Many buildings bear draughtsman’s stamp
Manglen remains modest, despite achievements
TOMORROW Manglen Subramani turns 100 years old. Not only is this a remarkable achievement, he has led a life which many could only aspire to.
Buildings dotted around Durban bear Manglen’s architectural stamp, for he was a draughtsman back in the days when it was almost impossible, as an Indian, to ply such a trade.
He took a political stand by secretly receiving banned publications for the Natal Indian Congress as well as the SACP. He has met personalities like George Bernard Shaw and was a musician who accompanied many artists.
Manglen loved sport, and his sense of the ironic when executing his own works of art, led to him once being thrown out of an exhibition.
Despite his achievements, Manglen remains modest. This week, his nephew Vaanen Phillips lifted the curtain slightly, saying that his uncle was not keen on having a special 100th birthday party.
“He has always been concerned about others. Though he has never been to India, he sent me twice to visit.”
An ardent animal lover, Manglen will not sit down to his own meal before feeding the family dog. Nor will he go to bed until two stray cats who frequent their neighbourhood have had something to eat.
Giving further insight into the ethos of the man, Phillips told a story of an office cleaner working in the Rajab Building, where his uncle had an office.
“He had terrible sores on his feet. He was taken to hospital, but the nurses refused to attend to his feet, as they said he smelt too much,” said Pillay.
“In the 1930s my uncle went for first aid training, and came first in Natal in his exams. So he bought bandages and dressed the cleaner’s feet himself. As his feet healed, the cleaner told him that he had had his first decent night’s sleep in six months.
“He then said something prophetic to my uncle – that the Indian programmes on Sunday mornings on SABC Radio, would hear Manglen and his fellow players.
He speaks of the highlight of his musical career, when he accompanied the Indian philosopher Kavi Yogi Maharishi Dr Shuddhananda Bharati, who commended Manglen on his “excellent music skills”.
At one stage he was the music director of Raja Films.
“Founded by MS Chetty, it was one of the first Indian movie production houses in South Africa,” he recalls.
Manglen is still active in the musical field. He is a musician at the Asherville Ramdass Vishnu Temple.
From an early age, he entered many exhibitions and competitions.
He was once evicted from an exhibition at the Durban City Hall Art Gallery: “I had drawn a picture of Stalin, but given the policies of the government of that day (who viewed communism as the bogeyman) my picture was thrown out.”
Manglen, doing his bit for the Struggle, received banned publications from Russia.
“I passed these on to G S Naidoo, who had an office with me in Rajab Building,” he said. “This literature was destined ultimately for Monty Naicker.
“All this was arranged by late Comrade Kay Moonsamy, who was a close relative of mine.”
He also attended many rallies of the Natal Indian Congress and the SACP.
As happened with many people of colour in those days, Manglen experienced setbacks.
He tells of his eagerness to watch the great unbeaten billiard and snooker champion Joe Davies in action. Davies was expected to play at the South African Railways Institute on the corner of Aliwal and West streets, and Manglen applied for permission to attend.
Although he was given permission, he was refused entry because of being a nonwhite. “After much contesting I was let in. The saddest part was that a photo taken with me and Davies appeared the next morning in the Natal Mercury, but it seemed I was deliberately excluded from the picture.” Name: Manglen Subramani. Born: September 18, 1917, in Verulam. Lives: Overport, Durban. Education: Clairwood Boys’ School, ML Sultan College and Bennett College.took up art and architectural drawing.. Parents: Father “Cook” Subramani, who was known by this name because he was a cook by trade, in addition to being a priest.
Mother, Minatchy. Single: Never married. Siblings: Has a surviving brother, Dennis, and two sisters, Dulcie and Mammie. “MANY Indians will say the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world. But the person who designed it lost his eyes and his hands so he could never construct another building like it.
“I have many magazines with English buildings, which I admire.
“I come from a family of strict vegetarians.
“My interests are Indian classical music, cricket, soccer and art.
“I accompanied many artists in both recording and live shows. Some of them were Solly Patel, M S Chetty,amina Aziz, Salim Razak, Polly Bharath Singh and others.
“For me the highlight was when I accompanied poet Saint Kavi Yogi Shuddhananda Bharati and he commended my excellent music skills.
“I have also been a musician for the Overport and Springtown Sai Centre.
“Just two weeks ago I played the organ at Asherville Ramdass Vishnu Temple.
“I was a close associate of the late portrait artist Parke (Puckree) who had a drawing office in the Rajab Building where I had my business.
“I am a founding member of the Thirukural Society of South Africa.
“It has been a long life’s journey. I met great personalities like the author Sir George Bernard Shaw. He was a strict vegetarian.we had a conversation in Tamil!
“I also met artist Vladimir Tretchikoff of Russia. He told me that he himself was not allowed to have his exhibition in the Durban City Hall. He had it in the Stuttafords Building.”
Manglen is flanked by Comrade Kay Munsamy, an activist for the ANC and the SACP, and Munsamy’s daughter, Ragini Naidoo. Manglen playing the sitar in the 1950s. The picture Manglen drew of Stalin, which was thrown out of an exhibition in Durban. Manglen, second from right, with members of his band.