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, http://books.google.com, http://www.archive.org, 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 ?

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