The general pattern in recent years in India has been for many postgraduate students to do cut-and-paste jobs, produce a thesis and walk away with a doctorate. An occasional one of these scholars does a little more work on his or her subject and comes out with a book — often an unreadable one, as fellow-publishers tell me — and that’s the end of the story. I had not known of anyone till the other day when I found seven years of doctoral and post-doctoral research being literally brought alive by the scholar. All credit to someone who has been thinking beyond a book — one is in the pipeline — and has brought out both the knowledge culled and the learning obtained as what might be called in today’s jargon ‘reality shows’ in order to make scholarship reach a wider lay audience.
Over three days (and an extension of a few days for the exhibition), dancer-researcher Swarnamalya Ganesh brought before the public her seven-year search into the fine arts and the performing arts that the Nayaks of Thanjavur, Madurai and Gingee and a few rulers in the post-Nayak period had enthusiastically encouraged through generous patronage. Reaching into the attics that held a forgotten past, Swarnamalaya on day one presented ‘Stories from the Attic’, on day two (and for a few days thereafter) ‘Beholding the Attic’, and a couple of days later ‘From the Attic’. The first was stories about artists and their contributions that were narrated by several experts, the second was an exhibition of paintings, photographs from the past, and costumes and artefacts from the homes of the artists, and the third brought that splendid past alive through performance.
This bringing to the fore “the cultural memories of the performing and other artistic traditions of Thamizhagam” was made possible entirely due to what Swarnamalya found in the Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL), Taramani, and the Saraswathi Mahal Library (SML) in Thanjavur. I know scores of researchers who use RMRL and a few who’ve used the SML, but this was the first occasion that I’ve seen one of them display in such a broad-based and entertaining manner the fruits of those holdings. A few researchers from abroad have made power-point-cum-lecture presentations, but I’ve known no one to present their findings on such a scale and in such an audience-friendly manner as this recent effort. Well done, Swarnamalya.
Curiously, I found myself urging the same thing twice on the same day after being unexpectedly asked to speak on both occasions: Greater use of libraries and, particularly, archives should be made by authors and scholars; Google does not have the answer for everything.
Trying to enter the RMRL from Rajiv Gandhi Salai for the opening of Swarnamalya’s exhibition, I found the road leading to the library from the service lane reminding me that iron bars and stone walls do cages and prisons make and wondered why these new constructions were coming up in an area where so many institutions of learning are and where the concept ought to be that the winds of knowledge should flow free. The area I’m referring to is the Central Polytechnic campus in Taramani and, soon, all the lanes on this campus and its main entrances will be blocked by walls and gates, I was told. This was, I was also told, because girl hostellers and those working late were being harassed by unsavoury men.
Success despite non-leadership
Once upon a time, I wrote a sports column in other climes, not missing a Sunday for 13 years. It was a column that focused on all sport, cricket no more important than any of the others, even if it did help take cricket out of the elite schools and to the schools from where players like Sanath Jayasuriya, Lalith Malinga and Muralitharan emerged. I got to recalling this the other day when looking at the splendid sporting achievements of Tamil Nadu during the last couple of months, mainly with players from the districts.
Tamil Nadu is No.1 in Basketball and Volleyball, No. 2 in Football and pretty close to the top in Athletics in the country. All of them are people’s sports and all of them show results that find nowhere near the space that Cricket gets in Tamil Nadu’s newspapers. Here are players playing for the love of the game and not for the money or the publicity and doing so despite divided (as in Basketball) or poorly functioning associations. This is true of the country too, where sports like Boxing, Wrestling and Weightlifting, all of which have participants showing achievements on a truly worldwide stage (unlike Cricket’s ten-nation stage), despite having divided or non-functional associations.
In all these sports India has real talent. How do we get better results than what are being achieved? And that, to me, is the task before Madras’s own N. Ramachandran, newly elected head of the Indian Olympic Association. Congratulations, Ramachandran, on being elected to what I consider the topmost post in sports administration in the country and on bringing India back into the Olympic fold. But what lies ahead of you is the most important task in Indian sport — and that is putting to an end the destructive administrative cleavages that affect almost every Olympic sport in the country, hurting the progress of every talented prospect whatever his or her sport. This is a patching up process that has to be done from District and State level to International and should be your priority.
Can we now look forward to better administrative and organisational leadership in every Olympic sport in India, an end to years of off-field disruption?
When the postman knocked…
* N. Sreedharan points out that I’ve mentioned Arumuga Navalar (Miscellany, February 17), the Tamil scholar who bestrode the Palk Strait, several times in this column. But never have my stories been accompanied with a picture. And to make good my omission he sends me a Xeroxed picture from a journal, Ilanthamizhan, with a request to use it, even if it does not print particularly well. I am glad to oblige him and the many that might have silently looked forward to a picture.
* K.R.A. Narasiah tells me that while doing some research on U Ve Swaminatha Iyer he had come across a Tamil translation of a Bengali poem by Rabindranath Tagore on U Ve S. Tagore, who visited Madras in 1926, had apparently been taken to meet U Ve S by a Madras advocate, T.S. Ramaswami Iyer, who had preserved the poem for years. When he was on his death bed, he sent for T.N. Senapathy, Editor of Manjari, a Tamil digest, and handed over Tagore’s poem to him. Senapathy, who knew Bengali, translated the poem into Tamil and got it published in Ilanthamizhan, a magazine then being brought out by T.V. Meykandar, a lecturer at Presidency College. While this tidbit is of some interest, what intrigues me is the coincidence of Sreedharan’s and Narasiah’s inputs both reaching me around the same time and both referring to a journal called Ilanthamizhan. Are both readers referring to the same journal? If so, Ilanthamizhan would appear to have had a long innings and is still going strong, considering Sreedharan’s offering comes from a February 2014 issue. Would be delighted to hear more about this journal, if it does have the history that seems to be indicated by these coincidental deliveries by the postman.
* A reader from Ashok Nagar, whose scrawl I’ve found difficult to decipher (I do wish readers would type or use the computer for their contributions) and whose signature is well-nigh indecipherable, though I make it out to be something like K. Narayanan, recounts a couple of more stories on the redoubtable Sir P. Rajagopalachari (PR) (Miscellany, February 3) which seem to indicate that he got where he did despite his exchanges with his British colleagues, in the event these are not apocryphal stories. Once, when an ICS superior was on furlough, PR, who was probably in the old Madras Civil Service, found, while acting for him, that the Burra Sahib had minuted on the Annual Confidential Reports of many Indian subordinates several adverse remarks when the lapses were petty, thereby ruining their chances of promotion. Angered by the unfairness of it all, it was narrated, PR made a bonfire of all the files that had irked him! And, it was further said, he greeted many an English ICS officer in such terms as, “Vaada, Vaada, Conran Smith”! It is also related that he greeted the famed Dr. Rangachari in his birthday suit when the doctor had come to PR’s house to perform a hernia operation on him after his insistence that the operation be performed in his house where he would have set up an operating table in a room set aside for the procedure. That was typical of the man who did not smile or laugh but who would, J.C. Molony ICS (who had worked with him) writes, throw back his head and roar when he was amused by something.