The Indian Geographical Society

Prof. N. Subrahmanyam, M.A., L.T., F.R.G.S.,

(14.01.1885 29.01.1943)


II. Government Service.
Immediately after graduation, Mr. Yates appointed N. Subrahrnanyam, teacher in the High School, had him undergo training at Teachers College, Rajahmundry, and drafted him into Subordinate Educational Service, when he himself became an Inspector of Schools. He took his M. A. Degree in History some fifteen years after, while he was teacher, to qualify for College lecturership.

A man entering Government service at the lower rungs of the official ladder gets the chance, if he is diligent, of disciplining himself for all drudgery; and has the opportunity, if he has a waking eye, of looking abroad and gaining experience in many posts and at many places. The Government has created a certain number of posts and selects a certain personnel to fill them, who are expected to fit themselves into several of them; and the exigencies of service require a man to be rolled from one to another, irrespective of other considerations. That is in the order of things here. But a rolling lecturer can at least gather much knowledge and N.Subrahmanyam turned them all to advantage. He was ever a thorough and indefatigable worker and he was all the better, for serving at Rajahmundry; Mangalore; Villupuram; Madrasa-I-Azam; Presidency College and Saidapet. He had to lecture on History of several countries and on different periods of History; on Theory and Practice and History of Education; and on Geography both in substance and methods of teaching. As early as 1906, he learnt through Mr. Yates of the leaven of Modern Geography fermenting then in Britain; even while he was only History lecturer, his interest in Geography was keen; he cultivated it albeit under adverse conditions; got the modern outlook from the start and became geographer of first rank by dint of self-study. Off and on he was acting Lecturer in Geography and was appointed to the Chair at Saidapet permanently in 1926, which he filled with distinction till he retired from Government service in 1940.

III. Geographical Association.
By this time a very potent influence began to exert its full force upon him and shape him for his life-work of Modem Geography, inspiring him with high standards and ideals, helping him break through his shyness and diffidence, and setting him on the ways and means. It came from another fellow-disciple of the late C. C. Iyer of Royapuram, the versatile Mr. M. Subramaniam, B.A., B.L., (his mother's cousin) a man of deep and wide scholarship and of varied experience in affairs and organizations and modem movements here. Their talents were complementary, both idealists, the one a hard original thinker, the other a splendid Organizer and a notable man of action.

Both were now in Madras. Long before, he had persuaded N.Subrahmanyam when he was still hesitant (1916) to choose Modern Geography for his province in preference to History in which he was long a Lecturer, or Sanskrit in which he was a College Prizeman. The former now awakened the latter to the importance of Modern Geography in Modern life and Modern Education; pointed out how it lay a virgin field here in South India where the labourers were few, where to labour was worth a man's ambition, and how a geographical movement generated here would travel far afield and shed its beneficent influence everywhere. Their combination was very fruitful and happy in results. Together they evolved the idea of a Geographical Association on a working plan which found ready support and response among a few kindred minds like Miss J. M. Gerrard (1926). The story of the Madras Geographical Association (now the Indian Geographical Society) has been told by Mr. M. Subramaniam, one of the founders, in his Presidential Address at Rishi Valley (Journal of Madras Geographical Association, Vol. XVI. P. 220; Para. 7 to 24).

Regarding N. Subrahmanyam's camel-load of burdens and activities, one may quote from it: "By his devoted work, by his obstinate refusal to be side-tracked under personal bickerings, by his perseverant energy and persistence in season and out of season, by his indefatigable lecturing tours, besides the normal duties of his office (the chair at Saidapet College) the Secretary, Mr. N.Subrahmanyam, has kept the objects (of the Association) steadily in view and has been fortunate in his colleagues who have accorded him their hearty co-operation."

And he had the satisfaction also of carrying out a cherished object of his-to erect a platform where can meet ladies and gentlemen, European and Indian, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, race, or sex, whoever, in short, takes an interest in Geography.

His work for Modern Geography was, indeed, astonishing in its value and variety, in its volume and range. Not only the normal duties of a Secretary but the organising, maintaining, or running, and providing for the last detail, in all the spheres of that activity-Provincial Geographical Conferences, Summer Schools with intensive courses done in short time, Refresher courses for teachers repeated at different centres, memorials and interviews, for pressing Geography on the highly-placed, finding persons to lecture and arranging for meetings, taking out excursion parties under his ever-watchful leadership, preparing syllabuses and regulations for discussion; besides writing elementary text-books and making geographical tours on his own account. And his zest for work never flagged, nor his zeal.

The success has been great. This other extract from the same may be read with interest:-

Ideals and achievements:-We may now compare the work done by the Association with the objects it set itself at the outset. They are (a) to promote and diffuse geographical knowledge; (b) to secure for Geography its proper place in Schools; Colleges and Universities; (c) to help to improve the methods of teaching Geography; (d) to work for a School of Geography being started; (e) to promote studies about South India from various standpoints.
The Madras Geographical Association can look back with legitimate pride on the work it has accomplished. Sixteen years; and every year crowded with activities and crowned with success!

"It found Modem Geography nowhere in South India (or India for that matter) and has relied it here to its rightful place. It has successfully educated the educators and educated the people at large, It has been endeavouring to make the public cultivate "a geographical mind" as Mr. Sabhesan put it and to "geographise education" as Dr. Cousins suggested. Most gratifying of all; the work done by the Association has been hailed as unique in India and first-rate on its merits by veteran British Geographers. By its exertions it has earned for Madras the fame of being 'the cradle of Modern Geography in India' (Dr. S. P. Chatterji of Calcutta University). And its example is spreading.

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