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....

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