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A centenary's links with Chennai

WHEN MADRAS in 1989 marked the 350th anniversary of its founding, one of the few commemorations of the occasion was a quiz sponsored by the Murugappa Group and organised by the quizzing champions of the day, two young doctors, Navin Jayakumar and G.S. Praveen. When we met on a few occasions to discuss the quiz, I suggested this question that Quizmaster Navin Jayakumar eventually never asked: ``What is the connection between fellow quizzer Praveen and the founding of Madras?''

The answer, of course, was one I had discovered quite serendipitously during our first meeting, when it came as a surprise to me. I had long thought that Beri Thimappa, the dubash of Francis Day who had negotiated with the local Nayaks the grant to the East India Company of the bit of `no man's sand' that grew into the metropolis that is Madras, was not only forgotten by the City Fathers, together with Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, but that his line no longer existed in the city. Dr. Praveen put me right on that when he told me that he was a direct descendant of Beri Thimappa of Palacole (just northeast of Machilipatnam) and that the family had remained very much part of Madras. I had at that time, following the trail and discovering the family, written that if any family warranted being described as `The First Family of Madras', it was this one that went back to one of the founders.

The head of the family, I found then, was Ketty Alavandar Naidu, and his extended family, the Ketty family, was nearly a 100 strong. That family gathers on August 14 this year to celebrate the birth centenary of Alavandar Naidu. Sadly, he passed away five years short of his 100th birthday, but his wife, Seetharathnam, survives as the Grand Old Lady of the family.

Alavandar Naidu was the great-great-great-grandson of Beri Thimappa, whose line descended as follows: Ketty Narayanan, Ketty Narayanappah Naidu, Ketty Thimappa Naidu, and Ketty Venkataswami Naidu, who was the father of Ketty Thimappa Bashyam Naidu and Ketty Narayanappah Naidu.

Alavandar Naidu was the third son of Bashyam Naidu, who is remembered in a small park and statue by Taylor's Road, off which is Appah Gardens Road which once led to the family's mansion, Appah Gardens.

The oldest of Bashyam Naidu's four sons was K. Venkataswami Naidu, who was a mayor of Madras, president of the Tirupati Devasthanam and a member of Rajaji's Cabinet in 1952-54. The next brother, K. Venkataramanujulu Naidu, managed the religious and charitable activities of the family, including participating in the festivals of the Chenna Mallikeswarar and Chenna Kesavaperumal Temple which, before it was rebuilt in Flower Bazaar, had been founded by Beri Thimappa as the first temple — `The Town Temple' — in the Chennapatnam that grew on what is now the High Court campus. The youngest brother was K. Parthasarathy Naidu.

The brothers, Bashyam Naidu and Narayanappah Naidu, founded Appah & Co. in 1894 in what was the new Black Town. Adding the pharmaceutical line to this firm of wholesalers of condiments in 1928 was Alavandar Naidu and his cousin, Venkatapathy Naidu. And that business line continues in the name Narayanappah Pharmacy in Anna Nagar.

Alavandar Naidu and Seetharatnam had seven sons and four daughters, and when many of them and their children and grandchildren gather to remember Alavandar Naidu, it will be a gathering almost entirely of talented professionals and artists who had moved a long way from the world of dubashes and commerce. But one thing all of them are agreed on is the need for the city to remember Beri Thimappa, one of its founders, and to pay greater attention to the Bashyam Naidu Park. Indeed, it's time the city remembered the ancestor of what might justifiably be called its `First Family', as well as Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, its other founders; there's not even a lane named after any of them as things are!

S. MUTHIAH

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