in the film directed by actor R. Parthiban. Anandan’s son ‘Diamond’ Babu and grandson Vikram Sagar also acted in the film.

In the commercially successful Indian (1988) directed by Shankar, starring Kamal Hassan in a double role, Anandan’s scenes were deleted as was the case in Aasai, written and directed by Vasanth and produced by Mani Ratnam but in the latter’s credits, however, the caption, ‘Thanks to Film News Anandan’ rolled on the screen.

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Monorail, Metro, MRTS, buses...
It's not Tamil, a sudden discovery after decades
Green prisons now educate their inmates
I have a dream, I have a story
Kelly's Drain– Where was it?
Make mine a 'Madras'
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