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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 12, october 1-15, 2009
Our Readers Write

Remembering The Emden

The SMS Emden

September 22, 2009 marks 95 years since the German cruiser SMS Emden shelled the fuel tanks in Madras and set one on fire. One shell also went through the wall of the Yacht Club in the harbour.

It is a shame we did not do anything to get something from the ship while it was lying ashore in 1950 on North Keeling Island being dismantled.

I have made a model of the ship from a Revell kit in 1:350 scale. The side view is from the kit instruction sheet.

R.K. Dastur
2, Wheatcroft Road,
Chennai 600 034


Sad omission

I wonder whether S.R. Madhu has chosen to omit a detailed account of the Sikhs in Chennai reserving it for a deservedly separate article. However, the mention of Sardar Mohan Singh who “helped build the American Consulate in Chennai” prompts me to recall one other famous family of Sikhs – that of the illustrious A.G. Ram Singh. Not only was Ram Singh a national cricketer of repute but all his sons followed in their father’s footsteps, two of them donning national colours and two more doing State duty.

No one can forget the temperamental but immensely talented all-rounder A.G. Kripal Singh and his immediate younger brother, the stylish southpaw A.G. Milkha Singh, and their contribution to Indian cricket. Satwender, the next in line, was the most brilliant of the quartet, but wasn’t particularly lucky. If my memory serves me right, the youngest (Sukhwinder?) also took to competitive cricket in Chennai but perhaps didn’t enjoy good health and didn’t continue for long. (Avid cricket fans may correct me and forgive me if my me­mory is wrong.)

Ram Singhji used to run a sports goods shop close to the Chepauk Stadium and the erstwhile Paragon Talkies. The cricket balls he made and sold were considered to be the best. He was a genial person, always ready to impart training to young aspirants. I have seen the heroic exploits of the sons of this Punjab ‘lion’ on the field for years. These turbanned (Kripal was an exception) talents are an integral part of Chennai cricket history. The Ram Singh story has many interesting facets that would lend itself for a classic book on all that they did for Chennai for decades. And the story of Chennai cricket would most certainly be incomplete without their stories.

V. Thiruvengadam
28, Phase 2,
Heritage Vijayendra Nagar,
Chennai 600 096

Editor’s Note: Several other readers have regretted the omission of the Ram Singh family in the article on the Punjabis of Chennai. Others have written requesting similar articles on other Indian communities that have made Chennai their home. We’d welcome such articles from contributors.

A forgotten leader

There was a major omission in the article on the Punjabis of Chennai (MM, September 16th). One of the founders of the Punjab Association, Lala Inder Sain, and his wife who started the Punjabi Mahila Mandal, regrettably found no place in the article. Of him it has been written:

“Lala Inder Sain Ji was virtually the founder of the small brotherhood of the Punjab Association, established in Madras in 1936-37. It is no exaggeration to say that the growth and development of the Punjab Association from scratch into one of the major social service organisations in the country under the able stewardship of the Father of Our Community, the late Lt. Col. G.S. Gill, was in no small measure due to the personal interest with which Lala Ji worked tirelessly for it.”

Also: “Lalaji was one of the trusted lieutenants of the Father of our Community, Lt. Col. G.S. Gill who, toward the end of his 40-year-long uninterrupted leadership of the community, in his unique role as the builder and architect of the Punjab Association, turned the first god and personally supervised the construction of the school which was dedicated by His Excellency Giani Zail Singh, President of India, as a monument in everlasting memory of the departed Leader.

“We have also put up a beautiful auditorium as a memorial to Lala Indersain Ji in the Gill Adarsh School campus to commemorate his good work as an Educationist and Social Worker.”

And again: “When he was just 15, he used to spend his spare time and vacations learning about the motor spare parts business started by his brother Devi Dayalji in Rawalpindi.

“His brothers sent him to Bombay in 1925 to set up another branch of the Upper India Trading Company Pvt. Ltd. Then in 1927 they asked him to open the Delhi branch.

“In 1932 his brother Ramlal Chandhok opened another branch of Upper India Trading Co. P. Ltd., this time in Madras. Lalaji joined him in 1934. It was a company of which he was to become Chairman.

“Lalaji arrived in Madras in 1934. At the time, there were only 10 Punjabi families in Madras. He met them and started the Punjab Association in his own residence. The first President was Col. Sangam Lal, the then Superintendent of the Government General Hospital, and after his transfer K.L. Dargan took over and was succeeded by Lt. Col. G.S. Gill.

“Lala Indersainji, as the Chairman of the Association’s Finance and Project Committee, served as the right-hand colleague of our illustrious President Lt. Col. G.S. Gill, who during his forty-year-long unbroken leadership was responsible for the conversion of a small club purchased in 1952 into a beautiful and useful mansion to serve the cause of Education and promote Art and Culture.

“He was a founder-member of The Madras Motor Parts Dealers’ Association, the Cancer Research Institute, Adyar, and D.A.V. School started in 1971.”

How could a man with such a record be forgotten in an article on the Punjabis of Chennai?

Bharat Hiteshi
3/54, IInd Cross Street,
Gandhi Nagar,
Chennai 600 041

Punjabi food stall

Read about the Punjabis in Chennai. Very good article, indeed.

During the 1962 and 1965 wars with China and Pakistan, the Punjab Association set up a free food stall for all the jawans going to fight in those wars. The stall gave free food (idli, vadai, other snacks and coffee) to all the jawans. It was manned by the Punjab Association and the members got together to not only provide the food and coffee but also to serve them to the jawans. I know this because my father, Dharam Jit Jigyasu, who owned My Coffee Company, provided all the coffee for the stall free of cost.

Jaidev is kind of a patriarch for the Punjabis now. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, his elder brother Satyadev was very active in the Punjab Association activities. Unfortunately, he died at a young age of about 50 (I believe).

Harish Chandra

Achievers ignored 

Considering the part Col. Gurdial Singh Gill played in the settling of Punjabis in Madras and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu, insufficient attention was paid to him in the article 'Punjabis in Chennai' (MM, September 16th). Even more surprising was the omission of the name of his son, Lt. Gen. Inder Singh Gill, whose record was outstanding in two Armies, the British and the Indian. Anuradha Uberoi should read the book Born to Dare by S. Muthiah to discover the contributions of these two as well as to learn more about the Punjab Association.

T. Ravindran
Chennai 600 042

A responsive museum

I am a graduate student in the US working on John Milton. I was in Chennai recently attempting to locate some parish records of St. Mary’s. I was informed that I would not be able to use them because they were on display at the time. However, I was thrilled to discover that the records have been digitised and held in the Museum at Fort St. George in Chennai. I was able to access them through the kind courtesy of Assistant Superintending Archaeologist, P.S. Sriraman. He was as gracious on the phone as he was in person in enabling me to view the digitised records at my own pace.

The records show details of John Milton’s great-grandson and his family as they lived in the city until at least 1743 when Milton’s great-great-grandson, Abraham Clarke, was buried. Milton’s third daughter, Deborah, married Abraham Clarke in Dublin in June 1674, months before her father died though he probably was unaware of the marriage. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born in Ireland in 1688. This woman, eventually Elizabeth Foster, was Milton’s grand-daughter. Her son (Milton’s great-grandson) Caleb Clarke worked as the parish clerk in St. Mary’s. The parish register shows that his children were baptised in the church and that Milton’s great-great-grandson, Abraham Clarke, was married and eventually buried there. Much of this information was brought to the attention of Miltonists recently by Gordon Campbell, a leading scholar in Milton studies.

The service I received at the Museum seems to be in line with earlier services provided to Milton scholars as indicated in the article. It is thrilling to see so much history valued and maintained so well at the Museum where scholars also receive the support of the excellent staff.

Ramalakshmi Janamanchi

Hospital located 

Dr. T.S. Sankaranarayanan’s hospital (MM, September 1st) was opposite Prabhat Talkies on Broadway. On its site is a hotel today.

V. Theetharappan
32, V.O.C. Street,
Chennai 600 082


In this issue

The road ahead...
Twists and turns...
During Madras Week...
A blogger's view...
Historic Residences...
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


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