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

Vol. XXVIII No. 20, February 1-15, 2019

Lost Landmarks of Chennai

– SRIRAM V

A pharmacy that helped found a Society

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Pharmacies are now dime a dozen in Madras that is Chennai but in the early years of the last century that was not so. The trade was restricted to a few very well known names of the city. Mount Road had an enclave of sorts where no fewer than four leading members of the trade functioned from. This was near the entrance to Ritchie Street, close to where the Madras Mahajana Sabha is. These were R. Maclure’s (1894), J.F. Letoille’s (1928) and Allbutt’s (1881). There is no information on what happened to Maclure’s but Letoille’s, now under Indian management, survives after a fashion. The third, contrary to its Western-sounding name, was founded and run by Dr. Vurdappah Naidu, scion of a prominent family of Madras. Founded in Broadway, it later functioned from G. Venkatapathi Naidu Building on Mount Road, once the offices of the photographers Wiele and Klein, and now demolished. A fourth company to occupy this area was E.C. Barnes, opticians. The founder drowned himself in the sea following business losses post-Independence.

Another hallowed name in the pharma trade was Appah & Co, founded in 1894 by the brothers Bhashyam and Narayanappah Naidus, descendants of Beri Thimmappa, the dubash who accompanied Francis Day when he came to Madras in 1639. The company does not exist but the family now runs Narayanappah Pharmacy in Anna Nagar.

Wilfred Pereira & Co, Chemists and Druggists, is of a later vintage when compared to most of the above. The name does not feature in trade journals before 1925. There is not much information available on the founder beyond the fact that he was a qualified chemist, the son of Joseph Alexander Pereira and born on July 23, 1896 in Bombay. The family was of Anglo-Indian descent. Wilfred Pereira studied at the St Joseph’s College, Coonoor. Thereafter, it is quite likely that he enrolled in the Chemists and Druggists course at the Madras Medical College, then the only institution in India to offer this discipline. Having qualified, he set up business as Wilfred Pereira & Co, at No. 25 Mount Road, Madras 2. The pin code indicates that this was near Chintadripet and therefore not far from where the other big names were located.

In 1925, three years after founding the firm, Wilfred Pereira was instrumental in getting fellow members of his profession to form a representative body. Attempts had been made earlier to get this going and one of several such was in 1923 when the Pharmaceutical Association was formed. In 1925, Wilfred Pereira, along with another qualified pharmacist – A.N. Lazarus of Spencer& Co – took over this body and renamed it The Pharmaceutical Society of India. He remained its Vice President till the organisation was dissolved in 1949. In the interim, with membership never going beyond 60 or so, it manfully did much for the cause of the pharmaceutical industry. Members of the Indian Medical Service served as its Presidents, as did leading doctors such as Dr. Sir A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar and Dr. P.V. Cherian. The Society also briefly brought out a journal – The Pharmacist. This was published by K. Venkatapathi Naidu, Councillor of the Madras Corporation and later a Mayor.

Pereira did not neglect his business and it prospered. Realising that if he had to expand he needed capital, he approached the well-known business family of the Dadhas, who were also into the same business. Founded by the brothers Lakshmi Chand, Sobhag Mull and Lal Chand in 1914, the store of Dadha & Co in George Town had built up a steady clientele and also a powerful set of international pharmaceutical brands. The two senior partners passed away soon thereafter leaving it to Lal Chand to take the business to new heights. In 1926, he joined the Pharmaceutical Association too.

It was in 1934 that Wilfred Pereira approached the Dadhas with an invitation to invest and they did so gladly. The firm became Wilfred Pereira & Co Pvt Limited and with the money the new investors brought in, soon had branches in Coimbatore, Kotagiri, Ootacamund, Bangalore and Secunderabad. The company had also branched out into manufacturing and had several in-house brands such as Gripend, Phelex, Malto Bitters, Glow Liniment, Phelobalm and Shemar (Family Cough Remedy). A chain of outlets and a manufacturing facility meant a head office was needed and this was at 2, Hunters Road, Vepery. Business prospered through the 1940s and 1950s. In 1950, the firm acquired land near Ayanavaram for growing medicinal plants and herbs, and also building a godown. The Government however nixed the plan, acquiring the property for the Integral Coach Factory. This setback does not appear to have impacted the business. Through the 1950s Wilfred Pereira & Co Limited was a frequent advertiser in all the leading magazines in India.

P. Anantanarayanan, father of Dr. A. Raman, a frequent contributor to Madras Musings, was for long manager of the outlet at Vepery where according to his son, he “established himself as one of the few pharmaceutical chemists of Madras, who could correctly read the other otherwise undecipherable handwritten scripts of Madras doctors.” In 1962, Anantanarayanan was transferred to Kotagiri. More details are available in Dr. Raman’s article on his father in Madras Musings Vol XXVIII, No 2, May 1-15, 2018.

Wilfred Pereira’s son, Wilfred E. Pereira Jr, in a letter to Madras Musings in 2009 remembered that the family initially lived at Ennore and later moved to Perambur and Kilpauk where they resided at Rao Bahadur Venkatapathy Naidu Street. He studied at the Madras Christian College and later graduated with a B Pharm degree from the Madras Medical College. Having done his masters in pharmacology from the Saugar University in MP, he went to the University of California for his PhD. Perhaps it was his decision not to return that prompted his father to sell the business. He approached the Dadhas once again and they agreed to buy him over.

Mohanchand Dadha, who today is the head of the eponymous business house, recalls that with this takeover, the company became Dadha Drugs & Pharmaceuticals Pvt Limited. The new owners were, however, more keen on manufacturing than retailing medicines and so decided to close down the outlets in 1967 or thereabouts. They then focused on setting up a manufacturing facility and in 1973 invited the Tamil Nadu Government to invest in it. The new entity thus became Tamil Nadu Dadha Pharmaceuticals Limited. In the 1990s, the Tamil Nadu Government opted to divest its stake. The Company flourished under the Dadhas thereafter and in 2013, at a turnover of Rs 60 crores, merged with the Baroda-based Sun Pharmaceuticals India Limited.

Footnote: Your Editor learnt his Three R’s and how to use a fork and spoon from Mrs. Smith who was the mother-in-law of Wilfred Pereira. She later was at the Vepery headquarters for many years.

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