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  • Pennycuick hardly known in England

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    John Pennycuick’s grave in England.

    John Pennycuick’s grave in England.

    Film-maker traces British engineer’s roots in the country

    The famed British civil engineer John Pennycuick, who built the Mullaperiyar dam, may be extremely popular in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu for building the dam and his life may have inspired actor Rajinikanth’s Lingaa, but he is reportedly practically unknown in England.

    Having grown up listening to stories about John Pennycuick in Uthamapalayam in Theni district, Santhana Beeroli, a documentary filmmaker, wants to change it by making a film about the illustrious British engineer who constructed what is generally called an engineering marvel.

    “In my home town, Pennycuick is a massive hero. Ever since I was a kid, I grew up listening to his story and was interested in knowing more about him. This is one of the reasons why I came to the U.K. to study. My wish is that Mullaiperiyar dam should become a famous tourist spot in his memory,” he says.

    Despite John Pennycuick’s popularity in Tamil Nadu, finding Pennycuick’s family roots proved to be difficult, confesses Santhana Beeroli, who currently lives in Croydon, London.

    After failing to find any leads, Mr. Beeroli says that he had to approach a professor at the History Department, University of Chester, where the film-maker was pursuing his Masters in Business Administration.

    “I only knew that he died in Camberly, where he had his family home, which he reportedly sold to fund the dam. The professor recommended that I look for leads in the British Library in Euston. Luckily, I found valuable information about the Mullaiperiyar dam, the designs, financial aspects [balance sheets], his own appointment letter, which gave me an idea about the kind of engineering marvel that it is,” said Mr. Beeroli.

    He adds, “Over nine years’ time, during which he built the dam, he didn’t take a single day’s leave so as to ensure that people who worked on the dam were not going off track. It was a complex engineering feat – to divert a westward flowing river towards the east to irrigate the plains. Apart from these information, I also documented the oral history about how the dam was built by speaking to people whose grandfathers and fathers worked to build the dam.”

    While the library had documented important information, Mr. Beeroli says that it proved almost impossible to trace his family members. “The British lifestyle values privacy and since almost 100 years had passed, it was very difficult to find his family. But through a website that helps find family trees, I was able to gather that he had at least four daughters and a son. I was able to figure out that his great grandson was John Hope.”

    Asked about how Pennycuick’s descendants reacted, Mr. Beeroli said that most of them were surprised and inspired by the story of their illustrious ancestor.

    “The people in the church where he was laid to rest didn’t realise how important and revered Pennycuick is in Tamil Nadu. My wish is to take his family to the dam. The film is 70% complete already and soon will be ready,” he says.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> States> Tamil Nadu / by Udhav Naig / Chennai – November 02nd, 2017

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