Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cricket in Madras, from 1792

It’s good to know that the Madras Day celebrations have caught on and that this year there’s been an even greater enthusiasm from residents in Chennai. I was at the Taj Coromandel this evening to listen to a presentation on the history of cricket in the city by my friend V Ramnarayan. Madras Musings and Taj were hosting the lecture.

I was there much ahead of the scheduled time and chose to wait and watch in the lobby. Even the Taj has not been able to ward off the ubiquitous mosquito. Anyway, who should come and greet me but my former colleague Lakshmy! She had a job on her hands. The Economic Times Madras Plus, of which she is correspondent, has decided to produce a special supplement on Chennai to coincide with Madras Week. She wanted historical information about Parrys and the Marina. We were chatting for a while when I spotted the city’s storyteller S Muthiah. She had questions to ask him and he kept her entertained with stories, old and new, of Parrys and the Marina.

There was Tim Murari with a friend, and I thought I spotted Minnie Menon as well. What was heartening was that there were several new faces in the audience, which clearly meant that there were people following reports about Madras Day, people who had learnt about the programme and were interested in knowing a thing or two about Chennai’s cricketing past.

Ram, although he hasn’t played cricket for Tamil Nadu, knows enough about the game in these parts to keep you enthralled for hours. He had some vintage slides to back his presentation. There were some lovely pictures – of Gavaskar flicking to fine leg, Gundappa Vishwanath essaying a straight drive (his 97 not out against the West Indies at the Chepauk was one of the best innings ever seen), Garfield Sobers executing an off-drive… these were on top of my list.

Tamil Nadu has won the Ranji Trophy only twice in the past 50 years – in 1954-55 and 1987-88. The state has played host to many players from other Indian states. Corporate support to the game has been fairly good. Indeed, most of the better playing grounds are maintained by corporates. And the game is well administered here too. Ram spoke about the knowledgeable and sporting crowd and bemoaned the lack of crowds nowadays for local cricket matches. “Lesser level cricketers are not considered entertaining anymore,” he said.

Following were some of the things I learnt:

- The earliest cricket match in Madras was in 1792
- The Madras Cricket Club was formed in 1846 by Alexander Arbuthnot
- MCC shifted to Chepauk in 1865
- The Pennycuick Trophy League began in 1898
- The Madras Cricket Association was formed in 1930
- The first Ranji Trophy match was played in 1934, the year Jardine’s Englishmen played

Ram took the audience through the Vinoo Mankad-Pankaj Roy record first-wicket stand of 413, the visit of the West Indies team in 1959 followed by the Pakistanis led by Fazal Mehmood in 1960, the tied Test between India and Australia in 1986, the establishment of the MRF Pace Foundation 20 years ago, and the coming of Dennis Lillee.

There was, of course, more than a mention of AG Ram Singh, the best cricketer never to play for India, according to Ram, WV Raman whom he rated as the best ever TN batsman, and Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Talking about Srikkanth, Ram mentioned how once when the opener was in his elements against the Pakistani pace attack at the Chepauk in the 1980s, Imran Khan felt sheer frustration not being able to give him a piece of his mind as Srikkanth had a tendency of walking towards square leg after executing each blow.

Then there was TE Srinivasan, a colourful character as Ram called him, whose jokes kept the team in splits. Once he had caused such a commotion in the dressing room that it upset the concentration of even the original Little Master, Gavaskar, who was batting at the crease then. According to Ram, Srinivasan during his visit with the Indian cricket team to Australia had commented to the press: “Tell Dennis that TE has arrived.” Well, that remark seemed to have sealed TE’s fate thereafter.

MA Chidambaram, S Sriraman and AC Muthiah’s names were not missed out – all administrators of the game in Tamil Nadu. And N Shankar’s name too. The chairman of the Sanmar Group was seated in the front row listening to Ram.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Reminisces of another age

It was in June 1983 that I arrived in Chennai after spending more than 20 years in Calcutta. Needless to say, it was a culture shock. I did not know the language, found it tiresome waiting at bus stops for buses that never seemed to turn up, and there was just no sign of a pretty girl. Meanwhile, I kick started my career with jobs as assistant in two or three companies, the first one on Mount Road, the second in Tondiarpet and the third in Parrys.

Our home was in Jawahar Nagar, Perambur, and I still remember travelling by buses on routes 29, 8A and 42. Initially, I was scared to travel by bus, not quite sure where to sit, when to buy the ticket, and how to stand. Could I sit next to a lady if the seat was vacant, did I have to approach the conductor for my ticket, and did I have to stand facing the women or the men? These questions kept popping in my mind ever so often. Calcutta was so different – you never thought twice about sitting next to a woman in a bus; indeed, if the woman was young and pretty, you could hardly wait for the seat next to her to be vacant; then again, where was the need to buy a ticket when you travelled by public transport in the City of Joy, unless the conductor was insistent; and, of course, if you didn’t have a seat, which was more often the case, you could stand any which way you wanted; chances were that you’d be pushed from one end of the bus to the other. Even today, I do not quite relish to thought of travelling by PTC buses, although memories of Calcutta have faded into the background. But that’s another matter.

May 1985 was a turning point in my career. I had found myself an officer’s job in the insurance industry and there we were, 25 of us direct recruits, provided excellent boarding facility at the company’s training centre down Nungambakkam’s Fourth Lane. The six months we spent there still remain the best days I have spent in Madras. Evenings would be at Cakes & Bakes on Nungambakkam High Road; it was the place to be in during those days. After dinner at the training centre, off we would head to Tic Tac, the open-air restaurant where you could see the kebabs being readied while you waited for them. Outside was Khan Saheb, the friendly neighbourhood paanwallah who greeted you and offered you a Benson & Hedges or a 555 cigarette while he expertly stuffed your paan. And, of course, who can forget the huge ice-cream scoops at Tic Tac? We usually gathered on the pavement outside the counter at about 11 in the night and took our time deciding on the scoop we wanted.

There was no Ispahani Centre then. Where MOP Vaishnav College stands today was a sort of a crèche, one corner of a huge untenanted ground or so it seemed. However, it was almost as if the Fourth Lane belonged to us. We would play table tennis well past midnight. There were a couple of romantic relationships brewing in our batch and there was enough to talk about. Many an evening was spent on the training centre terrace, gossiping and looking up at the night sky. And if you watched carefully, you would hour after hour notice the glimmer of an overseas flight, a tiny speck moving across ever so slowly. Except the occasional barks of an Alsatian dog in the opposite house, nights were quiet. It was Madras of another generation, a time when the world almost lay at our feet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

He used his power for the common good

K. Venkataswami Naidu belonged to an ancient family of Naicks. His ancestor Beri Thimmappa had built two temples, one of Vishnu and the other of Shiva, in Devaraja Mudali Street in George Town – the Chennakesavaperumal and Chennamalleswara temples. Thimmappa held a seat in the Council and a salute of five guns was fired whenever he paid a visit to the Agent or Governor of Madras on Pongal days. He was presented with six yards of superfine scarlet on that occasion.

Venkataswami’s father K.T. Bashyam Naidu was known for his piety and generosity. Mother Srimathi Andalammal, who died when Venkataswami was young, belonged to the famous Bandla family. Their uncle K. Narayanappah Naidu and aunt Srimathi Narasammal looked after Venkataswami and his brothers. The uncle and his nephews built Appah & Company, which has a history of 60-plus years.

Venkataswami had his education in the institutions connected with the Pachaiyappa’s Charities. The Students’ Club there laid the foundation for his public work. It enabled him to get rid of his shyness and take part in meetings and excursions. Venkataswami studied law and became an apprentice under T. Ethiraja Mudaliyar and P. Venkataramana Rao. The early religious training he had under his father and some Vaishnavite bhaktas made him a great enthusiast for religious study and propaganda. Years later, in 1952, when Rajaji became the Chief Minister of Madras State, he included Venkataswami Naidu in his cabinet and gave him the portfolio of Hindu Religious Endowments. As President of the Tirumalai Tirupati Devasthanam Committee he initiated a number of useful and popular schemes.

Venkataswami was a trustee of the Pachaiyappa’s Charities for two and a half decades. In 1927, he, along with S. Duraiswami Iyer and N. Krishnamachari, filed a suit in the High Court of Madras and secured admission for Harijans in the educational institutions managed by the Charities. He was responsible for the foundation of the new Pachaiyappa’s College buildings at Chetput.

Like Thimmappa, Venkataswami took a great interest in civic matters. In 1928, he became a Councillor of the Corporation of Madras and continued in that post till 1952. He was the leader of the Congress Municipal party for 15 years. Venkataswami joined the Indian National Congress in November 1936. He contested the general elections the following year and topped the polls in the Madras City Constituency. He was elected Deputy President of the Madras Legislative Council. He became Mayor of the Corporation during 1938-39. He preached against war and was sentenced to the Trichy Jail for six months imprisonment.

Venkataswami was also connected with the Corporation Boy Scouts’ Association and was responsible for bringing about the merger of several scout organisations.

A genial host, he loved entertaining people. His devoted wife Srimathi Varalakshmiammal, who also belonged to the Bandla family, served him till the end.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Fifty-two years of motor racing

If Sholavaram, and to some extent, laying the race track at Irungatukottai were the high points for the Madras Motor Sports Club in the past five decades, attracting corporate sponsors and taking the sport to the grassroots are the formidable challenges it faces today.

The Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) came into existence as an offshoot of the Automobile Association of Southern India. Founded by a few racing enthusiasts, it has had tremendous success in organising racing and rallying events. Working together with the Madras Motor Sports Trust, the Club put up India’s first race track that adheres to international standards at Sriperambudur, and has organised some of the biggest motor racing events in India. The Club has not only played a pivotal role in motor racing but also conducted many rally championships – the Himalayan rallies in the initial years – as well as events for the blind and ladies rallies.

In 1952, whilst a 1948 MGTC (model of a sports car) was being cleared from the Madras Harbour, discussions on motor racing and rallying between the owner and R De’Souza were what eventually led to the idea of the formation of a motor sports club. The following year, two MGTCs chased one another from Chesney hall to the parking lot of Catholic Centre. The two drivers, Englishman Rex Strong and Indian K Varugis felt that racing would be more fun if organised off the roads. Strong had been a member of the Calcutta Motor Sports Club and the MG Club and he and Varugis began scouting for motor racing enthusiasts.

One evening, sometime later, a small gathering of motorists arranged a motor scavenger hunt – the objective was to get together and pass a formal resolution for the formation of the MMSC. MA Chidambaram and SVB Rao, legal advisor of the AASI, assisted in drafting the constitution of the Club, which was then registered under the Societies Act. Chidambaram, then chairman of AASI, felt that AASI should concentrate on motoring activity and a separate organisation would help develop the sport of motor-racing. He also wanted a separate unit to be created by MMSC to conduct races and thus the first race committee was formed in 1955 with Chidambaram as the first chairman. The committee included Govind Swaminathan, BI Chandok, FV Arul (then IG of Police) and A Sivasailam.

MMSC came into being in 1953; it was registered in 1954. The first office bearers of the Club, with GM Donner at the helm, were KV Srinivasan, Varugis, the Rajkumar of Pithapuram, Raja DV Appa Rao, JH Dye, P Mathen, KA Silick and Strong. Altogether, there were about 40 founding members. Five early members of the MMSC, the ‘Panch Pandavas’, who actively participated were Gopal Madhavan, Indu Chandok, Jayendra Patel, Anil Bhatia and C Prabhakar.

Soon, an area for a track was selected at Sholavaram, a Second World War abandoned air strip belonging to the Indian Air Force, about 30 km from Madras. It comprised the south and west wings of an L-shaped area. A tight left after the start and a fast right after two U-turns completed the two-mile circuit. There were two chicanes, one on each side of the straights. Once, on practice day, a car missed the right turn hand and nearly ran into a crowd at a corner. Immediately, it was decided to shift the public stands further south and away from the run-off area. The pits and paddocks were located on the western side of the track that had several potholes. For the following few years, this L-shaped track was used for all the races.

The Sholavaram land belonged to the Military Estate Officer and the track to the Indian Air Force. Sometimes, new Army tanks were tested on southern section of the track. Its surface soon got destroyed and MMSC was forced to use the east-west straight; to make races interesting, the Club used a portion of the northern runway. The track was now shaped like a T. The stands were located on the southern side giving spectators an excellent view. On the northern side were the time keepers and lap recorders – 50 each. The medical centre and pits were located at the northeastern part of the track and the approach was by a narrow road that led to the Sholavaram dak bungalow. The southern runway had enough space for a car park, police outpost and ticket booths.

The track at Sholavaram has also had another non-motoring connection. The Sholavaram track was used to store wheat when no space was available in government godowns. The wheat was stacked right in the middle of the T-track. The track was so wide that there were many crashes at the U-turns. The problem was discussed with the Royal Automobile Club, London, and MMSC was advised that the track width should not be more than 35 ft. The track was so wide that there were many crashes at the U-turns. The problem was discussed with the Royal Automobile Club, London, and MMSC was advised that the track width should not be more than 35 ft.

The first regular motor sports event was held in August-September 1953 at the Sholavaram airstrip. There were only two classes of cars – six MGTCs and other stock cards. The events included ‘standing starts’, ‘flying starts’ over a distance of a mile, and some parking tests. Donner in his Mark 7 Jaguar averaged 84 miles an hour over the measured mile. The first race meeting was held on October 25, 1953 at the Sholavaram air strip. There was a five-lap race for motorcycles (handicap), a five-lap race for sports cars, a three-lap relay for motorcycle teams, a four-lap handicap relay for cars, and a driving test. John Dye, who clocked 72 miles an hour on a Triumph Twin, was the fastest man at the meet. Enthusiasts present included JD Jones, DJ Hopley, Ravi Sharma, Ven Sellick, Philli Clubwala and KV Ranganatha Rao. At the end of the day, a dinner was held at the Madras Club.

The first rally was organised in 1954 when the Rajkumar of Pithapuram was the president. It was the popular ‘time and distance’ rally to Mahabalipuram and back, covering a distance of about 100 miles with disclosed check points. There were 100 participants. BI Chandok won in his Triumph Mayflower with Captain Patankar of the Merchant Navy as his navigator. This rally was followed by several others – to the Poondi Reservoir, Sholavaram and other places of interest. A few years later, a longer version of the rally, to Pondicherry, was introduced.

Encouraged by the public response, and assured of sponsorship by oil companies such as Burmah Shell, Caltex and Castrol, the first Day-Night Rally was conducted in 1956. The Madras-Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty-Coimbatore-Dindigul-Trichy-Villupuram-Madras route covered a distance of about 800 miles. Forty-two cars participated and the prominent entry was that of General Thimmiah in his Mercedes (Govind Swaminathan was his co-driver and Nosy Muthanna the navigator). After a few years of this rally, which always started from Union Company, Mount Road, the route was changed by new teams. One experiment was to begin from Madras, Bangalore and Coimbatore simultaneously with a free run to Trichy; the rally would finish in Bangalore or Madras.

Good timing equipment was not available in those days. The Railway-Lever pocket watches were the only timing devices available and the marshals had to listen to the All India Radio time pips to set their watches. The marshals would also ring up the rally headquarters an hour before the expected time of arrival of the first vehicle and set his watch accordingly. It was only later that the Club got Omega Seamasters and complaints regarding the timing were reduced.

In February 1957, competitors from Bangalore and Ceylon took the field alongside participants from MMSC and thrilled the spectators with their excellent performance. Zacky Dean, who had competed in the prestigious Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race, was one of the main attractions and he lived up to his billing with some brilliant riding. The Junior Open Championship event, over 14 miles for motorcycles up to 350 cc, saw a hard-fought race between Dean and Madras rider Hari Rao. Rao took a good lead and maintained it for six laps but towards the end Dean’s experience showed and he won by a narrow margin.

Raja Sinathorai, another young motorcyclist from Ceylon and the youngest competitor in the meet, had to seek special permission to compete. It was his first attempt at racing. He, however, made a great impact on the spectators and won his event comfortably in spite of staring 80 seconds later than the first rider. Two other riders who caught the public eye were from Bangalore – KS Vijayapai in his BSA who came first in the Senior Open category for motorcycles up to 500 cc (14 miles), beating VK Gupta and Dean, and PS Hariharan in his Jaguar XK-120.

Since the races in Sholavaram were held mostly during December-January, the group from Ceylon found it difficult to arrive in time because the ferry service was closed November onwards up to the second week of January. MMSC, thus, decided to shift the annual All India Race Meet to the first Sunday in February. Crowds of over 30,000 would throng to watch man and machine fight for supremacy. The Sholavaram racing weekends (two consecutive Sundays) used to be the biggest racing show in India, with racing drivers and riders coming from across the country; it even became part of the international racing calendar. The Sholavaram success story helped the sport grow in stature from year to year. Drivers from Sri Lanka, Britain and Europe were regulars at Indian events.

Meanwhile, while the IAF was happy to give the track to the MMSC on lease, the Military Estate Officer did not agree. The track was in a state of disrepair and the villagers were encroaching on the land and breaking up the runway. There were no funds even for a watchman. MMSC was willing to connect the ends of the three U-turns and build a track with one-way traffic as against the two-way track the Club was using. However, with the surface breaking up, the Club had no choice and alternate arrangements had to be made. The Club decided to buy 300 acres of land and a ‘search committee’ finally zeroed in on the present site at Irungattukottai, Sriperambudur, 40 km from Chennai. Since it was agricultural land, the Club had to seek the permission of 100-odd farmers; Indian Bank sanctioned a loan of Rs 10 lakh. While Suresh Patel and Gopal Madhavan worked on laying out the new track, they realised that 200 acres was enough and so, 100 acres were sold to the members. The proceeds were used to clear the loan. It was while plans were being drawn up for the new track that the Club decided to form a Trust to hold its properties; the trust deed was drafted and the Club’s land was given to the Trust on a 99-year lease.

With McDowell and MRF contributing Rs 50 lakh and Rs 40 lakh respectively, amongst other contributors, work for a new track began. The foundation stone was laid by Jackie Stewart. Indian Bank provided an overdraft facility of Rs 50 lakh. Gherzi Eastern were appointed architectural consultants. Larsen & Toubro won the construction tender. Madhavan supervised the design and construction and ensured that they conformed to international standards. The track, 3.7 km long and 11 m wide, was approved by FISA and FIM.

MMSC was incidentally a founder-member of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, in the 1970s. The first racing meet at Sriperambudur was the 33rd All India Motor Race meet in 1990. When McDowells stepped into motor racing in a big way, Vijay Mallya, a keen racer, was the first to race a Formula-1 car at Sholavaram in the Open Class. The annual racing event became the McDowell Grand Prix. Mallya not only spent money on running the event but also chipped in with a team of five cars. The rivalry between MRF and Mc Dowell added more thrill to racing. In 1994, JK Tyres entered the racing arena and the fierce competition between JK and MRF ensured one of the best eras in Indian racing. Unfortunately, Sriperambudur could never attract the kind of crowds that Sholavaram did. One reason was that Sholavaram had a T-shaped track which afforded spectators a view of the entire circuit.

The men, the machines (box-item)
Some of the stalwarts responsible for building the Madras Motor Sports Club include KV Srinivasan, one of the founders of the Club and the Trust; MA Chidambaram, whose vision created the Club; the Rajkumar of Pithapuram, the first Indian president; V Chidambaram, chairman-races for many years; M Nilakantan, who was instrumental in bringing discipline into the events; R De’Souza, who provided inspiring leadership; Suresh Patel, who put rules into place; and Minoo Belgamwala, who, during his 18 years at the helm, ensured the Club remained active.

There were several others responsible for the Club’s success – RP Bhimani, ND Patel, Col SS Choudhary, K Bhaskara, Roshan Ali Currimbhoy, Dr Saboo, Babu Mathen, Ranganatha Rao, Ravi Mammen, R Dayanidhi, S Karivardhan, BV Ranganath, Freddie Webb, John Webb and Gopinath Shiva. Govind Swaminathan, AC Muthana and SS Sivaprakasa guided the Club on legal matters while DSS Jayatillake and Gamini Jaya Surya helped develop interaction between the racing fraternity in India and Sri Lanka.

Donner was MMSC’s first (1952-53) president. He was followed by the Rajkumar of Pithapuram (1954-56), MK Belgamwala (1957-63, 1968-80), R Ratnam (1964-67), R De’Souza (1980-81), BI Chandok (1981-85), M Nilakantan (1985-86), S Muthukrishnan (1986-99), and KD Madan (1999-2002). Ajit Thomas, who took over in 2002, is now the president.

The old racing fraternity in Madras consisted of Genji Verugis in his MGTC, Ranganath Rao in his Citreon Special, Babu Mathen in an SIAC Special, Mike Satow and Kinny Lal from Calcutta, K Rajagopal and K Sundaram from Coimbatore, N Soundararajan from Dindigul, the Maharajah of Gondal, PS Hariharan and Haji Sattar Sai in their Triumph Jaguar 150s, Kumar Siddanna in his MG Twin , AD Jayaram, Loganathan in a Buck Fiat, Freddie Webb in a Jaguar Mark V, John Webb in a 1952 Chevy and Palaniappa Chettiar from Salem in his Cadillac Automatic, and Damodaran. The leading two-wheeler competitors were Sheriff Dyan, Bullet Bhasky, PD Sathy and Bose, all from Madras, Tyrewala from Bombay and Krishnaswamy from Coimbatore.

As the old guard moved out, the void was filled by drivers from Ceylon – Mike Rauf, David Pieries, Priya Munasinghe, Shanti Gunaratne, Rally Dean, Zacky Dean, UD Jinadasa, Fricky Khan, Chandra D’Costa and Raja Sinathorai. Daljit Chaggar was the lone Kenyan. Other Indians who made an impression included Bhaskar Rao, Ashok Krishnan, the Hebbar Brothers, Farhad Cariappa, Aspi Bathena, Rajendra and Rajkumar.

The cars spectators usually saw at the starting grid in the early years would include a Buck Fiat, Chevrolet Studebaker, Cadillac, Standard 10, Fiat, MG, Mercedes 300 SL coupe, Ferrari V-12, MG Twin Cam, Jaguar Mark V and VII, Fiat Spyder, Triumph TR-3, Austin Healey and a modified Jaguar. In the early 1980s, two-wheelers would include a Luna, TVS-50, Lambretta, BSA Falcon, Kinetic Spark, Ind-Suzuki, Hero Honda, Yezdi Roadking, Ideal Jawa and Rajdoot Yamaha.

Since handicap racing had its own problem, it was decided to encourage the building of a Formula India car. The first indigenous racing car, the ‘Qumari Special’, was a two-seater developed around an Ambassador engine by Kinny Lal and Suresh Kumar from Calcutta. Adi Malgam developed a frame around which Vicky Chandok developed the first indigenous racing car in Madras with a Herald engine. Suresh Naik, Nazir Hussain, Mohinder Lalwani, Malgam (all from Bombay), AD Jayaraman and Karivardhan were the pioneers in the construction of the indigenous motor car who turned motor sport around in India and gave it stature.

Several automobile ancillary units such as India Radiators, Brakes India, Rane, Gabriel Shock Absorbers, Union Company and Wheels India donated components which helped to reduce the cost of the car. The companies used the track to test their components. Interestingly, while racing enthusiasts in Bombay and Coimbatore built cars with Fiat engines, Calcutta experimented with Ambassador engines while Madras and Banglaore relied on the Herald. From the Formula Ford, Chandok, Karivardhan, Vijay Mallya and Akbar Ebrahim went on to develop the F-2000. Ebrahim trained at the Sholavaram track before racing in the Formula-3 in the UK. It was only later that Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandok entered the scene. Karivardhan developed the real Indian racing car engine but it was not a single-make car. His death in an air crash was a sad day in Indian motor racing.

Dim future without government support (box-item)
In the 1950s and early 1960s, motor sport enthusiasts started racing with the cars they had. Those who had sports cars found an opportunity to race once a year. Once the Standard Heralds, Fiats and Ambassadors came in, the cars were classified. There would often be rallies between Madras and Bangalore. The Karnataka Motor Sports Club was active; the Yelahanka air field and the Agaram army training ground were the venues in Bangalore. Raymonds was one of the early sponsors in the early 1970s.

“It was only in the 1980s that the spectators got something to see something rather than the usual Fiats and Ambassadors. Even then, nobody explored the commercial aspects of the sport,” says Kamlesh Patel, vice president, MMSC, and Suresh Patel’s son who has been associated with motor racing in Madras for 35 years.

“Sholavaram was a once-in-a-year event. Today, people are not willing to travel that far. Also, television has invaded most homes and there are other forms of entertainment,” says Ajit Thomas, president, MMSC. Adds TT Raghunathan, past chairman of the All India Motor Race Meet committee and who has been on the MMSC committee for many years, “The time-speed-distance formula was what made the South Indian rally popular. To conduct a speed event on closed roads in India is virtually impossible.”

Asked what MMSC’s high points were over the past 50 years, Thomas and Patel listed a few: taking the initiative to conduct motor sport in an organised manner; conduct of the premier South India rally every year from 1958 to 2000; producing the Sholvaram magic; and getting the world-class track built at Irungatukottai.

“However, we seem to be stuck in a groove and are unable to scale up. Look at Bahrain, Brazil and China who are running Formula-1 races today. We have never worked to better our events. Lack of funding is a major constraint; even now, we struggle to make profits,” says Patel.

“Governments elsewhere look at it as a tourist proposition. People talk about Malaysia after the country has hosted the Formula-1. India is home to several multinationals who would like to come and advertise. But we have not been able to evince the interest of even our car manufacturers. Except the TVS Group, and the Tatas who are sponsoring Narain Karthikeyan, motor sport in India has not seen big money,” adds Thomas.

Both Thomas and Patel agree that it is a chicken-and-egg situation. “To professionalise the sport, we need to raise resources and that can happen only if we scale up operations,” says Patel. The real challenge, they say, lies in developing motor sport at the grassroots level, pushing go-karting to a higher plane, make the sport attractive for newcomers, and to bring large crowds to the race track. “In the West, for example, there is a whole ambience created around the race track, with amusement parks, hotels, tourist spots etc. All that requires enormous amounts of money,” Thomas points out.

“If you look at the success stories of China, Malaysia, Bahrain and Turkey, you will see 100 per cent central government commitment; without such support, you cannot have motor sport which needs about Rs 1,200 crore to be spent. I don’t see that happening in our country,” says Raghunathan, adding, “Motor sport is sponsorship-driven. Unless the stakeholders see motor sport as an avenue for promoting their products, the sport will face stagnation. It is an expensive sport. For an individual, the entry barrier is cost.”

Raghunathan feels that MMSC has provided step-motherly treatment to the two-wheeler industry. “The TVS Racer Bikes Scheme has given about 600 youngsters from all walks of life the opportunity to race. The top 20 racers in the past few racers have come from this scheme. For Rs 500 or so, any child can apply to join; TVS provides nearly 40 bikes, MRF the tyres and MMSC the instruction. Two-wheelers bring in the crowds. Isn’t it strange then why this segment is not being promoted? Unfortunately, MMSC is not interested.”

Ecological sanitation for rural communities

Here is a new and holistic approach to the concept and management of human excreta, which includes urine-diverting and no-flush toilets for individual households

It is difficult to get anyone interested in ecological sanitation. Most people dislike talking about faecal matter and defecation. However, Britisher Paul Calvert, director of Eco-Solutions, with his pioneering work in the field of ecological sanitation has shown that it is possible. He spends about six to eight months in Thiruvananthapuram and focuses on implementing the project in the coastal area there. An experiment to make it a community toilet met with failure, though – there was no feeling of ownership or discipline in implementation. Also, many of the women probably liked a latrine at home. SCOPE, an organisation in Tiruchy headed by Subbaraman has also been implementing the project in villages on the banks of the Cauvery. A lot of good work on sanitation has also been carried out in many of the fishing villages in Kerala.

Now, what is a dry-compost ecological toilet? The dry-compost ecological toilet separates and sanitises human excreta, produces a useful soil improver that can used as manure and prevents contamination of groundwater. It has proved to be particularly popular in areas where the groundwater table is shallow. In nature, nothing constitutes waste and one form of waste is food for another. Hence, the natural cycle includes growing food, consuming food, defecating, and returning excreta to the soil.

Ecological sanitation is a sustainable closed-loop system, states Calvert, Ajith Seneviratne, DGJ Premakumara and Udani A Mendis, writing about a Sri Lankan success story in an issue of Waterlines. In contrast to most applications of conventional sanitation, which in many situations discharge pathogens (tiny agents causing disease in humans) and nutrients into groundwater, rivers, water bodies and the sea, ecological sanitation regards excreta (comprising urine and faeces) in a different light, considering it a resource rather than a waste.

Ecological sanitation, thus, sanitises human excreta, making it safe by killing the pathogens it may contain; it prevents pollution of rivers, sea, groundwater and waterbodies, minimises water use, safely recycles the valuable plant nutrients that are contained in our excreta, and helps produce excellent quality manure.

Modern toilets, both Indian and Western, are not ideal for eco-sanitation purposes, says Sekhar Raghavan, director, Rain Centre, which is now promoting ecological sanitation in Kovalam, a semi-urban area about 30 km from Chennai. The 1970 batch of IIT Madras has provided the Centre a grant, one-third of which will be used for eco-sanitation and the remainder for rainwater harvesting. According to Raghavan, modern toilets create effluent and people either do not know how to handle it or are forced to go in for expensive sewage treatment plants. Residents in smaller towns and cities use water for flushing and also do not know what to do with the effluent, which is ultimately discharged into available water bodies. They do not realise that they are polluting both the surface and groundwater.

So, people who reside in independent houses with a little bit of garden area in semi-urban or peripheral areas of cities - towns such as Villupuram and Tindivanam – could go in for the dry-compost toilet. The toilet works only if you have some open space. It is actually a two-pit latrine, with an independent chamber below each. After squatting and defecating, the person dumps a handful of ash or soil (contains bacteria) down the pit; there is a separate outlet for urinating. Dry toilets do not mean that you do not wash; washing is done a little distance away to ensure that no water enters the pit. A small rim placed around the pit does not allow seepage of water into the pit, although, Raghavan adds that a few drops of water falling in does no harm. The faecal matter is contained, without odour in the chamber beneath the toilet where its volume is reduced by dehydration or decomposition and the pathogens are destroyed.

The urine that is diverted at source and escapes through a separate outlet mixes with the wash water and can be channelled to water plants. Urine is an excellent substitute for urea, contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, and can be fed directly into biomass. Plants such as banana, coconut, vegetables, flowers or plants for fuel wood may be grown.

Only one pit is used for defecating. When this pit gets almost full (usually takes 6-8 months if used everyday by a family of four or five and, depending on usage, the size of the pit can be increased), soil and ash are used to fill and close it semi-permanently. Residents now switch over to the other pit. By the time the second pit is filled, the first pit would have got composted. The compost is removed from one side of the chamber below and applied as soil improver or manure on plant beds or used for horticulture. “The compost has no bad smell; it is smooth and silky, and there are no flies at all,” Raghavan points out.

Raghavan adds that the dry-compost toilet is used worldwide, particularly in China where 40-45 percent of toilets are of this type. It is rapidly becoming popular in Europe, USA, Australia and Scandinavia too.

Raghavan decided to use a fishermen’s hamlet to launch the exercise in rural Tamil Nadu. He chose Kovalam along Chennai’s famous East Coast Road. One such toilet was constructed and readied for use in January this year and Raghavan has received a few calls since, seeking help to construct similar toilets. One-third of the cost of such toilets is usually met by residents.

(With inputs from the Rain Centre, Chennai (Ph: 24616134) and Eco-Solutions (www.eco-solutions.org).

A meeting with the eighth-generation descendant of Beri Thimmappa

It was just a few days before the first Madras Day celebrations of August 22, 2004 that I had met Bandla Bakthavatsal, the eighth-generation descendant and then the oldest surviving member of the Beri Thimmappa family. Beri Thimmappa was, of course, the dubash who negotiated a piece of land on the Bay of Bengal waterfront with the local nayaks for the East India Company representatives Francis Day and Andrew Cogan. I had called Bakthavatsal a day or so before meeting him and he, dapper and diminutive, clad in white shirt and trouser, played the gracious host at his Anna Nagar residence.

Bakthavatsal, married to Ketty Sridevi, showed me the family tree he had painstakingly drawn, tracing its roots to Beri Thimmappa. He spent several minutes talking to me about the various members down the generations – now numbering more than a hundred perhaps, many of them in Chennai. I also learnt that Bakthavatsal was a numismatist.

According to Bakthavatsal, it was Thimmappa’s fluency in English and the vernacular that caught the attention of Day and Cogan. Originally from Palacole, near Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Thimmappa and his grandson traded in indigo and textiles before working for the East India Company. The British gifted extensive lands, north of the Fort St George, to the Thimmappa family. That was where generations of the family lived till the last century.

In 1678, Chinna Venkatadri, Thimmappa’s younger brother, acquired the Guindy Lodge and later sold it to the East India Company. Now we know it as the Raj Bhavan. In 1894, Ketty Bashyam Naidu and Narayanappah Naidu, representing the fourth generation, established Appah & Co., which traded in chilli and spices. The company much later diversified into pharmaceuticals.

No memorials have been erected in Chennai for Day or Cogan; there is none for Beri Thimmappa as well, at least as far as I know. However, there are symbolic references to the family. The Bashyam Naidu Park, off Taylor’s Road in Kilpauk is named after the fourth-generation descendant Thimmappa Bashyam Naidu. There is also a Narayanappah Pharmacy in Anna Nagar named after Ketty Narayanappah, but where exactly it is I do not quite know. Present day descendants include Urmila Satyanarayana, a Bharatanatyam dancer, Dr Praveen Godey (is he with Apollo Hospitals?), and Ketty Bobji who runs Precision Diagnostics, I have heard.

Other than Beri Thimmappa, who more than anything else will always be remembered for brokering the deal between the British and the nayaks, one person who distinguished himself was Ketty Venkataswamy Naidu, Bashyam Naidu’s son. He was Mayor of Madras, the President of the Madras Legislative Council, then Minister for Religious Endowments in C Rajagopalachari’s cabinet. As president of the Madras Cooperative Housing Society, he was instrumental in promoting housing colonies in Gandhi Nagar, Kasturba Nagar and Shenoy Nagar. More about him later…