Malabar Wagon tragedy

Posted by Maddy Labels:

The Mappila rebellion itself is a longish story and I am in the process of digesting the key aspects from a fine book by K Madhavan Nair titled ‘Malabar Kalapam’. The gist of the rebellion and revolt has been previously covered by my friend Murali Ramavarma in his blog.
Wikipedia summarizes - The Moplah Riots (also known as the "Moplah Rebellion", "Maappila Lahala"or ‘Malabar Kalapam’ in Malayalam) was a British-Muslim and Hindu-Muslim conflict in Kerala that occurred in 1921. During the early months of 1921, multiple events including the Khilafat movement and the Karachi resolution fueled the fires of rebellion amongst the Moplah Muslim community. A rumour spread amongst the Moplahs that the British rule had ended and the Islamic Caliphate had been re-established at Delhi.
The Kerala Government history site adds - Gandhiji visited Malabar in 1921, giving a further impetus to the movement. Khilafat Committees sprang up in large numbers and the fraternity between the Hindus and Muslims, through the work in Congress - Khilafat Committees, was a truly remarkable feature of the non-co-operation movement in Kerala, in its early stages
A tragic episode then ensued, namely the Moppila Rebellion or the Malabar Rebellion of 1921. Police attempted to arrest the secretary of the Khilafat Committee of Pokottur in Eranad on a charge of having stolen a pistol. A crowd of 2000 Moppilas from the neighbourhood foiled the attempt. The next day, a police party in search of Khilafat rebels entered the famous Mambaram mosque at Tirurangadi. They seized some records and arrested a few Khilafat volunteers. A rumour spread that the mosque was desecrated. Hundreds of rustic Moppilas converged on Tirurangadi and besieged the local police station. The police opened fire. The mob reacted in a mad fury. Violence spread and engulfed Eranad and Valluvanad taluks and neighbouring areas for over two months. Congress leaders tried in vain to check the violence. Towards the later stages of the rebellion, owing to unfounded rumour of Hindus having helped the police or sought police help, there were instances of atrocities perpetrated on Hindus. This marred the relations between the two communities. Meanwhile British and Gurkha regiments were rushed to the area. Martial law was clamped. A series of repressive measures followed and by November, the rebellion was practically crushed. Relief operations in the ravaged areas, undertaken mostly by voluntary agencies which received help and funds from Gandhiji, lasted for over six months.
It was in those final stages that the wagon tragedy occurred. Varmam had reminded us of the wagon tragedy in the bog with the same title. Though I do not recall it, this also figured in the fine Malayalam movie 1921.
A train started from Tirur on Nov 19th, 1921with the wagon full (over a 100)of rioting Moppilas, destined to the Coimbatore jails. Arrested Muslim rioters were to be transferred to the Central Prison in Podanur (near Coimbatore). They were bundled into a Goods/Freight wagon, and the train started its journey. At Podanur it was found out that the jail was full to its maximum capacity, and the prisoner’s were ordered to be taken back.

A survivor narrated the sad events that transpired ‘we were perspiring profusely and we realized that air was insufficient and we could not breathe. We were so thirsty that some of us drank perspiration from our clothes. I saw something like gauze over the door with very small holes so that no air could come in. Some of us tried to put it away but we were not strong enough’.
At Podanur, the wagon was inspected before return, where a horrible sight of many dead men awaited the authorities. Varying figures of dead are quoted, between 60 and 70. GS Chatra in his book states that 46 were DOA, 6 died as they were being taken out and two died enroute the hospital. After hospitalization, 16 more died totaling the dead to 70. The wagon with the dead was sent back to the waiting throngs at Tirur.

The Madras government took it lightly stating that the disaster was ‘a result of circumstances’ and that nobody could be held responsible.
Lord Willington instituted a commission amid the wild clamor for justice and in Aug 1922, a report listed the guilty and recommended actions against them (I never could find out who they were or what actions were taken). Each family was paid a ‘magnanimous’ compensation of Rs 300/-.
A monument (Wagon tragedy town hall) to this notorious tragedy can be now seen at Tirur. The Tirur wagon itself measured 18’x9’x7.5’. Comparing this to the holocaust trains used by the Nazis to transport Jews to Auschwitz, the Nazis’ usually had 50 people in one wagon, and only towards the later days packed a maximum of 100..

What started as the Khilafat movement soon spread into an agrarian and religious revolt. The revolt and the atrocities resulted in high handed actions like the above. The high handed actions brought down the British from their moral high ground and the resulting sympathy waves amongst Indians were one of the precursors for the mass uprisings against the British colonial rule
Most of you may not know that a person who was very much affected by this one event and many other Malabar atrocities was none other than our Carnatic nightingale MS Subbalakshmi. She later contributed to the Moplah relief fund. I chanced upon this snippet while browsing her biography, Fragments of a life – Mythili Sivarama (MSS’s granddaughter)
Encyclopaedia of Political Parties - By Ralhan, O. P.
Added note - Jan 8th 2009
A number of questions were asked by readers as to who the dead were and if they were rioters & prisoners in the first place. So I am adding some more details as follows.

Most books I referred to mention that the dead were ‘convicted’ and sentenced (under summary martial law rules though) political prisoners being transported for internment to the Podanur Jail. ‘New Outlook’ By Alfred Emanuel Smith mentions in page 698 that the wagon was freshly painted and hence even the small ventilation holes were blocked!! (In fact the British faced a previous disaster where a number of English soldiers were killed while transportation in a similar way in a Karachi troop train!!). The book MP Narayana Menon by MPS Menon provides partial information of the 61 dead as follows - 32 were coolies, 19 agricultural laborers, 4 mukri’s, 2 tea shop keepers, 2 mosque attendants & 2 preachers. This was the # 77 Calicut - Madras Passenger train. If I read right, the Hindu Correspondent filed the first report from Coimbatore. It was early in the morning of Nov 22nd that the tragedy came to light. That particular report stated that the prisoners were actually bound for Bellary.

Madhavan Nair’s book Malabar Kalapam provides the following information – The jails were over crowded and it was virtually impossible to house the convicted in Tirur. The personnel tasked with the transportation to Podanur were Col Humphreys, Mr Hitchcock (Police Supdt) & Mr Evans. The train was to be escorted by police, but no policemen were available. In the past open wagons were used, but Mr. Hitchcock in his hearing explains that he thought this not a good idea. He was of the opinion that they would be seen by the public who may rise to their rescue. The first wagons used were those meant for transporting cattle. Then came the goods wagon which was more secure from Hitchcock’s point of view. Such methods were regularly used in transporting all kinds of prisoners from Calicut to Cannnore (Stated by K Kelappan - Fortunately when he and others were transported, the door was kept open and a policeman kept as guard). In total 2600 prisoners were transported on 32 trips in such a fashion. On this fateful day the doors were sealed, the sergeant & constable moved on to relax in another compartment. The doors remained closed until the train reached Coimbatore. During a subsequent inquisition, the sergeant stated that at Cheruvannur, he had heard prisoners screaming for water. But as there was no time, none were given. A number of witnesses stated to having heard screams at Olavakkot & other stations. The prisoners went crazy & berserk in their quest for air and water. Brahmadattan Namudiri in his book adds that every two prisoners were handcuffed together in this wagon. They scratched, bit and clawed each other in their death throes, and the wounds were evident on the dead bodies.

The Coimbatore medical officer confirmed death by suffocation even though authorities wanted to pass it off as due to other causes. The news reached the press and public only because Coimbatore was not under martial law. Hitchcock was found not guilty in the later commission investigation. The wagon manufacturer, the traffic inspector and the poor sergeant were stated as the guilty parties. The compensation to the family of each of the dead was Rs 300/-.

The Princess Spy

Posted by Maddy Labels:

"I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. It would help to build a bridge between the English and the Indians."

Whenever I passed the Baker Street tube station in London, it was the thought of Sherlock Holmes that sprang to my mind. Until I read about the WWII - SOE operations centre at Baker Street and the life of an extraordinary spy who uttered the words above.

The SOE, but for a couple of officers, believed otherwise.
Driven by ideals of freedom and calling herself Nora Baker, she volunteered for SOE, which specialised in dropping agents behind enemy lines. Trained at the secret Baker Street headquarters, she proved a poor recruit, being too clumsy, too emotional and too scared of handling weapons… Her finishing report, which the official historian of F Section found in her personal file long after the war, read: She has an unstable and temperamental personality and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to the work in the field."

Nobody knows if it was just idealism or if it was a broken engagement that drove Norah to volunteer. But she did, spending a rigorous year in training and was then dropped behind enemy lines in France, Code name Madeline, Cover name Jean Marie. France was known territory, a place she had grown up in, and here she worked in constant danger, moving constantly avoiding detection, as the only woman radio operator spying & reporting on the German movements.

At the critical moment before the D-Day landing in Normandy she remained the last radio operator on the Continent, ensuring the last link between the Allied Headquarters and the French Underground. The life and death of millions and the fate of generations after the war was to depend upon one spirited by the vocation of a hero who accepted the risk of the supreme sacrifice: torture.

Incredibly enough, the girl eluded the dreaded Gestapo for many months, cycling, with transmitter in tow, from one 'safe house' to another. It was even reported that she solicited the help of an enemy officer to string up her antenna - telling him, of course,
that it was a clothes line!"'

She was instrumental in keeping a steady flow of information to the allies. But it was not to be, the Gestapo was catching up and eventually her friend’s wife betrayed her for a few francs. She was jailed, beaten, chained and interrogated. Stoic & brave by day, sobbing at night, probably fearing the betrayal and compromise of her intelligence operation (which it did), she resisted interrogation for many months though trying unsuccessfully to escape a couple of times. She was not destined to live, however, Hitler had decreed that escaping agents should be shot after interrogation.

She never talked, and her courage so impressed at least one of the Gestapo,
Josef Kieffer, head of Gestapo HQ in Paris, that at his trial he is said to have broken down in tears when questioned about her death. "The Germans had learnt nothing from her - not even her real name."

On the fateful day,
The SS undressed the girl and she was terribly beaten by Ruppert all over her body. She did not cry, neither said anything. When Ruppert got tired and the girl was a bloody mess he told her then he would shoot her. She had to kneel and the only word she said, before Ruppert shot her from behind through the head, was `liberté'." She was 30 years old. Dachau 1944.

A French military band still plays outside her home in the suburbs of Paris every July 14. The country she worshipped, India, hardly knows her.

Noor unissa Inayat Khan – the great great great granddaughter of Tippu Sultan. Her father Hazrat Inayat, a man with a mission, to spread Sufism around the world, left India for America, met & married Ora-Ray Baker (Begum Sharada Ameena Baker). Tsar Nicholas II through Rasputin invited them to Russia and it was here that Noor was born in 1914. The Bolshevik revolution was brewing in Kremlin and it forced the family to move, destined for France where they settled and where Noor grew up, excelling in languages. Tragedy struck, Pir Inayat returned to India and died from illness. Noor was slowly settling down to become a writer (her published works – 20 Jataka tales is still available
on Amazon), but when the Germans reached France, the remaining family fled to Britain where Noor became Nora and decided to join the war cause, along with her brother. But she was clear that she would work for the Allies during WWII to defeat Fascism and that she would go back to India after the war to join the freedom struggle against the British!!

At a memorial service in Paris, General de Gaulle’s niece summed up her achievement: “Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However, she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage.”

Noor’s comment about military distinction proved prophetic:
at the "VE" and "VJ" days to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II, an astonishing fact came to light at the roll call, that it was Indians who outnumbered even the British as the largest recipients of Victoria and George Cross medals, the highest British awards for bravery.

SS Trooper Wilhelm Ruppert was tried for war crimes and executed by the Americans on May 29, 1946.

Update August 2007 - Shyam Benegal is planning on directing an upcoming movie on Noor Inayat Khan - The princess spy, based on Basu's book.

Further reading

Noor Inayat Khan - WikipdeiaMadeline – Jean fuller
Spy Princess The Life of Noor Inayat Khan - Shrabani Basu
The Tiger claw – Shauna Singh Baldwin
Noor Appreciation siteThe women who lived for danger – Marcus Binney

Emden & Pillai

Posted by Maddy Labels:

While I was writing this, I wondered for long – How would Hitler have addressed Champakaraman Pillai? Well, he obviously did as he gave Pillai an apology of sorts for his demeaning comments about Indians in Mein Kempf (they are people incapable of governing themselves, he said). Food for thought, I guess – Herr Schampak maybe?

And the following lines that Ganesan (he learnt it in his kid days) once used, repeatedly spun around in my mind "Emden vitta gundu, adhil erindha tank rendu.."

All this started as I was musing about my days in Madras in the early 80’s, the walk to Marina beach up the Pycroft’s road and the Presidency College on the shore. And then I remembered the shell on the High court wall and Emden, the German ship. I thought I would research a bit more of that story and it was thus that this amazing tale came to light, I had not the slightest clue until then, no history book or patriotism class had taken me there, but first a bit about the ship…

Even today people in North Kerala call dark stout guys ‘Yumunden’ without knowing that the origin of the name was the hulking WW1 German frigate SMS Emden. SMS Emden’s story is well covered on
Wikipedia. But we will focus on the day it steamed into Madras Harbour.

Late at night on September 22, 1914, Emden quietly approached the city of Madras on the east side of the Indian peninsula. Once in range Emden opened fire on many large Burmah Shell fuel oil tanks that the British kept near the city. After firing 130 shells the oil tanks were burning and the city was in a panic. Although the raid did little damage, it was a severe blow to British morale and thousands of people fled Madras, thinking that Emden might be planning another attack. Emden then sailed southwards down the east coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), causing panic among the British .Sri Lankan mothers frightened their children with the Emden bogeyman, and to this day a particularly obnoxious person is referred to as an Emden. Emden supplied new words to many South Indian Languages. Malayalam word Emandan meaning 'a big and powerful thing' or 'as big as Emden' derived from Emden following its successful attack on Madras Port.

Emden’s story is a classic war adventure, there are many a book written on it. In the end seventy-eight (some say 60) British ships were required to run her down. The adventures of the ship are chronicled in the book
Last Corsair.

I thought the story ended there, but it did not….

Incredible as it may seem, the Emden had a very strong Malayali/Tamil connection. I was amazed when I stumbled upon this, well, to sum it up in a simple line; this anti imperialist attack was apparently directed by the Ship’s engineer Champakaraman Pillai, assisting the captain Helmut Von Mueller. (This is quite a bit of fiction, Pillai was not involved at all, as I can add after more research)

S Muthaiah states - Fanciful legends abound of his (Pillai) being Mueller's second-in-command, of his directing the firing on specific targets in and around Madras Harbour, and of his rowing ashore at Cochin to greet his family and admirers! Authentic records of the voyage of the Emden do not corroborate any of this, but they do speak of his work aboard the cruiser and his post-War attempts to gather in Germany an anti-British group of Indians, a forerunner to the Indian National Army. His volunteer force, another legend has it, was the inspiration for Netaji Subash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army.

Pillai was among those who first gave the slogan of "Jai Hind" to the people of India and to the many Indians abroad who were struggling for the cause of Indian Independence. He had the privilege of being the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of India set up in Afghanistan in December 1915, with Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh of Kabul as President. However, the defeat of the Germans in the war shattered the hopes of the revolutionaries

Dr. Chembakaraman Pillai
died in Germany in 1934 (poisoned or tortured to death by Nazi’s) and, after his death, his wife Lakshmibai, a Manipuri, who is said to have suffered at the hands of the Nazis herself, returned to India and lived in Bombay till her death in 1972. The most intriguing part of the Chembakaraman story is the mystery of his missing papers. J. V. Swamy, a nephew of the doctor, claims that shortly before Lakshmibai's death, the Bombay Police visited her flat and took away 17 boxes containing her husband's papers…

The story does not end here too. After many a success, Emden had to be destroyed, the ships crew were well aware that their time was up, they were finally chased & cornered by as many as 60-80 Allied ships --------The ship was finally sunk (Von mueller’s repor
t is interesting reading).

But Von Müller’s landing party at the Cocos Islands managed to steal the 97-ton copra schooner ‘Ayesha’ and sailed to Penang. From here they made their way to Istanbul, which I believe, is another fascinating story. They survived numerous threats to make it to the Arabian Peninsula, where they travel by camel caravan and survive an attack by Bedouin tribesman before reaching safe haven in Istanbul.

So much behind that Emden attack on Madras, a luminary called Chebakaraman Pillai, Hitler, Imperialism, the ship SMS Emden and the British…What a story!!

Note: regretfully, the connections between Pillai and Emden and Jai Hind seem to be the result of fertile imagination. More research is required to uncover Pillai's eventful life.

RKN has written a short story ‘Emden’ in his collection of short stories ‘Old & New’

In lighter vein, there’s a movie called Emden mahan (re-titled Em mahan)in Tamil
A couple of stories about the ship and the voyage

Courtesy – Hyperlinks above, for the pictures

Sahib and Collector

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Sayippum Collectrum

In colloquial Malayalam, Sayip is loosely associated with a Western (white) foreigner. However I discovered that it is mostly a usage conveying respect. Did it originate from the word Sahib? Perhaps! Anyway I have heard the usage ‘Sayip’ associated with one of these two gentlemen who I will venture to introduce to you.

Tellichery – a place once called the Paris of Kerala, the city of cricket, circuses, tennis and cakes. So many great luminaries came from this birthplace of Malayalam literature. There was a time and period in Malabar (The original Malabar in Kerala not Malabar-Florida) when two great persons lived in the same town, in a country and locale totally alien & mysterious to both. They ended up loving the town, the very region itself and easily merged with the local populace. The city gratefully honored them, one with a road and the other with a statue. One of them is Gundert Sayip, the other William Logan. Both have become part and parcel of Kerala and are always the first to be quoted when people dredge the annals of Malayali history. Both came to India for purposes different from what they are known for today. Malayali’s will always respect and love them for taking pains in recording their place & times in the world’s documented history.

William Logan (1841-1914) – Sadly, other than the few notes that Logan was a Scotsman sent by the British East India Company to the Madras Civil service, not much information about the person himself or his life exists in the public domain. Starting as a Judge in 1873 at Tellichery (and elsewhere since 1855), Logan became the Malabar collector in 1875 and lived at East hill Calicut. I believe his bungalow is now the VKKM museum. However, his name to fame was the authorship of a fine 1200 page manual in two parts by 1887 called the Malabar manual, in which he recorded all that he could about the people of Kerala, their history, culture and varied practices. (‘A Collection of Treaties, Engagements And Other Papers Of Importance Relating To British Affairs In Malabar’ written by him is sometimes referred to as the Part3) He was supposedly pretty good at spoken Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil. In history, Logan is titled the Gazetteer of Malabar. Now what was a Gazetteer supposed to do? Gazetteers became popular in Britain in the 19th Century, many of whom were Scottish, documenting activities to meet public demand in Britain for information on an expanding Empire. Logan simply put, produced in ‘Malabar manual’, the work of an enlightened administrator, an assiduous scholar and an authority on British affairs in the region. People of Tellichery have not forgotten him. A road with his name can be found in the town.

Beginning 1836, several Mappila outbreaks were reported till the end of the century, in which Mappila tenants killed the Hindu landlords. Strong measures were taken to suppress the Mappila unrest. In 1855, four Mappilas killed H.V. Conolly, the District Magistrate of Malabar at Calicut. One of the grievances of Mappiilas was said to the lack of sites for Mosques and burial grounds. William Logan was appointed as the special Commissioner to enquire into the land tenures and tenant rights in Malabar and highlighted the agrarian discontent and poverty among the Mappilas as the causes of the unrest.

Logan with all humility states in the preface of his work "I shall consider that I have failed in one main object if I do not succeed in arousing a feeling of interest on many points whereon I have necessarily touched, but briefly in this work." He was appointed Collector of Malabar in 1875, at a crucial stage of the history of Malabar, and he was well equipped for the role, having served the area for more than 20 years as judge, special commissioner, and magistrate, and had gained a wealth of knowledge in the process. Logan loved the land and the people, and his tenure made him a real "Kerala man.
Noted historian and former chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan opines "Logan was sincere and serious about the task entrusted to him. He was an efficient Collector who had an affinity with the people of Malabar. The personal contribution is evident all along. The details given by Logan with regard to dress, festivals and other social customs go a long way in providing insights on the social history of Malabar. The cultural heritage of Malabar, the race for hegemony in the trade of pepper and spices, the Mysorean invasion, and finally British supremacy find mention in his book”.

Those who want to take a peek at the exhaustive accounts of life in Malabar in those days can try out the Malabar manual,

Taj Residency Calicut has a Logan suite that has a Scottish flavor & a Logan’s bar; well I guess that is one way of remembering the man!!

Rev. Dr. Hermann Gundert (1814 –1892) Dr. Gundert was born at Stuttgart
in Germany on February 4, 1814. Educated at the grammar school there and the Maulbronne seminary later, he studied Protestant theology and philosophy at the Tubingen University. It is said that his desire was to be a soldier, but his sister’s sudden death changed his priorities and he took up evangelical work. In 1836, he left Germany for India to work as a private tutor. He traveled extensively in the erstwhile Madras province with an unquenchable passion for learning the languages and cultures of the people. It was after his marriage to Julie Debois from Switzerland that Gundert joined the Basel Mission in 1838. On an invitation from the Basel Mission to take over the mission establishment at Thallassery - Malabar, Dr. Gundert moved to his Illikkunnu residence in 1839, where he lived for 10 years, if not for anything else, but also to enrich Malayali literature and the educational system.

Gundert's bungalow today is a tourist attraction, which also houses part of the Nettur Technical Training Foundation - a unique institution started by the Swiss Foundation. Before 1839, he was posted in Chittur in Andhra Pradesh, Nagerkoil, Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. From 1849 till 1856, Dr. Gundert was posted in Chirakkal near Kannur where he stayed till he was transferred to Mangalore in 1856.In 1857 the British colonial administration appointed Gundert as school inspector of Canara and Malabar. By 1859, however, poor health forced Hermann Gundert to return to Germany, where he went on to manage the Calw publishing house from 1862 until his death in 1893. The revered German priest and lexicographer compiled a Malayalam grammar book, Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1868), the first Malayalam-English dictionary (1872), and translated the Bible into Malayalam.Gundert also published the first ‘Patamala’ textbooks for children.

Gundert was no ordinary Pietist missionary. Not only was he fluent in English, German, French, and Italian, but he was just as capable of preaching in Hindi, Malayalam, and Bengali. He was almost as fluent in Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil, and was familiar with at least ten other languages.

Gundert was commonly known as Gundert Sayip – the person created the first Malayalam to English Dictionary – In his own dictionary completed in 1872, he defines Sayip as ‘a lord or a Gentleman’. That he sure was…a fine Gentleman!!! The people of Thalassery have honored him by a statue in the city

Some very interesting notes – Gundert published the very first formal and free (actually the Malayala Panchangam was the first published paper) Malayalam newspaper ‘Rajya samacharam’(though quite evangelical in tone) in 1847? He continued on with another newspaper, the more popular paper Paschimodayam (Malayala Manorama started theirs in 1890). It was Gundert’s intent to publish a newspaper that influenced the need to standardize grammar & text. In 8 years, i.e. by 1855, he had mastered the Malayalam language, for example by going to the markets and listening to people conversing. Such was his love for the people he worked with. Through his paper, he introduced people to life in the West, about English folklore, Germany, Netherlands, the French revolution and so on…

I studied at the BEM School at Palakkad for some 4 months before I moved on to Sainik School. Little did I know that BEM schools had much to do with our beloved Gundert Sayip. Herr Gundert’s BEM’s were the first to start schools as early as
1847 in Kallayi!

How many of you know that our revered Gudert sayip is the grandfather of Nobel Prize winner Herman Hesse? Hesse's mother Marie Gundert (1842-1902), was born in Tellichery. Hesse's fascination for Indian philosophy and Buddhist mysticism is reflected in the famous book "Sidhartha".
Herman Hesse said of Gundert, his grandpa - He understood all of the languages of man, more than thirty, and perhaps even those of the gods, perhaps of the stars as well, he could read and write Pali and Sanskrit, he could sing songs in Kanarese, Bengali, Hindustani, Singhalese, he knew the prayers of the Muhammadans and Buddhists, although he himself was a Christian and believed in the triune God, he had spent years and decades in eastern, hot, dangerous lands, had journeyed by boat and by ox cart, on horseback and mule, no one knew as well as he that our town and land were but a small part of the earth, that there were a thousand million people with different beliefs to our own, with different customs, languages, skin colours, gods, virtues and vices.

Those interested in his original Malayalam-English dictionary can download it
here. Those who are interested in the first newspaper may read this exhaustive report on it.

Sayippinum collectorkum Malayalikalude nandi..

Pictures - from here & there - thanks to the originators & posters!!

Connollys teak and canal

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Lt Henry Valentine Connolly was the Malabar Collector roughly between 1840 and1855.

Connolly is honored with his name being used for the Connolly (In Calicut they say ‘Canoli’ canal ) Canal that connects the Kallayi river (See my noting on Kallayi in an earlier blog) to the Elattur river. Built in 1948, the 3 mile long canal provides water communication between Beypore & Badagara (BTW the land where the canal crosses Eranhipalam was acquired from my wife’s family!!). These days you have boat tours through the canal!!

Conolly (who was Dist Magistrate during the earlier part of the Moppila outbreaks that lasted from1835-1921) was tragically murdered in 1855 by Moplah fanatics at the start of the Moslem revolt in Malabar. T. This story is recounted by Nick Balmer in his blog Malabar days ……

Connolly lived at that time in the Collector’s bungalow at West Hill. The bungalow is still around and is the home for the Pazhassi (Kerala Varma) Raja museum and they have a Connolly garden in the premises. This is also the location of the VK Krishna Menon museum.

One of Connolly’s tasks was to ensure a steady supply of teak to British shipbuilding yards. For this reason he went about creating up a teak plantation in Nilambur in 1844.

Nilambur is today famous for its teak plantations. Nilambur also a seat of the Zamorins, is famous for a cluster of kovilakoms or residences of the local rajas of earlier days. These houses are famous for their beautiful frescoes and artworks in wood. The oldest teak plantation of the world, the Connolly's Plot is just 2 Kms. from Nilambur town. The Teak Museum at Nilambur chronicles the history of the tree and explores its scientific and artistic uses. The oldest teak tree, Kannimari, is a rare attraction at the Connolly Plot. The plot extends across 2.31 hectares beside the Chaliyar River at Aruvakode, where a country boat ferries visitors across.

Conolly - Image provided by Anusha
How Connolly went about the task of setting up the plantation is very interesting and shows how meticulous a person he was. This strength of character was to put him in good stead for the arduous works that were to be entrusted to him in the future by the East India Company. He started his experiments at teak planting in the 1830’s around Beypore, but the seeds did not germinate. Various other trails were conducted in removing the outer covering of seeds, burning them, getting ants to chew them, planting roots and so on. Finally Connolly requested for a trained arboriculturist, but was told to find one locally and pay him Rs 50 per month (I assume this is when he found Chatu Menon). Various different methods were tried and saplings produced and planted. Connolly complained to his HQ that his methods were based on previous inconclusive studies and his own limited study of the booklet called ‘Forester’s guide’ which was not really the appropriate way to go. However his listening to the local people about the aftermath of forest fires and experimenting with Chatu Menon on pre-burning the seeds seemed to provide best results. Connolly complained thus ‘the more I read, the older the plants become’ and requested more support. Two or more inspectors were sent to inspect the Nilambur experiments and they too prepared exhaustive reports supporting Connolly’s plea. I understood that it was 1860 when action was finally taken and grants provided to improve the plantation.

Teak felled at Nilambur, was floated on through the rivers and canals to Kallayi (just off Calicut town)where they were loaded onto the giant ships headed for Britain. During late 19th century and early 20th century, the Chaliyar River was extensively used as a waterway for carrying timber from the forest areas in and around Nilambur to the various mills in Kallayi near Calicut. Rafts made of logs were taken downstream during the monsoon season to Kallayi, where these were sawn to size in the timber mills dotting the banks of the river. During this period, Kallayi was one of the most important centers (2nd largest) in the world for timber business.
Sir Chathu Menon, the forest officer (titled native sub conservator) under Connolly, who took up the hectic task of single handedly planting teak, was laid to rest in the Teak garden in Connolly's Plot. Chathu Menon, now known as the father of Indian teak plantations, raised more than a million teak plants between 1842 and 1862. He was presented an ornamental woodman’s knife and belt by Lord Harris in Nov 1958. Chatu Menon subsequently trained others to create similar plantations in Canara.

All that being said, why so much emphasis on Teak as timber for ship building? It has its origins in history, and is known for its strength ( called ironwood by the Chinese)longevity spanning thousands of years. A research article states that teak was found in the ruins of an ancient city in Vijayanapur, Southern India. A temple was built on teak planks only 1 1/2 inches thick, but when examined in 1881, the planks were found to be in excellent condition despite 500 years of exposure to the elements. Other evidence of teak's amazing durability is found in cave temples in Salsette, India, where the 2,000-year-old teak remains in mint condition. Mariners regard teak as the most versatile and durable hardwood. Even the decks of the ‘Titanic’ were made of teak and the salvaged teak is still usable. Teak does not warp, twist or expand. The technoqunines in teak naturally repel termites and other bugs. It grows harder with age and is the wood of the ships.

Sadly Connolly’s teak plantations are now on the decline. Much of it is felled and gone, never to be replanted. The land is being used for other purposes. A story about teak thieves can be read here.

A good article about the plot & museum in Nilambur

References - The Forests and Gardens of South India - By Hugh Francis Clarke Cleghorn, Hugh Cleghorn

Connolly’s teak plantation pics – various web sites.

1488 - The Royal Spy arrives in Calicut

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Many years ago, in the cool winters of the latter part of the year (November 1488), a Moorish ship set anchor at Calicut. Amongst the various merchants from Arabia who alighted, there was one who looked and spoke like an Arab. He was a spy in their midst, on a commission from the King of Portugal. His name: Pero De Covilha. Pero who was trained at Morocco and Moorish Spain, spent many months, probably close to a year touring Calicut and Goa, recording the spice trade in and around Calicut. Pero a fluent Arabic speaker was astounded by the many sights of the splendid port and its people. It was a full eight years before the Vasco De Gama and his ships reached Calicut to change history. Perhaps, it was Covilha who laid the very keel for the ships journey; however like most spies he received no public credit for his work though his story proves a very interesting read.

It was a part overland trip that started in May 1487. Pero Da Covilha and Alfonso de Paiva, great friends themselves, were dispatched by King John II, to record the routes and happenings at various places in the Malabar area and primarily to find the mythical land of Prestor John. Barthalomeow Diaz on the other hand was sent to find the routes by sea. Traveling through Naples, Rhodes, Alexandria and Cairo overland, they blended with Arab caravans before reaching Aden at the mouth of the Red sea. Pavia left for Ethopia and Covilha left for India. Alas, the great friends were never to meet again. Pavia fell ill and died during his travails in Ethiopia.

Pero da Covilhã eventually reached Calicut (modern Kozhikode) and Goa on the Malabar Coast of southwestern India, where he witnessed a prosperous trade in Arabian horses, spices, fine cottons, and precious stones. After completing his assessment of the European trade with India, Covilhã sailed for home in February 1489. He passed through Ormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf and the port of Sofala opposite Madagascar before traveling north to Cairo in 1490. While in Cairo, two Jewish emissaries(Rabbi Abraham and Shoemaker Joseph – or was it Jose Lamego?) from King John II gave Covilhã a letter instructing him, if he had not already done so, to travel to the kingdom of Prester John to gather intelligence and promote an alliance. Before he left, Covilhã induced a messenger José de Lamego to carry a letter to King John II that described all he had learned of Arab seafaring and the Indian markets. Six years after leaving his home in Portugal, Pero da Covilhã reached Ethiopia in 1493, where he discovered a land ruled by Alexander, "Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and King of Kings." Covilhã so impressed the Ethiopian monarch that Alexander considered him a "Portuguese Marco Polo" and refused to let him leave. Covilhã married and settled down to live the rest of his life in the once mythical land of Prestor John.

Peter Koch notes - Calicut at that time was one of the richest ports of the world. It was the commercial hub for Arab Muslim and Asian traders. Fleets of junks from China and the Indies sailed to its crowded ports, and once docked, unloaded their abundant cargoes of precious gems, silks and spices that were to be sold at destined local markets. Anxiously awaiting their arrival were numerous Arab traders willing to pay a handsome price for just about any goods shipped from the orient. Once purchased, these were shipped through the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Aden, and from there, they were distributed to markets in Africa, Middle East and Europe.

Pêro da Covilhã, while in Africa, noted and informed Paul II that if the extreme south tip were rounded by Portuguese mariners they could easily reach Calicut from Sofala or Malindi and take possession of the spice trade. In ten years’ time, this observation by Pêro da Covilhã would convince Vasco da Gama to sail from the east coast of Africa directly to Calicut. In 1487, financed by a letter of credit from the Florentine banker Bartolommeo Marchioni, he was sent by João II of Portugal to investigate a northerly route to India . Covilhã continued to Socotra and Cannanore (in India) in an Arab dhow, then to Calicut (1488), Goa and back to Hormuz (winter 1489)

Arriving at Calicut in Nov 1488, Covilha was astounded seeing gentle elephants on the streets carrying burdens, presumably wood. Here is an account of his notes

He makes friends with an Indian merchant, telling him that he was an emissary from the sovereignty of Fez in the Maghreb, on a journey to India to investigate the possibilities of entering the spice trade. The merchant shows him the city, not only its opulent palaces, temples, gardens and artificial lakes but also an immense settlement of thatched huts, a disease-ridden pocket of the city where the pariahs, the lowest of the low, are dying from sickness and starvation. The Zamorin (ruler) still practises the Hindu religion but is already surrounded by many Muslim advisers. The merchant guarantees that the majority of spices produced in India, plus those that come from the East, pass through Calicut, which is what causes the city to be so busy. Pêro is surprised, as he thought that all the spices were produced in India.

“No, that’s not true,” says the merchant. “For example, cinnamon comes from Ceylon, an island to the south of India, while nutmeg and cloves come from Malacca.”
“The capital of the Kingdom of Malaysia.”
“Where is that?”
“It is in the east, 40 days’ journey from here, if the wind is in the right direction.”
“So Malaysia produces nutmegs and cloves?”
“No, no, they are produced in Ternate and the other Spice Islands, which are even further to the east. They are produced there but concentrated in Malacca, which exports them to India, mainly to Calicut.”

The Spice Islands will later be called the Moluccas, a corruption of the Portuguese word for malucas (crazy). They will be given this name because, owing to local alterations in the earth’s magnetism, it will be difficult to fix their co-ordinates; they appear to be here, they appear to be there, hence the crazy islands. But this will only happen later. For now, Pêro da Covilhã is just learning about the existence and produce of the Spice Islands, the locality of Ceylon and Malacca, the supremacy of Calicut in the Indian spice trade. He is surprised by such supremacy:

“I don’t know how it is possible - a navigator told me and ascertained that this is a dangerous port, with many sandbanks.”

“That’s true,” replies the merchant, “but in spite of them, that’s how it is - you’ll see.”
And see he does. He visits Cannanore, Goa and Ormuz,(An island close to Iran actually) magnificent cities on the Malabar Coast, but there the commercial activity is much less than in Calicut.

Pêro da Covilhã notes, “The majority of the spices leave Calicut for Cairo, crossing the Red Sea. From Cairo they go on to Venice. If one day we want to take on this trade for ourselves, we simply have to block the Moorish ships’ access to the Red Sea.”
The information provided in Pero’s letter complemented the information from the sea expedition of Bartholomew Diaz and convinced John II that it was possible to reach India by sailing around the southern end of Africa. When B Diaz returned to Lisbon the Portuguese had mixed feelings, because the trip around Africa had turned out to be so much longer than expected. Was his eight-month journey worth repeating? Could anyone make a profit over distances like these? It took the news of Christopher Columbus discovering new lands across the Atlantic to decide the argument; if Spain could find a fortune overseas, Portugal could too.

Later, in 1493 a Genoese, Geronimo de Santo Stefano, a private entrepreneur, arrived at Calicut from Aden. His journey continued to Ceylon, Burma, Malacca and Sumatra. On his return trip he passed through the Maldives, Cambay and Ormuz. He wrote a woeful account in 1496 of his travels, physical hardship, financial disaster and the life around Calicut. I must also mention here that two other noteworthy people visited Calicut before Covilha, they are Afanasii Nikitin around 1460 and Venetian Nicolo Conti in 1419.

And with that the plans for formal plunder of the East Indies, started. Manuel I assumed the throne in 1495 and completed the preparations for the voyage to India. On July 8, 1497, a fleet of four ships commanded by Vasco Da Gama set sail from Belém on the outskirts of Lisbon, bound for Malabar.

Noteworthy is the fact that these were people who arrived and lived at Calicut before Vasco Da Gama, who unfortunately takes most popular credits for being the first of the Europeans to reach Indian shores.

Picture of Covilhas route – from CNN

Beckingham: The travels of Pero da Covilham and their significance
Diffie & Winius – Foundations of the Portugese Empire
The History of Portugal By Edward McMurdo