A builder of landmarks Being celebrated more publicly today than the more private observance a fortnight ago is the 75th birthday of the builder of many modern landmarks of today. B.S. Abdur Rahman's contribution to the skyline of post-Independence Madras is every bit as significant as the Indo-Saracenic contributions Thaticonda Namberumal Chetty made over a century ago.
Among the landmarks Namberumal Chetty's contracting firm raised were the High Court and Law College buildings, the headquarters of the Madras Bank that is now the State Bank's Main branch and its neighbour, the National Bank building, now sadly no more, the Victoria Public Hall (Town Hall), the Victoria Technical Institute's first home which is now the National Art Gallery, and the Victoria Students' Hostel in Chepauk. At the inauguration of the hostel in January 1900, Governor Sir Arthur Havelock said, "Mr. Namberumal Chetty will have his name recorded in Madras in connection with many large and beautiful buildings in stone, brick and mortar. It should be a proud remembrance for him and his descendants that he had had so much to do with the beautifying of the city.'' The same could be said of Abdur Rahman, affectionately known to friends and business associates as `Sena Aana'.
East Coast Constructions and Industries that Abdur Rahman founded in 1962, has been responsible for such Madras landmarks as the Gemini and Kodambakkam flyovers, the first in the city, the Viswesarayya Tower in Anna Nagar, the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk, Valluvar Kottam and the Marina Lighthouse. There are several other major constructions by ECCI in other parts of the State, including the spectacular mosque in Sena Aana's home village of Kilakarai.
For centuries, the ports of Kilakarai and Kayalpattinam, in Ramanathapuram & Tuticorin districts respectively, traded with Ceylon. They were long associated with the pearl and chank fisheries of the Gulf of Mannar as well as with the export of rice and textiles to 19th century Ceylon. But it was through the expertise gained in the pearl fisheries that many merchants of this stretch of coast became well-known experts in the international gem trade. It was to find his fortune in the gem trade that Abdur Rahman quit school before matriculating and went to Ceylon. But refusing the protection and comfort offered by the business his father had already established in the island, Sena Aana attempted to strike out on his own, having learnt from his father how to evaluate gemstones. A loner, however, he was not welcomed by the trade and Abdur Rahman, to make ends meet, was forced to work as a messenger in a chummery, serving other Ramanathapuram coast traders who lived there. A contact made through one of them got him his first consignment of gems to sell - and Abdur Rahman was on his way... to Penang, Hong Kong, Belgium, the U.K., the U.S. and Latin America.
Today, his business empire stretches from Hong Kong to Dubai, where ETA-Ascon is a major conglomerate focussing on construction, shipping and related businesses. In Madras, ECCI is now part of the Buharia Group, but the flagship of the Asia-wide operations is ETA-Ascon, which has most recently been associated with raising another Madras landmark, Raheja Towers. But with family and kin to look after the group's far-flung operations, Sena Aana now spends much of his time on improving the lot of the community.
Almost every year since he founded the Seethakathi Trust in 1967, he has helped develop a school, a college, a technical training institute, a medical centre or a children's home. Scores are the other such institutions he has aided.
Now, with a nursing college and a hospital established for it in Madurai, he would like to develop a medical college on the same vast campus.
Whatever we earn, we must give back a substantial part of it to develop the community, he tells one and all. And he does what he says.