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Coimbatore's wealth creators

This is a great city, but do you know the people who made it so? RAYAN ROZARIO gives you a sneak preview of a list of Coimbatore's greats being compiled by the G. D. Naidu Charities

Collage: S. Saravanan

THE MANCHESTER of South India has a rich history.

Today, if the self-sustaining city boasts of a strong industrial and educational base, it is mainly because of the entrepreneurial skills of its people. Especially, of those who came to the city seeking livelihood.

The Naidu and Gounder communities, whose contribution to the city has been immense, belonged to the warrior class. They had a strong will and enjoyed facing challenges.

The Naidus from Andhra Pradesh, soldiers in the Kakatiya kingdom, migrated down South after being defeated by the Mughals.

The Gounders, living near the Karnataka border, moved under similar circumstances.

When members of the two communities set foot in Coimbatore, all it had was dry land, black soil and little habitation.

Life was difficult. But, the never-say-die spirit of the migrants saw them innovate.

Nearly a century later, many don't even know the names of Coimbatore's founding fathers.

In a bid to correct that and let people know about those who helped transform the city, the G. D. Naidu Charities (GDNC) has conceived a series of displays titled "Pioneers of Coimbatore".

"The idea is to let today's youngsters and posterity know that nothing is really impossible. It's enough if one has the strength of character and a bit of killer instinct," says G. D. Gopal, Managing Director of GDNC.

As part of its initiative, GDNC has identified a number of achievers and started compiling their contributions.

Those who will form part of the series include Robert Stanes, Narayanswamy Naidu, N Narasimha Reddy, Swamikannu Vincent and P. Nachimuthu Gounder. Late G. D. Naidu, one of the best technical minds in the country, also finds a place in the list.

Robert Stanes laid the foundation for industrialisation in Coimbatore.

The Englishman-turned-Indian set up the first coffee curing works in the city.

Realising that Coimbatore's climate was ideal for spinning cotton and yarn, he set up the first spinning mill in 1887.

When he was just 20, he started the first English medium school in Coimbatore -- The Stanes High School.

Among the industries born out of his enterprise in the city were the DPF Group, Lakshmi Mills, Vasantha Mills and G. D. Naidu Industries.

If the foundry and the pump industry found a foothold in the town, say thanks to Narayanswamy Naidu.

Hailing from Pappanaickenpalayam, then a small village, he had an aptitude for machines. Banking on it, he set up Kunammanaidu Patarai, a workshop, in 1922 to repair sugarcane crushers and cotton ginning machines.

Since he found it difficult to procure castings, he travelled to Cochin (now Kochi) and studied the operations of the crucible furnace of the Cochin shipyard.

Two years later, the Dhandayuthapani Foundry (DPF) was born.

Narayanaswamy was also instrumental in starting a belt driven pump and groundnut sieving machine.

Late P. Nachimuthu Gounder, who developed his knowledge through reading books, started his career as a cargo mover before moving on to taxis, lorries and buses.

In 1932, he launched the Anamalais Bus Transport (ABT). His son, N. Mahalingam, took the company further ahead.

Swamikannu Vincent was the first to bring cinema to the city.

It was a chance occurrence. When he came across a Frenchman looking to sell his touring cinema, Swamikannu bought it for Rs. 2,000.

Machine in tow, he constantly toured the then Madras and Trivandrum before turning his sights North. For this, he purchased an Edison Carbon Arc Projector.

In 1914, he built the first cinema (on the present Variety Hall Road) in South India, naming it `Variety Hall'.

Swamikannu also generated his own power to run the theatre and set up the first electric printing press.

He still had excess power on hand. To use it, he operated the first electric rice and flour mill in Coimbatore. He even got the Government's nod to sell electricity to the nearby Stanes High School.

Swamikannu's son, Paul Vincent, concretised his father's ambitions.

He hit upon the idea of selling electricity and set up the first powerhouse in Coimbatore.

He was also the first to introduce talkie motion pictures in South India, besides producing a Tamil cinema, Valli Thirumanam.

To expand operations, he constructed more cinemas and even acquired a few.

Finding it extremely hard to procure films to screen in all his theatres, he started a modern studio in Coimbatore, Central Studio, in partnership with a few others.

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