On Saturday, my good friend TK Singaram died. He was 87. Though a good 42 years separated the two of us, we became friends mainly because of our common interest – people who once walked this city of ours. Singaram came from an illustrious family about which further details are given at the end of this page.
I had always known of him as a pillar of the Madras Gymkhana Club and the Race Club. He, along with his gracious wife Vimala, was a fixture at the bridge table at the Gymkhana. We became friends following a heritage walk I did for the club, taking its members around George Town. Singaram did not come for that but was present at the slide presentation on Town that followed and supplemented my speech with several anecdotes.
He was a walking encyclopaedia on the Justice Party of which his grandfather and father were prominent members. You just had to name a personality and he would place them at once. A twinkle would sometimes come into his eye and then you knew that a ribald story on the person was going to follow. But he was never irreverent. He knew practically every house that stood in Egmore, Puraswalkam, Poonamallee High Road and Kilpauk. He was of great help to me when I wrote 50 Historic Residences of Chennai and also Four Score & More.
Singaram became increasingly frail in the last one year. His daughter and I were keen that he should be interviewed for the wednesday column on Madras memories of The Hindu. But somehow that did not work out. It is a pity and we are all the losers for it.
Somehow, you never think that men like S Rajam and Singaram would one day have to go. Yesterday, I went and bid farewell to him. Even in death, he was dressed the way he liked it – a suit. Farewell sweet friend and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Singaram lived in Ajmer, a stately house on Poonamallee High Road. This is the family history-
The South Indian Export Company (SIEC), founded by DeClermont and Donner, was one of the old trading houses of Madras. Located at a vital intersection of George Town, it was in its time an exporting agent to several companies of repute, such as Titagurh Paper Mills, Indian Iron and Steel Company, and Tide Water Oil. Its main business was in hides and skins and, during World War II, it was appointed the sole inspecting agency for these items by the Government.
Dewan Bhadur V. Shanmuga Mudaliar (1874-1953) was the dubash of the Company. This position involved being a representative for the Company and the dubash or agent was entitled to a share of the earnings. Ajmer was built in 1931 for Shanmuga Mudaliar’s daughter. Her husband, Rao Bahadur Kachapikesa Mudaliar, succeeded his father-in-law to the position of dubash at SIEC. Shanmuga Mudaliar was also on the Board of the Imperial Bank of India, which later became the State Bank of India. His son-in-law was also co-opted to the Board and remained a Director till the Bank was nationalised. He then became a director of the Indian Bank and remained on its Board till the Bank was nationalised in 1969.
A large and stately house, Ajmer probably acquired its North Indian name from Shanmuga Mudaliar having to interact with several Muslim families dealing in hides and skins. The curved sunshades and the projecting balconies are interesting features of the house. Today, Kachapikesa Mudaliar’s son, T.K. Singaram, and his family live in the house.
The above note is taken from my book – Historic residences of Chennai, published by Kalamkriya in 2008. The Hindu’s obituary is at this link.