India, Real People, Teachers »
March 14, 2012 | 1 Comment | Betsy Woodman
A photo of Mr. P. A. Thiruvenkatachari and my dad hung on the wall of my dad’s study for three or four decades, and I thought it had disappeared when my sisters and I cleaned out my parents’ house. But today, in the Woodman papers in the Colby-Sawyer College archives, I hit pay dirt!
Many thanks to college archivist Kelli Bogan for digitizing this!
Here’s Mr. Patch, with my dad, in an undated photograph taken at Patch’s lodgings on the outskirts of Madras, now called Chennai. The three vertical stripes on Patch’s forehead show that he is a Vaishnavite (or Vishnuite) Hindu. Vaishnavism is one of the main traditions of Hinduism; its adherents honor the god Vishnu and his incarnations, particularly Rama and Krishna.
In one of his letters, my dad asked Patch for some basic facts about himself.
Patch replied: “Since you are rather curious to know the milestones in my life, I should please you by saying: I was born on Dec 23, 1882…”
Whoa! 1882! That set me to googling and flipping atlas pages. By 1882, the British were firmly established in India, but elsewhere the British Empire was still growing. It wouldn’t hit its peak for another forty years, when it ruled over roughly a fifth of the world’s population. When the British finally left quit India, in 1947, Patch was in his 65th year. He saw that empire and others rise and fall.
He also lived through a dizzying range of inventions, events and transitions: the airplane, the motorcar, two world wars,the global depression, the atomic bomb, decades of struggle for Indian independence, Independence Day (August 15, 1947), and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in January, 1948.
In this letter, however, Patch gives some key dates from his youth in the early years of the century: “…passed matric in 1903…and BA in 1907; in 1909 gave up law studies and joined school service…”
I try to picture Patch as a young man. Not having any more pictures of him, I’ve found a couple of public domain photos that may suggest at least how he dressed in his student years.
Wikipedia captions this image “Six prize students for the year 1865 from the University of Madras.” These students were forty years earlier than Patch. Very possibly by 1907, when Patch got his BA, the proportion of students wearing Western dress would have increased. Patch might have worn a suit and bow tie and high collar, like the fellow at the far right. After all, Mahatma Gandhi in his early years dressed to the nines like a British barrister, and Patch originally contemplated practicing law. Note that three of these students have the same marks on their foreheads as Patch does.
This photo first appeared in a book published in Moscow in 1905. (Vlas Mikhailovich Doroshevich, East and War, Sytin publisher)
The picture caption reads: “Preparations for exams (working hard, they tie hair to nail in wall to prevent falling into sleep)”
I doubt that Patch would have had to nail his hair to the wall in order to stay awake. He was a voracious reader and eager learner, and remained so all his life. But he might well have dressed like this for study, and used similar furniture.
More on Mr. Patch next time!. Stay well, folks.