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The postman knocked

Reader Sriram Venkatakrishnan tells me that the wives of two judges I recently mentioned in this column (Sir C. Sankaran Nair, Miscellany, April 23, and Sir T. Sadasiva Aiyar, Miscellany April 16) founded the Egmore Ladies’ Recreation Club (doe s it exist today, I wonder) which provided one of the first platforms for women outside the Devadasi community to demonstrate their talents. The first person to use this stage was C. Saraswathi Bai, “the first Lady Bhagavatar”, who gave a Harikatha recital. It was her first public performance – and she was all of 11. The Sankaran Nairs were taken to task by many eminent citizens of Madras for encouraging her, but they ignored the protests and continued to champion the unconventional. Many years later, adds reader Venkatakrishnan, D. K. Pattammal too gave her first performance at the Club. By then “Society’s attitude to women had changed considerably for the better.”

* With Gokhale Hall being much in the news these days, it would only be meet to remember Sir Sankaran Nair’s connection with the Young Men’s Indian Association, whose home the Hall was to become, writes a reader who pref ers anonymity. The Hindu which was for long at loggerheads with Annie Besant did not take too kindly to the founding of the YMIA in January 1914. It wrote, “The manner in which she has lately figured in the civil and criminal cou rts in Madras, the heated controversy in which she has embroiled herself with the Christian Missionaries of Madras, and what is far more important than all, the proceedings now actually pending in the High Court against her for committal of contempt – ought to make responsible members of the community, Indian and European, feel very reluctant in the manner of associating with her for any common and ostensibly good purpose. It seems to us…there is the want of a sense of propriety in judges of the High Court and others holding high official and unofficial positions giving countenance to Mrs. Besant’s public activities in the present stage of her litigation.” Sir Sankaran Nair, who had agreed to be the Chairman of the YMIA, promptly resigned – stating that he had accepted Mrs. Besant’s invitation “on certain conditions” and since these had not been met, he did not consider himself a member of the Association.

* Reader M. Narayanan writes apropos the mention of Dr. S. Rangachary (Miscellany, April 23) that the doctor owned Ranga Nursing Home on Mowbray’s Road (now TTK Road) and loved cars and aircraft. One of the first Indians to get a pilot’s licence, he often flew the Puss Moth he owned to visit patients in the mofussil areas, landing on non-existent airstrips that were barren fields. He also owned a Rolls Royce and a Lanchester – which as early as the 1930s had pre-selector gears. (A Lanchester 1950 model was once my pride – and spoilt me for driving any other type of car. Karumuthu Thyagaraja Chettiar was another who mollycoddled a Lanchester of the same vintage.) Dr. Rangachary once drove his Rolls Royce all the way from Madras to Mettur, about 200 miles, treated a patient there and drove back – a 14-hour day – to treat patients waiting in Madras.

* Reader P.K. Belliappa writes that his father P.K. Monappa (Miscellany, May 7), probably held a record of sorts, nine years as an Inspector General of Police, heading the Police in three States: in Hyderabad after the Police Action, in newly formed Andhra Pradesh, and in Karnataka, where he retired in 1958. Rao Bahadur Monappa had an exemplary career in the Public Service, reflected duly by his titles and medals. That career of service in Madras State of his father is what made Belliappa opt for Madras and not his home State, Karnataka, when he joined the IAS.

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