Col. Henry Davison Love’s bungalow, Victoria Hostel Road – but his portrait remains a mystery

Damsels in distress over pending PhD theses, RJs and DJs needing content, Government officials needing presentations to entertain visitors at short notice – they all beat a path to the door of the Man from Madras Musings these days. MMM like Sherlock Holmes ought to be demanding a bejewelled snuff box or two for his services, but then, as his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed has often pointed out, he lacks the killer instinct. He is happy to share whatever knowledge he possesses and get on with life. There are however some rich dividends, chiefly by way of content for this column, that make all such interactions worth MMM’s while.

It was a dark and stormy night when MMM’s phone rang. He ignored it but it kept ringing persistently and he realised this must be a caller from a government department. Only they are that relentless in their pursuit of their quarry. Sure enough it was, and from the mode of address (no third person Saars, etc), MMM realised that he was dealing with someone fairly high up in the echelons of power. The voice however displayed considerable emotion and from a certain quaver in it MMM realised that it was relieved beyond belief that it had got in touch with MMM. The conversation was brief, the caller merely stating that he would like MMM to visit an office on a matter of urgency at the earliest. A car said the voice, would wait outside MMM’s residence at a particular hour the next day, and then rung off. The vehicle arrived at the appointed hour and a masked driver stepped out (he was masked owing to fear of Covid). Having ushered MMM into the vehicle he drove on, stopping not till he had reached his destination, which MMM recognised to be a well-known institution of the city. Minions bowed and scraped, and MMM was fawned upon even as he was taken up in a lift to a sanctum of sorts where after being ushered in, MMM saw that the others bowed low and departed, leaving him in the presence of someone who clearly exuded power but appeared to be in the grip of a debilitating emotion. 

“Have you heard of So-and-So?” asked the presence, referring to a colonial personality. 

MMM said he did. He then briefed his host on what information there was on the man. The presence was impressed and having risen from its seat came over to MMM and asked as to how MMM knew so much. Not wishing to state that all what MMM had spoken of was on the internet, MMM asked as to why there was so much interest on a man everyone had forgotten long ago.

The presence then pushed a file of papers towards MMM and asked him to read it. MMM perused the sheets to find that some years ago, a persistent letter writer had begun sending epistles to the institution asking about a portrait of the colonial personality. MMM, well aware that the person in question was closely connected with the institution, thought it was a reasonable request. Indeed, MMM, and the late Chief, had also been on a similar quest for years but to no avail. Anyway, to get back to the letter writer, he had beseeched, pleaded, cajoled and used every other kind of request in his messages, which were being sent at the rate of one every alternate day, but the institution had, beyond filing them, done nothing. But then came a day when after a fairly rude letter, the man had, having lost all patience, filed a request for the picture under the Right to Information Act. The institution now had to reply, which was why MMM had been summoned.

Could MMM help asked the presence. Sadly, the answer was no. MMM replied that if at all there was a portrait or photo, the most likely place was the institution itself, where the person had worked for almost 25 years. Well, said the presence, a lot had been lost in the heat wave of 1959, the drought of 1967, the tornado of 1973, the great fire of 1981, the floods of 2015 and the cyclone Vardah in 2016. MMM said there was nothing that he could do and left. 

That was not the end of the story. A week later, MMM received a registered letter. It was a copy of the reply addressed to the letter writer. It regretted the institution’s inability to provide the picture asked for but most helpfully added that further enquiries in this regard could be addressed to MMM!