Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Madras -- Chennai": Review comments, Part III

In continuation of my review comments of the Tamil book titled, "Madras -- Chennai" this is the final part in this series. In case you missed the part I and II, you can read it here and here.

11. Which European power came in 1612 ? Is it Danish or the Dutch ? Text says it is Dutch (in page 6 of chapter 1).

12. Masulipattinam, in the process of translation, has become "Mussoli Pattinam" (I have given it here as is printed (and sounds the same while reading) in the Tamil text) in page 61 of chapter 9.

13. In the
the same chapter (pages 63 and 64), author traces, how the British, who had established their trading post in Armagon, signed a contract with the local representatives of Vijayanagara empire, the Rajah of Chandragiri and his feudal sub-ordinate Damarla Venkatapathy Nayak, bought that piece of land adjoining the River Cooum over looking the sea. This contract 'owes its genesis to Francis Day and Andrew Cogan'; how squarely, the latter's name has been missed out and, as far as I can recall, there is absolutely no reference to Andrew Cogan in the book.

14. Talking about the contract (also known as sanad said to be preserved in the Chandragiri fort) in page 74 of chapter 11, it helps the lay reader to highlight the fact as to why Beri Thimappa negotiated with John Company or the Honourable East India Company -- because he was a 'dubash' as he could speak two languages.

15. Missing page numbers from page 80 to page 85 (chapter 13).

16. Central Station missing among the list of prominent landmarks in the city.

17. No mention about the Connemera Public Library in the Government Museum Complex.

"Madras -- Chennai": Review comments, Part II

In continuation of my review comments of the Tamil book titled, "Madras -- Chennai" this is part II in this series. In case you missed the part I of this series, it is available here.

What needs improvement / correction ?

Am stopping from providing further examples of point 6 (elaborated here) in this category i.e using simple words, proper sentences / phrases and avoiding grammatical errors in the Tamil translation. If possible, I will write a letter (in Tamil) to NHM detailing these points.

7. How the various parts of the city got their names is detailed in Chapter 12. I notice that certain prominent names are missed out: Adayar, Parangimalai (St.Thomas Mount). Sticking to the same chapter, I remember reading that "Chrome" represents the 'leather tanning' and that's the real root of the word Chromepet.

Some of the following items are purely factual errors. I hope the author(s) and the publisher take them into consideration in future editions.

8. Acquisition of Thiru-Alli-kenni village in to the colonial British fold is dated as 1658 in page 51 of chapter 7 and the same is dated as 1668 in page 65 of chapter 9.

9. Tracing the history of Mylapore in chapter 5, the author states that, in page 41, "Mar Solomon from the city of Basra visited Mylapore in 1222 A.D and referred to the place as Mahilup".

In the following chapter on the story of St.Thomas, it is said that (in page 47), "first account of an European about St.Thomas and Mylapore is available from Mar Solomon. He had visited Mahilup in the year 1722 A.D . . . "

10. Probably, source of this typo is the printer's devil -- Armenian printed as American.

It was Coja Petrus Uscan, a wealthy merchant, from Armenia, who had built the 134 steps leading to St.Thomas Mount (and also the Marmalong Bridge across the Adayar in 1726).

Final part in this series to follow soon . . .

"Madras -- Chennai": Review comments, Part I

In the previous post here, I had mentioned about enrollment in a book review scheme of New Horizon's Media.
As the title of this post says, the review comments shall be split into three parts to enable easy reading.

Before jumping into the feedback, quick note about the book under review.

Book Details

Title : Madras -- Chennai

Author (English) : Nandita Krishna

Author (Tamil translation) : Jayashree Govindarajan

ISBN : 978-81-8493-253-9, First Edition, August 2009, 96 Pages, Price : INR 25.00

Published by: Prodigy Books, an imprint of New Horizon Media Pvt. Ltd.

Shelving Category: Non-fiction / General Knowledge (as given at the back of the book)

NOTE: I have not read the English source, so, my feedback is entirely and only about the Tamil version of this book. If any of the comments sound very trivial and unnecessary, please do excuse me.

Who should read this book ?

The book's target audience, from my view point, could be those who would want to get initiated in to Madras heritage or who happen to visit this metro over a weekend or anyone (school children, common man on the street) just curious to know about Madras' history. Having said that, it should be noted that the first edition of this book is dated August, 2009 -- released on the occasion of Madras Week [celebrated from August 16-23] and 2009 happens to be the 370th year of founding of this 'first municipality in India'.

Goodies. . .

Contents are neatly organized into short and easily readable chapters.
Printed using good quality paper and readable type fonts, the front cover depicts Fort St.George as viewed from the harbor (as it existed prior to the development of the present harbor).

In all, there are 15 chapters spread across 95 pages well supplemented with maps, photographs (black/white) of landmarks that dot the city, old paintings and drawings (black/white) depicting the city life and it's people during the colonial period.

What needs improvement / correction ?

1. While a brief note about Dr.Nandita Krishna is provided at the back cover, I do see such a note missing for the author who did the Tamil translation ? Likewise, first page (immediately succeeding the front cover), I think, it should be clearly said who the authors were i.e who did with original work in English and the Tamil translation.

2. Miniature map of Madras, available in page 4, could have been made into a foldable type (A4) rather than being restricted to just a single page. It's very difficult to read the 'tiny city map' and make out different parts of the city using the number keys given in the same page.

3. When it comes to the old photographs, paintings and drawings, care has been taken to reproduce them with clarity without any alterations to black and white images, but, I suppose, many of them have been sourced from very old books or collections.

Examples: page 32 in chapter 3, page 59 in chapter 8.

Though these books or collections could have gone out of copyright it would have been nice if the publishers had taken that extra effort to add a Bibliography / reference section and listed such works there.

4. Elaboration of the subject matter in chapter 2 truly reflects Dr.Nandita Krishna's environmental background.

5. At first look, chapters 3 and 8 stand out from the rest as they seem to be digressing away from the book's title but the author has shown restraint with limited contents in both the chapters.

6. Tamil translation could have been made more readable with attention paid to sentence formation, usage of simple and appropriate words where possible, grammatical errors. As I have limited experience in using Tamil fonts and keyboard, I could not detail these shortcomings but will quickly refer to them here.


-- page 14, chap 2: Tamil name of Adyar

-- page 20, chap 2: caption of the photo reads (it's given in Tamil in the book and the same is translated to English here), "Madras in 1856, Engraving by Sir Charles Hunt). What is the correct Tamil word for Engraving?

-- page 25, chap 2: Reference to the earlier avatar (Araatha Kuttai) of Nageswara Rao Park

-- page 30, chap 4: 'Puraana Sanga Illakiyangal' is how the sentence begins but I don't think is a correct form.

-- page 30, chap 4: Author misses to add a note / reference about the division of 24 kottams in earlier times.As far as I know, such a division of 24 kottams / kodams is mentioned by V.Kanakasabhai Pillai in his book "The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago" in page 28 and I reproduce the text below.

"It was the Chola king Karikal the Great, of whom I shall speak fully later on, who first settled these [Kurumbar] wandering tribes and divided their country into twenty-four koddams or districts and parcelled it out to the Vellala tribe. the list of twenty-four koddams and seventy-nine Nadus is as follows;-(1)

: Pulal

Nadu: Nayaru, Akudi, Athorr, Elumur

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(1) I take this list from a document called the Thondai-mandala-paddayam. It gives the names of 24 Koddams and 77 Nadus, although in the same document it is said that the total number of Nadus was 79. The names of these Koddams and Nadus occur in the Chola inscriptions of the eleventh century A.D.

Kanakasabhai Pillai lists all the 24 Koddams along with the 79 Nadus in his book but I have shortened it for brevity.

Rest of the review comments will soon be posted . . .

Reviewing the Tamil book titled, "Madras -- Chennai" . . .

I enrolled in a book review scheme of New Horizon Media.

Further details about the book review scheme is posted here :

Am reviewing the Tamil book titled, 'Madras -- Chennai", authored in English by Nandita Krishna, translated to Tamil by Jayashree Govindarajan and published by Prodigy Books
(an arm of New Horizon Media). This title is published in association with C P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai.

Am almost done with the review, will be publishing my feedback and comments in a separate post.

To know more about this title, go here:

NOTE: This is purely a voluntary effort, I do not derive any monetary benefits.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Madras in the (G)olden days. . .

On the occasion of Madras week, 2009 I will be posting snippets of events from the 'pages of history'. Some of these may sound trivial but provides an interesting insight how things were in Madras some 250 years back.

NOTE: Page numbers, I quote in these posts , may vary depending on which source is being used to view the book. Possible sources include, but not limited to,,, and, of course, nothing beats a hard copy.

Starting with the first post for today. Am going to divert a bit allowing the readers between the two events, one contemporary and the other, from the British ruled Black Town that was part of their Coromandel settlement with Fort St.George as the center of power.

Night Patrol

On Jul/25/2009, I was out to a local ice-cream shop, just opened few weeks back, to taste their dessert delicacies. It was about 11pm India time when I reached the shop, not far from home, and noticed a night patrol asking shops to shut doors. (Few metres away from this shop is the local Police station). Though I have been part of few such enquiries (by late night patrol parties), while returning home late night after a hard day's work, this was quite strange because for a long time I have not seen such announcements by the night patrol. However, it should be noted that, though am nocturnal by nature, I do not venture into late night parties. Maybe, it's part of their regular routine !

Beating Tom Tom ...

Having digressed this much, let me converge back to the original topic -- what the above event has got anything to do with colonial Madras or even Madras week. Here is that interesting tidbit and the setting is Madras in the late seventeenth century, to be exact, it is
19th January, 1693.

Based on reports from the 'Taliars and the local peons appointed to watch the Black Town', the local government felt the town has been witnessing late night disturbances from thefts and other such disorderly acts. Hence, it was ordered that, Choultry Justices should announce to the general public that, by 11pm local time none should walk through the streets of the Black Town. Whoever dare do so, shall be dealt with severely, either with a penalty of one 'pagoda' or with severe corporal punishment, as deemed fit by the Justice. And, this shall be done by causing the 'tom tom' to be beaten, on the morning of 20th January, 1693.

This observation is derived from the book, 'Madras in the Olden Time' by J.Talboys Wheeler, Volume I [1639-1702]. This is quoted in Chapter XII of the book, describing the events during the Governorship of Mr.Nathaniel Higginson. However, it is possible that such measures were in force in earlier times too but I have not taken the efforts to validate / check that.

This poses some very interesting questions:

1. Are there any accounts describing the night life in colonial Madras especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ? The note, as detailed in the Wheeler's book, says that the violences were committed because strangers, including local inhabitants, were walking up and down the streers all through the night.

2. Are such measures precedent for section 144 that we often hear about when reckless violence claims priceless lives and disrupts normalcy ?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Madras week 2009 . . .

Yes, if you are a Madras heritage buff, here is the announcement.

For details about the various competitions:

What's going on behind the scenes:

To keep a tab on the upcoming events during the Madras week long celebrations, check here,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Birth of Airmail -- the Indian Connection

Disclaimer: I will regularly post snippets from books that I find interesting and relevant to the subjects of this blog, but I will try to abstain from posting about the quality of the content. I request and recommend that my posting should NOT be considered as review comments.

Moving to today's subject,
The debut of official airmail and the Indian connection.

First things first, the sources for this post is derived from the book,

Title : History of Air Cargo and Airmail from the 18th Century
Author : Camille Allaz
Pages : 408
ISBN : 0954889606

To know more details about this book, go here.

NOTE: If you are in USA, Google books offers limited preview of this book. The case might be different if you happen to search this book via Google books from any other country.

Here is an overview about the book as published in

"It was first published in French by the Institut du Transport AĆ©rien in 1998 and received very favourable reviews. Through the publication of the English language edition, this remarkable work is now accessible to many more readers around the world. In addition, the author has expanded the book with new sections and he has extensively updated it to bring the story of air cargo into the twenty first century, concluding with a look into the future. The author, Camille Allaz, served as Senior Vice President Cargo at Air France for 10 years which gave him an insider's close-up view of his subject, a privilege not enjoyed by many historians. There is no aspect of mail or cargo transport by air that has not been thoroughly researched and documented by Allaz, from the first brief transport of animals by balloon in France in 1783 to the vast global networks of the integrated express carriers in the 21st century. As a true scholar, he fits his narrative into the larger framework of political, military, economic and aviation history. This book should stand for years as the definitive work on the history of air cargo and airmail, and will be of immense value to the academic community, to the air cargo industry, the postal services, and to the general public."

Now, here is some interesting tidbits as told in the book.

You will be surprised, atleast, that's how I felt when I read those lines, to know that official airmail "was born in Allahabad - in Northern India - on 18th February 1911".

What was the occasion ? why this airmail was pressed into service ?

Allahabad was the site for "The Annual United Provinces (of India) Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition" organized in 1911. To mark this occasion, the organizers "called upon the Englishman Walter Windham ... to carry out or organize a series of demonstration flights". Taking cue from the Morehouse in Columbus, the clergyman of the Church of the Sacred Trinity of Allahabad mooted the idea of transporting mail along with these flights "for charitable purposes".

Thus was born the airmail service. Though this was not pursued as a regular service, as is obvious from the organizers' objective and the occasion, but, it displayed the willingness of the postal authorities to consider alternative transportation mechanism, apart from existing modes, like,
land and sea routes.

We should be proud about this. In couple of years,
am sure, this centenary will be celebrated.

Who flew the first bag of airmail ?

Walter Windham entrusted the aerial mission to the French pilot, Henri Pequet. He carried 6,500 letters and postcards "over the few miles, which separate Allahabad and Naini junction".

In the following pages (in the book), the author has recorded, for posterity, the transcript of a recorded interview of the French pilot -- flying conditions on that D-day, air strip (the pilot says it was a polo ground), flight details, special postmark, how the media reported it.


[1] page 27, in the book, has the image of the French pilot, seated on the two-seater airplane, with his signature (???) across the photo.

[2] Special postmark consisted of the words: "First aerial post." [as given in the transcript of the recorded interview]

[3] Flight time was 27 minutes and the altitude during the trip was "40-50 metres. Not more."
[as given in the transcript of the recorded interview]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Andrew Carnegie's stop over @ Madras -- Reply from LOC MSS

Received an e-mail from one of the contacts at LOC MSS, about my earlier inquiry on this subject, with details of their collections on Andrew Carnegie and a list of private researchers whom I can contact to get relevant text transcribed.

Still mulling over as to what to do now. At this point, am undecided on what the next steps should be.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Andrew Carnegie's stop over @ Madras

Anyone interested in Madras' heritage would be surprised to know that the famous self-made billionaire visited Madras, for few days, while he was going round the world trip. This event is set in the late nineteenth century of British India.

Excerpts from the archives of The Sunday Times Plus Sri Lanka Edition
dated Jun/15/2008,

Accompanied by a friend, John Vandervorst, Carnegie set out westward from New York on October 12, 1878, and returned after 256 days on June 24, 1879. When the pair reached Singapore, Galle became their next port of call. They weren’t alone on the passage to Ceylon, for as is revealed in William T. Hornaday’s The Minds and Manners of Wild Animals: A Book of Personal Observations (1922; paperback 2007) they “convoyed my Old Man and another small orang from Singapore to Colombo, Ceylon, whence they were shipped on to Madras, received there by my old friend A.G.R. Theobald, - and presented at the court of the Duke of Buckingham.”

Courtesy: The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

What interests me in this stop over ? Am trying to locate / find if there is any literature, images, and photos related to this event are available.

I contacted organizations, like, Carnegie Foundation, and Columbia University @ New York but they do not have any such material. My inquiry with Library of Congress' Manuscript and Reading Room is not answered yet !

Can anyone, reading this post, help me ?