Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Madras 300

Yesterday, I was watching a documentary, it was about two people trying to trace the path of the early men (~15, 000 years ago), who crossed the Bering Strait from Asia (Siberia) to America (Alaska). The travelers now were in the icy glaciers, one commented that it was lonely and scary. One said “the men then crossed this land for the betterment of their children and future generations”. Right through the film they were trying to put themselves inside the shoes of the people who belong to 15,000 years before. You might have seen similar kind of films. The point is these travelers or the film makers are from the 21st century, they (we) have been on this urban setup all our life, and, when we move to the forest, it is obvious we feel loneliness, but for the man who had not experienced the evolution of civilization, their migration (or the walk) might be just a part of their day. If the above argument holds good for anthropology, then it should hold good for history or reading history too.

We cannot or shouldn’t pace our judgement on the 15th century happenings with the 21st century mindset. Kings were barbaric, foreign invaders were greedy,,,, these are the process of social evolution.

Madras 300 (Published by Sandhya Publicationsis the collection of essays and lectures given in 1920’s and 30’s by notable professors, researchers and historians in and around Madras area. Every chapter deals with the different aspects of the evolution of Madras from early 16th century.

Al though, it might sound dangerous and contrary to what I said in my opening paragraph, after reading this book, I tried to imagine the landscape of the late 15th century and early 16th century of this Madras area.

The period of medieval Tamil kings were over. The power is shifting or shifted towards the Palayakars, Marathas, Nayaks, Nawab, Golconda Sulthanate. This area had small pockets of villages. The native rulers didn’t mind to lease the land to East India Company. The company meant strictly business, they didn’t have any agenda to conquer the land or carry out religious propaganda. As the rulers the native people must have welcomed the settlers with warmth and they never cared who ruled them, as long as they don’t disturb religious and caste setup.

The company was leasing lands, villages (by 18th – 19th century they were annexing kingdoms, you can find a correlation here- Raise of industrial revolution in west-decline of business prospects from India- And, raise of British empire in India- British crown started to rule India directly in 1858). 

Back to the book and my imagination, the company built this city. The book recounts how the early company officials disliked slave trade. How they encountered the water problem. Their measures taken during famine. Subduing caste wars between, for instance Valakkai versus Edakkai. Efforts taken to maintain temples. Developing infrastructure and communication- roads, rails and harbor. Setting up local administration. Creating recreational places, educational institutions and libraries.

In a sense, East India Company was knitting India as one entity. If we have time machine and travelled to year 1710. Encounter someone in Elambur and say to them that in 1947 there will be one nation from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, they might have laughed at you. Things might have been different if British (or Europeans) were not here, certainly no Chennai.

This city should have retained its name as Madras, not Chennai.


The below is the artistic impression of British surrendering Madras to French at 1756. I have no idea of why there is a dog, that too turning its back !!