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Vol. XXXI No. 16, December 1-15, 2021

Amazing Adyar

by R.V. Rajan

I bought a copy of a book titled Amazing Adyar – A suburb to be proud of by K.R.A Narasiah, at its release function held at a star hotel recently. 88 years old Narasiah is a marine engineer turned bilingual writer in English and Tamil. He is also a speaker of repute in both the languages. Among his many other published works is the one he co-authored with S.Muthiah – a coffee table book on the Madras Port Trust. A well known heritage enthusiast, he pens a weekly column under the title ‘Amazing Adyar’ in Adyar Times. The book is a collection of his articles published between 2013 and 2019. As a longtime resident of Adyar and a regular reader of Adyar Times, I had read many of the articles when they were published. However I am happy that I bought the book because it contained many articles which I had missed.

The book is divided into three parts a) Great Institutes of Adyar b) Social Service organisations C) Personalities. It starts with a brief description of the origin of Adyar river and how it was the main conduit to transport vegetables and goods by the flat bottomed barges or coracles from the villages in the south to the city. Crossing the river Adyar from the then town of Madras was possible only by boats till the construction of the Marmalong causeway in Saidapet. This great southern area comprising villages and paddy fields hosted many a chieftain and several landlords in the hoary past.

Dr. Shantha.

Dr. Shantha.

Part one of the book starts with the article about the Theosophical Society founded in 1875. It has produced some great people who helped the community in general and the society in particular. The most important addition in the Society complex was the Adyar Library in 1886. The Adyarites can boast of a place, such of which cannot be found anywhere in the world. The hall of the Theosophical Society is truly a pantheon in itself. Since theosophy is seen by the founders as the perennial wisdom and the root of all religions, this hall symbolises religious unity.

In the article on Rukmini Arudale there is interesting information about the controversy surrounding her wedding to Arundale who was 26 years senior to her. The marriage was registered in Bombay. We also learn that Kalkshetra Foundation founded in 1936 in the society’s Besant Gardens when Arundale was the President of the Theosophical Society. As the institution grew Rukmini Devi knew she needed independent space to widen the activities of Kalakshetra and soon acquired land in the then village of Thiruvanmiyur. The institution moved into the new campus in the 1960s. There is a brief reference to several students of Kalakshetra who came out of the Foundation to make a big name for themselves , such as the Dhananjayans.

The Theosophical Society, Adyar.

The Theosophical Society, Adyar.

Many Adyarites may not know that tucked away in the Kalakshetra campus near the school is located the most informative library in Tamil literature of the Sangam period. Named the Dr. U.V.S. Library, it is dedicated to the memory of U.V. Swaminatha Iyer popularly known as ‘Tamizh Thatha’. It houses all the collections of the great Tamil scholar, with elaborate notings and explanations in his own hand writing. He was also the first editor of the 90 years old Tamil monthly Kalaimagal.

It is a matter of pride for Adyar that India’s first women’s movement was started here. Called the Women’s Indian Association (WIA), it was founded in 1917 by Annie Besant, Maragret Cousins and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. Later Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy was to take the WIA to greater heights . She also helped start Avvai Home, the first shelter for destitute women in Madras. She ensured that Avvai Home had a tie up with The Olcott Memorial School, located near Elliot’s Beach, dedicated to the children of lowest level of society both economically and by caste. The school was the idea of Col. H.S. Oclott the founder President of the Theosophical Society. As early as 1894 he felt the need to educate the children of the most underprivileged and from the lowest rung of the society. There is also a brief reference to ‘The School’ started by J. Krishnammurti (KFI) which was located inside the Besant Nagar premises of the Theosophical Society until recently. The students here are not taught the usual way as done in other schools but learn more from observation and listening.

The Adyar Library.

The Adyar Library.

The article on the Cancer Institute, another institution founded by the indefatigable Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy gives details about the origin of the Institute and how it has grown into ‘A Centre of Excellence’ in the country because of the untiring efforts of Dr. Krishnamurthi, the heir of Dr.Reddy, and Dr. Shantha displaying sheer passion and dedication to the cause. Dr. Shantha was the recipient of Ramon Magasaysay Award in 2005.

The last article in part one gives details about M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, an institute founded by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan renowned for his leading role in India’s green revolution. It was he who advocated ‘Sustainable Development’ through ‘sustainable agriculture’ by preserving the all important bio-diversity. He received the first ever World Food Prize in 1987 for being a world scientist of rare distinction. He invested the money received from the award in the institute which is located on two hectares of land given by the Tamil Nadu government.

Part two covers Social Service Organizations under eight categories. Many of them are not that old but are rendering great service to specific causes. Under the first chapter titled ‘Extending assistance to the needed’ the institutions covered are a) Ability Foundation b) Bala Vidyalaya Trust, c) Institute for the Deaf & Dumb d) Vidya Sagar e) Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu f) Vishranthi g) Catalyst Trust g) Aseema Trust h) Pathway and i) Kakkum Karangal.

While most of the organizations in this section are well known, I would like to talk about three institutions which are of recent origin and doing good work in their chosen area. The first is the ‘The Ability Foundation’, the brain child of Smt. Jayashree Ravindran, herself a deaf mute person, established in 1995 as a public charitable trust not just for the empowerment of the disabled but with an intention of mainstreaming persons with disabilities. Based in Radhakrishna Nagar, Adyar, Ability Foundation is involved in pioneering activities ranging from publishing, media counseling, referral services, advocacy, training and employment.

(To be concluded next fortnight)

– R.V. Rajan

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