Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVI No. 24, April 1-15, 2017

Lost Landmarks of Chennai

– Sriram V

The six gardens of the Begum

110bAgurchund Mansions in Rushkairam Gardens.

There is an erroneous story floating around that Chepauk is actually Cheh Baugh, or six gardens that once stood were, all belonging to the Nawab of Arcot. However, it is coincidental to note that the Begum of Arcot did own six gardens in Madras! The details of the properties and their locations are given in one of the early cases of the High Court of Madras, in which Her Highness Azim Un Nissa Begum, “nikah wife of the late Nawab of the Carnatic” sued for restoration of her ownership over the six gardens, all of which had been taken over by the Official Receiver of the Carnatic Property following the East Indian Company’s decisions in 1855. The Nawab in question is never mentioned by name but it would be reasonable to surmise that he was Ghulam Ghouse Khan, the last of the titular Nawabs, who died in 1855.

The Begum’s plea had it that she was the absolute owner of “Rushkairam or Woods Garden on the Mount Road, Madras, Umdah Bagh or MacLean’s Garden on the Mount Road, Mahbub Bagh or Turnbull’s Garden in the village of Adyar, including a parcel of land in Mowbray’s Road, Ghaus Bagh in Nungumbakkam, Farah Bagh or Dare’s House in Ennore and Ahmed Bagh or Farren’s House in Red Hills.” The claims and counterclaims are long and contentious, with the Nawab in his lifetime having mortgaged all these properties in exchange for ready cash. The principal creditor, however, appears to have been Richardson & Co., one of the many firms that then existed in Madras for the sole purpose of loaning money to the Nawabs at usurious rates of interest.

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The first three of these properties are easily identifiable even today. Rushkairam was where Taj Club House now stands, its gardens covering the space now occupied by Agurchund Mansions. Originally a garden bungalow, Rushkairam is believed to have been built by Col. Patrick Ross, the man who gave much of Fort St. George its present contours. The Begum herself never lived in it, leasing it repeatedly to several of the Company’s servants. It was known as Wood’s Garden (Wood’s Road runs alongside) after Edward Wood, who in 1811 was Registrar of the Sudder Court and later Chief Secretary. In the late 1800s, Rushkairam became the Castle Hotel. It was later bought by the builder Khaleel Shirazi who built on the Mount Road side Khaleeli Mansions, which after Independence was auctioned and came to be named after its buyer – Sah Agurchund Manmull. Rushkairam remained with the Khaleeli family till the 1990s when it was bought and demolished to make way for the hotel, now managed by the Taj.

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Umda Baugh is now the Quaid e Milleth Government Arts College and stands exactly opposite Agurchund Mansions. In 1816, Colah Singanna Chetty, a dubash, owned it. It was later acquired by the Armenian millionaire Edward Samuel Moorat. In the second half of the 19th Century, though it was owned by Azim Un Nissa Begum, the house was rented by the principal wife of the Nawab, Khair Un Nissa Begum, and became the social epicentre of the Muslim aristocracy in Madras. This was where luminaries such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, and His Exalted Highness Mir Mahbub Ali Khan Bahadur, the Nizam of Hyderabad, stayed when they visited Madras.

In the late 19th Century, the Begum, or her descendants, sold the property to the Gujarati business family of Lodd Krishnadoss Balamukunddoss. In 1901, the All India Muslim Educational Conference was held in Madras and a request was made that the Madrasa-i-Azam, founded in 1849 and functioning till then in Chepauk, be given the property. The Government acquired Umda Bagh from the Lodd family, who were kind enough to sell it at less than market rates on coming to know that it was to be used for an educational institution. The Madrasa-i-Azam came to be housed in the original Umda Bagh palace, which is now in a serious state of disrepair. The Diwan Khana of Firuz Hussain Khan Bahadur, principal agent to the Begum, became the residence of the Principal of the school. A mosque was built in the campus in 1909. In the same compound was set up the Government Mohammedan College in 1919, which acquired its handsome set of buildings within the compound in 1934. The institution became the Government Women’s College after Independence and subsequently came to include Quaid e Milleth in its name, in honour of Muhammad Ismail Sahib, leader of the Indian Union Muslim League. It is not clear as to who the Maclean was whose name is referred to in the legal papers in connection with this property.

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From the fact that there still is a Turnbull’s Road in the vicinity we can deduce that Mahbub Bagh, or Turnbull’s Garden, was somewhere in the Chamiers Road area though it cannot be traced now. There are at least three Turnbulls of prominence in Madras history, but the one most likely associated with this property was probably S R Turnbull who in 1875 became the first Captain of the Madras Boat Club. Completely untraceable is the Begum’s fourth garden, Ghaus Bagh in Nungambakkam.

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Farah Bagh is more easily traced though it is now impossible to pinpoint its precise location. From the fact that it is referred to as Dare’s Garden, we can deduce that it was occupied by J W Dare, junior partner and later Director of Parry & Co., after whom the Company’s headquarters in Parry’s Corner is still named. A dashing bachelor who cut a fine figure in Madras society, Dare was “a prime mover among the ‘party of gentlemen’ who resorted to the Union Club at Ennore and he seems to have been the Secretary of a sort of the syndicate who were responsible for the upkeep and even the construction of the roads to Ennore and Red Hills. At Ennore and Red Hills he built stabling for his horses.” That leads us to the conclusion that Dare probably rented property in Ennore from the Begum for use as a weekend retreat.

Ahmed Bagh in Red Hills is also not traceable, but its other name Farren’s House gives us a clue. General Charles Farran, entered the Madras Army in 1788 and was a Major General by 1837. He owned properties near the Binny Mills in Pulianthope where Farran’s Road was. When the mills expanded, they took over the road and built a new thoroughfare outside their premises, which came to be called New Farran’s Road and is still considered new after a good 100 years if you believe the signboards there.

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