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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 9, august 16-31, 2009
Our Readers Write

A Mylapore walk

One evening, recently, I was walking out of Dwaraka Colony (where I lived in the 1940s) and along Royapettah High Road towards Luz. Various thoughts crowded my mind, bringing back fond memories of those days.

When I saw M.K.Radha’s bungalow (on Brindavan Street), scenes from Chandra­lekha, the Gemini movie where he played the hero opposite Ranjan, the villain, and T.R. Rajakumari, the heroine, flashed before my eyes. It was a great movie and a trendsetter. Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, the famous nattuvanar, lived on the same street. In the adjacent Balakrishna Road, there lived comedian Sarangapani. Then as I proceeded on the road branching to the right, I came to an imposing building, none other than the Ramakrishna Home. I could not help thinking about the days I had spent there as a resident-student enjoying every moment of my life there under the tutelage of the amiable and venerable ‘Anna’, the headmaster. It was an institution where students imbibed the values of discipline, simple living and hard work along with learning.

Continuing on the main road, I passed the Sanskrit College where, in 1944, Rt. Hon. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri delivered a series of lectures on the Ramayana that was later published. I approached the Hanuman Koil on the left and, as usual, there was a small crowd of devotees solemnly watching the karpura arathi offering to the deity. I remembered a friend’s comment once while we were watching the puja. When I observed, “Did you notice Hanuman’s face – how benevolent it looks!” he replied with a laugh, “I can only see the vadai malai around his neck!” To the rear of the temple runs Mundakanni Ammankoil Street and I remember the Buckingham Canal flowing past it, with large, long boats carrying goods and merchandise being punted along the waterway. Further down, there is a temple built in memory of the great Tamil scholar-saint, Tiruvalluvar.

Then came the Thanni Thorai Market where vegetables and fruit were available fresh and cheap in the mornings. From there, there were shops all along but there were also pavements on both sides of the road for pedestrians. There was not much of traffic, just the occasional tram, a few cycles and cars, and some hand-pulled rickshaws. Approaching Luz, there were Chander’s Pharmacy (Dr. Chander, who owned the pharmacy, used to go to the Ramakrishna Home every Saturday morning to give free medical service to the students), a spacious Post Office and Sundaram Stores where everything was available! In Luz, I remember Father taking us children occasionally to a cool-drink shop ‘Himalaya’ where only grape juice would be served and the table could seat only four persons.

If you turned into Kutchery Road, you could taste excellent idlis and dosas in Rayar Café and for all household medicines there was Dabba Chetty Kadai a few yards away. In Luz Corner, I often stopped at the Nehru News Mart to buy Tamil magazines and vettrilai from the ever stern-looking shopkeeper who always donned a large kumkum pottu, a la Kunnakudi!

Beyond Luz, if you took a brisk walk along the West Mada Street, what a sight it was on your left! The Kapaleeswarar temple gopuram, with a beautiful tank full of water in the forefront and lined on all four sides by the mada veedhis, was a treat to see.

As I went further, there was the Ramakrishna Mutt established on an extensive piece of land full of trees and gardens. Nearby was the P.S. High School where I later studied. I stepped inside to have a look at the classrooms and verandahs. The atmosphere remained the same, but in those days most of the teachers were clad in old and often-times patched dhotis and angavastrams and wore uchi kudimis – but had a heart and mind that were pure. To gauge the quality of the institution, just recall the galaxy of greats that have passed out from it – J. Krishnamurthy, C.R. Pattabhiraman, General Candeth, Prof. K. Swaminathan, M.V. Aruna­chalam, K. S. Shelvankar, G. Parthasarathy, M.A. Chidambaram, S. Venkata­raghavan and many more who covered themselves with glory in different walks of life!

Cdr. R. Ganapathi, i.n.(retd.)
116, Defence Officers’ Colony
Chennai 600 032

Browne the first?

In my article on Johann Rottler and the journal article published in Berlin in 1803 by Carl Willdenow (MM, July 16th), I had mentioned that the Willdenow article was probably the first scientific article on the flora of Madras.

I have found an article by Samuel Browne, a Madras surgeon in the Fort St George Hospital in the 17th Century, on the plants of Madras. S. Muthiah has elsewhere referred to forensic issues that arose from Browne’s prescription for Councillor James Wheeler. The Browne article on Madras plants pre-dates the Willdenow article. While regretting my error, I offer here the full citation of the article published by Samuel Browne along with the London apothecary, botanist, and entomologist James Petiver in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, in 1700-1701 (vol. 22, pages 579-594). The article is titled ‘An account of part of a collection of curious plants and drugs, lately given to the Royal Society by the East India Company’. Samuel Browne had sent seeds of different plants from Madras to England.

The American Camellia Yearbook includes an article which refers to Samuel Browne being in correspondence with Georg Joseph Kamel, a Jesuit in Manila (the Philippines), who was equally passionate about medicinal plants. Browne and Kamel were exchanging letters, plant specimens and other collectors’ items.

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

Meeting A7 and A12

I read with interest the article on the Maniyachi murder case. It also stirred in me memories of a meeting with two of the ‘accused’ who were living in Senkottai, in June 1973.

As a Programme Executive of AIR, Tiruchchirapalli, I went all the way to Senkottai to record interviews with A7 and A12, viz. Harihara Iyer and Alagappa Pillai (the numbers of the accused given to me then were different, but it does not matter because their genuineness was unquestionable), on an anniversary of the event. They were both living like nobodies, unsung.

Senkottai Janardhanam, a Tamil scholar who had met the aging accomplices of Vanchi, had arranged the meeting.

I reached Alagappa Pillai’s residence first. It was a typical house of the region, with a courtyard in the middle, a narrow verandah running on either side of the main entrance, and a floor above. The first floor room wasn’t really noticeable but had a significance which I shall explain in due course.

Alagappa Pillai was a dark complexioned, sparsely but strongly built person. He had a deep, sonorous voice that seemed to disprove his age and appearance.

I started the interview with pleasantries and preliminaries, but on the mention of Vanchi’s name he poured forth a telling account of his association with the hero. I was caught unawares. I had not switched on the recorder, which I deeply regretted. He did not disappoint me when the recording was done a while later.

Alagappa Pillai was a schoolmate of Vanchi. He was part of the Library Movement as it was called, organised to distribute revolutionary printed material. The first floor room was the place where the materials were stacked for clandestine distribution.

“What did Vanchi look like?”

“Like a Rajput prince.”

“How old was his wife when he sacrificed his life for the ­nation?”

“Oh, ask me not! She had not even attained puberty!”

“When and where did you see him last?”

“At the Courtallam Falls. By sheer chance and not design. He was in a great hurry.”

“Did you speak to him and what did he say?”

“He replied in Malayalam (it was common for even people of Tamil origin in the region to speak in Malayalam). I thought I had heard him say he was going to America. I wondered why and what would happen to the movement. But it was after the news of Ashe’s murder and Vanchi’s sacrificial death that I realised he had said he was “marikka poyi – going to die”.

Next, I met Haihara Iyer. Again a thin man, fairer in complexion. Reserved and soft-spoken. Not as articulate as his junior in the ‘A’ list. He recalled their boyhood together and the last meeting he had with Vanchi, when Vanchi had repeated his oft-sworn assertion that he would restore the ‘Dharma of the land’.

“What did he mean by it?”

“He meant freedom, total freedom!”

We could add Vanchi meant sacrifice for the motherland too.

The commemorative tribute was duly broadcast from AIR Tiruchchirapalli. I hope it is in the archives of the station, now digitised and treasured, for the emotions it reflected.

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

Wrong, right, wrong

In my letter in MM, August 1st, there is reference to Prof. France. I had written it as FRANCK, which was also wrong. It should be FRANCKE.

Rev. Philip K. Mulley

Editor’s Note: The name had been changed to FRANCKE during editing, but then the printer’s devil got to it.



In this issue

Officialdom looks...
Down memory...
Arch Bridges...
Madras Week..
Memories of Kilpauk...
Karpagambal Mess...
Thiruvalluvar's shrine...
New Cricket stadium...
Chennais first ...
Historic Residences..
Other stories

Our Regulars

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


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