Neidhal Anto’s “Yenadhu oor Thoothukudi”

Last week we reviewed Anto’s  “Cruz Fernando”. Now we are on his another book ‘’Yenadhu oor Thoothukudi . This is a slender volume on Thoothukudi in 112 pages, containing well thought out 8 chapters.

Starting from tracing the history of Thoothukudi, it meanders through Pearl fishing, Thoothukudis role in Freedom struggle, its growth as a town and city , its industrial development, its important citizens and institutions in different fields, its places of interest, and its good specific eatables. In short it speaks of different facets of Thoothukudi; and speaks well and succinctly!

The author has taken pains to collect, collate and disseminate details which easily will not come to the knowledge of any ordinary writer.

In his first chapter on the name of the town, he describes the meaning of Thirumandanagar, Thirumandiranagar and Thoothukudi. Thirumandanagar as the sea is soft (MANDAM) ; Thirumandiram as Lord Shiva taught Mandirams to Parvathy when they were on a sojourn to Tiruchendur  and Thoothukudi as drinking water had to be taken by desilting fountains  (OOTRU) in the sea shore.

He refers to the mention of this town by Augustus Caesar (BC 63- AD 14) in Roman walls, in the writings of Fr. Martin in the 17th century and in the references of Greek Astronomer Ptolemy.

The author recounts the clashes between Muslims and Hindu Paravars  for supremacy in the sea for pearl fishing and informs how a street brawl between a hindu  Parava woman and a muslim  wayward resulted in clashes and  decapacitation of  thousands of hindu fisherman forcing them to seek  succor and support  of Portuguese and ultimate conversion to Christian faith en block.

The author briefly mentions the rule of this town by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British and refers to the vain attempts of Baldeus the Calvinist preacher to get the Paravas converted to Protestantism.

Thoothukudi had been under the control of Portuguese for 126 years: under the Dutch for 141 years; and under the British for 125 years.

One should say that (Madras) Chennai had been under the British  for 350 years but Thoothukudi far more years under the western powers, yet  it  has not taken to western ways of living as( Madras)  Chennai.

The author in his chapter on pearls and chanks bemoans the shift of pearl beds from their traditional locales  and traces the cause for this,  to un mitigated pollution, and movement of ships and mechanized boats.

Writing on chanks he mentions the struggle launched by chank –gatheres  for a half anna rise in their coolie.(half anna equals to 3 paise ). He lists out varieties of chank with pictures for easy recognition.

In the chapter on the role of Thoothukudi, in the freedom struggle, he speaks not only of V.O.Chidambaram Pillai , Masillamanipillai  J.P. Rodriguez, Samuel Nadar.C.veerabahu, Brammanaygam Pillai, Ponnusamy Nadar, Valerian Fernando, JLP Roache Victoria but also about the Jathi Talaivar of Paravas  who helped  Katta bomman and Oomaithurai his brother by supplying arms and ammunition to wage a war against the British. He describes the role of every one of these in the freedom struggle, which every Thoothukudi citizen should know and feel proud.

There are two mass confrontations to which the author draws our attention. The first one is the struggle launched by the workers of cotton mills for their rights under the leadership of V.O.Chidambaram and the other by the Christians of Thoothukudi who went and settled in Raja Tivu with Jesuit priests protesting against the tax imposed by the Nayaka rulers.

Enraged by the action of the Jesuits supported Christians who migrated to Raaja Tivu freeing themselves from the Episcopal jurisdiction of  Franciscans  the Cochin Bishop , himself a Franciscan  organized a Portuguese and Nayaka fleet and took on the Migtrants, and killed many of them though the Christian flock waged a valiant battle against the combined force of the Portuguese, Nayaks And the bishop.. The author claims that this resistance by the Christians was a war of independence as this was fought against the domination of Portuguese an alien power. I think this is a little far fetched.

In the chapter on the growing city he describes how the city which was around the shores of the sea has spread far into the inland and how the names of different parts of the city in and around the early city had been called after the predominant community that lived in the area, as Marakkudi, Saluppakudi, Koluththakudi , Nasuvakkudi etc.

Speaking on Sevanthakulam , the author states that it was Sanctacruzkulam which as days passed became Sevanthan kulam.

He narrates a story on the name of  Mathikettan odai. An English gentleman who came on a horse back to cross this odai sat on his horse and tried to wade through the odai. As he came to the middle of the odai, the horse sat on its haunches and refused to move forward. The Englishman who rode the horse drenched  himself as a result. As the English man took the foolish step of crossing the river on a horse back, local people pejoratively described the venture of the Englishman as Mathikettu ponavan which later became Mathiketuponavan odai—later Mathikettan odai.

In the chapter on Industrial growth, he advances valid reasons against the Sethusamudram project.

He mentions in the next chapter ,  some eminent men of Thoothukudi  such as JMP Roache, Bishop Roache. Prof.Ssrinivasaraghavan, Prof. Rampolla Mascarenhas, Pulavar Sudalaimuthu, Chandrababu, Kalaban vaz, Selvaraj Miranda, Pulavar Sivasubramaniam , Amalanadhan,  Thambi ayya Fernando, Oliver Fernando, Sukumar Devotta Kavingar Devadevan, Viaya Danusu , Sridar Ganesh , Stephen, Md. Maideen and scientist Resington and a host of educational instituitions and various sabas  sangams and kazagams that keep up the  literary flavor as the real treasure of Thoothukudi.

In this chapter on places to be visited, he brings out the fact, based mostly on hearsay that the Anglican church opposite to old port was once a Catholic church built by the Portuguese but taken over by the Dutch later. He also cites two temples of Vinayagar visited by Gandhiji; One at Gibsonpuram and the other at sevanthankulam.

He also mentions about the sugar mills that existed in Kulasekaran pattinam and the railway track that served it.

In this long list of places to be visited, he does not mention ASHE memorial. This memorial was built by Cruz Fernando, since Collector helped him to fetch water to Thoothukudi. He built the memorial when nationalistic fever was at a very high pitch and Ashe, the murdered was considered a villain. But one must remember he was a big helping hand to Cruz Fernando to bring water to parched Thoothukudi.

If Penny Quick of Mullai Periyar could be celebrated with a ManiMandapam why should we shy of even mentioning Ashe memorial. Both helped the Tamils with water.

This is an eminently informative reference book on Thoothukudi. Congratulations to the author.

By A.X.Alexander

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