Chennai to Yale

I was in Chennai a couple of weekends ago, in the bosom of the wife’s extended family, celebrating Onam. Chennai has a colourful though abrupt history. As S Muthiah recounts in his interesting book on the history of Madras (Madras Discovered, East West Press) worldwide fascination with India’s Coromandel coast predates British colonisation by a long time. But Chennai itself came into being with the British East India company choosing the location for a settlement. Mystery surrounds the reason why Francis Day of the John Company chose this ‘barren & sandy site’ for a settlement – noted gossips of the day apparently ascribing it to the presence of Day’s mistress in the nearby Portugese San Thome! Of such causes is history effected.

Elihu Yale is a prominent character in the history of Madras. Yale, who was born in Boston in colonial America returned to England, his father’s home country and from there came to Madras as a 24 year old ‘Company writer’ . From that humble position, he rose to become the Governor of Madras in just 15 years. While in Madras, the good Elihu contributed a modest collection of his books & pictures to the Collegiate School in Connecticut, these gifts realising $560 for the school. In gratitude, the college named itself after him and grew up to become one of the modern world’s greatest centres of learning – Yale university.

Unfortunately, with the British moving their base to Calcutta, Madras soon lost its Colonial glory. But it was a good time while it lasted. And who is to say that Chennai, as Madras eventually found itself to be, is not on the threshold of recreating the wonder of a more ancient Coromandel heritage.

So, the next time Chennai-ites brag about their city, stop looking at them in stupefied wonder. They do have bragging-rights that extend beyond the Cooum river. They have history.

Actually, they also have a Miss Chennai.

Incidentally, wouldn’t all this make for a great tourism experience for Chennai?

(photo of the latest Miss Chennai – sorry, i have a parochial interest in her. The poor girl is most unlikely to know this, but the family grapevine suggests she is a second-niece of mine!) 

misschennai03.jpg

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2 thoughts on “Chennai to Yale

  1. There are many interesting sights at Fort St. George in Chennai, you can find records of the marriage of Elihu Yale to Catherine Hynmer, solemnized on on 4 November 1680, the first entry in the register of the new Church of St. Mary in his hand displayed in ornate wooden shelves.

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