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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Surprised that we didn't have a history thread for our city. There are many portals that covers history part in bits-and-pieces but gets inactive over the years, but nothing covers CBE actively as SSC does. So here we go!!!

This thread could be a living document on the internet if actively consolidated from various sources (books or online)


A Trip down memory lane

Originally Coimbatore district formed part of the Kongu country, the history of which dates back to the Sangam age. It is found that in early days the area was inhabited by the tribes, the most predominant among them being the Kosars who are reported to have had their headquaeters at Kosampathur which probably later became the present Coimbatore.

However, tribal predominance did not last long as they were over-run by the Rashtra Kutas. From Rastrakutas the Region fell in to the hands of the cholas who were in prominence at the time of Raja Raja Chola. On the decline of Cholas the Kongun territory was occupied by the Chalukyas and then by the Pandyas and the cysalas.

Due to internal strife in the Pandyas Kingdom the Muslim rulers from Delhi happened to interfere. Thus the area fell into the hands of Madurai Sultanate from whom the Vijayanagar rulers wrestled for the region during 1377-78 after overthrowing the Madurai Nayaks.During the period of Muthu Veerappa Nayak and later during the period of Tirumal Nayak internal strife and intermittent wars ruined the kingdom.

As a consequence during the period of Tirumal Nayak,the Kongu region fell into the hands of the Mysore rulers from whom hyder Ali took over the area. However, consequents on the fall of Tippu Sultan of Mysore in 1799, the Kongu region came to be ceded to the East India Company by the Maharaja of mysore who was restored to power by the East India Company after defeating Tippu Sultan. From then till 1947 when India attained Independence, the region remained under British control who initiated systematic revenue administration.

In 1840, the areas were merged into one and brought under one District Collector. During the time, Mr.H.S. GREAME, [I/C] from 20/10/1803 to 20/01/1805 was the Collector. In 1868, the Nilgiris District was bifurcated from the Coimbatore District. At the opening of the present century there were ten taluks in the district viz., Bhavani, Coimbatore, Dharapuram, Erode, Karur, Kollegal, Palladam, Pollachi, Sathyamangalam and Udumalaipettai. The name of Sathyamangalam taluk was subsequently changed as Gopichettipalaiyam.

Avinashi taluk was formed in the year Karur taluk happened to be transferred to Tiruchirappalli district. In 1927, some villages of Bhavani taluk together with a few village from Salem district were constituted into Mettur Area but very soon i.e, in 1929, this area was transferred to Salem district.

Again in the year 1956 considerable area of the district, viz., the whole of Kollegal taluk was transferred to Mysore State as part of the States Re-organisation Scheme. In 1975, Sathyamangalam sub-taluk was upgraded as a full fledged taluk.

Again in 1979, Perundurai sub-taluk of Erode and Mettupalayam sub-taluk of Avanashi were also upgraded into independent taluks.Thus the total number of taluks in the district came to twelve. This, however, did not last long. In the same year (1979) six taluks were bifurcated from the district to constitute a new district viz, Erode.

Under G.O. Ms. No. 1917 Revenue dt. 31-8-79, the following six taluks were bifurcated from then Coimbatore district to from Erode district. Bhavani, Gopichettipalayam, Sathyamangalam, Erode, Perundurai and Dharapuram. This bifurcation considerably reduced the size of the district. It has only nine taluks now, viz. Pollachi, Coimbatore (North), Avanashi, Palladam, Udumalpettai, Tirupur, Valparai, Coimbatore (South) and Mettupalayam.

Coimbatore existed even prior to the 2nd Century AD as a small tribal village capital called Kongunad until it was brought under Chola control in the 2nd or 3rd Century AD by Karikalan, the first of the early Cholas.

2,658 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Historical temples in Coimbatore


Koniamman temple

The Koniamman temple is another note worthy ancient temple in Coimbatore. The history of the temple and deity dates back to 13th Century A.C.

Pic courtesy: Koniamman temple official website

The temple situated in the heart of the city, is built by a leader of a small cult known as "IRULAS" 600 years ago. The small village was also named as "Covanputhur" after the leader of this group, whose name was "Covan". This Covanputhur later on changed as Coimbatore. This ancient temple was situated in the north of Coimbatore near Sanganur stream.

Later when there was a fear of "Chera" invasion the "illangosar" tribe which was ruling at that time, built a new fort and to guard this fort, they built a temple and named the predominent deity as Koniamman. After this tribes ruling came to an end, the temple also had a sluggish period. Realising the importance of this temple, during the Mysore dynasty one of its kings renovated the temple and consecrated the Devi Koniamman in the style of "Mahisasuramardhini".

Echanari temple

Image Courtesy: Flickr

The temple is among the oldest one in Coimbatore and dates back to 1500A.D.The moolavar at this temple was actually meant for Perur Patteshwarar temple and since it got struck on its way from Madurai, Eachnari became the blessed place. The deity's height is 6 feet and the width is 3 feet and is one of the biggest in SouthIndia. The last kumbabhishekam was performed in 1990.

Perur Patteeswaraswamy Temple:

Perur Patteeswaraswamy Temple is the most popular temple of Coimbatore. Located at 7 km west of Coimbatore near river Noyyal this temple is built by Karikala Cholan-a ruler of Chola Empire. The origin of the temple goes back to pre Christian era. The innermost shrine is build by Karikala Cholan while Chola rulers of 11 th to 13 th century made several endowments to the temple.

Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia

Perur Patteeswaraswamy Temple structure also contains contributions of the Hoysalas and the Vijaynagar rulers.The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Shiva as Patteeswarar and his consort Pachai Nayaki, worshipped in the form of “ Swayambu Lingam ”. This temple is also known by the name of Mel Chidambaram.

Beside of its perfect location the main attraction of the temple is the ‘ Kanaka Saba' or the golden hall. A gold plated statue of Nataraja giving blessings to two sagas- Gowmuni and Pattimuni adorns hall.

Arulmigu Chokkalingeswarar Aalayam :

This temple was built by 'Sundara Pandiya' in the 15th century. The Sthalapuranam states that two boys were taking bath in a tank when a crocodile swallowed one. Three years later a 'Thread ceremony' was performed to the boy who survived.Though their family was happy on the occassion, there was grief in the family of the boy who was swallowed by the crocodile.

On his way to meet 'Cheramaan Peruman', Sundaramoorthy Nayanar happened to pass by Avinashi and heard the tale. Moved by this, Sundaramoorthy Nayanar composed and sang for 'Lord Shiva' to resurrect the dead child. His prayers were answered and water started flowing into the empty tank and crocodile emerged from it with a grown boy of 8 years.The car festival is the most exciting of the festivals in this temple. This temple's car is one of the biggest in South India and is noted for its fine wooden carvings.

2,658 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
ITW Coimbatore - A Portal to the sky

- Air Marshsal S. Ragavendran

Source: Bharat Rakshak

A' Squadron of the 51 Pilot's Course at ITW Coimbatore in October 1947. Seen in the photo are Wg Cdr Atmaram (sitting, center), Sqn Ldr Idris Latif (sitting, 4th from right). The author, as Flt Cdt is standing middle row rightmost.

Medicals in Delhi

There I was, in the Air Force that I had set my heart on, on 24 October, '47, in Coimbatore - 40 miles from my home town of Ootacamund, at the foot of the Nilgris Mountains (Blue Mountains). My life in the Air Force started in Initial Training Wing, Royal Indian Air Force - ITW RIAF. I arrived a few days late because I had received the "call letter" late. Thanks to that I missed all the ragging that had been done to the earlier arrivals. We were the very first post-Independence Course - 51st.

I very nearly didn't make it to ITW, on my own volition!! I had been the only one selected from my batch at the Air Force Selection Board in Dehra Dun. There was a hold up in the process of selection because we had to go to Delhi to the Central Medical Establishment to clear the Medical Exam and there was a break down in the railway system due to some heavy rains and land slide somewhere. Two people from the previous batch, R.P Sinha and Dave', and I could not go immediately. Two days later we were told that the main route was still closed but there was a diversion via Agra and Tundla, taking longer time. The three of us set off and it was a long journey.

During the journey one of us had the brainwave to check up our pulse rate to see if we were all right. We had a vague idea that the 'correct' pulse rate was 72 per minute. To our horror, my pulse rate was only 54 and RP's was 90!! We determined that we were both going to fail the medical and the consensus was that we might as well go home. RP was particularly keen as he only had to stay on the same train and it would take him to Patna, his home town. I pointed out to him that we had free tickets to go to Delhi and the money for staying there. So we might as well go and see Delhi and, in passing go through the motions of the Medical Board. In my heart of hearts there was a great disappointment because I had spent six years in The Prince of Wales' Royal Indian Military College (RIMC), in Dehra Dun, where all the cadets were groomed to join the Armed Forces and I had set my heart on joining the Indian Air Force. My suggestion to go to Delhi was agreed to and we went and, of course, we passed the medical. RP retired as an Air Commodore and my pulse was still 54 when I retired and I was told that it was a good thing to have a low pulse rate. With the stress of retirement it occasionally shoots up to 60!!

I was a very trim 125 pounds, extremely fit and confident because I was from THE RIMC; I was exactly 17 1/2 years old, the minimum age specified for admission; I had performed outstandingly in Senior Cambridge Exams and I had done plenty of drilling in RIMC and I played all the games. Somewhat Macarthuresque. But soon I realized that all this didn't give me any great advantage, not even an early graduation from the drill square, which you had to pass if you wanted to 'book out' from the camp to visit the town!!

I signed a document to say that I was joining the Royal Indian Air Force as an Officer Cadet and that I would be trained for nine months and commissioned as a Pilot Officer in the Air Force. Further, I would be paid the same as an AC2, Aircraftsman Class II (7 rupees a day) during my training and that I would be given free food, uniform and housing. What more could one ask for. How I wish that we had had the sense to keep a copy of that document in front of us and later on sue the Air Force for breaking the contract - we will come to that some other time.

ITW described

I.T.W. was the place where, in army parlance, we did 'square bashing' and learned the basic knowledge about aviation and the Air Force. We didn't have a mighty Training Command, like today. The formation in charge of Air Force Training those days was called No. 2 Training Group, in Bangalore, with Air Commodore Narendra as the AOC. I believe there were only about four Indian Air Commodores in the Royal Indian Air Force, at that time, that being the senior most level reached. We had subjects like Principles of Flight, Principles of Aircraft Engines (entirely piston engines as Jet engines were new even in Europe and USA), Customs of Service (including how you dressed, paid courtesies, ate etc), The Air Force Act, Disciplinary procedures (such as courts martial), Workshop Practice et all. All this was supposed to be done in three months. But as luck would have it, we were held up in Coimbatore because there was a hold up in the further stages of flying due to the disruption of the Partition of India. In the division, training bases and training aeroplanes got in short supply and it took a lot of time to sort it out. In the process, we were held up at every stage of our three stage training. The other two stages were Elementary Flying and Advanced Flying. Since we were held up in Coimbatore, the next course, No. 52, got combined with us and we were then onwards the famous 51/52 Course. The combined strength of the courses was 128!! I wonder if this record was ever beaten.

Our course consisted of very disparate people from all over India, from all strata of society. The minimum educational standard was matric or equivalent but we had people who were graduates, one had done three years of medicine (!!), another had done one year of medicine etc. The age range was from 17 1/2 (two others besides me) to 22 (McKenzie and Dotiwala). Though we talked in English, it sounded as though we were speaking in Bengali to Punjabi to Tamil.


There was one classic case of a cadet in the previous course from Andhra, who came and sat down. He saw the big rice dish in the middle of the table. He picked it up and put it in front of himself, made a hole in the middle with his hand just as he would at 'home', picked up the donga of 'sambhar' and poured most of it into the hole, mixed it up well with his hand and proceeded to eat with his hand, oblivious to the horror stricken faces around him. When he had wiped out the rice, he was the proud owner of a hand covered with rice and sambhar. He picked up the jug of water and discretely washed his hand under the table!! He then walked out nonchalantly leaving all wondering where he had come from. It is to the credit of the Indian Air Force that not only did it make an officer of him but also a pilot!!

We had, at the other extreme Jaywant Singh who came from a Royal family in Gujarat and Doon School. He and Sankaran Nair had appeared for their Senior Cambridge Exams and appeared for the Air Force entrance Selection Board, as was permitted. They had been selected and admitted and they were supposed to produce their Senior Cambridge 'pass' certificates as soon as it was received. They both received 'failed' certificates even before they joined but they reported for duty anyway. Nobody ever asked them for the certificates and they went on to becoming officers and Jaywant a pilot. Jaywant was the most absent minded person you could meet. On one memorable morning parade, the inspecting officer asked him as to why he had not shaved and he looked hurt and said 'Sir, I did shave'. Sarcastically the officer asked 'Did you put a blade in the razor'? Then it suddenly dawned on him, 'Oh my god, I didn't'.

We had Bysack from Bengal, who came from the Army. He had joined it as a 'water carrier', probably the lowest 'Trade' in the army. But he had worked his way up and was a three stripe 'Havildar', when he joined us, rightfully proud of himself. He arrived in his army uniform and wore it for many days till he got the Air Force uniform.

The most suave, savvy individual was Eduljee, who had reached dizzy heights of a Warrant Officer in the IAF and RIAF by the time he joined us. Like most Parsis, he was from Bombay and he must have been brilliant to have reached that kind of rank at such a young age. Unfortunately he couldn't get past even the ITW!!

We had a Sergeant Upretti who was in charge of drill and overall discipline, for both A and B flights. He could never pronounce many of the names. So, Lafontaine became Leftane' throughout our stay and D'sa became Desai. Iype Kovoor from Kerala had such a thick a British accent that you could slice it and when he was asked his name by the sergeant, his reply sounded like 'Ipe Core' with his accent. The sergeant thought that he was being made fun of and yelled 'Double around the parade ground!!'.

Another memorable event was when one of the trainees developed a small boil on his *******. He asked people around what to do. Prem Pal singh, who retired as an Air Marshal, with an air of authority asked him to apply Sloan's Liniment, knowing full well the outcome. He even loaned him his Liniment bottle. Next there was a shriek and continuous wailing and last seen the victim was sitting, naked, on one of the fire buckets, which was full of water, cooling the part on fire!!

All this is not to say that we were a bunch of hicks. Majority was sophisticated, well educated and highly motivated wannabe aviators. To prove that I must tell you that there was a non functional Spitfire parked in front of the class rooms. I believe it was flown into Coimbatore and towed into the station or dismantled and assembled in situ. I think I was the only person on the course who didn't get his picture taken in full uniform and peak cap, sitting in the cockpit and sending it home. We had some great sportsmen and athletes.

The Station Commander was Wing Commander Atmaram (he retired as an air commodore many years later and was my Station Commander in Poona when I was a Pilot Officer in No.4 Sqn), a very short benign gentleman. The Chief Instructor was initially Sqn Ldr Idris Latif (later our Air Chief) but soon he was succeeded by a terror of a man called Sqn Ldr Kashinath Baburao Joshi. He had started his military career in the army and then changed to become a pilot in the Air Force. His ambition was to get all of us riff-raff toughened and reach the great heights of army discipline and drilling. His very mien was forbidding. During arms drill practice, he would ask a trainee to give him the rifle. It had to be thrown to him and he would demonstrate the correct action and would throw it back so hard that it would knock down most trainees trying to field it. If you couldn't grab it properly and still be standing, one had to run around the parade ground with the rifle held high above the shoulder, a very painful exercise as we could all vouch.

The 'camp' consisted of a little more than two acres of walled area one side of the Avanasi Road, with another few acres across the road where the Officers Mess, playing fields, Parade Ground and Medical Section were located. We were housed in long dormitories, about 20 per dormitory and they were amazingly airy - mainly because they had no walls, so to speak!! They were constructed during World War II to last about 3 to 5 years but were still in use when I visited the Station, as the Vice Chief, in 1987!! In the front was a verandah with a three foot wall and the back had a wall with windows. The roof was the typical baked tiles of the villages of southern India. If you had the urge to urinate, there was a small room at the end of the verandah with a large sawed off tin barrel you could relieve yourself into. It was labeled 'The Head', a naval term, I believe, because the barracks had been with the Navy sometime before it became the ITW RIAF. Once in a while sweepers would come and take the container and empty it out somewhere - we never did find out where. This is what was called 'Dry Sanitation'!!

If you wanted to do the big job, you took a long walk to the back of the lines of dormitories near the back wall to cubicles where you had deep holes dug in the ground and had wooden covers over them to squat on. They had partial doors for privacy but some of the doors were missing. The holes were really deep as one could make out from the time it took from the 'bombs release' to the splash made!! It was very high class as everybody had his own personal empty beer bottle to take water to clean up afterwards. There was one cadet who felt that he needed two bottles - very fastidious, I think!!

Field Craft Training on the downs of Ootacamund. Done as an outing during the time the course was extended in ITW

Morning Parade while on Field Craft Outing to Ootacamund.

We had the two young squadron commanders. We used to hang around them in adulation as they were the first fighter pilots we had come across. There was a world of difference between them in that the one gave the impression of a care free dashing fighter pilot, because he said he didn't fly with his 'Flying goggles' on and the other said he did and it was important that you wore it. We saw them as the 'Daring young men in their flying machines'. We used to have 'dining in nights' three times a week to teach us the niceties of mess life and etiquette in the mess as well as 'civilized' eating habits. It started with a gathering in the 'very airy' Ante room, which had a bar and the squadron commanders would stand there with their elbow on the bar and there would be an adulatory crowd of wannabes around them. One would have a drink and the Other declined more often than not. This made the former still more a 'Dashing Aviator'. Years later we found that they were not in the forefront of flying.

I didn't smoke or drink but I found a number of the cadets did both. I analysed that smoking was a waste of time and money but drinking seemed to improve ones approach to life and thought that one day I may drink. I had a major hurdle to overcome in this. I came from a family where nobody had ever smoked or drunk. In addition I had an elder brother, all of one year older than me, who was in the merchant navy and was held up as a paragon of virtues, including being teetotal!! More about that later.

One of the cadets, Terence D'sa, reported sick early in our training. He was from Bombay. The medical officer was a Flight Lieutenant and Terence, in the easy going familiar style of Bombaywalas greeted him with 'Hi! Doc'! Poor guy, he learned the hard way how officers are addressed by cadets in the Air Force.

I got admitted into the small hospital attached to the unit, I think for some small ailment and I found one of the cadets whom I hardly knew visited me every day. On the first day itself, he asked me if he could have my whisky and cigarettes. Only officers, and officer cadets, in the hospital had two whiskies and a packet of cigarettes It was still British style and apparent given to them daily as part of the 'ration'!! He, K.S. Nair, was an ex-airman and knew this windfall and also knew that I didn't smoke or drink and decided to benefit from it!!

The main thing was the ground subjects, with which I had no problems but there was stiff competition between me and McKenzie for the top slot. Close behind were La Fontaine and Dotiwala. None of us were graduates. Apparently the graduates came from colleges which didn't do much good to them because our teacher for English, Sqn Ldr D.N. Seth, would ask them a question or give them a task, which they would flunk and he invariably asked them, with unerring accuracy, 'you must be a graduate'?

Breaking rules

One balmy evening about ten of the cadets decided to break bounds or 'climb the wall' (literally) as it was known and visit a movie theatre. Instead of going out through the gate, where they would be stopped, they put on their civilian togs and climbed over the back compound wall of the camp. To their luck the Station Commander decide to do the same, without climbing the wall and he recognized some of the caballeros. He came back early and had a reception committee waiting for them. There was an enquiry and most of them were sent home, a couple of good students were kept back.

I remember that Sankaran Nair was one of them. One of those sent home was my friend and class mate from RIMC, S.V.Giri, who had joined No. 52 course. He went home, resigned to his fate and planned to join a college or something. He was told that if he couldn't learn discipline in the RIMC, he was beyond redemption. I wrote to the Principal of RIMC, Mr. Catchpole (a real life Mr. Chips), who had a lot of influence in Army Hq because of the bevy of generals there from RIMC, and got him into the IMA. He eventually retired as a Lt. General!

We also had on our course a copy cat 'Black Shirt'. Those of you born later than 1940 may not know this character created by Bruce Graeme, I think. He was a 'gentleman burglar' who went around at night in black clothes and committed the most audacious burglaries and some of his loot was given to the poor a la Robin Hood. We had Ambrose Ryder. He was a very fit, handsome Anglo Indian entrant from Madras. He had been seen wandering at night in black clothes around the 'billets' but no serious notice was taken though there were a number of complaints about missing valuables. It was not linked. As I mentioned earlier, our 'billets' were very 'open'. He would go home, on every occasion he could, back to Madras, no doubt carrying the loot!! Suspicions of his activities and some other standard short comings caused 'termination' of his cadetship. It was submitted to the authorities that his luggage should be searched as he was leaving the camp. And Lo and behold, many items of others belongings tumbled out. It was decided not to hand him over to the civil police!!

We had the occasional party for some special day or the other and there would be dancing. It so happened that there was an internment camp for Italians, in Coimbatore. It also so happened that young girls from there were invited for the parties and they were allowed to come. Apparently this had been the practice for a while as the War was over long ago. There were some very good looking girls and those cadets who danced, mainly Anglo Indians, Parsis and a few others, had a great time and people like me, who didn't know dancing, sat on the side with our tongues hanging out!!

I decided to show off my gymnastic skills by doing some handsprings in front of my course mates. It didn't strike me that in RIMC we did it on a thick coir mat and here I was doing it on the hard concrete floor of the dormitory! So!! I injured my left knee, which swelled up with what was referred to as 'water in the knee' and for two months I was limping around with a crepe bandage and undergoing heat and physical therapy.

But I had to get back on parade as the 'Passing out Parade' was coming up and I had to march up to receive the Ground Subjects Trophy, which I had won. There was only this one trophy at ITW, as far as I can remember. The reviewing officer was Lieutenant General Rudra. I wonder what his appointment was!! I have a feeling he was the GOC in C Eastern Command, if there was one then. This was the only time I beat Guy McKenzie in Ground Subjects during training. He beat me at EFS and AFS. But again we came together in the Flying Instructors School and I managed to beat him one last time. Not only was he a very bright student but his calligraphy, drawing and chart making was like print!!

We had a good dhobi system at least. For bathing there was this community shower system behind the dormitories with cubicles. The showers probably had shower heads once upon a time but now they were just spouts of water that came as a cascade. Most of the cubicles had no doors and some of the 'mamma's boys' had a tough time getting used to people watching them when they were bathing!! But we all learned soon and were one big happy family. But it was certainly a far cry from today's elite Air Force Academy at Dundigal or the National Defence Academy. It was poor by the standards of R.I.M.C. but none of us really complained and took it as perfectly acceptable and the price we had to pay to be pilots in the Indian Air Force.

We had a big dining hall, again a 'temporary' tile roofed building, with long tables with benches - and there was plenty of food. But everybody was not used to the niceties of sitting in western style and eating with fork and knife, though most made out they were familiar.


2,658 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
Memories of Coimbatore: A silent revolution

Framed: A view of the Variety Hall Theatre and Palace built by Samikannu Vincent

Barely anyone in Coimbatore remembers Samikannu Vincent, a pioneer of motion picture industry in South India. His eldest grandson, Winfred Paul, recounts the days when Coimbatore was a cinema hub

Exactly 10 years after the Lumiere Brothers screened their first film in Paris, a 21-year-old man from Coimbatore ushered in the film movement in Tamil Nadu, silently. A draftsman-clerk of the South Indian Railways in Tiruchi who earned just Rs.25 a month, he got a taste for silent films from a French film exhibitor named Du Pont. In the middle of February in 1905, when the Frenchman fell ill and had to return to Europe, this youngster raised Rs. 2,250 with great difficulty, bought the touring cinema set from Du Pont, and made history as a pioneer of the motion picture industry in South India. This young man was SamiKannu Vincent (18 April 1883 to 22 April 1942) born here in Kottaimedu in Coimbatore.

Resigning from his job, he took his touring cinema to places as far as Lahore and Peshawar, Myanmar (Burma then) and Afghanistan. He erected tents close to a town, which attracted large crowds. He travelled all over Asia and established the first theatre in his home town Coimbatore — the Variety Hall Talkies in 1914. This became the first theatre in South India that fell under the then Madras Province that included Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra and parts of Karnataka. So, it was the people of Coimbatore who experienced the magic of movies early on. Variety Hall Talkies is now Delite theatre.

“My grandfather knew only English and Tamil but he travelled extensively,” says Winfred Paul, Samikannu's eldest grandson. Those were the days of silent movies. A person with a microphone explained the sequences that unfolded on the screen, and people sat on sand floors and watched in awe. Chairs were put up only for important people.

At Winfred Paul's house in Kalapatti, his wife Amali Winfred serves us fizzy Vincent Crush, from the soda company on Trichy Road, also started by Samikannu Vincent. A photograph of the illustrious man graces the wall and carries a citation alongside. It says “ ‘Nulla Dies Sine Linea', meaning ‘not a day without something done'”. He lived by this thought. He brought electricity to the city in 1922 and lighted up V.H. Road.

He started Electric Printing Works in a house near his theatre to print quality handbills using the cinema house's electric power plant. “Freedom fighter S. Subramania Gounder of Pollachi used to print pamphlets at his press,” says Winfred. Vincent started the first power-driven rice and flour mill and controlled everything from his Variety Hall Palace which he built next to the theatre. An early riser, he would take the passage from his home that connected his various establishments, and conduct surprise checks on his employees. A stickler for perfection, he always dressed in whites, in a suit with a hat, and with his arms crossed behind him, walked the corridors of the palace. About 30 family members lived in the palace.

He partnered with Central Studios and produced Valli Thirumanam, a roaring success. “Kalaignar Karunanidhi used to stay at the studios and take a horse drawn carriage to watch films at V.H.Talkies,” Winfred says. His grandfather had a fleet of cars that included a Studebaker, a Maurice Minor, a Ford, a Chevrolet and an Austin. “Every Friday in the backyard of the palace an elephant from the Perur temple would be fed. Rice and vegetables boiled in big andaas would be served to the elephant.” Samikannu Vincent also conducted magic shows much to the chagrin of the Church.

He was very fond of children. “Once, I fell into the fountain well at the entrance of the V.H. Talkies. A gardener rescued me and my mom who had jumped in after me to save me. My grandfather gifted the gardener a gold chain and declared a holiday for the theatre that day.”

Samikannu Vincent set up Touring Talkies under Vincent Forces Cinema on Trichy Road to entertain the British soldiers, who camped at the Madukkarai Battalion during war. “The tent would go up in the evenings. The projector moved on a trolley and English films were screened. The soldiers travelled in a bus, which was largely a skeleton body with wooden planks and steel rods. You can see the bus at G.D Naidu museum,” Winfred says. The canteen served half-boiled eggs, roasted bread, black tea and black coffee to suit the British palate. Samikannu started 12 theatres in the city. The Rainbow theatre was set up on a lease agreement with the English Club. It screened English films. It was at Light House theatre on R.S. Puram, that Damodarasamy Naidu of Annapoorna made a small beginning with a canteen. It is now Kennedy theatre. Variety Hall Talkies screened a number of Hindi movies starring Dilip Kumar, which were big hits. Edison and Carnatic screened Tamil movies. At Winfred Paul's residence, his grandfather's majestic 1.5 tonne mirror framed in teak wood (shipped from Belgium), artistic elephant face stands, teak chairs, a 1914 wall clock, and a laundry basket in rosewood, echoes the Victorian age. Winfred Paul says Coimbatore resembled a village and Trichy Road, V.H.Road, Avinashi Road and Jail Road were the arterial roads. “Brooke Bond Road was called Palm Trees Road because palm trees dotted the place. There were maize fields everywhere. People walked everywhere. Royal Enfield motorbikes were owned only by the landlords,” he recalls. He remembers the funeral procession of his grandfather in 1942. “There was hailstorm in the city and ice pellets damaged the window panes.”

Despite everything, Samikannu Vincent is barely remembered in the annals of cinema and in the memoirs of Coimbatore. There is no memorial for him in Coimbatore. The legal heirs of the family erected his statue at V.H. Palace, which was however removed as the theatre changed hands. Says Winfred, “The statue is now at my uncle's house in Ramanathapuram. A fitting tribute would be to re-erect it on V.H. Road, the place which marked the birth of cinema in Coimbatore.”

(As told to K. Jeshi)

Winfred Paul Born on August 19, 1932 at the Vincent Palace on V. H. Road is the son of Rajambal, the first and eldest daughter of Samikannu Vincent. After schooling, he worked at the Government District Board Office and later at a private textile mill. As a child he remembers watching a movie in parts over a period of a week as they owned the theatres. Other than films, his passions include driving about in his grandfather's Austin. He has a keen interest in the electrical and mechanical aspects of movie projectors.


Watching ball room parties at Palace Theatre which now functions as Naaz. The screen was replaced with music orchestra, English music filled the air and the Englishmen danced with their partners all through the night on the glistening marble chip floors. It was not open for outsiders but as owners we used to watch the dance from the Box room.

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Discussion Starter #5
Memories of Coimbatore - Another time, another place

Memories of Coimbatore - Another time, another place

By Subha j rao


G.D. Gopal on chariot rides to school, near-empty roads and a time when the city's welfare took precedence over personal gain

GREEN COVER A tree-lined Avinashi Road Photo Courtesy: G.D. Naidu Charities

Can you imagine a city with no fences between houses? Where foxes and snakes were common on a tree-filled Avanashi Road? Where people shared their cars with others? That was my city.

Avinashi Road before the flyover came into existence Photo Courtesy: G.D. Naidu Charities

There was so much vegetation that we children would not be allowed outside the house alone. Somebody would accompany us, carrying a stick. Between G.K. Devarajulu's Shell House and President Hall, there were just three houses. President Hall used to be President House, where the district collector lived. I would go to GKD's House, a hop, skip and jump away, to see his son, my friend D. Jayavarthanavelu (DJ). Then, there were the houses belonging to Lingam Chetty and my classmate Jagadish Chandran.

Only three or four families owned cars and it was common to see people borrowing them for occasions. Once, Premier of the Soviet Union Nikolai Alexandrovich Bulganin, who was visiting, was brought home by our driver.

General K.M Cariappa during a visit to the G.D. water tank in Podanur Photo Courtesy: G.D. Naidu Charities

While I was growing up, I saw many important visitors at home. Periyar, Ambedkar, Ma Po Si, Bharathidasan, Annadurai, General Cariappa… In fact, whenever people wanted to hold personal meetings, they would assemble at our home!

Those days, I would walk to school (Stanes) from home. I particularly remember the school canteen. It would stock barfi, chocolate toffees made by Anglo Indians, bread butter jam…and more. We would get six to eight toffees for an anna.

In the morning, I would cycle on my Raleigh to R.S. Puram (next to the present Corporation Kalaiarangam) for English tuitions with Krishnan (the Communist leader). He was Oxford-educated, and my father wanted someone to discipline me without being influenced by my family background. Krishnan would not open the gate even if I was a minute early, and would shut it if I were late by a minute or two!

We spent our days on near-vacant roads. And, during the petrol rationing, five of us would travel on a horse-drawn chariot to school — Jagadish, Krishnaraj, the son of the Uthukuli Zamin, DJ, B.R. Shantaram (Central Studios) and myself — on an Avanashi Road lush with navapazham trees.

Bullock carts were the preferred mode of transport. We would travel to Anupatti (my mother's village) and Peedampalli by cart, leaving early in the morning and reaching sometime in the afternoon. Sometimes, we would get caught between two streams and wait (occasionally overnight) till the water subsided. En route, we would pluck guavas from farms nearby and feast on them.

The British were present in great numbers, especially around Race Course, ATT Colony, and Podanur. I remember how a special train would run from Podanur to Vincent Theatre for the British ladies to watch a film on Sunday mornings.

Thanks to the British influence, we had good bakeries too. There was Marratts, run by Mr. and Mrs. Marratt. He worked in Stanes Motors and she was a teacher in Stanes School. Their buns and cakes were excellent. Only, they baked for a passion, and you had to give them enough notice to get your order ready! Then, there were Davey Bakery (attached to the hotel — most foreigners stayed there) and JM and Sons.

My father would travel to Podanur every day to visit our farm and I would also accompany him. Sometimes, we could not cross Aathupalam (we did not have a bridge then!) if it had rained. We would wait till the water level dropped before continuing.

And when Vaalankulam flooded, water would cross over and flow on the road near Nirmala College.

When buses were introduced in the city, they were a huge novelty. Only, they did not come covered. So, by the time we travelled a short distance, we would be caked with dust! And, there were no routes. Groups of people would ask the driver to take them to Pollachi or the local market, and make their own route!

Can you imagine fields of corn or sugarcane within the city? Red Fields was famous for corn, and we raised brinjal, corn and sugarcane in the land around President Hall. These invited visitors too — wild boars, foxes, bears, and snakes.

As a child, I remember going with my father G.D. Naidu, Rathnasabapathy Mudaliar and India's first finance minister R.K. Shanmugam Chettiar for a survey on how to bring Siruvani water to the city. We travelled with about 20 people, walking from the present Covai Courtallam, and battled leeches to reach our destination. The threat of wild animals loomed large and so we travelled with drummers. The people involved in this mission only had the city's welfare at heart. They derived little personal gain from it. But, that was the mettle Coimbatore's pioneers were made of! How I wish we can emulate them as we develop as a city!

G.D. GOPAL Born in August 1939, he is the trustee of G.D. Naidu Charities. He is passionate about science and is known for his hands-on approach to work. He is also fond of photography. He has been awarded the Das Verdienstkreuz Am Bande (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany) in recognition of his initiatives to strengthen Indo-German relationship and his contribution to Indian society.


Poverty used to be rampant in our city. Famished people would sit by the underpass near Lanka Corner, arms outstretched. So many would wait outside factories demanding work. I'm happy we don't see that kind of poverty today.

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Discussion Starter #6
In 1920, G.D.Naidu then met British businessman and philanthropist, Sir Robert Stanes. Stanes encouraged G.D.Naidu to start a new business and he loaned him a sum of four thousand rupees.

G.D.Naidu got a loan of another four thousand rupees and he bought a passenger auto-coach and drove it himself on the first trip.

GD Naidu named it UMS (Universal Motor Service).

Picture Courtesy: Automotive India


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Discussion Starter #7
Few more legacy components that was built out of Coimbatore


First Motor Made in India

In 1937, the first motor produced in India, was brought out from G D Naidu’s UMS group company called National Electric Works. This created a revolution in Coimbatore and lead to the establishment of number of small scale industries producing pumps and motors. Now Coimbatore is called as the pump city of Asia. The motor and pump industry in Coimbatore supplies two thirds of India’s requirements.

Two-Seater Petrol car

In 1952, the two-seater petrol engine car (costing a mere Rs 2,000/-) rolled out. But production was stopped subsequently, because of the Government’s refusal to grant the necessary license. He wanted to make certain precision blades/knives (he learnt the technology during one of his visits to Germany) but the Government gave the license for manufacturing it to some other people. It seems multiple such rejections made him destroy some of his inventions in frustration and perhaps even discouraged the great innovator who could have done much more.


The above image of a Phonograph was assembled and made by G.D.Naidu himself with some help from an American firm and his own UMS in 1940.Phonograph was originally invented by Edison.

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Discussion Starter #8

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Discussion Starter #9
A glimpse into early days of Coimbatore

Then: Copy of an old photograph dated back to 1870 showing the Race Course area in Coimbatore.

November 24, 1804: The British elevated Coimbatore as a district head quarters. The District Collector then was: H.S. Greame (i/c) (1803-1805).

Though much is known about Coimbatore before and after this historical period, The Hindu Property Plus tried collecting details about the Kongu region and Coimbatore from the official records and the following is the information available in The Coimb atore District Gazetteer:

“Long before the dawn of history, in the dim mists of antiquity, the region at present comprising the Coimbatore district was inhabited by primitive people who belonged to the Neolithic age.”

This is known from a number of pandavakulis or veerakals, found in various parts of the district.

The Kurumbars, Eiynars or the vedars, the ancient pastoral and hunting tribes, once occupied almost the whole of this region, including the Coimbatore and Salem districts.

And, in the first three centuries of the Christian Era, the Coimbatore district of today formed part of what was called the Kongu country, which comprised Kollegal, Salem district, part of Kulittalai Taluk and portions of Dindigul and Palani. It was inhabited by the Malavar, Kosar and Kongar.

The Kosars seem to have originally come from the North under the pressure of the Mauryan invasion.

It was from the name of their capital – Kosanputtur – that Coimbatore probably got its name.

The Kongars from whom the name Kongu itself came to be applied to the whole of the region seem to have come from Kodagu (Coorg).

Coimbatore, which commanded approach to Palghat on the west and Gazzalhatti Pass on the north, was of strategic importance.

It was originally part of the Chera Kingdown. But was captured by the Nayaks of Madurai and was considered as one of their strongholds. Later, it fell into the hands of the rulers of Mysore.

During the wars of the British with Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan it changed hands many times. In 1799, it was ceded to the British.

Hyder and Tipu stayed in Coimbatore frequently and occupied a palace situated on Madaraja Mahal Street.

There were hardly any well-laid roads in the district when it was handed over to the British by the end of the 18th century.

However, from 1800 a number of roads were formed.

In 1885-86, the Coimbatore District Board maintained 1,179 miles of roads and spent Rs. 1,43,148 on construction and maintenance of roads.

The Chief Broad Gauge line opened in 1862 between Madras and the West Coast passed through Tirupur and Coimbatore.

In 1939, a chord line was laid between Coimbatore and Singanallur and in 1953, one was laid between Irugur and North Coimbatore.

The Gazetteer also mentions about the ropeway that served the plantations in Anaimalai.

Constructed in 1928, this nine-and-a-half mile ropeway between Vannanthorai Bridge and Iyerpady estate helped transport the produce from the plantations to the plains.

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
Coimbatore Junction area in 1940's. Photo credits unknown, I just happened to have it in my collection, I think this was posted by Chidambaram earlier in this forum.


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Discussion Starter #12
Memories from the Past - Agricultural university playground

Tales from the pavilion Players heading to the ground for a Ranji trophy match held in 1964 at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University grounds Photo: Special Arrangement

Advocate P.R. Ramakrishnan on a traffic-free city, playing cricket in myriad maidans and parks, and life in the court

I remember Coimbatore as a city where life moved at a leisurely pace. There were no townships in Vadavalli, Ganapathy or Saravanampatti. They were mainly agricultural lands beyond the municipal limits. The city did not have activities beyond Thadagam Road on the west and Saibaba Colony was the most developed area in the North. R.S. Puram, Ramnagar and Race Course were residential paradises. Singanallur, Kuniamuthur and Avarampalayam were just hamlets back then.

Road-side tales

The roads were traffic free and there were only a handful of cars. Why, there was even a bus (No.6) which used to fly through the now-congested Kalingarayar Street and Sivasamy Road to reach Jail road!

During my college days, a guy who owned a two-wheeler was considered a hero! Vespas and Lambrettas were popular, as were Bullet and Java bikes. If one booked a vehicle when he was, say, 18, it would be delivered to him by the time he got married!

English movies were screened at Rainbow or Srinivasa theatre. We would watch films a year after they were released in bigger cities. I remember watching ‘Ten Commandments'. The dialogues had a background score of the loud chugging of the trains that passed behind the theatre! In the late 60s, only after Central theatre was constructed did we enjoy the luxury of air-conditioners. Jaffer's ice creams were an added attraction. Action movies and James Bond thrillers were screened at Rainbow theatre.

Naaz was the favoured haunt for Hindi-film lovers. My sisters and their friends used to go to Naaz mainly for the melodies of Rafi, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle.

Cultural activities in the city were rare. The music season was mainly held during Rama Navami. Most concerts in Binny Subbarao's compound used to begin at seven in the evening and extend up to midnight. My mother and other women banked heavily on the ‘Jutka vandi' to get them safely back home.

Childhood cricket was confined to tennis ball matches in the front yards of houses. Later, we pitched stumps in Sastri Maidan and played with cork balls. Subsequently, we graduated to proper matting wickets and cricket balls. Apart from a leg guard and a pair of gloves, we had no other protective gear on us.

A few older cricket enthusiasts would supervise the cricket. While one had to pay a small subscription to be part of a team, many rarely paid. There were no sponsorships. Only private clubs and a couple of educational institutions took part in league cricket matches organised by the District Cricket Association.

Cricket matches were also played in Park grounds. The captain of the losing team was expected to sign the score sheet in acceptance of defeat. Inevitably, most losing team captains slipped away!

Till the advent of television, going to Madras and watching cricket test matches used to be a ritual. This was how one could tell a real cricket enthusiast apart.

While playing in Forest College, one could hear an old tree creaking. It was that quiet. We would also hear the clock strike every half hour.

Our seniors in school cycled to Marudamalai for adventure. College-goers spent evenings either in India Coffee House over coffee and cigarettes or at Lucky Café (on Avanashi Road) over tea and music played on the jukebox.

The most posh hotel used to be Woodlands on Arts College Road.

There were barely 150-200 lawyers in Coimbatore in the mid-70s. When the inflow during any year touched double figures, it was a record. We had very few courts till the 1980s. There used to be two munsif courts, three sub-courts, two district courts, one labour court and four or five magistrates. Disposal of cases was fairly satisfactory, since we had an efficient judiciary and a responsible bar.

Coimbatore has produced some outstanding civil, criminal and corporate lawyers. Coimbatore courts have witnessed some very important criminal cases such as the Sulur Subbarao murder case and the Rajan murder case. On the civil front, the Kozhumam adoption case was a landmark case. These cases are still spoken of, by the legal fraternity in the city.

Coimbatoreans were warm, respectful and hospitable. We grew up soaking in the city's culture. Now, there is a slow and steady decline, culturally. We have to ensure that our city continues to maintain its glorious past.

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Discussion Starter #14
Memories of Coimbatore: Turning the pages of time

Law Point: Advocates at the Bar Association library. Photo: Special Arrangement

T.R. Natanasabapathy on the era of touring talkies, the growth of Coimbatore, and life in the court of law

My family's ties with Coimbatore go back a long way. My father was Rao Sahib T.T. Rathnasabapathy, an advocate who became public prosecutor and was known for his extempore speeches. I studied at the municipal school (dharma pallikoodam) on Mall Mill Road from class 1 to 4. I would walk from home and join other boys in sending up a quick prayer at the Pillayar temple nearby before entering school. An old woman would sit by the temple thinnai selling groundnuts — a small heap for three paise. This was our interval snack.

Aromatic lunches

There were hardly 20 students in a class, and we had a kind headmaster in Somasundaram Pillai. We would sing Nada Bindu Kaladi Namo Nama before skipping off to class. Lunch times were interesting. The boys would bring brass thookus and dabbas, filled with sambar saadham and kaai. During lunch hour, a wonderful aroma would envelop the classroom. Because my house was close by and I was a motherless child, my grandmother would bring me food.

Those days, our city looked quite different. There were not many cars; there was no traffic… only horse-drawn carts. We had access to well water, but it would be salty. However, the Dhondarayan kenar was known for its tasty water, and we had someone bring us a couple of pots every day. And how cold Coimbatore used to be! The epithet of ‘Poor man's Ooty' was perfect.

From the beginning, I loved films. Samikannu Vincent, the pioneer of movies here, would pitch tents near Kaleeshwarar Mill for his touring talkies. I would take my step-grandmother, Nagammal, to see silent movies such as Ramayana, Birth Of Hanuman and Pavazhakodi, on a one-anna tharai ticket.

Later, I would go to Variety Hall and Edison's. Variety Hall would screen English movies such as Tarzan The Fearless, Tarzan Finds A Mate, starring Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan The Ape Man and King Kong. At Edison's, I watched films like Valli Thirumanam and Pattinathar; the latter, seven times. I loved the ‘Iyirandu Thingalaai' song — it spoke about mothers, and how I missed mine!

Samikannu Vincent also brought electricity to Coimbatore. Till then, we managed using hurricane lights. In the evenings, a government employee would climb the roadside posts, light the lamps, and put them out the next morning. Vincent created an artificial waterfall in the backyard of the theatre, and generated power. How amazing it was when the city was first electrified, sometime in the 1930s. We could not believe that by the mere flick of a switch at the end of a wire-mounted reaper, rooms would be flooded with light.

During World War II, a lot of inebriated soldiers would loiter around Red Fields. People were scared of them. So we would finish work early and the households would retire by 7.30 p.m. The fear of theft was huge and most people employed watchmen.

If we fell ill, we relied on Dr. Rajapillai and his orange, lemon yellow and rose-colour mixtures. The other famous doctors were Dayanandam and Gnana Olivu, and surgeon Sivanandam.

I initially apprenticed under A. Palaniswamy Gounder, a government pleader. Later, I joined my father's practice on Nanjappa Road. I would cycle from home to office and court on my black Raleigh cycle, which had a gleaming dynamo.

In the courts, life was exciting. Coimbatore and Nilgiris district extended from Kollegal to Dharapuram, and we saw a variety of civil and criminal cases. I also presided over a lot of cooperative default cases. People from both the city and the villages would throng the courts in the quest of justice. Two judges stand out in my mind — Anthony Lobo and Cohielo. Mr. Lobo was fastidious about being on time; he would be in office at 11 a.m. sharp.

In our free time, advocates would gather in the Bar Association Library. We would go through our notes and past decisions, and read the Madras law Journal and Law Herald. Among the famous lawyers then were murder case specialist Gopalakrishna Iyer, my father's senior Diwan Bahadur Sambandham Mudaliar and Ardhanareeshwar Iyer.

The city's stalwarts

Today, when I see a prosperous Coimbatore, I'm delighted we've achieved so much. The city owes much to people such as Sir Robert Stanes, T.A. Ramalingam Chettiar, the father of cooperative stores, the visionary R K Shanmugham Chettiar, V C Vellingiri Gounder and Diwan Bahadur Rathna Sabapathy Mudaliar. G.D. Naidu kept alive people's love for science; D. Balasundaram was a pioneer in textile machinery, PA Raju Chettiar in jewellery and T.S. Avanashilingam Chettiar in education.

Other stalwarts were labour leader N.G. Ramaswamy and the compassionate GRD. And, how can I forget the Rama and Lakshmana of Coimbatore's industry — G.K. Devarajulu and G.K. Sundaram. I remember how people looked forward to the science exhibitions put up by the hospitable G.D. Naidu. The display of a coffee vending machine and an automatic ticket dispenser still lingers.

But, along with the joy there is sadness at what we've lost — peace, happiness and the wonderful green cover that enlivened our city.


T.R. NATANASABAPATHY: Born on September 1, 1923, he served as assistant public prosecutor before being appointed special public prosecutor for cooperative defalcation cases. He retired from government service in 1978 and continued private practice.


Can you imagine a time when the judiciary reigned supreme and its practitioners were revered? The District Collector and the Superintendent of Police, both Britishers, used to call on my father, the Indian district public prosecutor, at our house for confidential consultation. That was how important the judiciary was for the British.

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Discussion Starter #15
MEMORIES OF COIMBATORE - Tales from Ramnagar

C.G. Venkataraman on a city where time stood still,the Noyyal still flowed and people smiled more often

I've known this city like no other — for five generations, my family has lived here. My earliest memories are of life in Telugu Brahmin Street. Life moved at a different pace. We had all the time in the world for tasks such as cleaning tamarind, pounding rice and rolling out appalams.

I took over the reins of my house when I was seven — I was a posthumous child. Those days, you could buy 100 measures of rice for seven rupees. We paid a like sum as rent, and Rs. 30 saw us through an entire month.

During World War II, we experienced fuel and food shortage. Rice was rationed. We would get a mound of firewood; at home, I would cleave it into smaller bits to make it last longer. The weekly kerosene ration was half a litre for a family. Still, people coped. Farmers would come home, hand over a keerai kattu in exchange for a handful of rice.

My life revolved around a limited area — Telugu Brahmin Street, Sullivan Street, Sami Iyer Street, Thomas Street, Karuppa Gounder Street and Raja Street. The city was framed by the railway line on the East, Chetti Veedhi on the West, Cross Cut on the North and Aathupalam on the South.

Can you imagine, R.S. Puram used to be looked down upon as an area of residence because of the burial ground. Even then, it had a 70 ft road. Two arched streetlamps lit up the entire, tree-lined stretch. As for shops, I distinctly remember two — A. Rangaswamy Chettiar, and Rajammal, the betel leaf seller who ran a petty shop.

Transportation used to be so different. Most people cycled. We paid a half-an-anna tax every six months to the Corporation for a seal that allowed us to cycle. The rich owned bullock carts; the road leading to the girls high school on Raja Street was lined with carts waiting to take the students back home.

Many people walked. You had some buses. The fares were inexpensive — from Clock Tower to Ondipudur, the charge was one anna! Cars and scooters (Lamberetta) were few, because of the long waiting period before allotment —sometimes, we even waited four years! Getting a telephone connection was equally traumatic.

What's in an anna?

Those days, money had a lot of value. With half an anna, you could have a coffee or a masala dosai. Two annas got you a ‘maand' of jaggery. For one paise, you could buy enough groundnut for two boys.

Even in the 1920s, we had money transfer. Only, it was done differently. Rupee notes (Rs. 50 and Rs. 100) would be cut into two and sent through different handlers. The receiver would stick the notes together and deposit it in The Madras Bank.

Ramnagar, as we know it today, came into existence sometime between 1908 and 1910. It used to be called Brahmin New Extension. Each plot measured 25 cents; it cost a paltry 150 rupees.

And, during construction, you had to leave a 15 ft margin in front of the house, and 10 ft each on the sides and back.

Other than the main road that leads to the 77-year-old temple, all the streets were named after leaders — Sastri, Malaviya, Ansari, Rajaji, and so on.

I moved to Ramnagar in 1965. Beyond Ansari Street was Katoor, home to mill quarters. There were large swatches of agricultural lands too. In a way, this was the end of the new town — a reason why Suburban school got its name!

Among the welcome changes is that poverty has reduced. When we fed people at the Ayyappa Puja Sangham during our annual puja, they would line the roads on either side from the Ramar kovil; there were so many hungry people.

I'm also happy that parents allow children to follow their dreams when it comes to a career. In education, the work of Rajammal P Devadas was immense. With T.S. Avinashilingam Chettiar's patronage, she brought education to the city and emancipation to women. PSGR Krishnammal and Nirmala College contributed to women's education too.

Women slowly started driving too. A lady from the Keshavardhini hair oil family and Dr. Saraswathi were among the first to take to the wheel.

We had little in the form of entertainment. Carnatic concerts used to be held at Binny Subba Rao's house on Ponnurangam Road. Later, we had concerts at Sankara Madam, Ayyappa Puja Sangham, and other places.

There was no space for drama, though, and that's how the Ramnagar Fine Arts Society was born. We brought in plays by Cho and other veterans, staged in Shanmuga Theatre. Drama competitions were also held; judging them was such a pleasure. All the worries of work wilted away, and you were rejuvenated.

Among the things I miss are the spacious homes, the lilting notes of good tamizh, and the crystal clear Noyyal. It used to flow near Sundakamuthur, you know? I miss the crows, sparrows, and mynahs and the music they created at dawn and dusk as they set out of their nests and returned to roost.

C.G. VENKATARAMAN Born in 1927, CGV turned auditor in 1956 and practised till 1982. He helped collect funds for and construct a building on DB Road for auditors and audit students. He now renders his service to many organisations, gratis. CGV also helps renovate small temples.


Every street would have a stone trench brimming with water for cattle to drink from. As they walked back after quenching their thirst, people would hold out bundles of agathi keerai

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Discussion Starter #16
Memories of Coimbatore - Scenes from the stage

FLASHBACK TO A HOARY PAST Kovai Sarala in a play produced by K.S. Krishnan. Photo: Special Arrangement

K.S. Krishnan on amateur theatre, peoples' love for the arts and the popularity of plays

Giving in to my desire of striking it rich in the field of theatre, I moved to Coimbatore in the 1960s from my hometown in Thrissur. For, this city had more than 20 troupes then. On March 10, 1967, I staged my first play, Sambandhi Varugirar, literally on the footpath, on Sami Iyer Pudhu Veedhi. It cost me Rs. 30 to stage. Today, I struggle to put together a drama for Rs. 25,000!

Theatre flourished then. We did not have too many venues, but how people flocked to see plays! Most were housefull shows. This, despite the fact men played female characters on stage. But, there's only so much emotion men can bring in. And, so, when I cast Pollachi-based actor, Ramamani, in my play Vaanavil and got her to dance to a duet too, there was much furore. In time of course, women entered the stage.

Among the popular troupes then were Coimbatore Cultural Association, Kovai Recreations, Lakshmi Mills Drama Troupe, South India Viscose Drama Troupe, Kalalaya, Navaratna, FAACT and Coimbatore Arts Academy.

We used to perform in a hall in the basement of Shanmuga Theatre. Purandaradasar Hall was our refuge, though. It had a thatched hall, but was centrally located and you could be assured of an audience. CS and W Mills (Stanes Mills) had a good auditorium too, but reaching it was a daunting task. You had to travel through a lonely stretch, locally called Panankaadu.

Then, there was the Jail auditorium, but it suited the needs of the middle and upper class better, because of the sheer distance you had to walk to get in. The present Kalaiarangam used to be the Corporation office! And so, most of us threw our lot with Purandaradasar hall.

Many stalwarts staged plays in the city — R.S. Manohar, K. Balachander, V.S. Raghavan, Major Sundararajan… They even staged Server Sundaram here. There were many sabhas too, which brought in musicians and theatre persons from outside — Sri Guru Guha Gana Sabha; Thayagaraja Sangeetha Sabha (M.S. Subbulakshmi, Hemamalini and Usha Uthup performed in their concerts!) and Urvashi Sabha, run by Sasi Swaminathan (with plays by Visu and Mouli).There was also Ramnagar Fine Arts, Kalamandir and Janaranjani run by K.N. Subburathinam.

Promoting art

We had many patrons of art — Velumani Ammal of the Ramakrishna group, Kalaimagal Ramanathan, KRS Mani, C.G. Venkataraman, and S.V. Ramachandran. There would be a play every weekend. You had something to look forward to. Yearly theatre competitions and festivals, including one started by novelist Vimala Ramani, were also held.

Theatre was popular in tea estates too, for they did not have access to cinema. But, television, the growing distances and hectic work schedules took a toll on theatre.

When it came to technical help, there was Bab's Flash on 25 Thilakar Street, R. S. Puram. Babu was an expert in flash photography, a novelty then. He would attend most of our programmes, take photographs and drop off the prints — gratis!

After rehearsals near Moonukambam (Gandhi Park) and Nanjappa Rao Chattram (near Big Bazaar Street; at any given time, rehearsals for six plays would be on), we would head to the Royal Tea Stall on D.B. Road (it still exists) for bun and tea.

The R.S. Puram of those days was something else. All we had on D.B. Road was Ideal Lodge, Ideal Café, some ordinary homes, a commercial complex in the form of Ganesh Bhavan (which now houses Ramoo and Co), and, of course, the people who gave life to our plays with their sound equipment —Vani Sound Service.

And, there were no autos; only horse-drawn carts. In fact, from one end of D.B. Road, you could see up to Forest College and Savitha Hall.

The facilities in halls were not great, but we were not deterred, driven as we were by a fierce love for theatre. And, that love was what took us to nearby towns and villages during the weekend to stage plays.

All of us would travel as a family in a bus. And, return late on Sunday night in time to sleepily head to office the next day.

Shivarathri was a busy time for us. Our brief? To stage a play from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. We would jazz up our plays with comedy and music and dance so that everyone stayed wide awake.

I introduced Kovai Anuradha and Kovai Sarala in my plays. They eventually moved to Madras, and stardom.

Running an amateur theatre group was not easy, especially since most people held demanding jobs. Luckily, my wife G. Uma supported me in my passion. Despite the difficulties, what kept us going (many members have been with me through these decades) was people's interest in theatre and the willingness of patrons to help further the art. Today, all I ask is that we troupes be allowed to stage a play! Don't pay us. Just let us get on stage again and keep the fine art alive.


K S KRISHNAN Born in 1940, this veteran has 50 years of experience in theatre, 44 of them in his Kovai KRS Troupe. He's made 3,000 stage appearances, including in Delhi, Nagpur, Bhopal and Kolkata. He has written, directed and acted over 52 plays, besides producing them. He has been conferred with the Kalaimamani Award, the Nataka Kala Bharathi by Bharat Kalachar, Chennai, and the Nataka Rathna from Chennai Nataka Academy.


Once, we'd gone to an estate in Gudalur to stage a play. On our way back through dense forest, the bus battery failed. Travelling without a light was not a happy proposition. And so, two of us from our troupe sat on either side of the bus, feebly lighting the road with our torches!

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Discussion Starter #17
Memories of Coimbatore - A town like ours

CULTURE CALLING: Sengalipuram Anantharama Dikshitar and Sengalipuram Narayana Dikshitar at a religious discourse in Lalitha Nivas during the Ramanavami celebrations. Photo: Special Arrangement

G. Lakshmipathi on life in small-town India, the congenial nature of medical practice and the cultural awakening of Coimbatore

Climate brought me to this city. That, and the desire to teach. A true-blue Madras boy, I moved here in 1968, smitten by the city's salubrious climate, its sweet water and small-town character. Plus, I got the chance to take classes at the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (CMCH).

Those days, the city stayed true to its epithet of ‘Poor Man's Ooty'. There were trees all around and if you drove two miles out of the city, you would hear the mooing of cows and the twittering of birds. Now, it has become more like a ‘Rich Man's Booty'!

Coimbatore had an aura of its own. There were niggling issues, though. We had Siruvani water, but it was not available! So, at 5 in the morning, I would descend the steps outside our house on Lokmanya Street in R.S. Puram to painfully draw up a bucket of water. Any deeper, and we could have struck oil!

University town

Our city has always been a university town. We had three engineering colleges (GCT, CIT and PSG Tech), a medical college (CMCH), the Bharathiar University, Forest College, Sugarcane Breeding Institute … this profusion of educated youth lent the city a unique flavour.

The cost of living was less, and all food was nearly organic. We got the best of vegetables, even English vegetables, from Ooty, and lived in a city where people forged close bonds.

As for medical practice, it was patient-oriented. It was a time when internal medicine ruled. We had few specialities — ENT, Ophthalmology, Gynaecology and Dermatology. And, in the 1970s and 1980s, we saw an explosion of cases of diabetes and oesophageal reflux — lifestyle diseases were making their presence felt!

There were very few consultants in town, and the medical community was a close-knit one. Indian Medical Association (IMA) meetings saw all the doctors of the city meeting up to exchange notes.

Sometimes, two or more doctors would team up for visits to Pollachi, driving through near-vacant roads and village vistas to eager patients. Then, there were the trips to Kotagiri, to a roomful of people who were unwell. Trouble was, I'd be so sick by the time I reached, I needed to rest beside them before I could offer my services!

House calls were common. Consultants came home even if they were not married to your sister! Most importantly, patients had faith in their doctors. And, there was no cut-throat competition; it was a very congenial atmosphere. No one went about soliciting patients. They came to us word-of-mouth, which, I still believe, is how medicine should be.

Even in the 1980s, we would send patients with neurological and cardiac complaints to Madras. Private hospitals gave a fillip to medical care in the city, forcing the government hospitals to keep pace. Today, I'm delighted that we are in the medical tourism circuit.

While teaching at the CMCH, I came across a deluge of people with preventable illnesses such as tuberculosis, diphtheria and cholera, besides anaemia due to malnourishment. We had to treat people keeping in mind what drugs we had in stock.

Keerai vadai and kaapi

In the name of entertainment, all we had were some theatres. They would screen English movies in Srinivas, Rainbow and Central. Central was so famous for the keerai vadai and filter kaapi sold in the canteen by K. Dhamodarasamy Naidu. During the short interval, we would queue up to buy ourselves a crunchy piece of bliss.

There were a couple of drama sabhas, but they needed month-to-month resuscitation. And, we had to go to jail for a dose of culture, as the auditorium was there!

When it came to Carnatic music, the city was near-bankrupt. But for the Ramanavami celebrations at Lalitha Nivas (at my father-in-law, Binny Subba Rao's house) and an association called Ragasudha, there were few opportunities to listen to classical music.

The concerts were hugely popular. Special buses would ply for the Ramanavami concerts in R.S. Puram. The performers were the who's who of Carnatic music such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. Once, Madurai Mani Iyer had to be carried over from the next compound to the stage; the venue was teeming.

Once we started the local Kendra of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, we were able to bring in more cultural activities to the city.

The original Coimbatore localities were R.S Puram, Telugu Brahmins' Street, Vysial Street and Tatabad. Bharathi Park was a twinkle in someone's eye. Can you imagine people being scared to walk down Bharathi Park Road? It used to be that lonely and dark.

As regards food, it was Annapoorna masal dosai or nothing at all. In cars, it was the Herald and the Ambassador. Luxury goods were an alien term.

Today, so much has changed. But, some things have not, much to my chagrin. Autorickshaw fares, water stagnation at Kikani underpass (local lore had it that if you stood atop the Kikani bridge, a rain-fed Coimbatore would look like Venice!), badly-maintained roads and clogged drainage systems. We owe our city that much, surely.


G. LAKSHMIPATHI (MD, FRCP, FCCP) Born 1934, he came to Coimbatore in 1968. President of the Humour Society of Coimbatore, he has taught medicine for nearly 30 years and was professor at PSG IMS. He was secretary of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for 25 years. He has been president of the IMA and charter president of the Central Rotary.


At Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, we once organised a concert by the legendary M.S. Subbulakshmi. The response was so phenomenal that we had to convert the Central theatre into an auditorium!

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Discussion Starter #18
Memories of Coimbatore - The freedom march

Thiagi Bu.Bu. Ramu. Photo:K.Ananthan

For the residents of Ondipudur, the day was of great importance. Three great leaders were to visit them. People young and old arrived in droves from the surrounding areas. After all, it's not everyday that one gets to see Gandhiji, Nehru and Kamaraj at the same time. They felt blessed indeed. Ninety-four year old Bu.Bu. Ramu vividly recalls the day that changed his life. He was 13 years-old then, and tagged along with his aunt to be part of the excitement.

“The year was 1935. The leaders were travelling to Sulur and stopped at Ondipudur to take part in a welcoming programme organised by the Congress people of the area,” he says. “Gandhiji spoke for about 20 minutes. T.S. Avinashilingam Chettiar, the then President of the District Congress Committee served as our interpreter.”

Bu.Bu. Ramu suddenly falls in to a moment of silence. “It (meeting Gandhiji) was like seeing God in person,” he says, his eyes moist. “The meeting marked my tryst with the Congress. I signed up for a membership and straightaway took part in party activities.”

Untouchability was at its peak when the young Bu.Bu. Ramu entered Congress. “People lived segregated lives. Harijans lived far away from the so called upper-caste people. Their children were not even allowed to bathe in the common well. They never got to see the sun rise or set, for they left early to work in the fields and came home late. People didn't realise that without them, there would be no vivasayam (agriculture).”

Bu.Bu. Ramu along with the Village Congress Committee set out to root out untouchability in the surrounding villages.

“We would bathe the Harijan kids, carry out door to door campaigns, and do our best for their upliftment.” Caste was so deep-rooted in people's minds that those who mingled freely with Harijans were refused entry in to other streets.

It was in 1937 that Bu.Bu. Ramu joined forces with N.G. Ramasamy (NGR), a mill master in Saroja Mill who would one day wreak havoc in the lives of Englishmen. Much to the dislike of mill owners, NGR formed a trade union that later fought against the British rule.

Bu.Bu. Ramu recalls his younger days spent in the company of NGR.

“My job was to announce the trade union meetings using a megaphone to our members. I cycled the length and breadth of the villages surrounding Coimbatore to do so.”

NGR and the union members met in a secret place in the outskirts of Ondipudur – the samiyar medai, the tomb of sage ‘samiyar thatha'. “The place housed palm-leaf manuscripts of the future as foreseen by samiyar thatha. That was where we met to scheme against the British,” says Bu.Bu. Ramu.

In the dead of the night on August 12, 1942, NGR organised a secret meeting of 25 of his most trusted members. Plans were made to disrupt flights at Sulur Aerodrome and set fire to liquor shops in the city.

“NGR spent the night there. The next morning, he was arrested while praying at the Sowdeswari Amman temple. He was imprisoned in Vellore, where he was brutally beaten. He never did see a free India,” says Bu.Bu. Ramu.

On August 13, 1942, the trade union members acted as planned. “A goods train carrying weapons from Aruvankadu was passing through Singanallur on the way to Madras. We set it afire. We also burned down telephone posts.”

After the Sulur aerodrome was torched, a thimir vari , a tax (levied on them for their temerity), of Rs. 7 per head was imposed on the people in the surrounding areas, he adds.

Recalling a green Ondipudur, Bu.Bu. Ramu says, “I was five when I moved to Ondipudur. The place was surrounded by vivasaya boomi (agricultural fields). Paddy, coconut and sugarcane were cultivated in large quantities. Those days, the area was famous for it's large weaving community. There were about 2,000 weavers in the area. My mother ran a road-side idli shop for six years. After her passing away, I worked in my aunt's hotel near Cambodia Mill. It was called Hotel Gandhi Niruvanam. Most of our customers were mill-workers who maintained accounts and failed to pay up. We eventually had to close down the business,” says Bu.Bu. Ramu.

Bu.Bu. Ramu says that Ondipudur's infrastructure improved only after independence. The walls of his house are lined with rows of framed photographs of great leaders who changed the fate of the nation. Pointing to framed photographs of Sukhadev, Bhagat Singh and Raja Guru, he says, “Those days, you could be arrested for hanging these in your house.” (As told to AKILA KANNADASAN)

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Discussion Starter #19
Cinema and the city

Coimbatore talkies Stills from Pesa Mozhi, a documentary on Samikannu Vincent; Malai Kallan shot at Pakshiraja Studios, and the recent discussion on Cinema and Coimbatore Photo: K. Ananthan

Not too long ago, the floors of the famed Singanallur Central Studios buzzed with action. A documentary on the veteran singer T.M. Soundarajan was being shot. The singer, who won millions of hearts with his extraordinary singing, started his musical journey right here. He had recorded his first song at Central Studios of our own Coimbatore. “It was an emotional moment for the singer and for those watching, it was a chance of lifetime,” recalls artist V. Jeevananthan, President of Chitrakala Academy. Jeevananthan ,who was present during the filming of the documentary which happened about five or six years ago, shared the experience with an eager audience of young film-makers, artists, and students, all passionate about cinema. It was a discussion on Cinema and Coimbatore, organised as a part of Coimabtore Vizha celebrations.

Talking cinema

Coimbatore's connection with cinema dates back to 1917s. Samikannu Vincent, a South Indian Railways employee, introduced Touring Talkies and relayed movies through projectors. He built South India's first permanent cinema theatre ‘Variety Hall Cinema' at Town Hall. It functions as Delite Theatre on Vincent Road even today. “Sadly, now there are no night shows because of lack of audience,” he says. The city has a number of firsts in cinema — the Central Studios was the first film studio in Tamil Nadu set up in 1936 by Sriramulu Naidu, a pioneer in films. Later, he set up Pakshiraja Studios which produced the blockbuster Malai Kallan in six languages.

Till the late 50s, Coimbatore now known as the industrial city, thrived as a cinema hub. When films reached India, it was Coimbatore as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned which welcomed it in a big way.

Asoka Pictures of great artist N.S Krishnan (NSK), and Jupiter Production Company have shot a number of movies in Coimbatore studios. India's best cameras were put in use here. Projectors were largely imported. And, a popular shop on N.H. Road provided a one stop solution for film projectors.

Film distribution was big business too. Gopalapuram Road opposite Railway Station housed hundreds of cinema offices. Now, they are taken over by Advocate's offices. The popular Sreenivasa Theatre on Brooke Bond Road and Rainbow Theatre (now rainbow apartments) on Trichy Road screened English films. “Sreepathy Theatre used to screen European films with subtitles, something which was never heard of during that time. Also, art films,” adds Jeevananthan.

Local contribution

Many directors, actors, and technicians from the region like Jaishankar, R. Sundarrajan, Manivannan, Sivakumar, Bhagyaraj, Manikandan and Krishnan Panju have contributed immensely to the growth of cinema. The popular Thevar Films, which has produced silver jubilee hits, had their offices in the city before moving to Chennai. Coimbatore has contributed immensely to the cinema movement, but is the city conducive for movie makers? The discussion starts on this note. Cartoonist and short-film maker Balasubramaniam, who has recently made a short-film on power cuts, says the city lags behind in resources for film-making.

“Youngsters have creative ideas but we have to make do with mediocre handy cams and low-end software in production. Availability of actors is another issue,” he adds. Many youngsters consider Chennai as a cinema hub, as it offers everything on a platter.

Balasubramaniam shares how Coimbatore has an enviable collection of world cinema. “Popular director Hariharan of L.V. Prasad Academy, Chennai (who also made the historic Pazhassi Raja recently) comes with a list of world cinema names and picks them all up from Sai Baba colony in Coimbatore,” he adds.

Jagadish from SMS College of Engineering is also an aspiring film-maker. He narrates his experience of spending an entire day to find a charger for a film camera. “We got it at Perumal Studios. Camera equipment and related accessories should be easily accessible to encourage filmmakers,” he adds.

In touch with the masses

Artist Selvaraj, who was recently at the Trivandrum Film Festival, has an interesting incident to share.

“While returning from the show, we saw the classic filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan at a medical shop buying medicines and driving away just like any ordinary person. It is important for filmmakers to mingle with the public to highlight issues that touch our lives,” he adds.

Script-writing workshops, promoting shooting spots in and around Coimbatore, highlighting social issues that bother Coimbatore (about migratory workers, for instance) were discussed. Young film makers also appealed to industrialists to help finance their projects. “Reading literature is important to make creative films,” Jeevananthan insists.

“Aim higher and look up to personalities such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan or Satyajit Ray, who command respect globally for their films.”

Despite an illustrious history, another issue that bother the films lovers is the poor representation of Coimbatore in films. “We have instances of just a couple of films such as Makkalai Petra Maharashi (starring Sivaji Ganesan) and China Thambi and Periya Thambi, which highlight the beauty of the Kongu region and the Kongu lingo. Slangs of Thanjavur and Madurai and their culture are so often portrayed, why not Coimbatore?” they ask.

Asoka Pictures of great artist N.S Krishnan (NSK), and Jupiter Production Company have shot a number of movies in Coimbatore studios

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Discussion Starter #20
Coimbatore and Trade Unions - Thyagi NGR

Trade union leader N.G.Ramasamy of Coimbatore

Thyagi NGR’ lived and died for the working community

Coimbatore: Among the architects of Coimbatore, N.G.Ramasamy had the briefest life—hardly 31 years.

And his contribution as a labour leader was for just six years—1937 to 1943. But he was one who lived and died for the working community.

Within such a short span of time, he has carved a niche for himself in the history of Coimbatore working class as he was a real martyr. Hence he is called “Thyagi NGR”.

And a school established only with the funds from workers is run in his memory in Coimbatore even now.

He espoused Gandhian principles. But he never hesitated to take part in any agitation for the sake of workers and face immense distress.

Born in an ordinary family in Coimbatore in 1912, after the schooling he was employed in cotton mills as a worker who erected the machinery.

He was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1937 as a Congress candidate for the Coimbatore-Malabar Constituency. He was then supported by the Socialist Mill Workers’ Union which sought to defeat a Justice Party candidate.

As there was quite a lot of dissatisfaction among the workers, a number of unions were born in Coimbatore during that period.

While a group of persons including P.Ramamurthy and Jeevanandam modelled their movement on the basis of what was happening in Russia, there was a moderate group including Ramasamy .Hence, the Socialist Mill Workers’ Union split and the union led by NGR was called Kovai Zilla Panchaalai Thozhilalar Sangham, with headquarters at Singanallur. Now it is affiliated to the Hind Mazdoor Sabha.

Even as workers’ activities intensified, strikes and lock-outs followed resulting in skirmishes and attacks.

When a strike was launched by workers of a private mill in 1937, NGR was seriously assaulted. He was able to walk only after a month. Once again he was attacked with iron rods just ahead of the visit of the then Home Minister Gopalareddy. It took almost two months for the wounds to heal.

Some time later, he was attacked when he was to about to address a meeting of the workers at Udmalpet. According to historian C.R.Elangovan, he had a virtual brush with death then. But these attempts failed to break the indomitable will of NGR.

He was again subjected to a similar attack at a mill on the Mettupalayam Road. But NGR continued to work non-stop.

When Gandhiji announced Individual Satyagraha in 1940, it was NGR who was selected as the first volunteer in Coimbatore District. He was arrested and convicted for one year. When NGR was released from the jail in 1941, his health was in a precarious condition. Within a few days, he was hospitalised. There was an attempt to murder him even there. However, he escaped with minor stab injuries.

When the Quit India Movement was launched in 1942, NGR presided over a meeting at Coimbatore on Aug 12.Then they were said to have hatched a plan to derail a train carrying armaments and also cause damage to the airfield apart from breaking open the jails. However, the very next afternoon he was taken into custody.

As his health deteriorated in the jail, he was released. And he breathed his last soon after.

According to the historian, NGR never bothered to reveal the names of those who attacked him. Besides, he is said to have requested his friends not to cause any harm to the suspects.
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