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When the postman knocked

S. MUTHIAH

THERE HAS been a heap of mail these past few weeks and I propose today to offer the rest of my space to a few of the responses and requests. It constantly surprises me the ever so varied readership this column has and the attention paid by that readership to the least detail in it. Maybe there are more people out there interested in heritage and our past than the powers-that-be think there are. I'm indeed delighted by this interest shown by so many.

* On October 15, 2001, I had referred to a request for information about a Pandit S.M. Natesa Sastri and when his descendants responded, I was able to put the family in touch with the researcher, Prof. Leela Prasad of the Duke University, U.S.A., who now writes that that contact "was a milestone for me in remembering a fine scholar's work". That work will soon be a part of the book Dr. Prasad is writing on ethnography in colonial India. Now she seeks further help - and all she has to offer is a brief note, from what sounds like a `Who's Who', on P.V. Ramaswami Raju (1852-1897). Raju, the eldest son of P.V. Ramaswami, Government Superintendent of Salt, Madras, was himself in Government service for a while, serving as Inspector, Sea Customs, Madras, before becoming Headmaster of Pachiappah's High School, Kanchipuram, in the 1870s. In 1882, he was admitted to the Inner Temple, London, and became a Barrister-at-Law. But what interested Dr. Prasad about Raju was his work in Tamil, Pratapachandra Vilasam and Sreemad Ramanatha Rajangala Mahodyanam, and his work in English published in England, perhaps one of the first South Indians to be published there. These titles were The Tales of Sixty Mandarins (Cassell, 1886), and Indian Fables (Swan Sonneschein, 1889). He was also commissioned by the Madras Vernacular Literature Society to translate the English classics into Tamil. Surely someone, particularly a descendant, must know something about him? The libraries don't, writes Dr. Prasad. I'd be glad to hear from readers, care of The Hindu, if anyone has any leads to pass on to Dr. Prasad.

* Prof. R. Parthasarathy writes that U.V. Swaminatha Iyer's (Miscellany, June 9) was "an unparalleled record as a Tamil teacher, casting his charm on students with his own style of teaching". Invaluable hints on how to deliver lectures and stir the students' interests were recorded in two of his essays, Maanakkar Vilaiyatukkal and Vidwan Thiagaraja Chettiar. He knew no English, but won the respect of successive European principals, starting from J.B. Bilderberg, writes reader Parthasarathy and adds that it was Salem Ramaswami Mudaliar, not `Ramachandra' who approached Swaminatha Iyer for help with Jeevaka Chinthamani, a Jain classic. He also points out that "we owe it to Rukmani Devi for founding the Swaminatha Iyer Memorial Library and Research Centre" where, I hear, a considerable amount of research is now going on.

* Reader T.T. Srinivasamurti writes that trains were stopped (Miscellany, June 9) for Dr. T.S. Tirumurti too. Whenever this Professor of Pathology, Andhra University, Vishakhapatnam, and District Medical Officer, used to travel by train from Vizag to Madras and back, messages would be sent to all stations en route about the train and compartment he was travelling in to enable patients to consult him. The consultations were free - and the train would not move till the last patient was examined!

* My pieces on Sir Arthur Cotton (Miscellany, May 12 and June 2) have reader V.H. Prasad relating a story that appeared in a Telugu magazine a few months ago. There apparently was a Vedic pandit living on the banks of the Godavari who ended his prayers every day calling on the Almighty to bless `Cotton Dorai' with long life and prosperity. One day, an English official on circuit who was passing by, stopped on hearing this invocation and wondered how Arthur Cotton figured in the pandit's prayers. If I can take my bath before my daily prayers, it is because of the Dowleswaram Anicut he built, replied the pandit. But he was only doing his duty in building the dam, responded the officer. It was more than duty; it was dedication and devotion to the people of a country not his own, insisted the pandit. And the official humbly replied, "Cotton Dorai, who stands here before you, thanks you for your prayers. Will you bless him?"

* News of that other Shakespeare Society continues to dribble in. Reader S. Viswanathan writes that there is "indeed an older Shakespeare Society in the city of which the active secretary is Dr. Usha Mahadevan of the Hindu College, Pattabiram". That address has rather lost me. So maybe I'll hear more again about this older society.

* And to add to my library, following my references to biography as history, comes an autobiography, The Life of Vennelacunty Soob Row: Translator and Interpreter of the late Sudr Court, Madras, from 1815 to 1829, sent to me by V.S. Ramachandra Rao, who says the author was his grandfather's grandfather. Published in 1873, the slim book gives a picture of the making and life of an official but provides no `case histories'. What I found most interesting, however, was that no sooner Soob Row was appointed a Member of the School Book Society in Madras in 1920, he fired off a letter to the European officialdom-dominated Society expressing his feelings on "the very deficient mode of education among the natives, my countrymen" and suggesting in ten points how the situation should be remedied. The letter was not only received with "high approbation" but was also published in the first report of the Society in 1823. Life was indeed different in those days.

* Reader C.A. Reddi's letter was not in response to a Miscellany item but to a Madrascapes item (May 7). Nevertheless I don't think anyone will mind it winding up this week's column. Hyde Park Gardens, he writes, was donated by the Rajah of Panagal for the founding of the Indian School of Medicine. And, reader Reddi adds, the Raja also owned Gopal Bagh, on which the TVS Motors workshop now stands. That, I'm sure, would not have been property donated.

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