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The Ceylon Boat Mail

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Somebody might recall this boat mail from the Ashe murder case, which I had written about, for that was the train Ashe and his wife boarded at Maniyachi, after which they were shot by Vanchi Iyer in June 1911. Maniyachi incidentally was a busy railhead junction, at which incoming passengers from Tinnevelly changed for the Boat Mail Train from Tuticorin. But then again it is no ordinary train and has quite a history. 

The Boat mail express, also known as the Indo-Ceylon Express, was operated by Southern Railways. At first it plied between Egmore and Tuticorin, then it was between Egmore and Dhanushkodi but now runs between Egmore and Rameswaram. Why was it called the boat mail? Because the passengers changed over to a boat ferry from the Indian end of the route in order to cross the seas to Ceylon. Until around 1914, steam mail ships plied between Tuticorin and Colombo constituting a 16-18 hour voyage across the 170 miles separating the two countries. So it was indeed an arduous trip, 22 hours by train (443 miles), then the changeover to the ship, covering in total two days.

Just imagine the scene in those early days at the turn the 20th century – Tuticorin had a three Brahmin hotels at Melur, as well as a number of other hotels and choultries for the travelers. Special trains took upper class passengers from the station to the pier. Spencer’s & Co provided refreshments and fresh copies of Madras Mail & Madras times and travel goods. If the incoming ship was late, Spencer’s served breakfast in the train. The BISI steamer left daily at 5PM after the passengers were taken from the pier on an AMC launch, a 45 minutes journey. Plantation laborers incidentally had to do their emigration checks at Tataparai before boarding the steamer.

This also is where a character named VO Chidambaram Pillai or VOC steps in - As the Swadeshi movement picked up steam, VOC established Swadeshi navaai sangam (Swadeshi steam navigation company) in the year 1906 to put an end to British monopoly in shipping and to help the Indian merchants who were treated unfairly at the hands of British India Steam Navigation company. He leased vessels from the Shah Line Shipping Company but the arrangement failed after a while. Later he tried to work with a Ceylon based company and as that also proved unsatisfactory decided to buy his own.  To this end some 4000 company shares were sold and purchased the S.S. Gallia which was delivered in May 1907 and the second, S.S. Lowoe in June 1907 (The ships were designed to carry 1400 men and 4000 gunny bags of load). All this affected the BISI and repressive measured were initiated. A fare war started and this destroyed the SSNC, which was liquidated in 1911. The SS Gallia was acquired by the BISI and VOC ended up in jail for sedition. All this was perhaps due to the new move to open up the Adams bridge link proposed by the tea estate owners.

Years passed by and with the intent to reduce the vagaries of the sea voyages, attention was focused at the Adam’s bridge or Ram Sethu and trains were planned to run until Dhanushkodi, the end point near the Palk Strait. But this successful alternative was chosen after a deliberation over two. In fact at that time, the South Indian Railway considered constructing a 12 mile bridge across the shallow waters (3-6 feet) and sand shoals and reefs known as Rama Sethu (Adam's Bridge) between India and Sri Lanka.

That story about the Adams Bridge (tombolo) sounded interesting, so I checked it out. It appears that the gap was passable on foot upto the 15th century, and local tradition affirms that the link was above sea level until it broke in a cyclone in 1480. Geological as well as flora and fauna survey also attest to a historic land link, even after the landmasses had separated and a point to be noted is that  this strait was not used by the ocean going Chinese Ming (and earlier) ships, which sailed around Ceylon.

But let’s get back to the train link and we note an 1898 proposal from Donald Ferguson which vaguely alluded to it - To connect the Ceylon railway system with that of India by way of Adam's Bridge and the Pamban-Madura extension, a line will have to be constructed from Madawachchi (north of Anuradhapura) to the western point of the island of Mannar. The connecting-link over Adam's Bridge, a very costly work, will, however, only be made if the Imperial, Indian and Ceylon Governments come to an agreement with regard to the share of the expense to be borne by each.

The formal proposal to extend a railway line upto Pamban was made in 1899, following which the line from Madurai to Mandapam was opened in 1902. In the second phase, the line from Pamban to Rameswaram was opened in 1906. The gap between Mandapam and Pamban was traversed by sea Boats. Later, the line between Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi covering a distance of about 11½ miles was completed and the link finally reached the Indian mainland’s end by 1908.

Around 1908 the Egmore station was constructed – Quoting Saritha - Distinct in style and structure, the Madras Egmore Station, completed in 1908, in Mughal style - an ornate structure in brick, rimmed with granite and sandstone, with several towers capped by domes in the shape the Mughals had brought with them from Persia and Central Asia.

By 1914 the clamor from the rich and powerful Lankan estate owners, for a faster connection had increased. The boat and rail link, not commercially viable, had to be converted to a fast rail link. But the cost was prohibitive. Neville Priestly, MD or the Southern Railway, did not believe they could generate the required amount of traffic on the rail link and decided on for the first phase of linking Rameshwaram – the Pamban Bridge.

The technical complication in acquiring a rolling lift drawbridge was dealt with by an experienced American company the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago which manufactured the bridge based on a Cantilever Scherzer Rolling Lift technique. The local contract was with Head, Wrightson & Co. Ltd. of Thornaby-on-Tees, UK. Most of the workforce were Moplahs from Malabar, presumably Khalasis.

Carter records -  The workmen were Moplahs—natives of the Malabar Coast, Western India—who had had little, if any, experience in bridge building, but what they lacked in knowledge they made up in main strength and activity. The pneumatic riveters rather stumped them at first, and much of the early work had to be done over; but the Moplahs soon got the hang of it and then they did good work at the rate of two hundred and fifty rivets a day for each squad. Other labor consisted of Eurasian and Tamil foremen, engine men, mechanics, rivet inspectors, painters, and boatmen. The laborers consisted of both women and men, for when it comes to hard work the Hindu believes in equal rights. Everybody worked ten hours a day, Sundays as well as week days, except when an occasional Mohammedan feast caused an interruption. During the Mohammedan fast of thirty days, the Moplahs knocked off at four o'clock. They had to do it because they abstained rigidly from eating, drinking, smoking, or chewing from sunrise to sunset. Under these conditions eight hours' work was all they could stand. Hindu feast days didn't count, for the Moplahs paid no attention to them.

In the history of railways in South India the year 1914 was therefore a landmark. The Boat
traffic at Pamban was done with and trains could take pilgrims and passengers all the way to Rameshwaram and beyond. However the link from Tuticorin was not done with and an agreement was reached to divide the traffic - where all traffic from stations south of Madurai to Colombo and vice versa would continue to be routed via Tuticorin (from where B.I. steamers would take them to Colombo) whereas the new route via Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar (in Ceylon) was to get the traffic from all other stations of the South Indian Railway to Colombo and vice versa. One should also note that Colombo was the starting point for many ocean going steamers destined to European ports, so the Tuticorin link was still needed.

The second phase of linking Dhaushkodi with Talaimannar was dropped and the railway engineer finally concluded - The gap between India and Ceylon could, therefore, be bridged, and the Indio-Ceylon Railway connection could be provided at a cost to India of $9,333,334, or in round figures for a sum well within $10,000,000, as compared with $100,000,000 under the scheme for a viaduct across Adams Bridge.

Can you believe that there was a kind of unregulated service even before this? Small boats and steamers used to take passengers to Mannar from Rameshwaram. The men then walked from Mannar to Matale (all of 150 miles), the nearest train station on the Ceylon side. In 1885 the British nationalized the route and banned all light vessel passenger traffic. Anyway let’s get back to the second decade of the 20th century.

Three steamers (Curzon, Elgin and Hardinge, named after three viceroys) were employed on the ferry service, built on the Clyde with Parsons turbines and Yarrow boilers, in Scotland to steam through in an hour and a half. They were later replaced by the Irwin and Goschen. Electric light was installed in these vessels and electrically-driven fans assisted in ventilation. The accommodation for a large number of third class Indian passengers was well arranged and a cabin for them is provided on the lower deck aft. Provision for carrying cattle and sheep was available on the after part of the main deck, and arrangements are made forward on the main deck for the carriage of motor cars… the lifting appliances have been so arranged that motor cars can be lifted on board by the ship’s own derricks and carried on the fore deck...As people of repute and foreigners traveled by this train, the boat mail was equipped with a canteen on wheels. It also was the first train to have a vestibule.

AC Ardeshir writing for the Indian Motor news in 1920, summarizes - The Ceylon Boat mail journey appeared rather dull till we arrived at Mandapam Camp at 5 p.m., where all the passengers to Ceylon were examined by a doctor and given a passport. Here the mainland of India practically terminated, being connected with the Island of Rameshwaram by an exceedingly pretty roller bridge, a mile and a half long constructed by the South Indian Railway over the Pamban Channel. The views hereafter were glorious—the magnificent ocean sights, the soft sandy beaches, and the clusters of babul, tamarind and palm trees mingled with the distant glimpses of the tall gopurams of the great Rameshwar Temple. At about 6 p.m., slowly the train reached Dhanuskhodi, the terminus, going right up to the pier, where a few yards off, the boat was awaiting our arrival. We alighted and our luggage was transshipped free of charge. Within fifteen minutes the boat steamed off, leaving the melancholy shores and speeding onwards towards Talaimannar. We covered the short distance of 22 miles within two hours. The sea was very calm. The Customs officers pestered the visitors with a scrutiny of their luggage. We were again transferred to the train which awaited our arrival on the pier. This route must be considered a great blessing as compared with the old Tuticorin-Colombo route, which necessitated a sea journey of twelve hours.

Trimurti provides an Indian perspective in his book ‘Chennaivasi’, emphasizing the messy parts, the coal soot that settled over passengers, the number of pilgrims amongst the passengers and the eagerness to visit the temple at Rameshwaram. They record the ferry journey to Talaimannar as a two hour torture of sailing through choppy waters, alighting there and then the wait for the overnight train to Colombo. By then Ceylon had become SriLanka and India had become independent.

In 1952 the train was to figure in a murder mystery – that of businessman Alavander and this was the much written about and talked about Alavandar case. That my friends is another fascinating forensic story involving Prabhakar & Devika menon, the people responsible for his murder, to be retold another day…

And so that long rail journey to the lands’ end continued on for decades until nature’s fury destroyed the clackety clak routine. That was in 1964, when the great Rameshwaram cyclone occurred and a Dhanushkodi passenger train was swept off the tracks by giant waves killing all of its 110 occupants. Ironically the first survivors of the cyclone in the island took shelter in the railway station! Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a customs office, post and telegraphs office, two medical institutions, a railway hospital, a panchayat union dispensary, a higher elementary school and port offices. But after the cyclone, nothing was left and Dhanushkodi was turned into a ghost town. The connection to Sri Lanka continued by ferry between Rameshwaram and Talaimannar till the early 90’s after which traffic was again disrupted due to the LTTE affair. On the Sri Lankan side the Mannar line was out of service after the Mannar Bridge was demolished by the fighters.

In 2011 the ferry service between Tuticorin abnd Colombo was restarted, this time on a grand scale with a modern ferry ship named Scottia Prince, owned by Flamingo Liners. But after a few months, this ran into financial difficulties, low traffic, high operating costs etc and ceased operations.

A bridge across the Palk Strait is still a pipe dream, and there are many obstacles to the plan, supposedly objections from religious groups coupled with a doubt over its financial viability.

Meanwhile, IRCON were entrusted with the contract to rebuild the tracks and infrastructure on the Lankan side and that part has been completed. Nowadays we have train 6701 up and train 6702 down, plying between Rameshwaram to Madras, restored. The ferry service to Talaimannar is yet to restart, but that could happen soon after the piers are repaired, and then we would have succeeded in reestablishing the vintage 1914 boat mail route…

Colonialism and modernisation; history and development of southern railway a case study – SR Saritha
Chennaivasi By T.S. Tirumurti
Southern India: Its History, People, Commerce, and Industrial Resources By Arnold Wright
The Technical World Magazine, Volume 22 Pg 60-65
Boston evening Transcript – April 4th 1914 – Article about Pamban Bridge opening 
Various Madras Musings articles by the erudite S Muthiah - One, two, Three

Pics - Wikipedia - thanks to all uploaders...

Unni Moosa of Elambulassery

Posted by Maddy Labels:

And the Jungle Moplahs of Malabar

Many of you would remember this name from the stories of Pazhassi raja and the blockbuster Mamooty movie where Moosa’s role was taken up by Captain Raju (Sankaradi in an earlier version). He was certainly a colorful character and never really brought to light. As one of the first people who went up in arms against the British taking over Malabar, working with the Padinjare Kovilakom Ravi Varma, I thought he deserved a deeper study. So let us take a look at what he was upto in those turbulent years when the British were making hay in Malabar, consolidating their spoils of war with Tipu and subjugating the people of Malabar under their rule. One must also bear in mind that the situation in those days was certainly turbulent and law and order was particularly lacking in many places after the decimation of feudal order by the marauding Mysore Sultans. Many of the so called anti-British Moplah guerillas of that time, though united against the British carried on (or allowed) activities not condonable at any time, such as kidnapping children for slavery, which the British used to good effect in their propaganda.

Let us start by going to Elambulassery, a place not many of you would have heard of. As you head to Ottappalam in Palghat and go towards Karimpuzha, you will reach a typical Palakkad village with all related objects like a temple, a river, and has its own characteristics and intricacies. Not far from Mannarghat or the silent valley, it is adjacent to the Tipu Sultan road. Was this remote village of any strategic importance in the past considering its proximity to the Nila through which the forest produce from the nearby hills were dispatched to the port of Ponnani? Was it also a check point on the important road which Tipu Sultan laid for the transport of his troops? What connection did it have to the Zamorin and the Padinjare kovilakom? Let us go there to find out, and it is said that if you do you will even see some of the old fortified houses that were so important in the wars with the British, silent testimony to the efforts of that warrior we will get to know.

Unnimoosa starts to figure in the historic records after he was employed by Arshad Beg Khan (who could not really subdue him) as the local chieftain of Elumpulassery amsam in 1788 with an armed retinue of some 100 moplahs. As part of his employment he had to collect tax revenues from the various people of the region and remit it to Tipu’s coffers. After Tipu ceded Malabar to the EIC in 1792, like many others, Unnimoosa forwarded his claims over a vast tract of land to the EIC. The joint commissioners would not agree and this started his rebellion against the British.

Captain Bowls reporting from Angadipuram describes the nefarious activities of the Jungle Moplahs in 1792 – These freebooters from their haunts and general residence are called Jungle Mopillas, are led by Unni Moosa -  an open avowed robber, and as having several places of residence in different parts of the country, with his principal stronghold in the Jungles, “ fortified, as most of the houses in this country are, with loop holes, surrounded with a dike,” adding, that “this man kept with him four head moopas (or heads of gangs) and 200 armed men, besides many other “ inferiors who infest the jungles, and pay him tribute, and, acknowledging him for their chief, join him when required ;” and to this description, Captain Bowls subjoins the information; that the major part of the Mopillas of Velatre (which is an inland southern district adjoining to the Sukhein or Ghaut mountains) are, in respect to their habits and practices, of the above description, from the situation being favorable, as affording at any time a secure retreat from the more open countries nearer to the coast; and that all the principals or headmen of this banditti, having already enriched themselves by this way of life, had, from about the middle of the year 1792, appeared, from fear of our Government, to disband, though they had at the same time secretly retained their followers, who until the arrival of the battalion at Angarypar, used frequently at night to assemble and commit depredations as usual, after which it was their custom immediately to divide the spoil and to disperse.

It afterwards appeared that the above mentioned Uni Moota Moopa was also concerned (as all these jungle Mopillas more or less are) in the nefarious traffic trade, with the first of kidnapping the children, male and female, of the Nayars, whom they afterwards conducted to the sea coast, to be sold to the Commanders or Supercargoes of European vessels for exportation, but more particularly to the French at Mahé, and to the Dutch at Cochin, without altogether excepting (though we believe in a less degree) those who frequented the English port of Tellicherry; and although the French Chief at Mahé might personally disapprove, and appear to discourage the practice, yet it was not, we apprehend, in his power entirely to restrain it; so that, including the avowed traffic carried on in these unfortunate natives of Malabar from the Dutch port of Cochin, the country was thus annually drained of its population, and a number of its most helpless and innocent inhabitants unjustly entrapped into, and consigned over to, all the horrors of a life of perpetual slavery in a foreign land; to check and restrain which, as far as possible, the members of the Commission from Bombay, did, on the 9th of October 1792, frame and publish certain regulations (as per copy in the Voucher No. 25) denouncing punishment by penalties, fines, and scourging, against child-stealers, or dealers in the purchase or sale of children for exportation; but we fear that the avidity of gain in individuals, and the unprincipled habits of the' jungle and other Mopillas, who have long been in the practice of deriving emolument from thus preying on their fellow creatures, have, on the experiment, proved too powerful for these inhibitions, which were, however, all the Commissioners had then in their power to promulgate against such inveterate mischief, in the carrying on of which, the lawless part of the Mopillas found themselves so much interested.

Santosh Abraham writing about criminal categorization states - Throughout the colonial rule, the attitude of the British towards Mappilas was a mixture of positive and negative remarks and policies. The Mappilas in return also showed their dissatisfaction and resistances to the alien rule. Extracts from the colonial records clearly identifies Unni Musa as ‘chief of public robbers’ and the category of Jungle Mappilas as ‘public robbers’. John Wye’s report identified the Mappilas as ‘very turbulent, prone to robbery and the revenue always more difficult to uncover where the Mappilas prevail’. It was this kind of characterization that alienated the Moplah population in certain districts and created a base for further animosity.

The EIC having exhausted the usual measures decided to apply force to quell the unrest and deputed Gen Dow in May 1792. The military attack was quick and within a day the English overran Moosa’s fortifications and defense though he and his followers fled into the jungles (Note that at that point of time, this was all part of the Velattiri Raja’s kingdom or Valluvanad and is termed in EIC records as Velatre).

In 1793, the Province of Malabar was formed. Major Dow suggested that the troublesome Jungle Moplah districts be given back to the chief’s if only to reduce the headache to the British. A general amnesty was announced but the ‘troublemakers’ would not come to Calicut due to the fear that they may be attacked by Nayars lying in wait to retaliate against previous outrages committed by them. Even though the English worked to bring about a reconciliation, yet another rebellion popped up when Hydrose of Vettathunad decided to go against them.

Let’s study the description of Hydrose - But we soon had occasion to regret that even this general pardon had not the desired effect of inducing those jungle Mopillas to abandon their evil courses for, during the month of February, we continued to receive repeated intimations of their robberies in the Velatre and Vettutnaad districts, the principal in the latter district being a man called Hydroos, whose people are represented to have “ committed several inhuman murders, and daring robberies, besides “ alarming that part of the country in general, sending threatening letters “to extort money and provisions from the peaceable inhabitants, on pain “ of having their houses burnt and themselves put to death”, both which species of outrage are said to have actually happened at this period; and in consequence of these advices, Major Dow was deputed to proceed into Vettutnaad and to endeavor to bring in Hydroos, whom he did accordingly induce to appear before him and to promise to follow the Major to Calicut, though from some ill-conceived terror he afterwards made his escape on the road, and still continues more or less his marauding course of life.

The British mediator Maj Dow tried to calm them down by offering employment with the company, employ them as Moopans with 100 and 50 armed Moplahs respectively (at Valluvanad, Eranad, Ramanaad, Ponnanai, Chavakkad and Vettathunaad) but this would not satisfy them either. The alarmed British tried to appease Unnimoosa by formally appointing him as Elumbulasseri amsam head and offered a generous allowance and a pension. But Unnimoosa continued to rebel about the tax revenues (that it was his) and eventually the British withdrew their appointment and declared him an outlaw.

It was during this period that the Shamnath affair reached a culmination. Swaminatha Pattar from Palghat was by that time the chief minister of the reigning Zamorin, having risen up the ranks from the lowly position as cook (just like Ramayyan Dalava). Between the years 1790-92, he collected taxes from Malabar and remitted them to Keshava Pillai in Travancore, while at the same time working for Tipu Sultan. Later as he saw the EIC moving into power, he sided with them.
The British were deep in conversation what to do with the Jungle moplahs, and noted that they had also been a big problem for Tipu and Arshad Beg Khan, who both had to finally buy them off by giving them direct employment in the Mysore forces.

Captain Burchall led the fight against Unni Moosa and surrounded his abode. Incidentally among the soldiers of Unni Moosa, there were also two Mysorean advisers, Massod Khan and Mohammed Yacoub. Unnimoosa escaped as the night fell and the moon went behind the clouds, but the Mysoreans were captured, and the British found correspondence between the Moosa and Tipu Sultan (but all dating to the 1791 timeframe). They also saw that Tipu would only offer asylum if Moosa escaped and went to Mysore, since Tipu had already concluded a deal with the EIC. The British took over Moosa’s house and convert it to a British advance post.

We note the entries in the supervisor’s diary - From the Malabar Supravisor's Diary, dated 11th May 1794. Unni Mutta or more properly Unui Mussa Muppan was also offered a pension of 1,000 rupees per annum, but he refused it and renewed his pretensions to a share of the revenue when the Supra, visor revoked the above agreement and offered a reward of 3,000 rupees for his capture. Captain MacDonald seized his house on Pandalur hill, one of the robber haunts, and demolished it as well as six other fortified houses—Diary of Malabar Supravisor, dated 16th, 23rd and 30th June 1794. Unni Mutta however continued in open rebellion till 1797 when on the visit of the Governor and Commander-in- Chief of Bombay to Malabar, he was pardoned and restored to his estate of Elampulasheri on condition of "his finding good and sufficient security for his future peaceable demeanor."

Subsequently the British tried again to get him to come for a trial, but Unnimoosa who was in hiding near Cherplassery avoided the summons with many excuses. Anyway peace was restored and Choota Moopa was appointed in charge, together with Unnimoosa’s uncle and brother.

Around this period, Shamnath was involved in a negotiation with the king of Neringranaad which failed.  The meeting did not go well and Shamnath who was returning to Calicut was waylaid by the Ravi Varma’s of the Padinjare Kovilakom and was stabbed in the back and left for dead. He was subsequently treated by Chief Surgeon Wye, the Englishman who incidentally became the next collector of South Malabar.

He was joined by his brother in law and powerful Athan Gurukkal of Manjeri who was furious with the British murder of Unni Moosa’s brother Adam Khan. We had discussed his involvement in the Manjeri temple affair some years ago. Chemban Pokker was another colorful character who joined up with these two. Chembum Poker was originally employed by the East India Company as revenue officer in Shernaad, but after accusations of bribery he was imprisoned at Palghat from where he escaped. Walker records that after he had established himself, several moopans from Shernad and Ernad joined him with six to 40 men each. Chemban Pokker built a fortified house with small field guns, mounted on his house and on top of a shrine. He had a retinue of 45 men with muskets and four with swords. The merchants on the banks of the Calicut and Mahe rivers supplied Chemban Pokker with arms and ammunition.

The Padinjare kovilakom Rajas were soon fighting the EIC and in this they found Unni Moosa a valuable ally. And as fate would make one of its many twists, Itti kombi Achan of Palghat (a member of the family that bought about the whole sorry state of Malabar and Palghat) joined these guerilla forces as he was also unhappy with the treatment meted out by the company. A few words explaining that situation adds valuable perspective. After the British came into power, Itti Panki Achan was retained as titular raja and was required to remit Rs 80,000 as taxes to the EIC per annum. Soon after his death, Itti Kombi Achan, his nephew became the heir to the position, but he was not that keen to be a servant of the British. Numerous agreements were signed ne after the other but the Achan continued his defiance against the EIC. Finally the EIC brought on a charge of killing two Brahmins, against him in 1798. As he refused to comply, the EIC put a booty on his head and he soon fled his Kalpathi house. This coincided with the Ravi Varma and Unni moosa episode and they were also part of the reward scheme upon their capture by anybody.

Unni moosa decided to continue his fight and was joined by Hydrose, Chempan Pokker, Attan (Hassan) Gurukkal, Puttola sheik. Pokker and Gurukkal were actually EIC police constables, but they were soon declared outlaws by the EIC after the overtures with Unnimoosa. Hydrose was soon captured at Ponnani and sentenced to death, but got his death at the gallows commuted to life imprisonment and was transported to Botany Bay in Australia. That left just Moosa, Pokker and Gurukkal against the EIC. Menon explains - While Athan Gurikkal's speeches may have spoken of the sufferings of the mappila community, he never appealed to the mappilas as Muslims to rise in defense of their religion. There was no natural affinity with the invading Mysorean ruler on grounds of a shared religion: both Unni Moota and Athan Gurikkal opposed the creation of a new capital at Feroke, further inland, which shifted the focus away from Calicut. However I am not too sure about that since a joint communique had indeed been issued by Pokker and Moosa. It read – Since the last year, the company’s government had begun to persecute several of the sects of Islam, which since the oppression was increasing, would not be protected but destroyed.

In 1798, Unni Moosa wrote thus to Mellingchamp – For what reason, you, your nairs, head chetties, other chetties, and custom people have put an end to my makama (tax revenues)? (Unless you restore it) I will take good care of you and your chetties. Do not think I have any fear of you or your battalions. I want you to make sure that nothing happens during Makaram to you or your chetties. Have you not heard of the murders and robberies committed even at the katcheri and Perintalmanna? Even in your dreams, do not think of putting a stop to what I do. Have you not heard of my bravery?

Up in the North, Pazhassi Raja was tightening his rebellion against the British, we talked about it in some detail earlier and we have the articles penned by Nick Balmer in deeper explanation. The Pazhassi rebellion was but naturally supported by Moosa, Gurukkal and Pokker. But adding to the Moplah’s nervousness was the fact that armed bodies of nairs were formed by the EIC to take on the Moplahs, in these regions. The noose tightened and their days were numbered.

The end to Moosa’s life is recorded thus - In 1800, however, he joined the Falassi (Pychy) Raja's Rebellion and in 1802 he was shot along with many other rebels in an attack on his fortified house at Kalipar hill by Captain Watson's Kolkars. The Bombay Courier 22nd may 1802 explains - We have great pleasure in announcing that accounts have been received of the destruction of Uny Mootah and six of his gang, a well-known robber who has for many years pervaded the Province of Malabar in defiance of all authority, and to the terror of its peaceable inhabitants. It has fallen to the lot of Captain Watson of this establishment, who has the command of the armed Police in Malabar, finally to extirpate this notorious freebooter; and the address and gallantry with which he accomplished the object, stand highly conspicuous.

Captain Watson, receiving information on or about the 29th ultimo, of banditti having arrived from Mongery at Uny Mootha's fortified post in the hills, near to Mannar Ghaut, proceeded with a party of his armed peons at five in the morning to the place of rendezvous; the fortified post was surrounded by an impenetrable jungle, and accessible only by a narrow foot-path, which admitted of not more than one man to proceed at a time; the party fought every inch of their progress to the end of this foot-path, under every disadvantage and difficulty, arising principally from the uncommon steepness of its ascent; after having gained this point, they had to carry three very strongly fortified defenses; these obstacles they however finally overcame, but not without the loss of three killed and twelve badly wounded. The rebels on finding themselves so closely pushed, took refuge in the Syramby (or upper roomed fortified house) which this jungle surrounded, and which they defended for some time with uncommon bravery and constancy; the doors and windows of this lodgment resisting every effort which was made to force them, Captain Watson conceived the project of undermining the house, and obtaining the necessary implements for the purpose, immediately commenced the work; the rebels within annoying the working parties all the while with large stones which had been suspended by ropes from a projection of the roof—these were cut down to interrupt the progress below, and their rapid fall did much execution among them; in spite, however, of every annoyance they accomplished their undertaking by noon, when a part of the wall of the upper and lower rooms fell, and brought the Banditti down with it, who, in the act of falling, actually levelled their muskets and fired at Captain Watson, fortunately without effect. Several were found to have taken refuge in this Syramby; unhurt from the fall, they immediately made for the foot path; but Captain Watson having most judiciously guarded every avenue at the bottom of the hill, by which an escape might have been made, they were intercepted in their retreat and the number completely annihilated; on proceeding to the demolished building two women were discovered; they eagerly enquired as to the fate of the party, and being informed, one of them exclaimed "then Uny Moota is killed." Captain Watson on hearing this acceptable exclamation collected the bodies, and Uny Moota's being pointed out by the female in question, it was exposed and recognized by numbers who assembled for the purpose of viewing this late animated corpse, which only a few hours before the fears of the inhabitants of Malabar considered unconquerable; some of whom even mocked the party on their march to this fortified post as in the pursuit of an object which would lead to their certain destruction. Another noted robber named Goorcal, one of the Banditti, and distantly related to Uny Moota, escaped the fate of his comrades; but the vigilance of Captain Watson, it is to be expected, will render his career but short. Besides the casualties above enumerated, one Native Officer was killed and four wounded.

The Ravi Varma’s fled to Travancore and the Itti Kombi Achan surrendered to Capt Roamnie of Palghat. The Achan was transferred to the Tellicherry jail where he was found dead of apparent suicide (swallowing a diamond!) or murder. Chempan Pokker remained faithful to the Pazhassi Raja, fighting mostly around Tamarasseri. In the skirmishes with the English troops he was also shot dead. The Pazhassi raja as we know, died later, in 1805. The Zamorins of Calicut, reduced to collecting small pensions from the British continued on, the 600 years of glory forgotten in their new struggle for survival. The British went on to rule India and enrich themselves…

If you remove some of the bombast in some of those colonial writings and look at it dispassionately, you can see that it was all related to property and taxes. There was a certain period when the lowly placed Moplah suddenly found himself in a situation of power following the Mysore invasions, after the flight of many landlords to Travancore. When the British came, that short sojourn was rudely interrupted and they found themselves facing again the old days of servitude or potential gains and equality if they won a fight against the new British lords. They chose the latter, if only for their own benefit, but not for any kind of larger regional issue or need to dislodge an invader. Moosa, Pokker and Gurukkal belonged to those fighting for their old days of glory and the riches they had garnered all of a sudden, from forceful collection of taxes, for their own upkeep. But in the historic annals, they were people who fought the British who were of course doing just the same, enriching themselves at the Malabar natives expense, and therefore these fighters also qualify as a ‘different class’ of freedom fighters…

Kerala District gazetteers – Palghat – Dr CK Kareem
The Moplah rebellion and its genesis – Conrad Wood
Houses by the Sea – Dilip Menon
Colonialism and the making of criminal categories in British India - Santhosh Abraham
Reports of a Joint Commission – Malabar 1792-1793
A Collection of Treaties, Engagements -Malabar manual II
Selections from Calcutta gazettes of the years 1784-1823
Swaminatha Pattar 

The Calicut Song

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Interestingly, in the late medieval times, there used to be a song sung by the lascars of Goa and Malabar. The song was apparently known as the Calicut song. The first time it was documented in English was when Anna, an ayah from Calicut mentioned it to her memsahib in 1860. I will cover Anna’s interesting story in a separate article, but this one is about the song itself.

There is one other recorded instance when seeing the people of Calicut, the traveler Abdul Razzak burst into song.  I had written about his visit to Calicut during 1445, some time ago 

He sang (not very nice though!)

Extraordinary beings, neither men nor devils;
At sight of whom the mind takes alarm!
If I were to see such in my dreams
My heart would be in a tremble for many years!
I have had love passages with a beauty whose face was like the moon;
But I could never fall in love with a Negress.

But this is not like that. It is more a song of hope. The song was originally in Portuguese and perhaps originated in a Portuguese ship, written by a seasick and lonely bard. When it was first mentioned in the referenced book, it was considered to be of Portuguese or Malabar Syrian Christian origin and narrated in Malayalam. Its translation went thus

Part I


Very far went the ship, in the dark, up and down, up and down. There was very little sky; the sailors couldn't see anything; rain was coming.
Now darkness, lightning, and very little rain; but big flashes, two yards long, that looked as if they fell into the sea.
On the third day the Captain looks out for land, shading his eyes with his hand. There may be land. The sailors say to him, "What do you see?" He answers, "Far off is the jungle, and, swinging in a tree, is an old monkey, with two little monkeys in her arms. We must be nearing land."
Again the Captain looks out; the sailors say to him, "What do you see?" He answers, "On the shore there walks a pretty little maiden, with a chattee * on her head; she skips, and runs, and dances as she goes. We must be nearing land."
The storm begins to rage again, and hides the land: at last it clears a little. The sailors say to the Captain, "What do you see?" He answers, "I see a man ploughing; two bullocks draw the plough. We must be nearing land." It is all true, they have gained the shore.

Part II


The ship's on the sea - Which way is it coming?   Right home to land.  What cargo has it? The ship brings the sacrament and praying beads.
The ship's on the sea - Which way is it coming?   Right home to land.  What cargo has it ? The ship brings white paper and the Twelve Apostles.
The ship comes home to land - What cargo does it bring? Silver money, prophets, and holy people.
The ship comes home to land - What does it bring? All the saints, and holy people, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The ship comes to our doors - Who brings it home? Our Saviour. Our Saviour bless the ship, and bring it safely home.

Trying to trace its origin led me to discussions about its similarity to a Brazilian Portuguese ship song named ‘A Nau Caterineta’ or ‘The ship Caterineta’.It is somewhat different, is relatively long and various versions can be listened to on YouTube. While certain academics maintain that the Calicut song is similar to the A Nau Caternieta, I find it completely different. Some opine that the origin of the Brazilian song is linked to Calicut, apparently they feel the song was first sung by the distraught sailors on Cabral’s ship as they floundered at sea on the west coast of Africa and reached Brazil, instead of Calicut, in the year 1500.

But more specific studies according to Almeida Garrett, show that the Nau Catarineta (Nau Catarineta in Brazil) is a romanticized anonymous poem, was probably inspired by the tumultuous voyage of the ship San Antonio, which transported Jorge de Albuquerque Coelho (son of Duarte Coelho Pereira, the donee the hereditary captaincy of Pernambuco), from the port of Olinda, Brazil, to the port of Lisbon, in 1565. As the song goes - The ship has been long at sea, and food has given out.  Lots are drawn to see who shall be eaten, and the captain is left with the shortest straw.  The cabin boy offers to be sacrificed in his stead, but begs first to be allowed to keep lookout till the next day.  In the nick of time he sees land and the men are saved.

But whatever said, the reference to Calicut is certainly curious, except for the link that the earliest lascars were from Malabar and Goa. So who are the lascars? A lascar was a sailor or militiaman from the Indian Subcontinent or other countries east of the Cape of Good Hope, employed on European ships from the 16th century until the middle of the 20th century. The word itself originates from the Persian word Lashkar loosely supposed to mean soldier. In many ways they were ships slaves, transferred from one to another and held under tight agreements.

Baptism records from the end of the 17th century in East Greenwich show that a number of young Indians from the Malabar Coast were brought to England as servants. Though it is difficult to find out exactly where these people came from, many of them were Muslim, indicating a Malabar origin. The earliest lascars were thus from the Calicut and Cochin ports. My studies indicate that many of them were originally Moplahs while there were q few of Portuguese parentage from Cochin, the Topasses. In fact the EIC captured a few of these hapless souls from Arab or Malabar ships and put them to work in theirs.

The prospect of a Moplah singing the Calicut song is unlikely as the song above is quite Christian in nature, at least the second part. It is likely that the song was popularized by the Cochin Topasses, which makes the naming of it as the Calicut song mysterious.

However many of the later day lascars were Goan Christians and people from Sylhet in Bengal. This regional slant came about by the supplier’s choice (The supplier was termed a ghat serang). Bombay recruited deck workers from the Malabar Coast, Ahmedabad and Surat; the stewards and catering staff came from Goa and the Cochin area, and the engine room was manned by Pathans and Oaunjabius. We come across noting’s of Moplah riveters .The P & O Kalasis, or Seamen, come mainly from the Portuguese colony of Daman and adjacent areas in Gujarat, from parts of Kathiawar, the Ratnagiri district and other places in the Konkan, from Cochin and the Malabar coast generally. Indians from the above areas sign Articles in Bombay and were thus always known as "Bombay crews".

Assad Bughlah explains - The birth of the port of Calicut on the West Indian coast was to a large extent the contributions of Arab traders and sailors as well as the nascent local community of lascars who played a critical role in the management and policing of port activities and in building, repairing and manning of sea-vessels. By the 15th century, the lascars had attained good reputation of their expertise in seamanship, shipbuilding and port activities and successive European powers, battling to hold their grip in the Indian Ocean region, relied heavily on the services of the lascars. In 1498, Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea, sought advice from the Arab navigator ibn Majid and hired a lascar at Malindi (a coastal settlement in East Africa) to steer the Portuguese ship across the Indian Ocean to Calicut on the Malabar coast of India. Portuguese ships continued to employ lascars in large numbers throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The need for employing the lascars arose because of high rates of sickness and death of European sailors on India-bound ships and their frequent desertions in India, thus leaving the ships short of crew for the return voyages. The Europeans preferred the lascars because of their daring spirit, hard work, resilience, skills and geographical knowledge of the Indian Ocean.

According to Gundert’s dictionary they were also called Kolal’s and Khalassi’s in early Malayalam. His boss or petty lascar was a tandal/tindell. The entire native team was headed by the Seranag. We will in forthcoming articles cover the narrator of the Hindoo fairy tales, the Malabar lascars and their miserable lives under the British, and finally a story of the death of many of them in a WWII attack.

Old Deccan Days: Or, Hindoo Fairy Legends Current in Southern India - Mary Frere
The Lascars: The forgotten Diaspora in the Indian Ocean PAR ASSAD BHUGLAH

K V Krishna Ayyar – The doyen of Malabar history

Posted by Maddy Labels:

I will always remember this historian with a bit of fondness, for not only did he kindle my interest in history, but also had a hand in some of our family affairs at Palghat. He was a friend of my great grandfather, who together with JA Thorne got Ayyer started on the history path, Ayyar was a friend of my uncle and my brother talks about his later days in Kudallur and Pallavur, often. I never met him formally, unfortunately, but am now compiling this short article about him after reading all his books and some of his very interesting contributions to other collections. Ayyer later did yeoman service as a lecturer and was later professor of history at the Zamorin’s college (Guruvayurappan College) Calicut. But let us get to the details of his life and works.

We get a good idea of his life from the study of early Indian history writers by Subodh Kumar Mukopadhaya who introduces him as a person specializing in micro history and places him in the company of so called regional historians. That itself is a contradiction, for Ayyer’s early studies were on Greeks and the British. As the late Zamorin Puthiya Kovilaguth Manavedan Kunjaniyan Raja explained to me, the change occurred when he met Vidwan Ettan Thampuran who had by then compiled the Agnivamsha Rajakatha and provided the required inputs for Iyers work on the Zamorins in English, supported presumably by collector JA Thorne. The result of course was the much referred, easy reading account of the ‘Zamorins of Calicut’.

KVK’s ancestors moved to Pallavur (where my maternal side of the family is located) and he hailed from the Vekkamadom in Palghat (Perhaps at Kudallur). It is not clear where Ayyar born in 1894, schooled, it must have been at Alathur in those days and later he must have done his pre degree at Victoria College, before moving to MCC Madras to complete his BA Honors in History and Economics from the University of Madras. He came to Calicut in 1917 or a little earlier and must have been referred to the patron of Zamorin’s Guruvayoorappan college, the reigning patron Vidwan Ettan Thampuran with whose family he developed a good friendship. His next appointment was as a lecturer in history at the Zamorin’s college. Interestingly while he was teaching, he also completed his MA in English language and literature from the Madras University, by 1935. It is said that as an avid history enthusiast, he contributed over a hundred articles in English and Malayalam on subjects relating to Kerala. He also held various positions in academic bodies during his time and was considered an authority in the field. After joining the Zamorin’s College as a lecturer in 1919, he continued there till he retired in 1952 as the Vice Principal. At some later date he had a house in Malavya Street, Coimbatore as well, though my brother mentions seeing him often at Pallavur, riding his cycle, while being based at Kudallur.

However, it was not Malabar which figured in his early studies, but Britain and Greece. The first contributions were actually ‘An outline history of Greece’ and ‘The crossing of the swords and the bid for the empire’, both beginners text books and are works which I have not been able to unearth as yet. He later zoomed in on the history of Malabar by penning the famous ‘Zamorins of Calicut’ in 1938 and later the limited circulation work ‘A history of Kerala’ 1965 (An abridged version called A short history of Kerala is also available and this was a college text book published in 1966).  He did a couple of other books too, a history of Guruvayoor in 1986 and a very short book with Mary Samuel David titled ‘Making of History’.

Krishna Iyer is always modest when he uses words and in a later version of the history of Kerala book, mentions – I have no theory to prove nor a model to sustain. He wrote history on the go, as he collected information and always asked to hear fresh ideas and information of discoveries, ever ready to revise his opinions and states that history is to be used only on verifiable evidence (Hecataeus 550BC). This is the basis he used in all his work and that perhaps explains the anomaly I noted in the earlier paragraph.

It is interesting to note that KVK calls history his life time hobby. In one of his books, he pays homage to his professors KB Sundaresan of Victoria College and Rev E Montieth Macphail as well as Fernand E Corley of MCC Madras.

Subodh Kumar Mukopadhayaya his critic finds that he had an easy command of the English language, using words effectively and upto the mark when it comes to narration. He does feel that the book on the Zamorins was written with a definite attempt to put his patrons in a favorable light and because he received help and support in compiling it. But he agrees that all those books and the sources which we have access to today, were as not available to KVK in those days. Other than that, he considers KVK as an Indian pioneer in the art of unearthing micro history or regional studies as compared to national history.

KVK explained his opinion of ‘history’ as follows in a personal letter to Subodh Kumar. Just reading it and absorbing the content makes me wish that I had him as a teacher. How I would have loved to discuss all those notions running through my mind, theories, hypotheses, silly tangential thoughts, bouncing them on the formidable wall he would have formed with his treasure house of knowledge. And I feel so silly when I think that he was living just a few yards away from me, for so many years.

Quoting Subodh and KVK - For Krishna Iyer, as for many of his professional colleagues, history is the continuous story based on evidence, of man living in groups through the ages, from the primitive food gathering stage to the conquest of planets. It is not a mere story, it is also a science. Its phenomena are logically connected with one another as those of other sciences. It has its own laws formulated on the same logical principles and in the same manner as other sciences. The only difference between history and other sciences is that we cannot test historical laws by contrived experiments. History is philosophy teaching by examples, the examples being themselves the premises on which laws and their tests are based.

KVK did not recognize any providential or divine intervention in history (I am not too sure about this conclusion by Subodh, after reading the latter work History of Guruvayoor written in his twilight years in 1984). To prove his point, he gives two examples from the Bible. The crossing of the strait by Moses and the conception of Jesus by Mary are in his (KVK’s) eyes nothing more than natural phenomena. He (KVK) believed that God had nothing to do with them. Interestingly Tagore himself stated the same in 1923 to Subodh – that ‘The purpose of history is not to preach the glory of a country, it is to reveal the truth’!

And he said – History cannot be compared to a court of Law and the historian to a Judge. Their qualifications are the same, both in knowledge and mental equipment. Both have to collect, interpret and sift their evidence and form their opinion strictly according to the laws of logic. The only difference is that in law the number of appeals is limited and suo motu (A suo moto – Latin ‘on its own motion’ situation is one in which a judge acts without being requested to do so by either party in a case) appeals are rare. In history, on the discovery of every new evidence, the historian must suo moto reconsider his judgements and affirm, amend or totally reject them.

This is amply proven by KVK in his treatment of the Cheraman perumal legend. I have perused many of KVK’s books, but had always been confused by his treatment of the legend of Cheraman Perumal, till I read the firm basis he used in his studies. In fact his first attempt at deciphering the story was in 1945, and he wrote an exemplary article on the subject. But when he later worked on the history of Kerala, he changed tacks and stuck to oft mentioned themes. I had covered this subject in more detail earlier, see thelinked article if interested. 

On a personal note, we see that KVK and his wife Chelliamma had 8 children, of whom two died at childbirth. A grandson Narayana is married to popular dancer Vijayalaksmi, daughter of Mohiniyattam exponent and danseuse Padmashri Bharati Shivaji who by the way is a cultural ambassador of Kerala though a Tamilian from Tanjavur! At pallavur, he was mentioned by some as the ghost of Kudallur, riding a bicycle at night in whites, with a flowing white beard and known to be practicing hatha-yoga at 3AM every morning. He was in later years considered an eccentric to boot, especially after his son’s death. He was also the person who instigated my uncle in becoming the local Panchayat president.

His titular work is the Zamorin of Calicut and introducing it, JA Thorne or JAT states – It is many years now since my close connection (readers may note that when the Zamorins estates started generating huge losses, the decision was finally to handover those to the care of British wards in the 1916 time frame and the person who was the British collector of those estates, working closely with the Zamorin, was JAT. He spent a decade or so in Calicut before moving on to Madurai, Andhra and finally Delhi). With the affairs of the Zamorin ended. During, and for some time after, the interesting years of that connection, I dallied with the hope of (readers may also recollect that JAT had provided very interesting and original footnotes and insights about Malabar in the Mansell Longworth Dames version of Durate Barbosa’s accounts)someday sitting down to the task which Mr Krishna Ayyar has now completed. But more leisure was needed than I could find: the mass of literature to be studied and used was formidable and some of it was inaccessible to the student in India. Mr Ayyar would be the first to admit the gaps in his list of authorities. But it would be ungracious, and ungrateful, to swell on defects inseparable from work done at a distance from the great libraries. To compensate for them the reader will here find collected much of value from indigenous sources. If I may say so, Mr Ayyar has used this material (often difficult and intractable) with nice discrimination.

For me personally, The Zamorins of Calicut was the book that kindled my personal interest in history and provided me the necessary impetus to search deeper and deeper, while at the same time presenting what little I learnt, to interested readers. But the book that gave me more satisfaction was the History of Kerala, a personal gift from him to my uncle (Interestingly he changed my uncle’s name U Vijayan to match the Iyer fashion – making it PU Vijayan or Pallavur Ullattil Vijayan in his autograph!!) and which I possess now with great pride. Sadly my uncle did not see the resurgence of a history interest in me for he had passed on by then, or he would have been the first person to provide valuable insights and contributions as he himself was a master on the topic.

The other work namely History of Guruvayoor – I am not too sure if much has changed between the original version and the one published by the dewaswam, provides a collection of legends and we can surmise that it was made to order in 1984 in terms of interpretation and meant to be a handbook for pilgrims, not the history student.

The book ‘Making of history’ coauthored with Mary Samuel David in 1979 is somewhat of a letdown in terms of volume and content, for it features just three of his articles and five of Mary’s. Most interesting is the article – ‘Some parallelisms in the thoughts and events of the East and the West’ which should be republished in a newspaper if possible, for reading it tells you how differences can still bring about unity! You can see that he did extensive studies on the Bible before writing it. The next two are equally interesting, tracing history from words and finally a summary of cultural development in Kerala through the ages.

I understand that he did a number of radio talks on the arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch, Arabs on the Malabar Coast and their interaction with the locals but I have heard none and I am sure AIR might have copies in their archives; His newspaper articles on Kerala land tenure have not been collected and compiled, but I understand some efforts are on. Wikipedia states that two of his students, P. P. Ummer Koya and C. H. Mohammed Koya, who became ministers in the Kerala cabinet later compelled him to assume membership and adorn chairmanship of many committees on History, Archeology and Anthropology of Kerala. With all this, one can see what an enormous impact this doyen had on the history scene in Kerala.

I still recall, all but ten years back, when I myself stepped into the history world, I could walk into the bookshops and pick up book copies, yellowed with age. I still recall my visit some years ago to a well-known publisher in Calicut who bluntly told me that such books do not sell. Today history books are snapped up in months and so many are published with increasing regularity. Without doubt we must commend the efforts of pioneers like KVK for making history simple to read, understand and enjoy and not a topic to be feared or shrugged off or used as a sleep inducer for one suffering from mild insomnia.

Most readers would not have had the good fortune to read some of his fine articles which have been published in ancient historical journals, some of them cover subjects like the Tirunavaya mamankham, Cheraman Perumal, Kerala’s relations with the outside world, New light on old problems. An interesting anthropological article of his covers the Chatan – a devil or disease.

I understand that his other hobbies included astrology, black magic and homeopathy. He was a Freemason and was associated with the RSS. Prof.Ayyar passed away on 4th March 1982 at Coimbatore.

That my friends is a bit about Prof Ayyar, a pioneer of sorts when it comes to Malabar history as told by a native. I hope you will all read his writings some day and learn some lessons of those times and people, of the special culture that we all share….


Historiography in Modern India - Subodh Kumar Mukopadhayaya

Pic from Zamorins of Calicut rear cover, courtesy Calicut University Publications

Calicut of the 1880’s

Posted by Maddy Labels:

From the reminiscences of an Englishmen….

Let me start by outlining a charming study of Calicut in the 1880’s, extracted from a chapter on Edwin Lester Linden Arnold’s capital two volume book on coffee plantation in South India. Lester was the son of the illustrious Indophile Sir Edwin Arnold, the founder of the Mahabodhi society and author of ‘Light of Asia’. Lester was born in India and after education at Cheltenham in England, first tried his hand at cattle breeding and then came to Cochin to work as an assistant coffee planter (chik-doree) for the Cochin Raja who had acquired a large tract in the hills. It was during this period that he wrote the books about coffee cultivation after spending a year setting up a coffee estate at Nelliyampati or Anamalai hills, after passing through Calicut. Later he went back to Britain after contracting malaria and settled into a career in journalism but later took to writing romance and mystery books as it was a time when Conan Doyle and others were making hay, with those genres.

Like my last article, this obliquely touches the topic of coffee, coffee plantations of Malabar and is set in May 1881, just a few years after Edward Lear had passed through Calicut and made his accounts, a subject which I had written about earlier. 

So here goes.

We are looking at a period when there was famine and rice shortage in Malabar and rice was being delivered from Ceylon. Lester’s ship ‘Africa’ laden with rice passes through Cochin where the waters are infested with crocodiles which the British used for shooting practice. Calicut then from the sea was not much, but just a line of open shanties on the beach, a white lighthouse, and the usual flagstaff, from which the Union Jack flutters gaily. The palm trees hide all the rest of the town, and fringe the coast northward and southward as far as the eye can reach. The author is surprised by the hat palm (toppi kuda) umbrella worn by people, and is told that what was once a great emporia for trade and a source for Calico cloth has gone down sadly in worldly prosperity, and is now nothing but a police station and the residence of some European coffee and mercantile agencies. He concludes that it once was a great place since it still had a Jewish colony southwards of the town comprising pale skinned Jews who are supposed to be the direct descendants of those Solomon the Magnificent sent to the "gorgeous East "to collect ivory and peacocks for his palaces.

The strand (shoreline – beach road) was a very animated scene : in the background long low lines of sheds for storing rice and merchandise, and a towering hedge of palm trees rising behind them, with the tall white lighthouse overtopping even the palms ; coolies were hurrying to and fro between the cargo-boats and storehouses, bending under the weight of great rice-sacks ; half-caste writers in white European garments, with white helmets on their heads, were standing at the doors, entering each bag in their day-books ; native women, some gaily dressed in white calicoes with green or red sarees, and some not dressed at all, were running about with loads on their heads nearly as heavy as those carried by the men ; scores of naked brown children, reveling and rioting in unlimited dirt and sand, were fighting with dozens of mangy dogs for bones and scraps of melon peel ; while above the busy crowd the cawing crows occupied every coign of advantage, and the kites swept round and in and out among the masts and palm trees in easy circles, every now and then coming down like meteors, and flapping away triumphantly with part of a dead dog, a fish's head, or some such tempting morsel.

He makes way to the club house (we talked about it before – near the previous French Loge and was a planters club) which he describes thus. This club house is a very comfortable place, and much frequented by the English residents and stray planters, who come down from the hills, when fever-stricken, to see the doctor here, and imbibe the invigorating ozone of the sea-breezes. It boasts a capital reading-room, with a wide verandah, well stocked with the peculiar long-armed easy-chairs of the country, and opening directly on to the beach. Behind is a billiard-room, and across the courtyard there is a row of half a dozen comfortable bedrooms under a low thatched roof, with the inevitable verandah and punkah ropes hanging by every door-post. Then one passes down a long passage under a shady grove of palm trees, where the ripe nuts hang in great clusters at the top of the tapering stems, until the feeding department is reached, where I " tiffined " with two or three other Englishmen, one of whom subsequently turned out to be bound for the same part of the jungles as myself.

A trip to the town in a bullock cart (buggy) is described beautifully, and he concludes thus - In this gilded pill-box I meandered down the various village streets and into the open country beyond, at a pace little above a walk. I did not understand then that, if you are in a buggy and want the bullocks to go faster, you have to beat the driver, who will then transmit the "walloping" to his "cattle." We soon pick up these things; but in my innocence, on that first day, after a couple of miles of dawdling, my usually serene temper was ruffled, and I got out and belabored the sleepy white oxen with my big white umbrella a proceeding which seemed to afford the "mild Hindoo " who was driving some gentle amusement, but did not take us on a hit faster. So I got inside again, and, lighting a cheroot, resigned myself to fate with the reflection that we must do at Rome as the Romans do.

He lodges at the bungalow of a British businessman, and is taken for dinner to the Bungalow of the local Police Supdt (another brit) on foot by his hostess and led by two torch bearers in front to light the path and scare the snakes away. After dinner they puffed at their long "Trichinopolies" (also called Trichies or Tritchies, is a type of cheroot associated with the town of Tiruchirappalli) and sipping iced brandy-pawnee (brandy, ice and water (pani)), with a white-clad servant behind each chair waving a peacock-feather fan over their heads to keep away the mosquitoes. We note from the conversation that Calicut was very poor then, for the town and all the neighborhood was inundated with famine-stricken coolies at the last extremity for a meal, and so the amount of crime was wonderfully small.

Next day he has hazri (refreshments before breakfast), a tub bath and observes a rain drenched morning and the flight of many small chattering finches. He details the habitat and movements all kinds of animals, snakes, butterflies in forthcoming paragraphs, comparing them to their counterparts in the blighty, if any.

Finally we get a description of the town, the Mananchira tank and the streets. Let’s see what it looked like then. The road is something like a Devonshire lane, with high red banks on either side, but the clumps of bamboos and palms spoil the comparison. Occasionally there are European bungalows standing back from the track in their-compounds, where little white children are often to be seen playing about, attended by ayahs and men-servants. Further on there was a native street, with little open shops on either side: one shop devoted to sugar-cane hung up in bunches, and seeds and pulses exposed for sale in open vessels; another to earthenware chatties, and another to tinware. Once the different trades used to keep separate, but now they seem to be losing their exclusiveness, and take up their quarters where they can fix them.

Every now and then a string of women passed me, carrying enormous loads of grass on their heads and going at a quick trot. They are not particularly prepossessing according to our standard of female comeliness, and the hard work they do and the life they lead spoil them very early. They wear only one garment a long strip of cloth called a saree, which they wind round and round their waists so as to form a short petticoat reaching to the knees, of which they bring the spare end up over their left shoulder, and let it hang down behind. The old women do not stand on ceremony in the matter of dress, and wear clothes only according to their means. Generally they are very poor.
Occasionally a native country gentleman was met going along in a private bullock cart at the usual snail's pace, but looking perfectly contented. The native writers or clerks have absorbed some English energy, and are brisker in their movements. I actually saw one in a buggy urging the driver to go faster in very good English, which he seemed to understand perfectly. The policemen also seem conscious of their official position, and proud of their semi-European dress and broad scarlet shoulder-strap with its brass plate and number.

There is a fine tank in the centre of the town, enclosing about four acres of water, with flights of stone steps all round, and four carved archways, which have been partially destroyed by some Goths, and the material carried away to build houses. These Indian tanks are the great institutions of the towns and villages. Here everybody comes down to wash, and also to get drinking water, horrible to say. But it has been so for the last few thousand years, so nobody minds; and one may any day see groups of chattering girls and gossiping housewives dipping their brass chatties close to where a fat old gentleman, with nothing on but a towel, is splashing the water over his skin, and rubbing it in as if it were some precious ointment not to be used carelessly. The frogs also inhabit these tanks, and their heads and bright eyes are to be seen all along the margins until someone comes and disturbs their reflections, when they at once retire to the deeper parts under the broad green leaves of the lotuses in the centre of the pond. Nobody seems to mind them, or fancy they give a peculiar taste to the water, and they and the cattle and village dogs use the tank contentedly with all the villagers.

Round the tank the official bungalows and Government offices form a wide amphitheater, with graceful palms scattered everywhere, and filling up the background of the picture with a waving sea of plumes.

He hastens to conclude - Calicut seems to have a very miscellaneous trade, and the courtyard of the custom-house was piled up with merchandise of every sort and variety, waiting to be cleared, and meanwhile protected from the merciless beaks and claws of the crows and kites, with which the roof swarmed, by strong netting spread from one side of the courtyard to the other. It is a great pity, I repeat, no proper harbor can be made here; if there were one, it would be of immense importance to the "country side," and double the wealthy population of Mysore and Travancore. Probably someday the railway which now ends at Beypore (you may recall my article about the terminus completed in 1860 and was connected to Calicut in 1888) will be brought on, and a breakwater erected to shelter the shipping when the south-west monsoon blows. At present the vessels lie in the open roads, and when a storm is seen to be coming on they have to up anchor and make for the open sea, for woe to the craft which puts off sailing too long, as she speedily comes under the palm trees fringing the beach

Lester Arnold moves on to Beypore after making a good study of the people he met, remarking especially that Moplah women were merry ladies with a twinkle in their eyes, and then to Palghat. From where he proceeds to Anamallai or Nelliyampati and goes about setting up an estate, a topic we will get to another day.

A review of his books in ‘The Nation Feb 1882’ summarizes Arnold’s stay at Wayanad - The estate to which he was sent was a new one, so that we have a very clear account of the various processes by which the well-nigh impenetrable jungle is converted into a coffee plantation. The life of the planter on a new estate is a very hard one. His house is a flimsy hut, with a roof of grass and walls of a single thickness of matting, through which both wind and rain have free access. He must toil from early morning till night in the broiling sun, the terrible rain, and the yet more frightful mist which lurks in the valleys. Add to all this his solitude, the wretched food which he is often compelled to cook for himself, and the inevitable fever, and it will be seen that the planter’s lot is exceptionally trying. His amusements are few, consisting mainly of occasional Sunday visits to a neighboring planter, and a holiday excursion now and then to the plains. Hunting is almost out of the question from want of time, though elephants, tigers, and bisons, to say nothing of smaller game, abound in the forests about him. After a year principally spent in cutting roads, felling and burning trees, and making holes for the coffee-bushes, Mr. Arnold was utterly vanquished by the fever, and compelled to return to England to recruit.

That done and dusted, let us move back to the Calicut shore, straddling the Arabian Sea. Now if I told you that there were places called Conolly’s hill, Gillham rock, Coote Reef, Anchorage reef, Reliance Shoal, Camel’s Hump, Dolphins Head etc, in those days,  most people will think that I am under the influence of something. In fact some of these terms are still used by mariners, charting their journey through the western seas, or the Arabian Sea towards Cochin or Trivandrum.

Connolly’s hill
Mr. Connolly’s house, is nearly three miles north of the town of Calicut, being placed on an isolated hill. Steam vessels usually anchor in 4 fathoms, mud, with the highest tree on Connolly Hill bearing 43°.  Henry Valentine Connolly, who lived in the then Collector’s Bungalow in what was later called West Hill, Calicut, is also remembered there with a garden called ‘Connolly’s Garden.’ The bungalow now houses the Pazhassi Raja Museum and on the campus is the V.K. Krishna Menon Museum

Gillham Rock
Named after Captain Gilham, Port Officer and lodge member - Gillham Rock, on which the sea breaks occasionally, has a least depth of 1.8mts, and is the southernmost danger in the vicinity of Calicut; lies 2 miles southward from the old lighthouse, with its outer edge 1,400 yards from the shore.

Coote Reef
This place near Kallayi river mouth was named the Coote reef after the late East India Company sloop-of-war Coote which was lost there. This was the original Calicut harbor and extended westwards and southwards of the grain godowns and lighthouse. This is also the location where Hamilton saw the sunken ruins of Calicut and an Old Portuguese fort ruins. Coote Reef with a 0.9 mt depth, lies with its outer edge 1.1 miles south-southwestward from Calicut Old Lighthouse and 1,500 yards from the shore. To the south and east of the reef the bottom is soft mud, and small coasting craft anchor in about 2 fathoms at low water, partially protected from northwest winds by the reef.

The Coote story - This fine sloop-of-war sailed from Bombay under the command of Lieutenant J. S. Grieve, who had only joined her on the 15th of the Nov 1846, and, on the morning of the 1st of December, grounded on a reef near Calicut, to which port she was bound. Every exertion was made by the officers and men to get her off, but without avail, and, on the 3rd of December, she was abandoned, after all her guns and a great portion of her stores and ammunition had been safely landed. The crew were accommodated on shore until the arrival of the 'Medusa,' which took them to Bombay. The hull of the 'Coote' was sold for 10,000 rupees, but her purchaser sustained a total loss, owing to her having grounded, while being towed ashore, on a mud bank, from which it was impossible to remove her. Her unfortunate commander, Lieutenant J. S. Grieve, brother to the late Commander Albany Grieve,both smart officers and eminent surveyors, did not long survive the loss of his ship, but died at Calicut on the following 7th of April.

Anchorage Reef
Anchorage Reef, with a 3.7 mts depth, lies with its northwest edge 1.5 miles westward from Calicut Old Lighthouse, and about 800 yards (4 cables) inside the anchorage buoy. About 160 yards inshore of this reef, and 1,100 yards westward from the old lighthouse, is a rocky patch of 1J fathoms, northward of the small craft anchorage abreast the town.

Reliance Shoal
Reliance Shoal, rocky ground with 5.6mts depth, 0.5 mile wide, and 2.5 miles in length, lies parallel to the shore, its southern extremity being situated 3.5 miles west-northwestward from Calicut Old Lighthouse. The bottom around consists of soft mud.

The Camels hump (Vavulmala near Tanur)
The Camel's Hump, about 7,677 feet above high water, lies 26 miles northeastward from Calicut Lighthouse; it may be seen in clear weather as soon as a vessel is on the bank of soundings; but in the hazy weather of March and April it is frequently indistinct from the anchorage off Calicut. The southern extremity of the Kunda Range is rather abrupt, the mountains thence receding far eastward.
At 12 miles northwestward of Camel's Hump and 20 miles eastward from Kadalur Point lies the mountain named Tanote Mullay, between 4,000 and 5,000 feet in height. Dolphins Head, lying southeastward 17 miles from Calicut, shows well to a vessel coming from the north.

Dolphins head – Urotmala
Lying south-east wards 17 miles off Calicut this is a wooded hill, 900 ft above sea level can be seen by a vessel coming from the North.

On the Indian Hills – Edwin Lester Arnold
West Coast of India Pilot - H.O. Pub, Issue 159 US Government 1920
Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency: Chapters 1-9

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