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Of princes and co-eds

S. MUTHIAH

THERE HAVE been many letters about Sir. P.S. Sivaswami Iyer (Miscellany, July 5) that they warrant a separate item. The best of them narrates a romantic story. The writer tells me that she used to, many years ago, regularly visit the Archaeological Survey of India office in Fort St. George in connection with the conservation of an ancient obelisk. Her companion, a writer and a kin of Sir Sivaswami, would insist after the meetings that they visit St. Mary's Church, across the way from the ASI office. Given the rest of my story today, I forebear from mentioning their names, but the tale is too good not to be told.

In the church, that soft-spoken writer would go up to the polished-to-a-shine wooden railings before the altar and run his hands lovingly over them. Sir P.S., he'd recall, was responsible for a Princess of Pudukkottai presenting the church a set of gold railings, but at some-time these disappeared and these wooden railings took their place.

And then he would tell this story: the princess had some years before this generous gesture, fallen in love with an Englishman. Sir P.S., then the dewan of Pudukkottai, tried to persuade them to give up the idea of marriage. But after he relinquished the Dewanship helped them to get married. When the grateful bride asked Sir P.S. how she could express her gratitude to him, he had suggested she gift St. Mary's the gold railings. Whenever I see these railings, even if they are not gold I remember my grand-kin Sir P.S., the story teller would sigh.

Now, the Church records confirm that the present railings replaced gifted railings sometime ago, but they don't speak of gold; in fact, I remember being told many years ago by an old English presbyter that they were originally brass railings. But whatever the metal, a plaque near them states that they were gifted by the Princess of Tanjore in 1877 in memory of Lord Hobart, Governor of Madras (1872-75, who died of typhoid while in office and was buried in the Church). At that time, Sir P.S. (b. 1864) would have been in school! Apart from this documentation — and lack of any other information about railings gifted by any other Indian Princes — there's the fact that Sir P.S. never served as a dewan anywhere. But that would not have stopped that storyteller who is now no more; to me, he was ever the dreamy romantic.

Several other readers have written to point out that the Sivaswami High School in Tirukkattupalli, near his village of Pazhamarneri, was a co-educational institution in the 1940s and, so, Sir P.S. could not have been against co-education. His biographer K. Chandrasekharan states that the Tirukkattupalli school had been a lower school for boys and was in dire straits when Sir P.S. made his first contribution to it in 1906. The following year, contributing further, he helped elevate it to a boys' high school. It appears to have remained a boys' school in 1918 when it became Government-aided, in 1926 when he transferred the management to a Board of Trustees and in 1936 when hostels were build. When it became co-educational I am unable to trace, but I would say it might have been around 1940 when it expanded.

As for the education of girls, Sir Sivaswami's biographer states that while he wanted them to receive "a sound education... he was not for higher studies as a matter of regular course to all girls... he was certainly (also) not for the same course of studies for both boys and girls, at any rate, in collegiate classes... Till his death he was very doubtful of the benefits of women... in professional branches such as medical, engineering, legal, etc... " Co-education was certainly not something he supported. But women's education, from his "conservative and traditionalist" point of view, he was prepared to wholeheartedly back.

And, so, the nearly Rs. 4 lakhs he received from S. Anantharamakrishnan of the Amalgamations Group for his palatial house, Sudharma, on Edward Elliot's Road, he bequeathed to the National Girls' High School he had taken over in the 1920s and renamed the Mylapore National Girls' High School. It became the Lady Sivaswami Iyer School only after his death.

And another reader reminds me that after Sir P.S.'s tenure as Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras, he held the same office at Benares Hindu University. My correspondent also tells me that Sir P.S.'s interest in military matters led to his being appointed a member of the Indian Military College Committee in 1931.

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