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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 11, september 16-30, 2009
Our Readers Write

Caldwell – a postscript

To what appeared in Madras Musings on August 16th on Bishop Caldwell, I would like to add the following:

Caldwell actually set off on foot from Madras to Ooty to call on Bishop Spencer. The Bishop wanted to examine Caldwell’s shift in ecclesiastical allegiance from Congregationalism to Anglicanism, which was a crucial distinctiveness maintained in the early missionary era. Caldwell stayed for a month with Bishop Spencer, passed the test and received his initial ordination at St.Stephen’s Church, Ooty, in 1841. Only afterwards did he proceed to Idayankudi – again on foot.

Caldwell’s residence in Idayankudi was marked by what is described as “a lasting memorial” in the erection of the Holy Trinity Church. But contrary to common belief, the church was not designed by Caldwell. Caldwell contacted the Home Church Building Society in England for a set of plans and working drawings worth fifty pounds. Though the Society had nothing to do with the colonies, it nevertheless despatched by the next mail “a beautiful set of drawings” meant to build the church on loose soil. Caldwell, acknowledging this gift in a letter dated October 11, 1848, said, “This is true English generosity. The plans are infinitely better than I could have executed myself. I save not only 50 pounds but 500 headaches.”

Caldwell owed his inspiration in the field of comparative philology to his Professor of Greek at Glasgow University, Sir Daniel Sanford. Caldwell’s English colleagues “in the immediate vicinity” were, as mentioned, practically of no help to him in his linguistic work. By the time Caldwell plunged into his subject, G.U. Pope had left for Tanjore; and from there he shifted to Ooty and eventually to Bangalore. Moreover, he was only one among the 19 referees found in a routinely provided list by Caldwell. Among the others, John Thomas, according to Caldwell “appeared too omniscient” and, so, was less approachable, while Sargent, who was Caldwell’s episcopal counterpart, was a person entirely of different wavelength. In this context, it should, however, be noted that the original “stimulus to Tamil studies” that Caldwell received (by his own admission) was from Rev. Drew, a first rank European Tamil scholar and an erstwhile contemporary in Madras.

As soon as Caldwell moved to Idayankudi, he set himself to learn German “to make use of the vast stores of Indian learning accumulated by German scholars...” This endeavour incorporated a great deal of philological information obtained from missionary forerunners like Schmid (1837), Greiner (1844), Weigle (1846), Gundert, the German missionary who first worked in Tirunelveli and who later became the doyen of Malayalam linguistics, was acquainted with Caldwell from 1838. The details that may have been thus derived by Caldwell were qualitatively and quantitatively more than that of what is ­presently being promoted as evidence from Ellis. Interestingly enough, Ellis (1816), in his preamble to the Telugu Grammar, does not employ the word “Dravidian” at all!

When an archaeological investigation was underway on the Tirunelveli Coast, Caldwell’s inference to Korkai of the Tamils, or Kolkhoi of the Greeks, was considerably strengthened by other facts to which he was the first to call attention. Reference to U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer in the write-up seems to be only “reversely ironic”. This is so because UVS did not ever consider it worthwhile to subscribe to Caldwell’s Dravidian Theory.

It is apocryphal to claim that Caldwell translated The Bible into Tamil. He was only one among the twelve revisers on The Bible translation panel. Likewise, he also happened to be one of the six assigned to undertake the translation of the Book of Common Prayer into Tamil. In Caldwell’s own words, “distinguished” and “valuable service” in the translation of The Bible was rendered by an American missionary Tracy, based in Thirumangalam (Madurai), and Bower, a Eurasian of French ancestry, who was the principal reviser. To this day, this great translation goes by the name ‘Bower’s Version’ (counterpart to King James’ Version in English).

Every true historiography contains a punch-line. Caldwell’s academic and scholarly commitment to the Dravidian cause was undoubtedly impeccable. But as Anglican historian Gibbs points out, Caldwell was all along less enthusiastic about native clergymen being elevated to episcopal office. “Caldwell doubted whether a suitable bishop could be found among the Tamil clergy” and concluded that “… things appear to me to be about as ripe at present for our having a native Governor as for our having a native Bishop.” It was only about half-a-century later that a corrective step in this direction surfaced.

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

Trams & studios

I enjoyed Anna Varki’s article (MM, August 16th), but there are a couple of discrepancies which require clarification.

She refers to the tram service from Ice House to Round Tana proceeding to Saidapet from there. There was no tram service south of Spencer’s. Perhaps she means Chintadripet.

She also mentions a Hanagraph Studio next to Crown Cafe which offered eight passport size pictures for a rupee. I remember only Octograph Studio next to Chellaram’s at Round Tana which was much cheaper than GK Vale’s but maintained good standards. Since ‘Octo’ suggests eight, perhaps it is more correct.

Gone are those leisurely days when you could sit and enjoy a nice Hollywood movie at the New Elphinstone, partake of tiffin at Geetha’s and ice-cream at Jafar’s on the way back.

K.S. Krishnaswamy
B-1, Ashok Suparna,
27, III Main Road,
Kasturba Nagar, Adyar,
Chennai 600 020

Tram routes

The nostalgic pieces by Anna Varki, Naval officer Ganapathy and V. Theetharappan (MM, August 16th) and their fine portrayal of Kilpauk/Purasavakkam kindled in me too – a Mylaporean of yesteryears and a ‘Madrasi’ all my life – memories of those happy days.

However, I think reader Varki is not correct when she refers to the (MET) Tramways journeying upto Saidepet. The lines ran from Parrys Corner only upto Luz via Mount Road-R.H. Road. Also, though Frigidaires were not popular in 1940s, hotels like Central Cafe (if I remember right) and R.K. Lunch Home opposite High Court had large stainless steel tanks with mechanism for cooling with apertures serving ice-cool drinks.

I wonder why reader Theetharappan forgot to mention the residence of the late M. Anantanarayanan, High Court judge, in Barnaby Road.

Be that as it may, you are providing a feast for senior citizens.

S.N. Dikshit
29, II Avenue,
Akshaya Colony
Chennai 600 050

Vanished landmarks

Reader R. Ganapathy’s musings (MM, August 16th) took me back to the Royapettah High Road of the 1960s when we used to spend our vacations in my Periamma’s House in a lane opposite Hotel Ajantha (then a landmark on Royapettah High Road).

She lived in 2/174 Royapettah High Road downstairs. On the first floor (the staircase was in the entrance hall on our house) the Indian Law Journal office functioned. R. Venkatraman used to regularly come there to edit the journal and always exchanged a few words with my Periappa, Panchabakesa Iyer. Little did we imagine at that time that, three decades later, he would become President of India during a tumultuous period in Indian politics.

When I recently visited my cousin in Apparsamy Street, I searched for 2/174 and the Ajantha Hotel. Both have vanished and now there are a cluster of highrise buildings and an airconditioned Kalyana Mandapam.

Bhilai Gopalan
1/6, Gokulam Sankara Flats
6th Cross Street,
Sastri Nagar, Adyar,
Chennai 600 020

Heritage mess

I am surprised that a report on Karpagambal Mess was published in Madras Musings (August 16th).  The Mess cannot be equated in any manner with heritage or any cultural value. It is just a commercial establishment, that too only two or three decades old. It is also not a place of importance like Bhommai Chathram, Thaddy School, Thanni Thorai Market, etc. Further, it has changed hands several times, unlike Rayar Cafe.

I am a customer of Karpagambal Mess, but I make the above-mentioned points only to highlight the standard of our magazine.

Baskar C.S.
17, Ramarao Road,
Chennai 600 004

Editor’s Note: Karpagambal Mess, as pointed out in the article, is over 50 years old, not just 20 or 30 years. But whatever its age, it certainly is a food landmark in Mylapore. It was also situated in one of the typical old buildings characteristic of the Mada Streets. In our view, its transformation warrants notice. But, at the same time, we are appreciative of reader Baskar’s concerns for the standards of Madras Musings. We don’t think the Karpagambal Mess story, particularly during Madras Week, lowered them in any way.

What relevance?

The article ‘The white peacock’ (MM, August 1st) made interesting reading, no doubt. However, I fail to understand of what earthly relevance are the amorous activities of Warren Hastings and, later, of Barewell, to the development of Madras during the British Raj.

S. Raghavan
Ranga Flats,
33, Gangai Amman,
Koil Street, Valasarawakkam,
Chennai 600 087

Editor’s Note: Can’t we occasionally publish an article or two with Madras links purely because it is an enjoyable read? Must we always be deathly serious?


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


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