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Recalling the beginnings

THAT PICTURE of Stephen Bach's early British Council team (Miscellany, February 21) and the queries I had raised in the write-up accompanying it brought a response from a reader that deserves a place all to itself. Reader Raghu Tagat, who has clarified several of the matters I had mentioned, was one of the first Indians to be recruited to its Information Service by the British Deputy High Commission when it was set up in Madras.

He recalls that it was at the invitation of Prime Minister Nehru that the British Council put down roots in Madras and that its Madras office was inaugurated by the Governor of Madras, Sir Archibald Nye — the last British Governor of the Province — in July or August 1948, one of Sir Archibald's last official functions in the city. The first British Council representative was J. Elliot, who left before his term was over, spending no more than 18 months in Madras. Stephen Bach succeeded him and, in turn, was succeeded either by his deputy, H.C. Norminton (he and his wife are the other British couple in that photograph) or Stanley Hodgson. The latter, in time, became the Chief Representative of the British Council in India and then Director General of the Council in London. "There was no Hotchkiss in the Council in Madras, ever," thinks reader Tagat.

Of others in the picture Tagat writes: R. Govindaswamy, the Secretary-cum-Administration Officer, went to Bangalore to take charge of the branch when the library was opened there, S.N. Kumar was designated `Functional Officer'; and K.C. Cherian, the Education Officer helped many a doctor and academician from the South to go to Britain for further studies. The photograph was taken by Sama and not `Sarma', Sama being N.M. Swaminathan, one of the first to join the Council. Writers Tagat, "Sama, as a functional assistant, travelled throughout India with a touring British theatre (Marius Goring's — S.M.) at its request after acquitting himself so well in Madras, and, then, was invited to come to Britain." There he made quite a mark in theatre circles but kept in close touch with India. In fact, quite coincidentally, just as I was writing these lines, Sama called to say he was in town again and promised to meet me to talk about those early British Council days and what he's been doing in Britain after retiring as deputy theatre manager of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican... a long way way from the days when he helped found the Madras Players.

Tagat also mentions that in those early days the British Deputy High Commission and Council generally recruited their Indian staff on the recommendation of friends (usually British) in eminent positions after they found that advertising brought in far too many applicants, most of them unqualified. Kumar, recalls Tagat, was recommended by Prof. Eagleton of Mysore University, Sushila by Prof. R. Janardana Naidu, librarian, Madras University and later of the Connemara, and Sama Swaminathan by the legendary `Daddy' Hayles of The Mail where Sama started his career — as a photo-journalist.

S. MUTHIAH

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