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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 6, july 1-15, 2009
Our Readers Write

Those Loyola days

The present Madurai Jesuit Province, which administers and manages Loyola (Madras) (MM, June 16th), originally reported to the Provincial at Toulouse (France). This is one reason why several French Jesuits figure in early Madras and Indian history. For example, the first telescopic discovery in India was made in 1689 by the French Jesuit Jean Richaud (1633-1690); his most significant discovery was that the bright southern star Alpha Centauri was a double star and, at the time, that was the second binary to be spotted. Richaud taught astronomy at a Jesuit school in San Thomé (by the way, where is this school in the present-day Madras?). Along with two other Jesuits, Richaud first arrived in Siam (now Thailand) to be a part of a team of mathematicians to advise the Emperor of Thailand. All three came to India – Madras and Pondicherry. We know another of the three was Fr Bouchet, but the third Jesuit’s identity has not been determined till today.

The influence of the French Provincial administration on the then complex Madurai Province has been substantial. The two oldest Jesuit university colleges in the then Madras Presidency (St. Aloysius’ College in Mangalore and St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchchirappalli) had a large contingent of Jesuits, mostly from France and a few from Belgium, Italy and Germany. I rather think that the Italian Jesuits administered the early Aloysius’ College, whereas the French (mostly Alsatian, and a few German) Jesuits administered the early St Joseph’s College. Francis Bertram, who taught Mathematics, founded Loyola in Madras in 1925. He came to Madras from St Joseph’s, Trichy, and the struggles he underwent to found Loyola deserve a separate story. Bertram came from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France (capital: Strasbourg) and his original name was François Bertrand (strongly Alsatian, with a French first name ‘François’ and a German family name ‘Bertrand’), which he anglicised to Francis Bertram during World War I. Many Jesuits from Alsace either came with him or followed him, first to Trichy and later to Madras. A few names that come to my mind immediately are: G. Foreau, L. Vion, and A. Rapinat.

Fr Leigh, who taught English, was an avid amateur herpetologist; a part of his collection of southern Indian snakes is on ­display in the present Zoology Department of the college and a part of it is in the museum at Shenbaganur, near Kodai­kanal. He ­maintained two pythons in the front yard of the Jesuits’ house in the campus and, for several years, a large black and white portrait of Leigh with his two pet pythons around his neck used to be in the parlour of the house.

In my time at Loyola, I have seen Fr Charles Racine, an eminent mathematician, who was French, but I am not sure whether he was Alsatian, similar to Bertram. Fr Basenach is usually referred to as one having German roots. Although his name is strongly German, I am not sure whether he too came from Alsace-Lorraine, because the names of Alsatians are generally strongly Germanic.

These European Jesuits built the college from scratch. Unlike the Tambaram campus of Madras Christian College, which was (and continues to be so) in the lush scrub vegetation, typical of Madras, Loyola’s ambience and environment had to be created on reclaimed marsh land. When the College was planned in the early 1920s, nothing existed there; every tree growing today – offering a splendid sylvan atmosphere – was planted by the Jesuits, especially by Alfred Rapinat. That is why the vegetation that circumscribed Loyola in the 1960s was artificially laid out. Talking of Alfred Rapinat, I cannot refrain from saying that he was an enthusiastic botanist with profound interest in the liverworts and mosses of southern India and, to some extent, in the lower vascular plants. My efforts to trace his field notes on the liverworts and mosses of southern India have been in vain.

Most of these Jesuits are interred in the Loyola Jesuit cemetery adjacent to the Christ the King chapel in the campus. This neo-Goethic chapel, styled after the French chapels and Cathedrals of the early 20th century, is one of the delights of Madras city. An unsubstantiated story goes that the late Gnana­pragasam Maistriar, who built many of the College’s buildings and student residences, built this chapel based on photographs of French chapels and churches supplied to him by Bertram. I have had the unique opportunity of climbing to the top of the spire (approx. 60 m height), initially up a long wooden staircase and later on a rope ladder up to the window close to the Cross at the peak. This happened when I was determined to take an aerial photo of the campus in the mid-1980s for the College bulletin, which I was editing. Because the land on which the College was built was originally a lake area (hence the road abutting the College compound wall towards present Mahalingapuram is Lake Bund Road), Bertram et al had to resort to a unique construction tactic. Even the compound wall was constructed on an ‘arch’ foundation (this compound wall no longer exists); that is why arches decorate the façade of the imposing main building all through its ground, first and second floors.

Loyola is a storehouse of remarkable history; surely, much of it deserves better care today!

Dr. Anantanarayanan Raman
Senior Lecturer in Ecological Agriculture
Charles Sturt University
Orange, NSW 2800, Australia


NLC reality

As one who served the Neyveli Lignite Corporation from the beginning of 1958 to the end of 1978, I was delighted to go through the centenary tribute to T.M.S. Mani (MM, May 1st).

While Mani’s dedication to NLC was total and unquestionable, it is necessary to set the record straight. V. Sriram’s article states, “They transformed open, barren land into gardens, tanks and buildings, as if it was a child’s play.” The land on which Neyveli Township was built was not barren. It had thousands of acres fully covered with cashew trees, inter-sprinkled with a fairly large number of Jade trees and a few mango trees. Thousands of fruit-yielding trees were bulldozed to lay roads, construct buildings, etc. Had it been done 50 years later, none would have permitted such a vast destruction of trees.

The second issue is about Mani’s contribution. No doubt, while he was instrumental in getting all governmental formalities cleared and was responsible for the administration of the project, however, the field activities of bringing the project to shape in the initial years were largely due to A. Srinivasan, a PWD engineer, who was drafted for the NLC project soon after he successfully completed the Lower Bhavani Project. His drive and dynamism saw the project materia­lise on time, in spite of many teething problems, including the trouble with the bucket wheel teeth. He lived in a temporary site colony all through those years. Mani was stationed in Madras and moved to Neyveli much later, and not in 1958. I was one of the first settlers in the township, moving from temporary colony in mid-March 1959. Emdis House, built on nearly a hectare plot, was ready much later.

For all the hard work he had put in, A. Srinivasan had to leave Neyveli unceremoniously, soon after the first turbine started rolling. Mani too had to quit the scene not long after.

D. Srinivasan
39/T-13/A, Sixth Avenue
Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090

Untended saplings

The Tamil Nadu Forest Department (MM, May 16th) has already started a scheme for the ‘Millennium Year’ and successfully planted 1,30,000 saplings in and around Chennai. It was known as the ‘Greenbelt Scheme For Abatement of Pollution’ in Chennai. The planting ended in March 2003 and the planted saplings were handed over to the Chen­nai Corporation and the respective pancha­yats in Greater Chennai. However, the saplings were thereafter neither watered not nur­tured. Lack of coordination between the municipal authorities and the Forest Department led to the loss of about 70% of the planted saplings.

The need of the hour is to involve the local residents’ welfare associations and NGOs like Nizhal and Exnora International for a sustainable green cover. It is all the more important to establish a ‘Tree Authority’, a suggestion awaiting a positive response since 2003.

     K. Ramadoss
4/1 PE Koil West Mada Street
Chennai 600 023

As it should be

Re. my letter ‘Lakshmi location’ (MM, June 16th), what I stated was slightly distorted in the process of editing. In the paragraph which starts with “Ayanavaram... adjacent to which our school was situated, probably because it was run by D.T.Trust”, since you have separated the sentence, it has given a different meaning “Probably because it was... the property developers...”

The property developers did not have anything to do with the Dhun Tarapore Trust.

Mrs. A.P. Chakraborthy

* * *

In the letter ‘Summer of discontent’ (MM, June 16th), for rains it is Amrithvarshini, not Ararithavarshini!

K.S. Kandhaswamy
6/6, Rajagopalan I Street
Chennai 600 041

* * *

Re. yesteryear theatres of Madras (MM, May 16th), Padma­nabha Theatre in Wall Tax Road was known as ‘Regal Talkies’ in earlier days. And it was Sayani in Ayanavaram (now converted into multistory apartments) and Lakshmi in Aminji­karai. And then there was Nagesh Theatre.

K. Ramadoss
4/1 PE Koil West Mada Street
Chennai 600 023

* * * 

Fr Basenach (MM, June 16th) also included Stonier and Hague in his list of books. Although the system was examination-oriented, as it should be, the other professors too almost compelled students to possess and read classics like Dalton’s Public Finance, Crowther’s Money and Salbine’s Political Philosophy. I happened to address some IAS aspirants recently and was ­appalled to note that they were purely depending on secondary Indian sources which were in the nature of notes or guides. I advised them to read at least Samuelson’s Economics. Loyola took care to avoid this kind of a situation, although there was often a problem of affordability as in Ketha­raman’s case.

Fr Basenach was also full of humour. He stated even in those days that an advertisement should be inserted reading: “Wanted statesman; politicians should not apply!” He invariably referred to the late economist V.K.R.V. Rao as A.B.C.D. Rao – reference to the initials and not necessarily to Rao’s scholarship.

He would set interesting essay papers. Only one question for three hours: Q1: The political consequences of Anthony Eden. (This was following the Suez crisis and consequent resignation of British Premier Anthony Eden); Q2: The economic consequences of Nicholas Kaldor. (Following the invitation to the British economist Kaldor by Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari, Kaldor’s report urged introduction of Expenditure Tax, etc.)

Fr. Basenach used to tell us to think at least for 15 minutes in the hall instead of scribbling straightaway. Then write for two hours and revise what is written in the last half-an-hour or so.

Dr. G. Sundaram, ias(rtd.)
‘Burma House’, 33/18, 9th Street
Dr. Radhakrishnan Road,
Chennai 600 004

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