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Vol XXXI No. 22, March 1-15, 2022

A forgotten sportsman

-- Karthik Bhatt

The story of how Buchi Babu Naidu was instrumental in introducing and popularising the game of cricket amongst Indians in Madras is a well-documented one. Exposed to the game at an early age, watching the English play at Chepauk, Buchi Babu felt the need to develop proper facilities for Indians to learn the game and organise teams that would compete with others on a regular basis. He began the Madras United Cricket Club (MUCC) in 1888 on a site on the Esplanade, which marked the birth of Indian cricket in the city. Over the course of the next few decades, it expanded its interests to include other sports such as tennis, hockey, billiards and football, becoming one of the premier Indian clubs in the city for sport. Besides Buchi Babu’s own sporting clan comprising his sons Venkatramanujulu, Baliah and C. Ramaswami, the club also had several outstanding sportsmen such as M.J. Gopalan, V.V. Kumar, S.A. Aleem (Billiards) and A. Nagappan (Bridge) and members. One of the founding members of the club was a lesser-known legend in his own right, Rao Bahadur N.R. Balakrishna Mudaliar.

Born in 1870 in Madras, Balakrishna Mudaliar graduated from the School of Arts and Crafts, later known as the Government College of Arts and Crafts in 1889. He was appointed a teacher in the same school in 1894, marking the beginning of an association that would last nearly four decades. While there is no information on what he taught, it was undoubtedly a remarkable tenure, for he was appointed the first Indian superintendent of the institution in 1927. He served in that capacity until his retirement in 1930. While in service, he endowed Rs 1000 for awarding 2 gold medals by rotation for each department to the first two pupils for their best works. In appreciation of his long and distinguished stint, the institution erected a bust of his in 1933 sculpted by the renowned sculptor M.S. Nagappa. He was awarded the Rao Sahib title in 1924 and subsequently, the Rao Bahadur in 1930.

Balakrishna Mudaliar was a keen sportsman, making his mark in both tennis and cricket. As a cricketer, he was proficient enough to have been selected as part of a Native team that took on Lord Hawke’s XI in Madras in 1892. Tennis though seems to have been his keener pursuit. He was the first to win the Madras United Club’s championship tennis tournament in singles and in doubles for three consecutive years. Much later, in 1939, he instituted a silver rolling cup at the Pachaiyappa’s College to be given to the best player in the game amongst the senior students. He also seems to have been a good athlete, winning the Madras Championship cup in 1892. According to the publication Who’s Who in Madras (1935), Balakrishna Mudaliar won more than 100 prizes in various sporting competitions. He also served as the Vice President of the Madras United Club for a few years. The biographical note ends stating that ‘’though retired from active sports, (he) takes a great interest in the city’s sporting activities’’.

By virtue of his association with the School of Arts and Crafts, Balakrishna Mudaliar served on a committee setup under the Madras State Aid to Industries Act to advise the Department of Industries in regard to the administration of the legislation. While serving as the acting superintendent of the institution, he was one of the witnesses examined by the Indian Cinematograph Committee in 1927. It is interesting to note that in his written statement, he calls for improvement in the quality of Indian pictures being produced, advocating that sending youth to foreign countries on scholarships specially to study the art of filmmaking in all stages would help in achieving this. Convinced that cinema as a medium was bound to spread, he also suggests that the Government take special efforts in developing the field either by way of offering incentives for these youngsters to setup industries of their own or start it themselves and later hand it over to ably trained hands on the lines of what was done with the Madras Pencil Factory.

Sadly, not much of information is available today in the public domain on this multi-faceted personality, his life and times.

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