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

Vol. XXXIII No. 17, December 16-31, 2023

Tall man, sun crowned – the Ambrose I knew

-- by K.R.A. Narasiah


During the late seventies and early eighties, when I was with the port of Visakhapatnam, Ambrose was the additional Secretary in the Ministry of Shipping, in charge of Ports. Being the departmental head in the port, officially I had regular meetings with him; he was even then known as the friendliest senior officer in the ministry. In fact, he allotted time for anyone from the port sector to meet without any hassles. Earlier, when the post I was holding in the port was recommended to be elevated and the papers were pending owing to bureaucratic delays, he got them all resolved. The then Chairman of the port used to tell me that but for Ambrose my post could not have been elevated.

After retirement in Adyar.

Eventually after retirement I settled in Chennai and so did Ambrose. It was a great surprise to me when some years back, he called me and asked if he could visit me to discuss some matter. I told him that if he had told me, I would have gladly gone and met him. He replied that he wanted a favour from me and so it would be appropriate for him to come and meet me. When he came (and it was the first of many delightful visits) it was for asking me to write for Adyar Times a neighborhood journal that he owned.

So, it started and I wrote weekly articles for about seven years without break on the locality, in a column titled Amazing Adyar.

During this time, he often used to take me to people and places that were to be written about and that is how I came to know a lot about Adyar. This continued for three to four years and he always appreciated my writing.

Recently when he wrote his small book of memoirs, he asked me to provide a foreword for the book. I was overwhelmed by this gesture.

Born to Jayarani Pushpam and Abel Arulanandham at Cuddalore on April 11, 1928, Ambrose often recalled an incident of his childhood days, and narrated it with such enviable sincerity. When his grandfather passed away, his pet dog, sensing the death, was howling the whole night and after the funeral when he along with his parents was returning in a train, the dog broke free from the leash when the train was approaching the cemetery, jumped out, ran, and collapsed on the grave of his grandfather. The family was shocked to see the dog dead on the grave. As a child this incident affected him so much that he avoided keeping any pet in the house, but when his wife Poornavalli Ramona Padmini got a present of an Alsatian pup he could not say no. It grew big in no time and unfortunately died in a road accident, and he had to get her another pup.

As a youngster he studied in Bain School run by a Scot-Miss Bain, that moulded his character.

Later in his life he had good schoolmates, one of them was Sundarji, a quite but dashing character, who joined the Army and rose to the rank of General. After passing the Intermediate examination in first class in 1943 Ambrose continued his studies in the Madras Presidency College. He wanted to write the All India Services Competitive Examination conducted by the Central Government but was under aged and therefore sat for the competitive examination for the Madras Civil Service (Executive Branch) conducted by the State Govt. and having passed the same was first appointed as Probationary Deputy Collector in June 1949, at Chithoor district (now part of Andhra Pradesh) for district training, in June 1949 under N.Subramanian, I.C.S, the District Collector. He later shifted to the Central service. His first posting was Revenue Divisional Officer, Kavali in Nellore district, now a part of Andhra Pradesh.

Ambrose as District Collector.

When reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis was accepted, Andhra Pradesh was formed on 1st October, 1953 with Kurnool as the temporary capital, Ambrose was allotted to Tamil Nadu and posted as Additional Asst. Settlement Officer in Pattukottai, Thanjavur District, under K.V.Ramanathan, I.A.S., Later after having held senior positions such as the Chairman, Madras Port Trust and Chairman, TN Electricity Board, he was posted as the additional secretary in the Union Ministry of Shipping. It was then, in order to relieve the Mumbai Port of congestion, that a new Container Port was planned to be constructed at Nava Sheva. In addition to his duties and responsibilities as Addl. Secretary, he was appointed as the Chairman of Nava Sheva Port.

Joining the international body, ICRISAT, he was appointed as the Asst. Director General (Administration and Finance), of the organisation and after completing four years in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, he was transferred to Hyderabad. After completing successfully all such assignments he moved to Chennai to lead a retired life, when he was induced by Ramakrishnan another former civil servant, to start the tabloid Adyar Times. Initially he says he had a lot of financial problems, when he had to borrow for running the tabloid but later he overcame these and the enterprise was paying back well.

He was quietly supporting many social service organisations and when I visited such places I saw the respect he commanded. We became quite close during those days and then I knew what the poet Josiah Gilbert Holland meant when he wrote:

God give us men! A time like this demands,
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands,
Men whom the lust of office does not kill,
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy,
Men who possess opinions and a will,
Men who have honour; men who will not lie,
Men who can stand before a demagogue,
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun crowned, who live above the fog,
In public duty, and in private thinking,
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps
Wrong rules when the justice sleeps.

I shall miss him. Last month when I called on him, he was bedridden. It was tragic to see a person who was a hockey player in his college days and possessed an athletic figure, so enfeebled but his spirit was undimmed.

I pray for his soul to rest in peace.

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