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Vol XXXI No. 19, January 16-31, 2022

Tracing the family roots – II

by Jayanthi Ramesh

(Continued from last fortnight)

It was said that most South Indian Brahmins do not invoke this river in their daily prayers. It is reasonable to assume that our forefathers lived somewhere between Jabalpore and Hyderabad.From there they should have migrated to the south near Kanchipuram because they were called Madapalliyars and there is a village by this name, Madapalli, in Kanchipuram taluk. From there some of the families moved still further south and settled in the Sivaganga Zamindari, some were well versed in shastras and some in medicine. Some authentic information revealed that these families settled within 20 miles of Sivaganga where the Raja gave some inam lands to the immigrants. One such land was Nadamangalam, the ancestral residence of the Raja of Sivaganga. The Thevars of Uthamanur utilized the services of Ananthanarayana Iyer as the Palace Physician. He was hence called Chithanna Pandyan and given a palanquin whenever he had to visit the palace. Our family ancestors had the supervision of charitable institutions like the North and South Chatram of Sivaganga.

We were also aware that my grandfather had built a house in Ramnagar area and were keen to locate that too, having come this far. During World War II, Madras was evacuated as the Japanese had dropped a bomb near the harbour and the fear of an attack was high. People had to stay outside a 100mile radius of the city. Sivan offered to host the Hindu family at Coimbatore for a couple of months. We had a picture of the house and my sister remembered that on her visit to Coimbatore many years ago, one her husband’s relatives showed her the same house which was opposite to his own. We traced out the daughter of that relative who had retired as Dean of the Coimbatore Medical College and is still living in that area. She was herself in her 80s and a little disoriented and couldn’t give us the name of the street but gave us the directions to go there. So off we went on a wild goose chase up and down the road, looking for an old building with similar features as in the photograph. We almost barged into a few houses which we felt looked similar, introduced ourselves and were very pleasantly surprised at the interest we generated in looking for a family house. The current residents of the two houses we went to, talked with several of their friends and were able to give us some idea of where the house could be. Incidentally, one such family was related to the author R.K.Narayan. Another discovery as we went into our connections with that family too, which is a story for next time!

Left:The block named after my grandfather, Ramaswami Sivan at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore and on right: the Paddy Breeding Station.

We were also told by these residents that most of the old houses have been demolished and flats have come up on those plots. We didn’t want to give up yet, so we explored another road, near the Ramar temple in Ramnagar, only to be disappointed. We came back home after a tiring day of roaming around, but not before savouring the mouth watering thayir vadais at Annapurna. The next day another contact in Coimbatore with whom we had shared the photograph, told us that they had located the house and that we could drop in to see the place. This got us all excited. This was again in Ramnagar but on a different road. The photo of the house had a huge garden in the front, and a big structure with four corners and a big balcony on the first floor. I understand that my grandfather had built the house specifically with four corners for four of his sons. When we went to the place, it did not look familiar as a modern building housing a bank had come up in the front where there should have been a garden. After crossing over some debris, we reached the building which had that 100 year old look. It had similar corners but some structural elements were missing. The lady of the house was wary of letting us in, thanks to the pandemic, so we had to peep in through the grilled windows at the inside of the house. We found similar pillars inside, though the lady emphatically denied it was what we thought it to be. We were told that her father who passed away at 102 just a year ago had lived there all his life and it could not be the house of my grandfather at all. We were also told that during that period there were many houses built in the same fashion and many have given way to newer buildings. So there ended our wild goose chase. The friend who located this building told us that his contact had seen the plaque “Rao Bahadur Illam” etched inside the house so we are still hopeful that he will send us a snapshot of this plaque someday to quench our thirst.

Dr. K.Ramiah’s bust installed at the Paddy Breeding Station.

Coming back to the history of our family with this esteemed University, from one side of the campus we went to the other side through an underbridge, which itself was amazing. This brought us to another nostalgic wave – the University’s connection with my grand-uncle Padmashri Dr. K. Ramiah. He is my paternal grandmother’s brother which also makes him a brother-in-law to Sir C.V. Raman, who married his sister ­Lokasundari. Thus, Ramaswamy Sivan’s brother-in-law was Dr. K. Ramiah whose brother-in-law was Sir C.V. Raman!!! I have spent many memorable moments with Dr. Ramiah and Sir C.V. Raman in my childhood days and unfortunately never realised their greatness.

Dr. K. Ramiah was with the Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding initially. A block has been named after him as “K. Ramiah Gene Bank” which was inaugurated by Dr. R.S. Paroda and presided over by Dr. A. Abdul Kareem in 1998. He had several other accolades apart from being the first ­Indian paddy specialist. He was a ­Padmashree (1956), ­Padma Bhushan (1970), Director, CRRI (1945-57), FAO Expert (1946-52), Vice Chancellor, Orissa Agricultural University (1965-68) and Rajya Sabha Member (1971-74).

As is normal we did a quick photoshoot at this spot, and then we were taken to the Paddy Breeding Station which is a few miles away from the main campus.

Dr. K.Ramiah was a “world renowned Rice Specialist”, as the placard says in front of his bust installed at the Paddy Breeding Station on 9th January 2012 during the Centenary Celebrations. Dr.Ramiah was the first Indian Paddy Specialist (1930-1937). Several varieties of rice were developed by him at the Plant Breeding Station. Among the many varieties, GEB24 developed in 1921 is still the parent base for the new breeds that are being developed. Some of the rice variants derived from this GEB24 are ‘samba masoori’, ‘khichdi samba’, and ‘aathur samba’. Dr. Ganesamurthy, Professor and Head of the Rice Department was very eloquent in his praise of Dr. Ramiah. He was very proud of the fact that not a day passes without the students remembering Dr. Ramiah. There is also a museum at the Paddy Breeding Station with the varieties of rice displayed and also a beautiful chariot entirely made of the grain of GEB24. Globally, “GEB24” is in the pedigree of 550 rice varieties. Above the museum towers an old mango tree, affectionately named “Peter Mango”. It is aged 171 years and we pause to look up at it, perhaps much like Dr. Ramiah must have done. It is a strangely nice feeling to realise that at least four generations of the same family have now seen this tree, stood under it and breathed its air. Thoroughly enjoying the refreshing slight drizzle and the expanse of green paddy fields dancing in the wind, we came back home after a most exhaustive but enriching day.

With several ‘firsts’ in the family, it is heartening to note that the same passion and tireless efforts taken by our ancestors continue with the present generation as well.

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