India through the eyes of the British, almost a century ago, in a bungalow built by the British!

I loved the stay at Valparai’s Sinna Dorai Bungalow. We have been planning a trip to Valparai since 2013, but it finally materialized only now. It is a heritage bungalow, almost a century old and every piece of furniture and carefully collected item placed inside it tells a story! While the trek in the emerald green tea estate was an experience of a lifetime, I found something else that was utterly fascinating! The library in the bungalow has a lot of really old books. One particular series of books was bound editions of a newsletter called The Planters’ Chronicle. The silverfish-loaded printed bound editions were from the years 1909 to about 1932, with many years missing in between.

The Planters’ Chronicle, as the name makes it obvious, is a newsletter meant for planters of tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom etc. The newsletter dates back to early 1900s and each bound edition is one full year’s collection of newsletters. The magazine was managed by the British and the audience was also primarily British. The amount of details is staggering, but the magazine’s mainstay is about tending to the crops that the planters manage. What I stumbled on was a fascinating aside – about life in India and the world of those times, seen through the eyes of the British, in the early 1900s. Here are some delightful samples (click on the thumbnails to enlarge each pic).

Given that rubber is one of the important crops under the planters’ ambit, there is a lot of interest around uses of rubber, in areas like automobiles (tyres) and footwear. Here is a note on the British being worried about the Japanese competition in the shoe trade.

Continuing on the shoe trade business, here’s an excerpt about a man named Thomas Bata and his visit to India! The rest, as we all know, is history!

The sheer politeness in the ad for Buckey & Co is incredibly quaint!

The compensation chart for death and disablement of workmen in the plantation, and the specific rules for how such amounts should be given (last paragraph, in italics!).

Season sale from 1923! ‘Cumblies’ from H.Galappa & Co. in Avenue Road in Bangalore!

The most interesting snippet amongst all that I read. Note the language: “attacked and murdered in cold blood four most innocent brahmins who were going to have their morning bath from the Mana of Payyapalle Numbudri”. The perspective is completely that of the British, and to my Indian eye, it is both amusing and astounding (that they were ruling over this country at one point!).

For the Raja Sahib of Poonch, Kashmir, the car is being sent in 3 packs, carried by coolies!

Another car-related update, this time from Graham-Paige, where the correspondents of The Planters’ Chronicle write about the car model after having digested the information from the publicity material! There are 11 cars available for ‘seeing’ at 2/11, Mount Road in Chennai!

Leon Theremin’s electronic instrument demonstrated at Savoy Hotel. For the record (pun unintended), the instrument was used in the soundtrack for the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The British planters in India had complained about the ‘position’ of a ‘married man with children in this country’ being a difficult one!

I’m assuming ‘Sumpagay’ House is today’s ‘Sampige’ road.

‘Attendance smart’, mind you, at St.Mark’s Hotel!

A note on the first edition of the English version of the Tamil daily Swadesamitran. Note the point on it being avowed to a policy of the Swaraj Party, but reserving the right of frank criticism of that party.

The Planters’ Chronicle congratulating The Hindu for completing 50 years, in 1928!

Like modern-day advertisers targeting housewives, the idea was same, even 100 years ago!

“This travelling talkie outfit may be considered as the first of its kind to be utilised solely for mass propaganda in this country” – the mother of outdoor activation in India?

Notes on tea consumption in India from the 1930s and coffee in India from the 1920s.

A pitch for advertising in The Planters’ Chronicle!

England to India in ‘just’ 5 days!

Malaria caused insanity, but affects orientals in Malaysia differently from the Europeans!

A note on the end of malaria!

The Brits played rugby in Ooty! And the teams were asked if they object to playing it at a 7000 feet elevation!

More connection with rubber – this time, about cycle and ‘social progress’! Note the point on mothers being scandalized that their daughters riding alone!

A detailed on the word ‘cooly’ being objectionable! And about ‘cooly welfare’. The past para assumes that conditions of coolies in South Indian estates being as good as they are anywhere in the countries to which Tamil cooly emigrates! I recall Tamil director Bala making a movie on the plight of coolies called ‘Paradesi’, though that could be seen as one version of the issue.

A note on the Butler Report. Note the connection between Kshatriyas, brahmins and religion. On page 2, note the point on no change on questions regarding ‘mints, coinage, salt, posts, telegraph, opium and excise’. Salt is an interesting addition, and we know how Gandhi used it to fantastic effect.

Most quaint and most amusing – on brahmin ladies, and the overall intelligence of the average clerk in Madras Presidency.

They had a Planters’ Dance in Coimbatore!

Funny note on how important the U.P.A.S.I membership was (United Planters Association of South India).

Kodaikanal’s St.George’s Homes inviting donations for orphans, destitute and necessitous children of British descent!

The editor of the magazine assuming that publishing ‘Have I been a mug’ may be ‘liable for the libel’!

Amusing notes on photography as a profession and common tennis errors!

PS: While Googling about it when I got back to Coimbatore, I figured that digitally scanned copies of many editions of The Planters’ Chronicle are available online.┬áSeeing them in print at the Sinna Dorai bungalow is a vastly different experience, though, soaking in the life and times of the British in our country, in a bungalow built by the British using Indian ‘coolies’ that still stands tall and strong!



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