Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reading "The Cochin State Manual"

In May 2015, when India and Bangladesh exchanged their enclaves on both sides of the border, newspapers took the cue and flashed the happenings all over. The idea of small bits of territory of a particular country existing within the frontiers of another country was something novel to many of us. But few among us know that prior to India's independence, many of our princely states were but assortments of enclaves surrounded by British Indian territory. The largest and most famous of these "enclave federations" was Baroda. Baroda was sub-divided into four districts each of which comprised a bunch of enclaves.

Likewise many of the princely states thought to be contiguous pieces of land, either comprised a bunch of enclaves or held a few enclave villages within British India far removed from the seat of government. A particularly interesting case was that of Cochin. Though still named after the port-town, the Raja of Cochin  had ceded it in perpetuity to the British. Or to put it in simpler words, though the state was named Cochin, the town, its namesake was not a part of it, but that of British India.  The administrative headquarters was instead located in the inland town of Ernakulam, which many consider twin-city to Cochin.   Along the rough indented coast that comprises the present-day district of Ernakulam,  control was haphazard - a few strips of land controlled by the Raja of Cochin, a few by the British and the some by the southerly neighbour, Travancore. Chelnat Achyuta Menon writes that there were four enclaves of Cochin situated completely within Travancore - Vadavacode, Vellarapalli, Malayattoor and Chennamangalam. To the east, the northern arm of Travancore extended  20 miles north of Ernakulam upto the town of Aluva or Alwaye where they interspersed the great Travancore Lines and followed its course eastward. As a result, the distance between the northern and southern frontiers of the state in these areas was reduced to a few miles giving the state on a map the rough appearance of a parallelogram. More importantly, Ernakulam and the coastal taluks that formed the heart of the original Cochin state were cut off from the rest of it by Travancore territory but for one lean stretch. And the easternmost taluk of Chittur barely consisted of two disjointed enclaves in the Anaimalai Hills of the Western Ghats bordering Coimbatore and Malabar districts of British India. And yet with all these deficiencies, Cochin was still the second-largest princely state subordinate to the Madras government. And though divorced from its flourishing port, the Kingdom of Cochin could still claim jurisdiction over an area larger than that of Pudukkottai which itself was as large as any district of the Madras Presidency.

The practice of compiling district manuals and gazetteers commenced sometime in the days of the East India Company. An East Indian gazetteer covering the whole of the territory of Hindostan was compiled as early as 1828.A vastly updated edition made its appearance in 1858. To supplement the All-India gazetteer, the government started commissioning district manuals in the 1860s. A series of district manuals for the Madras Presidency were brought out between 1868 and 1887. These were extensively rewritten and revised between 1906 and 1918. The revised editions were titled "gazetteers" instead of "manuals". Following the example of the British districts, princely states brought out their own manuals. The first to do so was Travancore and the 3-volume Travancore State Manual published in 1906 is considered a classic and bagged its principal editor V. Nagam Aiya the title of "Diwan Bahadur". (A revised 4-volume set was brought out in 1940. It was edited by T. K. Velu Pillai) Following the lead set by Travancore, Cochin brought out its  Cochin State Manual in 1911. The timing of compilation seems inexplicably intertwined with the size of the corresponding princely state as Pudukkottai, the third in size in Madras Presidency was the next to bring out its manual, the 3-volume A Manual of the Pudukkottai State edited by K. R. Venkatarama Ayyar appearing in stages between 1938 and 1944.(As I write this piece, I learn from the net that there was an earlier single-volume"manual" of Pudukkottai state edited by Venkat Rao and published in 1921)  Banganapalle and Sandur, the smaller of the five princely states did not commission any such manuals - I wonder whether there was anything about them that would fill the pages of a whole book and even if there was, did they have the resources to fund such a project. Banganapalle to me is synonymous with mangoes but Sandur, the smallest, did have something to boast about - it was the first princely state in India to outlaw untouchability. Its last ruler, Yeshwantrao Ghorpade, a wildlife lover was a friend of the great writer and wildlife conservationist M. Krishnan who worked in the Sandur State Service for many years. Among Yeshwantrao's many socio-political reforms was the setting up of a legislative assembly making Sandur the smallest state to have one. The state probably had all except a gazetteer or state manual.


Coming back to the topic, now having read quite a bit of the Pudukkottai manual, I wanted to lay my hands upon the Cochin manual as well. And by chance, I found it on the web. The Cochin State Manual published by the Cochin Government Press in 1911 was edited by C. Achyuta Menon, Superintendent of Census Operations for Cochin State and former Secretary to the Diwan of Cochin. The book details the history, flora, fauna and the physical aspects of Cochin along with an account of the state's administrative machinery, religious and charitable institutions and winds it up with a well-compiled gazetteer. The history of the state makes interesting reading. Though Cochin failed to approach the benchmark set by neighbouring Travancore, the levels of progress it reached were nevertheless astonishing. The state owed much of its growth to Sankara Warrier of the Thottakattu family and his two sons T. Sankunni Menon and T. Govindan Menon whose dewanships extended for more than a half a century.  Another name that is almost ubiquitous in Kerala is that of the Scottish adventurer and soldier-turned-administrator John Munro. During the long period of reconstruction after the the Mysore Wars, Munro headed an interim administration that oversaw the transition of the two Kerala kingdoms from traditional oligarchies to devolved welfare-states. Other famous administrators who had served as diwans of Cochin include P. Rajagopalachari and G. T. Boag -  civil servants of the first order who made their mark elsewhere. In the end, independence did what years of war and diplomacy couldn't - Cochin was appended to the neighbouring Travancore to form the state of Travancore-Cochin with the Maharaja of Travancore as "Rajpramukh" or administrator thus bringing centuries of autonomy to an end. The whole of the erstwhile Cochin kingdom was now made to fit into a district of the new state. The state of Cochin disappeared  into history to be followed a little later by Travancore. At the time of independence, Cochin had schools, colleges, hospitals, an efficient postal system and railways. Though it did not have airports or a considerable standing army as the few bigger ones like Hyderabad, J&K, Mysore and Travancore, for its size Cochin was certainly well off.

With the arrival of independence, the tradition of compiling elaborate gazetteers and well-researched manuals was also consigned to history. District manuals of considerable quality were continued to be made in the Madras State till the late 1950s thanks to the resilience of old-timers like Rao Bahadur B. S. Baliga after which the rot set in.The gazetteers of today are no match for the expertly-written manuals of yesteryears. It's being aeons since some of them have even been revised.  And few amongst us, the public, are aware that such gazetteers are printed.

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