The passionate historian

history, vizag

Edward Paul’s biggest passion has been unearthing Vizag’s chronicles over the centuries. In fact, every anecdote or yarn associated with Vizag’s past, has gone through his lens for verification and validation. Feature writer for YO! Vizag, GV Ramesh interacts with the history buff and gets a few twisted facts straightened out about Vizag.

By profession, he is a retired Shipping Manager, but by passion, he is a researcher of Vizag’s history. Edward Paul has traced the origins of Vizag to as far back as to the 11th century AD. He proverbially left no stone unturned for this; he even read the inscriptions on the stones in Draksharamam to ascertain the antiquity of Vizag. He crossed the seven seas too in his quest to ascertain the origins of Queen Mary’s school. He searched in the London Archives for Vizag’s history. There he chanced upon the Queen Mary’s School magazine of 1931 and brought the most original evidence for the raison d’être for establishing the school, which was to uplift the lives of the oppressed child-widows in the early 19th century history.

The septuagenarian, belying his age, is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. And, he has many an interesting anecdote about Vizag up his sleeve to unfurl and surprise us. In the district and sessions court complex, he says, there used to be a huge ARP (Air Raid Precautions) water tank. It was, seemingly, constructed during Second World War days to store water for the emergency purpose of dousing fires caused by bombings. Though its intended purpose, fortunately, was never met, the dried tank was an important play-area for the students of the 50s and 60s. They would slide down on the slopes of the tank on their way back from school. It was subsequently filled and the Senior Civil Judge Court complex was constructed, he adds.

Drawing from various evidence culled from archaeological and historical sources, Edward refutes the popular notion that Vizag had been a mere village of fishermen before British made it a thriving city of trade with the port as its epicenter. He particularly points to a stone inscription found in the Bhimeswara Temple at Draksharamam, East Godavari district, where it was mentioned that a merchant from Vizag made huge donations to the temple during 11th century A.D. He argues that if it was a small village of only fishermen how could such a largesse be possible from a citizen to such a far-off land (in 11th century, covering hundreds of miles must have certainly been an arduous journey). Another important aspect to note was that Vizag was also known then as Kulothunga Chola Patnam, named after the then Chola King, who was ruling this part of the land.

Not only was Edward’s focus pan-Vizag, but it also did fall on specific institutions in Vizag; especially on the Queen Mary’s School. He visited archives in London to unearth the finer details about Queen Mary’s, which were not known even to some of the old-timers, who were connected with it. He proudly presents his findings, which unequivocally suggest that it came up to emancipate and ameliorate one of the neglected sections of the society, viz., the widowed girl children. The institution even provided a stipend to motivate their households to send them to school. It must have certainly brought light into their otherwise dark existences during those periods of extreme obscurantism and superstition. He visited archives in Madras (Vizag was part of Madras Presidency during British Raj) to extract the details of the construction and inauguration of present Collector’s office and other Government buildings.

Coming to his experiences in Vizag, he has many fond memories that involve spatial features, temporal changes and celebrity moments. Referring to travelogues, he divulges that the big Mission Bungalow owned by the erstwhile London Mission, in the present day CBM Compound could be visible from the beach. In fact, the legend was that the sailing ships in the Bay of Bengal identified Vizag by looking at the building which was the first one that could be sighted from the high-seas. He nostalgically recalls that the electricity generation from Machkand Hydel Power Project was inaugurated remotely by none less than the then honourable President of India,

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, by switching on the power-lines from a ground, teeming with a large gathering of people, near the old bus stand (present Indira Priyadarshini Municipal Stadium).

‘The present-day Dondaparthi was once a village, which was uprooted from its actual location that was adjacent to Allipuram, and shifted to the present place when the Railways established Waltair division’, he reveals. In retrospect, the rehabilitation colonies of Vizag Steel Plant were not the first groups of the populace who had to shift their villages due to industrialisation. It comes to light that it was Railways, which started this phenomenon, at least, in Vizag.

Edward Paul’s intense focus was rightly on the One Town area. He has, in his possession, different maps of Vizag belonging to different eras, which progressively show how Vizag’s geography changed over time. The gradual lengthening of iconic Beach road and the disappearance of a Fort tell the tale very vividly. In fact, he says, Ganneru veedhi in Burujupeta is a “corruption of the name” ‘Gunners street’. It housed the artillerymen (Gunners) deployed in the bastions of the fort during British Raj.

He has many such anecdotes, supported by perfectly valid sources of data, about the love of his life, Vizag. His ever eager eye and mind are always restless to unearth many an evidence to eulogise the glory of Vizag. He has made many presentations on the city’s legacy and history in many forums and brought new light to the historiography of Vizag. His contribution as a member of INTACH, an organisation working for the preservation of art and cultural heritage in India, is a glorious icing on the cake of his passion, love, and perseverance, with which he is going ahead in his mission. May his missionary zeal rub on all of us so that we too can take a leaf out of his life-book and make our life as resplendent, passionate and purposeful as his. Amen!

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