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Chronicling the spirit of Coimbatore - TAMIL NADU - The Hindu

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Chronicling the spirit of Coimbatore

January 03, 2009 00:00 IST Updated: April 02, 2010 11:53 IST

C.R. Elangovan —   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: S. SIVA SARAVANAN

January 03, 2009 00:00 IST Updated: April 02, 2010 11:53 IST

The 42-year-old self-styled historian quit his profession to extol the virtues of the ‘city of entrepreneurs’

Coimbatore: It’s an interesting, even a strange journey, for a diploma-holder in Mechanical Engineering. C.R. Elangovan not only did manage to acquire a Post-Graduate Degree in Public Administration but also did secure a PG Degree in Environmental Science. He followed up with an M.Phil in the same discipline. After having worked in a reputed college here, he fell a prey for his passion- extolling the virtues of Coimbatore- the city of entrepreneurs.

“When almost all the big cities in the world have so much written about them, there is hardly anything for Coimbatore. This has been paining me a lot and I chose to quit the job to take up writing about the city, which has become synonymous with enterprise and development braving all odds,” the 42-year-old self-styled historian tells G. Satyamurty on the eve of Coimbatore Vizha.

His book that was released in December 2008 took almost a year to be completed.

His 238-page product talks about everything including the Rajakesari Peruvazhi (highway) that passes through the current Sundakamuthur region to the oil press to which the freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was yoked to in the Coimbatore Central prison. He outlines how a region, which was totally dry, with no perennial river, nor a history of prosperity nor a strong political or economic background, with neither a port nor natural wealth like minerals, became the cynosure of industrialists.

Compared to various other cities, the phenomenal development that Coimbatore has achieved is in considerably less span of time.

Mr. Elangovan’s writing mainly focuses on the past two centuries. He speaks of the earthquake in 1900 and the plague that ravaged the city in the first three decades of 20th century claiming more than 25,000 lives and how the city suffered as it had absolutely no water, except for a couple of wells, even to drink despite a population of just about 50,000 in 1910. Most of his concentration is on industrialisation of Coimbatore – becoming the Manchester of South India, development of pump and motor units, invention of wet grinders and manufacture of steel furniture. And also how gold jewellery and trade took roots.

He traces the trade and commerce in the region and establishment of a Chamber of Commerce and the birth of major industrial bodies like the Coimbatore District Small Scale Industries Association and Southern India Engineering Manufacturers Association. A substantial space has been apportioned for the development of educational institutions. Also he delineates the growth of transport industry, led by the genius of G.D. Naidu.

Film industry

In his radar are the development of film industry and religious institutions as well.

According to him, there were several factors which contributed to the development of Coimbatore.

They include the British promoting cotton cultivation in India in order to meet their requirements in England, Coimbatore agriculturists’ dedicated cultivation of cotton, agriculture made possible round the year thanks to the manufacture of pumps locally, the courage of starting textile and other industries and mobilising capital locally, the major highway connecting both the Karnataka and Kerala passing through Coimbatore, good rail track connection, excellent and a large number of educational institutions and the input of those who studied abroad and travelled across the globe.

But above all, it is the human resource that has been the basic factor that has led to this kind of evolution, he asserts.

He has dedicated 22 chapters in this regard.

He speaks of the architects of modern Coimbatore, some of whom rose to eminence even at the national level.

While S.P. Nasimhalu Naidu was a multifaceted personality, the first Coimbatore representative to attend the first conclave of the Indian National Congress, he chose to visit a textile mill in Bombay then. This led to his giving a space for Stanes Mill in Coimbatore.

Cooperative movement

A. Ramalingam Chettiar, the pioneer of co-operative movement in the region, was instrumental in getting a TB sanatorium at Perundurai.

V.C. Vellingiri Gounder, as the president of the Coimbatore District Board, established a number of schools in rural areas and he was said to have introduced commercial crops as early as 1910.

C.S. Rathinasabapathi Mudaliar, the Father of Modern Coimbatore, was a councillor for 17 years and also the chairman of the municipality for 16 more years. It was during his tenure that the city expanded.

“If it was Chettiar it was Ramlingam Chettiar, Mudaliar Rathinasabapathi Mudaliar and Gounder it was Vellingiri Gounder for the public those days in Coimbatore,” says Mr. Elangovan.

“Neither the caste nor the political affiliations could hurt their relationship and all of them worked in unison for the welfare of the people.”

R.K. Shanmugham Chetti, the first Finance Minister of the Independent India, is said to have been deputed to resolve the “Sterling crisis” in England in the early part of 20th century. He had the vision to launch a Chamber of Indian Commerce and Industry despite the existence of a chamber set up by the British. Besides, he was instrumental in setting up a Textile Research Centre in Coimbatore.

Mr. Elangovan narrates how Robert Stanes and G. Kuppusamy Naidu became great friends following their common interest in textiles and how the former helped the latter in using an oil engine for ginning.

While Mr. Naidu’s son G.K. Devarajulu started the Lakshmi Machine Works to manufacture textile machinery, another son G.K. Sundaram, a patriot who took part in the Vedaranyam salt satyagrapha, has been successfully stewarding the Lakshmi group.

Textool Balsundram was a technocrat par excellence with a heart of gold. An electrical engineer who studied in England, he is credited with designing the first motor in Coimbatore. He started Textool using totally indigenous technology and employed more than 4,000 persons. “His great contribution was the self-confidence instilled into the people of Coimbatore that they could become entrepreneurs in their own right.”

Transport sector

G.D. Naidu was a rebellious genius who established a system for the Indian transport industry. Apart from even making any number of gadgets, he contributed a great deal in agriculture by giving new varieties of cotton and even papaya. He proved that he could build a house between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. in a day.

When you talk of motor pumps, which were imported from Europe up to 1910, Narayansamy Naidu was the pioneer in making them in Coimbatore.

Now 50 per cent of India’s pumps requirement is met by Coimbatore. It was Sabapathi who was the first to indigenously design and manufacture wet grinders using the stone from Marudhamalai. Lakshmi Garden Krishnamurthy popularised it and now at least 10,000 families are dependent on the industry in Coimbatore alone. Prema Engineering Narayanasamy was the first to see the potential of making steel furniture.

From selling gold coins in shandies in 1900s, it was P.A. Raju Chettiar who had the fortitude to guarantee the quality of the metal and also accept the jewels with his seal for the original price. Apart from a lot of innovations, he created a revolution both in wholesale and retail sectors of this segment in 1930s.

Kasturi Srinivasan, a textile scientist and the first Director of SITRA, was interested in the welfare of smaller units and also power looms.

Technical education

G.R. Damodaran, a visionary in eductioan, introduced technical education in Coimbatore. Known for his compassion, any number of entrepreneurs owe their progress to him.

T.S. Avinashlingam Chettiar, former State Education Minister, set up a major institution for women’s education which has now grown into a university.

N.G. Ramasamy was a dedicated trade union leader and a school named after him is the only one to have come up with funds only from working class.

“Almost for 100 years Coimbatore strayed from agriculture to industry.” Even windmills were thought of by Coimbatore and now this region has become a major hub not only in industry but also education and healthcare.

Mr. Elangovan speaks of the greatness of the founding fathers by citing how they chose to name a school as “Sarvajana” (for all people). The amity among the communities was equally crucial.

He quotes Mr. Balasundram in his concluding remark: Great thoughts make great people and great people make a great city.

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