Still with Landon’s Gardens
I’ve in the past few weeks been offered some welcome relief. I’ve suddenly had a couple of people enthusiastically volunteering to research for this column. I’ve also been presented several privately published memoirs as well as som
e unpublished biographical material about people who’ve contributed much to Madras over the years. And I’ve had several calls promising material about Old Madras and some of its eminent citizens. Thank you all for lightening my search, and please keep it coming in.
One of those contributions was a paper on a “raja and gentleman zamindar” from the deep South. I’ll get around to him one of these days, but meanwhile one line caught my attention in this biographical note by a European scholar. It read, “(He) mixed with other zamindari sons at a school for minors at Landon’s Gardens and went on to pass the First in Arts examination with a second class degree.” The reference was to a period in the 1870s.
This foreign scholar’s unfamiliarity with the way the word ‘minor’ is used in Tamil Nadu or the equating of the FA with a degree did not attract my attention as much as the reference to Landon’s Gardens, which I had referred to in this column only on July 21. I’d never heard of a school for minors in Kilpauk, leave alone Landon’s Gardens. The only such school I’d heard of was the then well-known (or should I say infamous) Newington College in Minor Bungalow, later the Director of Medical Services’ Office in what is now Teynampet. I’ve traced Newington College to being at this location in the early 1900s and it hit the headlines with the de la Hey murder case (he was Vice-Principal) circa 1920. But was Newington College, or an institution from which it grew, once at Landon’s Gardens?
Perhaps someone will turn up with an answer to that, but my search for more on this large Kilpauk property led me to James Landon, a civil servant who owned it in 1778. In the 1820s, it was the house in which Col. Colin Mackenzie lived. Mackenzie, an officer who rescued Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington) on the way to Seringapatam, later became the first Surveyor General of India. But Mackenzie is better remembered today as an Indologist whose collection of manuscripts gathered from all over South India and patiently worked on by his Indian pundit Boriah form the 8000-strong Mackenzie Collection that is the nucleus of Madras’s Government Oriental Manuscripts Library.
Landon’s Gardens became the property of Timeri Rajagopal Naidu, who re-developed the existing house or pulled it down and built a new house. Whatever happened, his house was in place by 1911 and he called it Deva Sola. His son T. Vasu Naidu was one of the first Indian cricketers in Madras and a founder of the Madras United Club. Vasu Naidu’s nephew and son-in-law, Major Murari, was the first Indian to play for the Madras Cricket Club. And his grandson is Timeri Murai, the well-known author, who still lives in the house.
But to get back to where this story started, the London Thotti Aaspathiri (Miscellany, July 21), reader P. Venkataraman suggests it might have been London (from Landon) Thotta(thu) Aaspathri and goes on to wonder whether I had heard of the American
Aaspathiri. I hadn’t, but he offered enlightenment: “It was a collaborative institution between the WHO, the British Medical Research Council, the ICMR and the Madras State Government. The Centre had foreigners heading every Department. The Director, a few medical officers, the Administrative Officer, the chief nurse, the bacteriologist and the chief laboratory technician were all British, but the WHO connection made them all as Americans in local eyes. Hence, the name American Aaspathiri. I wonder whether you have heard of the local colloquialism for the Tuberculosis Research Centre on Spur Tank Road, Chetput (formerly known as the Tuberculosis Chemotherapy Centre), just behind the TB Hospital in the same campus. It was started in 1956.”
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