Search for a home
When Hans Kjaersgaard got in touch with me from abroad, it was to find out if I could help him a trace a house his grandfather had built in Nellikuppam and the nursing home in Rundall's Road where his mother was born. When next he got in touch with me, it was to tell me that he was in Madras, that as a trainer from International Flavours and Fragrances he was spending time at its Indian subsidiary, Bush Boake and Allen, and that Bush Boake, which started out in India at Nellikuppam under the wings of Parry's sugar factory, still had several staff who were from Nellikuppam and who not only remembered the house but also that it still stood and they would take him there. He was not so lucky with Rundall's Road.
We eventually met just before he left for Nellikuppam and it was quite a story the fast-talking Hans K it must have been the years he spent in the U.S. with the American-owned IFF had to tell. Danish-born Hans K and his English wife spend their time between homes in Britain and Holland, when he's not visiting one of the 92 countries work has taken him to and given him the opportunity to practise the nine languages he speaks as fast as his English. Slowing him down at that point, I got to catch up with the story of Grandfather Erik Valdemar Gøtzsche, an architect, who "saw the light", became a missionary and came out to Nellikuppam as a 28-year old in 1896 with his wife Ellen Margrethe, whom he'd married just a year before.
In Nellikuppam, Grandpa Erik put his architectural training to good use. With every architecture student in Denmark of his day having to learn the building craft too, he had learnt bricklaying and carpentry. And so, he got the villagers around to make bricks the Danish way for the house he designed. Hans K's mother, now in her 90s and strongly independent, running her own home, still has scattered around the house as paperweights miniatures of those bricks, all with the DLY mark of the Danish Lutheran Overseas Mission! Also in her house is a wealth of Madras Presidency memorabilia, including a small Shiva bronze dug up when the foundation for the Nellikuppam house was being laid, a large double bed well off the floor and waiting for mosquito nets, and a large teak table made by Grandpa Erik from the teakwood packing cases the family's goods had been shipped back in, demonstrating Grandpa Erik's carpentry skills seen everywhere in the Nellikuppam bungalow. Mother's home is where I'm still sure to get a Madras meal, says Hans K.
The house that Gøtzsche designed and built was a two-storied one with stepped, tiled roofs. Its broad verandahs were enclosed with brickwork arches around the raised first floor and wooden pillars and railings on the first floor. When Hans K finally got around to visiting it, much of the open verandahs had been closed and a school known locally as the `Danish School' was being run in and around it.
Han K took the opportunity to visit the church in nearby Pattambakkam, where his mother, the sixth of the Gøtzsches' eight children, had been christened. By then, Eric Gøtzsche had become fluent in Tamil and he named her Helene Louise Eleonara Samathanam. A few years later, her immediate older brother died in a Tiruvannamalai hospital; he had been named Viggo Asirvatham.
After the Gøtzsches returned to Denmark in 1909, where Grandfather Erik was given a parish church, Grandma Margrethe began writing stories with a South Indian background for children. Fifteen published books made her fairly well known writer. They never got translated into English, so we'll never know what life was like in turn-of-the-19th Century Nellikuppam.
TAILPIECE: Hans K. was accompanied to Madras by a Dutch colleague and a morning they spent at the Fort St. George Museum flew as they competed with each other identifying the DOC and VOC (Danish and Dutch East India Company) coins. No doubt when Hans K's wife joins him on his next visit, she'll be looking for Johan Company's EIC cash.
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