Rani Siromoney on mathematicians of repute, tree-lined college campuses and the city as a citadel of western classical music
Sixty-four years ago, when I stayed with my sister in Chintadripet, my weekly chores included a visit to the fish market, which was as crowded and noisy as it is today. When I compare the past with the present, this bustling market comes across as a telling marker of continuity. Madras has grown bigger and made rapid strides in industry and technology, but, in its core, it continues to be what it was. You only have to look at its marketplaces, restaurants, gardens and cultural and intellectual spaces to know this.
Madras has been a hub for voice-training. The well-preserved tradition of choir singing, initiatives to promote Western music and ample opportunities for young musicians encouraged good singers to turn voice trainers. One name that comes readily to mind is George Harris, who came all the way to Tambaram to coach the MCC choir in the 1960s. Given the demand, voice trainers from elsewhere were active in Madras. Even in recent years, the legendary Neecia Majolly, who lives in Bangalore, has worked with singers in Madras.
The city has been a citadel for western classical music. As early as the 1950s, western classical concerts were as regular as clockwork. Not only professional musicians, but enthusiasts of this music form also promoted it. In the mid-1960s, I was part of a successful effort to perform Mozart's Twelfth Mass at the Museum Theatre. Handel Manuel raised the profile of the western classical musician, not just in Madras but the entire country. He founded the Madras Philharmonic and Choral Society in the 1980s, but I fondly remember him as the focused organist and conductor of the St. Andrews' Church. Adept at ‘sight-reading', he could play extempore any piece of notation handed to him. Handel elevated choir singing to great heights and the tradition he established in western classical music is preserved by musicians such as Thangadurai Samuel.
Even in the intellectual domain, Madras has shown the way. Talking about mathematics, it has produced stalwarts such as C.T. Rajagopal, S. Vaidyanathaswamy and P. Kesava Menon. Rajagopal, the first director of the Ramanujan Institute of Mathematics, was a teacher who could instil a passion for the subject in his students. To help the student assimilate what he taught he would chalk down every detail of his lecture. At the end of his class, not a bit of the black board was left unused. He had a mannerism that could not escape notice — he spoke softly with a hand placed over his mouth. Ramaswamy S. Vaidyanathaswamy was a giant in point-set topology. Kesava Menon was a researcher extraordinaire. His work on the theory of numbers brought new insights. Madras continues to produce great mathematicians, such as V. Balaji and V. Arvind, sons of the legendary Vaidyanathaswamy.
The quintessential Madras academician is a conservationist at heart. Having lived on the MCC campus through the Sixties and the Seventies and having visited other campuses around the city, I can safely say academicians have been defenders of old trees. Anyone entering the MCC campus in June walked on a carpet of yellow — a long stretch was strewn with rusty shield-bearer flowers. It is no different now.
People not given to eating out will associate Madras with the safe idli-sambar. But the city has been gastronomically adventurous. During our trips to Madras (from Tambaram) on our trusty Rajdoot, my husband and I never failed to stop at the Buhari's for Ceylon minced parotta. Different foods today, but the adventure still continues.
RANI SIROMONEY Born in 1929 she is acclaimed for her perspicacious publications in various branches of Mathematics and her contribution as teacher of the subject. Adjunct Professor of the Chennai Mathematical Institute, she has long served as head of the Maths Department at Madras Christian College. Member of illustrious institutions such as the American Mathematical Society (AMS), European Association for Theoretical Computer Science (EATCS) and International Society for Computational Modeling of Creative Processes (ISCMCP), she goes on international lecture tours. Recognition at home includes a State award for Best Teacher in 1983-84, Outstanding Woman Professional Award in 1984 by FICCI - Ladies Organisation, and Lifetime Award for Women in Mathematical Sciences in 2002.
I REMEMBER There was never a dull moment in Prof. Quibble's maths class. While cleaning the scrolling blackboard, he went up and came down with it, sending his students into a tizzy of laughter.