Published in The Hindu, dated August 3, 2017campbellabad

It was an annual recurrence — the Tamirabarani breaching its banks during the Monsoon and the people of Thoppur being marooned. The small village of Thoppur lay just across the river from the Vaishnavite pilgrimage centre of Alwarthirunagari in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu. When it rained non-stop for about two weeks in 1914 and the water level rose, almost swallowing the village, the people had to climb on to the few pucca buildings, including the roof of the mosque, to save themselves.

When the flood waters receded, the loss, as usual, was considerable, in terms of food grains, cattle and other means of livelihood. Among the 100 Muslim families, many were weavers, some were farmers and a few had profitable businesses in Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was then known. After two days of living on rooftops with the meagre rations they could salvage, the people of Thoppur decided that they had had enough, and it was time to move further away from the river, to a safer place, permanently. Their request for resettlement was heard sympathetically by the then Sub-Collector of Tuticorin, H.R. Pate (ICS, who also headed the Sri Vaikuntam Taluka Board). The Britisher visited flood-prone Thoppur, ascertained the facts and recommended to the Government that the villagers be allotted an alternative area to live. The people of Thoppur had by then identified 150 acres of land about three miles away from their village and the Tamirabarani. Pate helped them buy the property, which comprised both poromboke and patta land.

A modern, planned town, complete with parallel streets, a park and a beautiful mosque right in the centre, came up soon. Four businessmen from Thoppur kept aside one-eighth of the profit they made in their businesses in Ceylon for the construction of the mosque. That mosque has the distinction of being one of the finest and the last to be built in the Dravidian Islamic architectural style. Token of gratitude As a token of gratitude for all the efforts taken by Pate in ensuring that the Thoppur residents got alternative accommodation, the people decided to name the new settlement, which they considered a managaram (a big town), after the British Sub-Collector. It came to be known as Patemanagaram. Pate is also remembered for his role in the updating of the district manual of Tinnevelly (now Tirunelveli) of 1879 with additional information and republishing it as part of the Madras District Gazetteers in 1916.

Even as Patemanagaram was nearing completion in 1937, a few kilometres away, Muslims living in two small villages — Sivaraman Kulam and Ganganatha Puram — decided to move to a place with better facilities. When they approached Quaid-e-Milleth Muhammad Ismail Sahib, he took up their cause with Sir Archibald Young Gipps Campbell, who was a member of the Revenue Board and a former Chief Secretary. Sir Campbell, with the reputation of having founded a Freemasons Lodge in Madras (named after him) that was the first to admit both Europeans and Indians, was receptive. He ensured that they were immediately allotted 80 acres of land.

Even as the Muslims started building a new modern township, “Muhammad Ismail Sahib suggested that it would be appropriate to name the township after Sir Campbell as a tribute,” recalls A.M. Buhari, founder of the iconic Buhari Hotels on Mount Road. Hence it came to be known as Campbellabad, (‘Abad’ in Persian means settlement). Incidentally, Buhari hails from Campbellabad.

Lord Rippon, Penny Cuick and Arthur Cotton are some other names from the colonial administration that we as Indians still remember fondly. There are monuments erected or named after these men for their significant contributions to the betterment of the life of the local people. Perhaps there were many others who did the same, in contrast to the General Dyers of the day. Patemanagaram and Campellabad certainly add to our multi-layered understanding of colonial history. P.S: Despite possessing a detailed history in Arabu Tamil, it is a pity that the village of Patemanagaram misspells the name of the man to whom they owe it, as the current name board reveals ( See photo).