PADMANABHAN ACHARI AND SIR C.P’S NOSE
‘Fix anything except broken hearts’- a good caption for an adhesive; broken hearts we can understand, but what about ‘broken nose’? Yes, I am telling about the most famous nose in the history of Travancore, though it doesn’t belong to Travancore by birth; that large dominant nose played an important role in rewriting the history of Travancore – Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer’s nose.
Everyone knows about the turbulent situation our small state faced just before getting independence. On one side we had the eminent Dewan with his American Model government and on the other, the freedom fighters. I am not getting into the history of C.P’s nose damaged by K.C.S. Mani (according to Dr. R. Keshavan who treated C.P, the Dewan’s nose was not injured as everybody believed, he had injuries only on his cheek, neck and fingers), but the nose of a bust of Sir C.P had a similar fate.
|K.C.S. Mani's attack on Sir. C.P. - Sketch by the author (2003).|
Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer in his later years.
At Thampanoor, there still stands a two-storied building with the name ‘Sachivottama Sir C.P. Shashtiabdapoorthy Memorial Satram’ (opposite to the present transport bus station), built in 1940’s, the time when Sir C.P. was the Dewan of Travancore. Today the building is neglected; we hardly notice the structure hiding its facade behind hoardings and movie posters. But it did have a glorious past. In front of the lodge, there was a small mandapam which housed a bust of the Dewan. In those days, our little capital city was one of the most progressive princely states in India. The roads were neat and less crowded and public buildings were well maintained. So the Memorial was well kept.
The bust was damaged by a group of people who gathered for a party meeting near Thampanoor. The attack was done at night and it is said that the nose of the statue was broken off. The news spread like fire and in no time reached the ears of the Dewan too. Word was sent to find out a master craftsman who could repair the statue. They didn’t have to search for long, their man was just under their ‘nose’; the master craftsman who was employed in Travancore School of Arts as an ivory carver – N. Padmanabhan Achari (1881-1960)of the famous Pinarammoodu family, Pettah. Both his father and grandfather were master craftsmen who have rendered valuable services for the growth of ivory carving in Travancore. Padmanabhan Achari’s grandfather Kochu Kunju Achari was the ‘moothachari’ (head craftsman) who made the golden chariot for Swathi Tirunal in 1842. Later, he and his son Neelakandan Achari made the ivory throne for the Great London Exhibition of 1851. Kochu Kunju Achari was given the title ‘Ananthapadmanabhan Achari’ by Uthram Tirunal Marthanda Varma. Padmanabhan Achari himself was a master ivory carver specialized in making sculptures.
|N. Padmanabhan Achari - From the private collection of Sathya Moorthy.|
Padmanabhan Achari who was in his 60s at that time was leading a peaceful retired life in his house at Pettah. As I have said before, the period was a turbulent one with the national freedom movement gaining momentum. Clashes between freedom fighters and Travancore police commanded by the Dewan were common in all parts; Pettah was one among the most affected areas. Some of the infamous decisions of the Dewan such as the declaration for an ‘Independent Travancore’ and the installation of the ‘American Model’ government for Travancore led to widespread discontent among the people. In Pettah police charged at a gathering conducted by Congress party. Three people were killed in the firing.
When police came in search of Padmanabhan Achari, the family members panicked. They thought that the police came to question about the gruesome incidents that took place at Pettah. The present living family members still remember the horror that engulfed the house then. But in actuality, the police came to talk about repairing the bust as soon as possible. Padmanabhan had only one demand; as it was not possible to take the bust to his house, he wanted them to cover up the area around it; so that nobody can see him working. Soon, a temporary enclosure was made of thatched coconut leaves around the bust, with complete police protection. Padmanabhan Achari completed the work in a few days. He moulded the missing parts using Plaster of Paris.
Years passed by and now the building stands as the ghost of that glorious era, a silent witness to the happenings of that time. The mandapam was demolished and we don’t have any idea about the current whereabouts of the bust and nobody knows about the craftsman who repaired it.
Well, I think Padmanabhan Achari wanted it like that. Owing to the violent scenario which persisted at that time, particularly in Pettah, it was better to remain anonymous.
Sharat Sunder Rajeev.
Sharat Sunder Rajeev.