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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Co-op movement - Silver tongue Srinivasa Shastri and jewel of Triplicane - "TUCS"

A cooperative  is "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned enterprise". Cooperatives are democratically owned by their members, with each member having one vote in electing the board of directors.

I studied in the famous Hindu High School – the Red Building on Big Street is an imposing landmark of Thiruvallikkeni. Hindu High School (now the Hindu Higher Secondary School), founded in 1852 as the DravidaPatashala metamorphosized big and produced many scholars and famous persons. In 1897 the school moved into a present premises which is a red coloured three storeyed building in what can best be described as the Indo Gothic style.  Atop the School HM room is a big hall where many sangeet performances, kathakalakshepams were held with many hundreds attending them.  Amon the many doyens was  ‘silver tongued orator’ of Madras, the Rt. Hon. VS Srinivasa Sastry whose English was praised even by Winston Churchill,  was once headmaster of this school. Yet another illustrious alumnus was S Chandrashekhar, the Nobel laureate.

Ages ago, in 1975,  I graduated from Samarao school and joined 6th Standard in the Hindu High School, that grand Red building in Big Street.  From my house in TP Koil Street, (nearer Azhagiyasingarsannathi / MahakaviBarathiyarillam)  would walk via – NKT National Boys School, Sri Raghavendra Mutt, Vadivudaiya Amman ghee store, Uthukulivennaikadai, Gangaikondanmantap and vegetable market, winding Big Street, passing the old Post Office building, TUCS, big and small shops,  Bank branches [Syndicate, Canara,  IOB], tea stalls – cross carefully Pycrofts road (on which PTC buses would run]; ArasadiKarpagaVinayakar temple (more famously Big St Pillaiyarkoil) .. .. ..  and reach my school.

ValangaimanSankaranarayana Srinivasa Sastri was born ten days ahead of the Mahatma — a fact Gandhi never let him forget, always calling him ‘Anna’.    Born in a poor family near Kumbakonam, Shastri  rose to what his social limits allowed him to — a school teacher. He was trained at the Saidapet Teacher Training College, where he reportedly corrected the pronunciation of the English principal himself and a Standard English Dictionary from the library adjudicated that Srinivasa Shastriyar was right and the principal congratulated him for his meticulousness.Sastri considered the teaching profession as the noblest. For half a century, he served from a humble school teacher to the highest position of vice-chancellor in his career. A South African school he started in Durban still exists as ‘Sastri college’!  After 17 years of teaching at various schools including the Hindu School of Triplicane (the only Madras school to count a Nobel laureate as an alumnus), Shastri  resigned and threw himself headlong into politics. Surprisingly, this was after reading just one pamphlet written by Gokhale as part of Servants of India Society. He served the society admirably and on Gokhale’s death became the President, a position Gokhale had earlier groomed Gandhi for till their footpaths to freedom differed.

Srinivasa Sastri served as a member of the Madras Legislative Council from 1913 to 1916, Imperial Legislative Council of India from 1916 to 1919 and the Council of State from 1920 to 1925. Sastri also functioned as India's delegate to the League of Nations, as member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and agent to the Union of South Africa.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844, was an early consumer co-operative, and one of the first to pay a patronage dividend, forming the basis for the modern co-operative movement.Although other co-operatives preceded them, the Rochdale Pioneers' co-operative became the prototype for societies in Great Britain. The Rochdale Pioneers are most famous for designing the Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of co-operation that provide the foundation for the principles on which co-ops around the world operate to this day. The model the Rochdale Pioneers used is a focus of study within co-operative economics.The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28 that was formed in 1844.On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meagre selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles.  By the end of their first year trading, the Pioneers had 80 members and £182 of capital.  By 1900, the British co-operative movement had grown to 1,439 co-operatives covering virtually every area of the UK.

Back home at Thiruvallikkeni, the great literate – Srinivasa Shastri established the Madras Teachers Guild during his term as headmaster of Triplicane High School.He was one of the pioneers of the Co-operative movement and started India's first co-operative society, the Triplicane Urban Co-operative Society in 1904.  TUCS as it is known is very famous and the building stands majestic at Thiruvallikkeni Big Street.   TUCS,  one of the first cooperatives of the country, was founded in Big Street in 1904 by VS Srinivasa Sastry, M Singaravelar and others. The Society began one of the earliest examples of retail in the city and flourished for several years. Dotted around Big Street are several properties belonging to the TUCS including its headquarters  at Triplicane.

TUCS now owning more than 40 buildings including some Departmental stores is more than a century old now. The consumer cooperative society predates even the First Cooperative Credit Societies Act of 1904, which officially ushered in the cooperative movement into India, points out an official.Business started at 7.30 a.m. on April 9, 1904. "Our establishment numbered two, a manager and a salesman, each on Rs 8 a month. The manager was new to business but the salesman, a Chetti by caste, had good experience in the grocery line. Through the latter, we got a loan of a pair of scales and a set of weights and measures for the opening day," recalls the history of the TUCS published on its silver jubilee.

The credit for the venture goes to 14 local residents, inspired by the Secretary of the Cooperative Union of Calcutta, Mr Ambika CharanUkil, who was here in 1903 to attend the Indian National Congress.The group that came to be known as the Triplicane pioneers, led by Mr V.S. Srinivasa Sastriar and Mr T.K. Hanumantha Rao put together Rs 319 - well short of the targeted Rs 1000 - to start the business. The Triplicane store registered sales of about Rs 90 on the first day. On some days sales were down to "eight annas" - about fifty paise. But then `make haste slowly' is a motto of the TUCS.

The Triplicane TUCS building now sells – groceries, medicines, vegetables, crackers during Deepavali, cooking gas retail unit and has a Ration shop inside – and at some point of time sold liquor too before State Govt took over the multi-crore business marketing. 

BUT – TUCS is famous, possesses infrastructure, known for its quality – but the sales now are far from encouraging, seen as poor middle class choice, still it is not the preferred shop for  mostTriplicane residents.  Perhaps neither the Management nor the residents have ever tried to find out the reasons and improve – meanwhile smaller and bigger shops and now other Departmental stores mushrooming in and around have had flowing business.

TUCS the unique Cooperative Society is more than 100 years old – and perhaps only the antiquity is its unique selling point.  The foundation for the present majestic building was laid by HH the Maharaja of Bhavnagar, Governor of Madras on 8.12.1949 and building opened by HH Sri Sri Prakasa, then Governor on 16.10.1952.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
21st Dec 2021
On this day 177 years ago, a famous Coop Society emerged in Great Britain.


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