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

Vol. XXVIII No. 14, November 1-15, 2018

Printer’s Devil leaves story unfinished

by N.S. Parthasarathy

The Printer’s Devil was at work on the last issue of Madras Musings (October 16th) and rather unfortunately forgot to deliver on his commitment to continue on page 6 what he had promised on page 5: to continue the last portion of the Jagdish shop story. We regret the carelessness and make good the omission, starting from what might be considered the beginning of a second part of the story.

-The Editor

Mylapore was not a geo-graphical spot. It was a social phenomenon. It was India’s legal brain and centre of culture comprising music, dance, temples, colourful festivals, early morning marghazhi bhajans and a school of considerable repute that produced India’s senior civil servants. Mylapore also provided constitutional architects, Supreme Court judges, great jurists, a silver-tongued orator reputed to have known all the words in the Oxford Dictionary, freedom fighters, musicologists, composers, poets. Mastery of Law was the speciality. If you were born in Mylapore you could not have helped being an eminent lawyer. Every girl of marriageable age aspired to marry into a Mylapore lawyer’s family. The heroine, Miss Malini, in a movie of that title, sang the lyrics composed by Kothamangalam Subbu, also a Mylaporean: Mylapore Vakkeelaatthu Maattuponnaavaen!

Edward Elliot’s Road marked the northern boundary of Mylapore. This one road could boast of many luminaries -T.R. Venkatrama Sastri (jurist), Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Sastri (whose mastery of the English language astonished the British), Sir P.S. Sivaswamy Iyer (lawyer), E.V. Srinivasan (opthamologist, who was seen in his Rolls Royce), C. Rajam (founder of Madras Institute of Technology) and lesser known, but no less distinguished, Chief Engineer Ramasundaram who made a name for himself for building several airstrips in the country in record time to prepare India against possible external attack during the Second World War. Rajam lived in a palatial house called India House, at the junction of Mowbray’s Road. Bus conductors would shout India House! with extra gusto perhaps to express their awe of the imposing bungalow, to alert passengers desiring to disembark in that area. India House was later acquired by S.S.  Vasan, celebrated as India’s Cecil B. de Mille as he was the forerunner in producing movies with spectacular settings at costs running to several lakhs at the then value. Somewhat diagonally opposite, on Mowbray’s Road, was Farm House, the residence of Kasturi Gopalan and Kasturi Srinivasan, owners of India’s premier newspaper, The Hindu. Also adjacent was the spacious compound called Dare House that was residence of the Butchi Babu family that produced some of the naturally gifted sports persons in tennis, cricket and golf.

Jagdish’s shop was outside the charmed Mylapore boundary, lying, as it did, on the wrong side of the dividing Edward Elliot’s Road (now Radhakrishnan Saalai). This fringe was the last outpost of Mylaporeanism. As if Mylapore was at a loss to find space for all its famous citizens, the surplus eminence overflowed on to southern part of Royapettah which accounts for the importance of Jagdish’s location. Around Jagdish’s shop, within a mile radius, were Raja Iyer, Advocate General, A.V. Raman, civil servant of the English era and close associate of Rajaji, and C.R. Srinivasan and Khasa Subba Rao, both nationally known Journalists. And there was Mahalingam, a pioneer by his own right, living in his modest apartment. He was a sales executive of George Oakes, an English company that imported luxury cars. Almost all cars then owned by the elite of south Madras were bought through Mali who used to bring different models to the door-step of the high and the mighty for them to try before buying. In motor car marketing, Mali was much ahead of his time. He made owning a second-hand car respectable and put this status symbol within reach of the emerging professional upper middle class. In the automobile business, Mali is still a name recalled with respect; the company in his name, even today, dominates the car market presided over successfully by another Mali, grandson of the original.

It is difficult to overlook mention of Rangachari Home and Ranga Nursing Home both in this area run by Dr. Narayanaswamy and Dr. Sankaran, respectively. They were senior physicians who worked with the legendary Dr. Rangachari whose statue stands in front of the General Hospital. Dr. Rangachari was known for his compassion and treatment of the poor. Doctors of repute, such as Narayanaswamy and Sankaran, would make home visits at request. They would come, dressed in spotless white, in a Morris Minor or Standard Eight with their kit carried by an accompanying assistant. Prescriptions, that were recipes for a liquid mixture of appropriate drugs in required proportion, would be compounded by qualified pharmacists in a nearby medical shop. Ready-made patented and branded tablets, capsules and liquids had not come in to vogue. The mixtures, however, did the trick.

Although this stretch around Jagdish’s shop in south Royapettah had enough to boast about, the residents still preferred the prestigious Mylapore badge. No one in the area would want to call oneself a Royapettan. The shadow of Mylapore was enough to claim pedigree. Mylapore had its aura and magic and willingly cast its embrace over the southern fringe of Royapettah. But, over the decades, the uniqueness, leisure and simple charm are gone and with them the sprightly little social symbols like Jagdish’s shop.

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