Friday, August 29, 2014

Gone bananas

The name on this building belongs to the second generation of a family that has been in the plantain business for so long - over a century - that the third generation of the family, which runs the business today, is proud of being known as "Vazhaipazhakkarargal" - the banana people. The first generation was the patriarch who started it all. That was Ragavalu Naidu, who began as a gumastha to a Somu Naicker, who was in the plantain trade in George Town in the mid-nineteenth century. 

Ragavalu Naidu's sons, Govindaswamy Naidu and Kanniah Naidu followed him into the trade. The latter was born in 1895, married, had children and then lost his first wife in 1918, and then his second wife in 1926. He married again and his third wife was luckier, living with him well into a ripe old age. However, the business wasn't so lucky. Debts mounted and the firm of Ragavalu Naidu and Sons had to sell their properties and finally the business itself. The elder brother's sons appear to have had no interest in reviving their plantain trade, but Kanniah Naidu was keen to re-start and seems to have done so with his sons. 

Walking down Bunder Street these days, one does not usually have luxury of gazing up and around. But the stalks of the banana flanking the firm's name caught the eyes. The story of the business came from a very quick (and cursory) search on the Internet. I might be wrong, for the search results talk about M.R.Kanniah; but we shouldn't let the facts come in the way of a good story, right?!

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