Life in Cochin during the ‘60s – A conversation with T K Madhav

Philip John

I sat down with my good friend T K Madhav earlier this year to talk about old times.  He had come to Cochin in 1963 to join Carritt Moran & Co (Tea Brokers). He was a Ranji Trophy player representing both Kerala and Madras State (Tamilnadu), and Dick Luff, head of CM Cochin, a cricketing buff and a cricketer of repute himself, welcomed TKM with open arms. Both were bowlers, Dick bowled at a medium pace and had an unorthodox action while Madhav’s run-up and speed were fearsome and a treat to watch!

I arrived on the shores of Cochin in late 1964 to join TC Satyanath at the
J Thomas & Co (JT) start-up of their Cochin Branch. J Thomas & Co had their first Tea Auction in Calcutta in 1861 – over 100 years before venturing out to open a new branch at another auction centre!

Though Carritt Moran and J Thomas were business rivals TKM and I became good friends but were careful not to discuss business matters at our regular Bar meetings at the Club! I wondered whether our respective bosses were nervous about our closeness. Later, TKM was to cross over and join JT but that’s a story for another day.

We were two young Indian executives in erstwhile British companies which had many ex-patriates still in top positions. Here are some names that we can remember. Of course, there were others.

Ex Patriates in Cochin in the ’60s

Aspinwall  & Co
Desmond French
Angus Peacock

Brooke Bond
Hugh Thwaites
Neil Grey

Carritt Moran
Dick Luff
Bruno Holloway

Forbes, Ewart & Figgis
Tom Pierce Jr
John Partridge

Harrisons & Crosfield
Bill Brown
Andy Spence
Antony Ellworthy
Jimmy Irons
(At this time the HO was in Kollam where the larger numbers were)

Neil Cader
David Mitchell
John Struthers

Madura Company
Allan May

Matheson Bosanquet
Peter (Cocker) Shaw

Pierce Leslie
JNA Hobbs
Chips Wood
John Tatchell
Dermot McCormick
Basil Earl

J Thomas & Co
John Jaques (briefly)
Richard Warren

Bankers (Grindlays & Chartered)
Raymond Yude
Taffy Dodds

Volkart Brothers (Swiss Company)

TK Madav continues: I joined J Thomas in 1970.
T C Satyanath retired as MD of JT in 1980. I think he passed away in the mid-80s. Not very sure about the year.
Kuttappan Menon (Kutts) our mutual friend passed away in December 1998.

Satyanath was a great guy but very complex. There were lots of things to learn from him. There was a brief spell when he was very annoyed with me. Thankfully it was cleared up.

Madhav then went on to reminisce about the sports meets Cochin had with the planting community.

Sports Meets between Cochin Club versus the Plantation Clubs in Munnar, Anamallais, Peermade/ Vandiperyar, and Nilgiri-Wayanad

Traditionally we had two meets each year. Up/Low country (always in Cochin),  We went up to Munnar and Anamallais on alternate years. The Up/low team initially consisted of Munnar/ Anamallais.
Peermade/ Vandyperiar visit was in 1966 or 67.
There were hardly any meets with Nilgiri-Wynaad, just one if I remember.

Philip John adds – The outstation guests would be billeted at the Cochin Club members’ homes. And likewise, when Cochin went up to the planting districts we’d be put up in the planter’s beautiful bungalows. Though never voiced, the billeting would largely be based on the pecking order (seniority)!

I was once hosted by UP Narendra of James Finlay (later to be called Tata Tea). At breakfast, the Butler produced an Avocado each with a slice of lemon on the side and a jar of honey. I had never seen one let alone eat an Avocado so I watched Narendra deal with his. He cut the fruit in half, pried the large seed out, squeezed in some lemon and poured honey into the hollow, then scooped the fruit out with a teaspoon. I was enthralled and the Avocado became one of my favourites that day – something I enjoy even today!

Usually, a meet consisted of Tennis, Cricket, and sometimes Golf. Cochin always won the bouts at the Bar! I was always a member of that team! The visitors would arrive on a Friday evening and the first sports event to be played would be Tennis. Friday night would be impromptu drinking at the Cochin Club Bar followed by meals at home. In those days there were no restaurants to go to but the cooks at various homes would put on splendid meals supervised by the madam of the house.

Cricket was played on Saturday and was the centrepiece of the Meet. At most Meets we would have a local band playing and there would be a grand dinner-dance party on Saturday nights. These get-togethers were most enjoyable and everyone looked forward to them. Manu, Rafael, and Sammy, the Cochin Club Bartenders, would work overtime and be discreet about all that they saw.

The Up/Low country sports meet was played for a trophy called Miranda’s pot, which was actually a chamber pot, and the winning team filled it with drinks and passed it around the bar !!!!
TK Madhav says, “If I remember correctly, it was an enamel pot donated by Dick Luff or Coffee Roy of James Finlay. I remember seeing it. It was corroded by then and looked to have been well ‘used’!!!!!”
The Chamber Pot was a Victorian invention that was kept under the bed for use at night!

This Meet was on account of the Gymkhana Club while others were between the respective clubs – Annamalai Club, High Range Club, Peermade Club, and Mango Range.
The Cochin Gymkhana Club used to bring out a souvenir for the Meet and the advertisements contributed to the Gymkhana funds for buying sports kits and gear.
The Cochin Gymkhana Club was a subsidiary of the Cochin Club. Only the club members could join the Gymkhana.  Timmins and N C Rajan were invited to become honorary members since they were good cricketers. This club was run by an elected President and Committee. The AGM was very formal; if you did not wear a Club Tie or Cravat, you had to buy a round of drinks!

Madhav continues, “Talking of Manu (the senior Cochin Club bartender) reminds me of a New Year’s party at the Club. Ranabir Sen (Rono), who later became Chairman of J. Thomas & Co had just landed in Cochin and I took him to the party as my guest. At the end of the evening, I was leaving when Manu came running after me saying, “Sir, you have forgotten something!” It was Rono fast asleep on a sofa!!

Madhav concluded, “As I mentioned to you,  these were all the stories Saroj wanted me to write down. Many more crop up when memory is prodded! I will speak to you later – and jog my memory!!”

That was a brief snapshot of life in Cochin in the ’60s. Most of you won’t know the characters mentioned but I hope this gives you a picture of how vastly different life was in those yesteryears.

10 Responses

  1. Good to see you back in action. Please keep writing on the good old days .
    I was a witness to the last days of the Raj in the Cochin Tea Trade having joined as Trainee Tea Taster in the Cochin office of H&C .

  2. A wonderful story. Could just feel the heydays of club life during an era which we can now remember with nostalgia.

    1. Those were amazing days! Very fortunate to have have been around at this moment in history!

  3. Familiar names from my childhood bringing up wonderful memories. Thanks uncle Philji

  4. Great to see your blog back, Philji!
    Wonderful to hear from Madhav too. I had the privilege of playing in many of the meets from 1977-79 when I lived in Munnar. I faced Madhav a couple of times too. In those years Munnar played 4-6 meets a year during the season of Jan to April when it was relatively dry and crops were low.
    We played The Anamallais, Cochin Club, Vandiperiyar/Peermade combined, Coorg occasionally, Wayanad, and occasionally The Staff College!
    I recall many stories surrounding these meets.
    Cheers and look forward to more of these stories.

  5. Good to read about the old tea world lifestyle in Cochin which am sure till even today cannot be rivalled. The British left a legacy in Cochin no doubt.

  6. Such exilarating, club cum sport, experinces rejuvinate, and infuse a sense of wepll being,

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