Modern India was made in Madras

Today TiE Chennai as part of their charter member dinner had invited  Madras Musings founder and writer Sri S.Muthiah for giving a talk. Muthiah as the favourite historian of Madras and tomorrow being Madras (Chennai) 375th Birthday (founded in 1639 by Francis Day and Andrew Cogan) the topic was easy to guess. It was about how The Beginnings of Modern India (was from Madras).

Having been to few of Madras day walks organized by Mr.Sriram V including Alwarpet, Old Fort Wall and Royapuram I was looking forward to hearing about Chennai’s history from the authority of the subject S.Muthiah in person. Lucky for me, after the event I got a chance to take a picture with the man himself along with my friend Pravin Sekhar.

With Sri S.Muthiah (in centre) of Madras Musings

Before the event  started Muthiah was chatting around with few of his friends. The moment,  master of ceremonies mentioned “Madras”, Muthiah transformed into a man half his age (he is 84 years old). Dates, Names, Places, Events started flowing with ease, from 2500 years back to present day.

Muthiah talked how the Arabs 2500 years back were trading between Europe and India through the high seas. Ships were frequenting from Muscat, Bahrain, Alexandra to West coast of South India (Kerala predominantly). This was the time when the Silk Route (land route) from Europe to India through present day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan was rifled with pirates. Vasco da Gama  then got his glory by discovering an alternate route over seas to India from Europe across African continent, who was guided from African east coast to India by an Arab navigator. If Arabs were to be credited of bringing in trade (they brought Islam from middle east much later) from Europe through seas, it was St.Thomas (The Apostle) in 1 AD who brought Christianity to India nearly 1500 years before Vasco da Gama and to this day San Thome Basilica stands in his remembrance.

Fast forward to 1639 when Francis Day bought a settlement for John’s Company (East India Company) in what is today Fort St.George, Chennai. That time this area had only villages (Mylapore, Poonamallee, Tiruvottiyor, Thiruvanmiyur), British built a small warehouse and for next hundred years were traders with no security forces or territory building ambitions. Around 1746 then French Governor of Pondicherry  François Dupleix attacked British in Madras (First Carnatic War). With Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 happening in Europe, British and French exchanged between them Madras (India) for Louisbourg (Canada). Looking back now as a Madras Citizen, Muthiah joked that British got the best of the bargain :-)

Next 30 minutes Muthiah walked through this troves of Madras Photos. Each Photo showed a Madras landmark building including Chepauk Stadium, Government General Hospital (GH), Fort St.George, SBI Beach road branch (which got burned recently), General Post Office, Royapuram station, Raj Bhavan, St.Mary’s Church, Anderson Church, Ripon building, Armenian Church, St. George’s School and more. With each photo he talked how the modern institutions of India were born or influenced heavily in the Madras of British. Western Medicine in Asia, Postal Network, Railways, Imperial Bank (Fort St.George basement), Government, modern municipality (even before it got setup in Britain), Great Trigonometric Survey by Major Lambton in St.Thomas Mount (and Mount Everest getting its name) and British education system that Indians take for granted today owes its roots in India to Madras.

The Beginning of Modern India by S.Muthiah - 21 August 2014
The Beginning of Modern India by S.Muthiah – 21 August 2014

Muthiah had an interesting story of how Australian colonization propaganda by British owes dues to help from printing workers coming from Chennai St.George school trained on printing press techniques.

Bishwanath Ghosh has written a brief biography of S.Muthiah here.

Visiting Kolkata – Part 3

This is the 3rd part of posts on my visit to Kolkata covering our second  day there. Previous day we had gone around to Kalighat, Mother Teresa home, Belur Mutt, Esplanade & Netaji Bhavan. The plan for the day was to visit Victoria Memorial Hall,  Indian Museum, Botanical Gardens and experience more of Kolkata.

Victoria Memorial Hall

Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata
Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata
Edwards VII Statue in Victoria Hall (South)
Edwards VII Statue in Victoria Hall (South)
coat of arms of the British monarch in Victoria Hall (South) gates
Coat of arms of the British monarch in Victoria Hall (South) gate

Victoria Memorial Hall which was completed in 1921, was built in memory of Queen Victoria and funded entirely on voluntary (?)  donations from people & princely states of India. It’s a majestic looking building made of same (origin) family of white marbles as that of Taj Mahal, told our guide. When we visited the hall, the front entrance was full of scaffolding with restoration work by public works department going on. As a result we went in through  the back entrance which was the only way for visitors to go in. In my limited knowledge of  architecture I couldn’t find any difference between the front and back facade!. Inside the building there is a museum of collections from British era of several weapons and paintings of historic significance. In the centre hall right below the huge dome, the walls are adorned with paintings depicting various events in the life of Queen Victoria including her coronation celebration – you can’t help but be amazed  to see a world that was 100 years ago. Continue reading

Visiting Kolkata – Part 2

After a good breakfast at Taj Bengal we were on our way to see Kolkata. And boy, I was excited!.

We were accompanied by an ace Tourist guide Mr.Suvendu, who was certified by Government of India Tourism department. Being a native of Bengal, Mr.Suvendu knew Kolkata’s nook and corner to great detail.

Our first stop of the day was the Mother House, which is the head office of Missionaries of Charity and the final resting place of Mother Teresa. The unassuming grey building was inside a by-lane of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road. As you approach the building you see a sign in the entrance that says Mother Teresa, M.C. – IN. Turning right after you enter the door you see a life size statue of the noble soul who dedicated her entire life for the cause of the poor and sick. We handed over a bag of clothes that a friend of ours in Chennai had asked us to deliver along with our small donation to the organization and looked around.

Missionaries of Charity - Mother Teresa
Missionaries of Charity – Mother Teresa
Mother M.Teresa
Mother M.Teresa

In the room where Mother Teresa has been buried, we spotted few East Asians and  Americans who were offering their prayers. Having studied all my schooling in a catholic inspired school I followed suit with kneeling down and what I knew of crossing yourself and offering prayer. The legacy of Mother and the serenity of the place was unmistakable.

Next to the this  room in Ground Floor was a  small museum which had few memorabilia, photos and stories from the life of Mother Teresa. Opposite to this was a staircase leading to a simple looking room which was used by Mother all the years she lived here, it was kept in the exact state she left it in 1997. No Photographs were allowed in these places.

Mother M.Teresa (1910-1997)
M.Teresa (1910-1997)

Continue reading

Visiting Kolkata – Part 1

I felt Independence Day (15th August)  was a good time to look back into Indian history and learn more about the past of my country. Though East India Company and then British colonization of India started in Chennai, it was Calcutta (now Kolkata) where the British Empire established itself. Calcutta was the capital of British Raj and they ruled the Indian subcontinent from there for more than 130 years. For me it was one of the metros that I haven’t had a chance to visit.

For the long weekend last week Friday to Sunday (15, 16, 17 August 2014) I decided to visit Kolkata with wife & son. I had booked the flight tickets and hotel booking 2 weeks back. It was not like I narrowed down in Kolkata right away, I couldn’t find rooms in any of the popular tourist destinations – coastal resorts in South India/Goa/Andaman or Agra (I haven’t seen Taj Mahal too so far) were all booked.

We flew from Chennai to Kolkata by SpiceJet on 14th August that left Chennai at 8:25PM and reached Kolkata at 10:45PM, we couldn’t leave earlier as my son had his school on Thursday. The flight departed late and we landed in Kolkata’s Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Airport at 11:45PM. Having left from Chennai’s “new” Airport which is known for its poor maintenance,  the first thing that struck me in Kolkata was how how well maintained the big airport was. This was not the Calcutta I expected to see, which was known for its communist rule for many decades and its anti-capitalist sentiments.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, Kolkata- Conveyor Belts
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, Kolkata- Conveyor Belts
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, Kolkata- Arrival curb-side
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, Kolkata- Arrival curb-side

Continue reading

India Budget 2014

For an aspiring nation with millions of youngsters its common to have lot of hopes on tomorrow (Achche Din). In India this year with a new government the expectations on the central budget were high which some say unrealistic.

In the preceding weeks when Prime Minister talked of bitter medicine to be given to the economy, I was looking forward to it so that the patient can be cured for good. Instead what we got yesterday was lot of rhetoric talk in the budget speech, 16,536-word to be precise but little of substance or anything new. We were given No medicines, only prayers on lips.

Following were the good points I could see in Budget 2014:

Brands can operate their own e-commerce portals. Hope this paves way for Apple, Dell & other branded products are sold from their own portals like rest of the world.
  1. Rs.500cr on developing 5 tourist circuits (feels like pittance but still welcome)
  2. Rs.10,000cr on a start-up venture fund (I wish to dream it be like Singapore’s Temasek)
  3. Rs.100cr each on  Solar park projects, execute ultra-mega solar projects
  4. Govt. move to ebiz portals for all clearances

I was disappointed on the following two being left out:

1. Though it was talked about no reversal of the Retrospective Tax act.  This infamous act was accused by UPA critics to have been brought in particular to target Vodafone

2. No tough measures. No labour law reforms or subsidy cuts. I hope it will not be status-quo for another 5 years

Electoral victory is a (political) capital with diminishing returns every day. The new Government will do good to remember it in coming months.

Update 15th July 2014:

Like previous years this too Indo-American Chamber Tamil Nadu branch has organized a post budget analysis event. The keynote speech was by Mr.Gopal Srinivasan, CMD of TVS Capital Funds Ltd.

Mr.Srinivasan summarised his take on the union budget eloquently as a Test Match, not a 20-20 cricket with Modi’s government playing for the long term 5-10 years. He felt the focus on government seems to be on job creation. He was appreciative of Modi government embracing lot of the policy initiatives started by the previous government, which is a welcome departure in India.


Mr.Rajat Mehta of HSBC Bank & Mr.N.Muralidharan of E & Y highlighted on the below points of budget:

  • Foreign fund managers if they reside in India doesn’t change the fund status which is a welcome move to attract best finance talent to India
  • Banks can issue Infrastructure bonds with lesser reserve restrictions
  • Disinvestment targets are double of last year which is ambitious and something previous government could never get it done
  • Advance tax ruling benefits extended for domestic companies for domestic transactions, rules of which are expected to be notified when finance bill gets passed