It was at the recent release of a leading Tamil publisher’s newest title that he suggested that I should meet someone who was now helping them with their publications and had an extraordinary story to tell. When he mentioned Dr. N. Sreedharan’s name, it immediately rang a bell. He was a reader who added another name to my list of Wranglers (Miscellany, January 28) and of whose story I had heard and promised readers retailing of in this column. This then is the story of a person who overcame tremendous odds and went on to earn significant recognition in more than one field.

It was a normal student’s life for Sreedharan till he was 16. Then his hearing began to deteriorate, but with minimal hearing, he learnt to cope with lectures and got his Madras University Degree in English Literature. By now, his hearing had begun to get worse. There were also financial constraints that prevented him from proceeding further with his studies. But spotting a Central Government scholarship on offer for non-Hindi speakers to take a higher degree in Hindi, he applied for it, even though he knew little of the language. Wanting to do better in life was what made him look for every opportunity, no matter how unreal it seemed.

The scholarship took him to the Agra University where his hearing disability made learning in the classroom difficult. To overcome the challenge, he concentrated on self-study and successfully obtained his Master’s. A job teaching Hindi in a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Ernakulam made life easier for him, but then his hearing began to further diminish. Three surgeries later, he was totally deaf - unable to even benefit minimally from hearing aids. He had to quit his job - but once again, he began to look for an opportunity to do better in life.

When he came across an article titled ‘Man is not eyes or ears alone’ by Dr. Dev Raj Upadhyaya, head of the Department of Hindi, Udaipur University, Sreedharan wrote to him asking whether he’d live up to his words by accepting a totally deaf student for his Ph.D. programme. This is where Vice Chancellor Dr. G.S. Mahajani, the Wrangler who linked me to Sreedharan, came in and, endorsing Sreedharan’s application with the words “Deafness is no disqualification for academic pursuits,” helped him to enrol for and earn a Ph.D. in Hindi.

But this is not the end of the story. Sreedharan was unable to cash in on his academic qualifications due to his handicap that enabled him to communicate in the written word alone. Work as an editorial assistant and then as a clerk kept the home fires burning till Government policy on reservations in Government service for the physically challenged helped him to join as a Professor of Hindi at Rajah's College, Pudukkottai, in 1975. Then there was a transfer to Presidency College where he headed the Hindi Department from 1997 to 2000 when he retired after teaching for 22 years at the college level. A remarkable achievement for a man who is unable to use even a telephone and responds only to the written word!d

The ‘love affair’ with the written word has led him to write 45 books, prepare the Learn Hindi series, and compile dictionaries in three languages. Encouraging him through this facet of his life has been Vanathi Thirunavakkarasu of Vanathi Pathippakkam whose son Ramanathan drew my attention to the fact that there was more to Prof. N. Sreedharan than the letter he wrote to me about his benefactor, Dr. Mahajani. Indeed, there is more to come from Sreedharan’s pen.


The Murdoch connection

Following the genealogical trail of some of the British who served in Old Madras has become a fascination for one of my regular suppliers of tidbits, Bharath Yeshwanth. This time, he has sent me information about a connection with Madras that media mogul Rupert Murdoch has.

Murdoch may be an American now, but his roots are in Australia. It was Patrick Murdoch, the son of the Rev. James Murdoch, a Minister of the Free Church of Scotland, who first emigrated from Scotland to Victoria in 1884. Patrick’s son Keith Arthur Murdoch, later to be knighted, went into journalism and in time, became a newspaper proprietor whose business his son Rupert developed into a worldwide empire. Keith Murdoch married Elizabeth Joy Greene. Rupert was their son and it was his mother who introduced an Indian connection into the Murdoch family.

Elizabeth Joy Greene was the great great grand-daughter of Robert Sherson, who arrived in Madras in the late 18th Century to serve the East India Company and rose to become Post Master General in 1793. In May 1798, he married Catherine Taylor in St. Mary’s in the Fort. Their daughter Catherine Jemima married Frederick Forth who was to become Lt. Governor of the West Indies and a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong before retiring to, and settling in, Tasmania. The Forths’ son was the father of a daughter who married a Greene and it was the Greenes who were the parents of Elizabeth Joy who married Keith Arthur Murdoch, one day to become a newspaper magnate.

Less smooth was the career of Robert Sherson in Madras. After a steady climb to a senior position, Sherson was appointed in 1807 by Governor William Bentinck as co-charge with a fellow official, Cooke, to receive and disburse grain imported for famine relief. When a cyclone struck Madras in December 1807, the granaries were badly damaged. A committee formed to assess the loss included two persons who had been overlooked when Bentinck had appointed Sherson and Cooke and they alleged that grain had been fraudulently sold and that Sherson had appropriated the proceeds amounting to nearly 30,000 pagodas.

George Barlow, who succeeded Bentinck as Governor, accepted the findings - quite possibly because of his close friendship with one of the complainants - and dismissed Sherson, a person of “excellent character,” according to all those in the settlement who felt that he had been ‘framed.’ Seven years after he had been suspended, a Member of Parliament in the U.K., Alexander Novell, who had waged a sustained campaign to have Sherson’s name cleared, succeeded in having him acquitted; it was also recommended that he be re-employed by the Company. A grateful Sherson in 1816 named his son Alexander Novell.

Sherson, it would appear, did not re-enter the Company’s service but became a merchant. In 1816, he is recorded as having bought a house next to the Exchange that is now the Fort Museum, possibly what is a Naval office today, for 3000 pagodas. In 1818, he sold it for 4000 pagodas. And, then, did he leave India?


When the postman knocked…

The postman has once again been kept busy by readers. And that's what I enjoy about this column, the interest readers take in it.

The Roja Muthiah Research Library tells me that U.V. Swaminatha Iyer's autobiography (Miscellany, February 18) was indeed translated into English and that it holds a copy of the two-part translation by Kamil Zvelebil. The translation was published by the Institute of Asian Studies, G.Sundar of the Library adds.

And reader K.R.A. Narasiah supplies a fascinating footnote to the U.Ve.Sa. story with this picture of a page from the scholar’s diary. The page dated March 6, 1906 acknowledges the receipt of an honorary D.Litt. degree from the University of Madras and the title ‘Mahamahopathiyaya’ in just two words: Sannadhu kidaithathu (awards received)!

Reader M.J. Gopalan who first mentioned that A.T. Rajan was a Senior Wrangler (Miscellany, February 11), writes to set the record straight. Expressing his regret that he erred on dates, he states that Rajan was named the Senior Wrangler in 1906; Paranjpye was honoured in 1899. And reader P.R. Krishna Narayanan sheds a little more light on A.T. Rajan. He was a Justice of the Rangoon High Court before Burma and India parted ways. He was a golfing enthusiast who played almost every evening and he was almost as enthusiastic a swimmer, adds reader Narayanan, who goes on to add another little nugget. ATR’s son, Balachandra Rajan of the Indian Foreign Service, was an Economics and English Literature Tripos from Cambridge who was considered an international authority on the great English poet Milton. He taught at the University of Western Ontario from 1966 to 1985, and was associated with its English Department till his death in 2009. He had earlier taught at the University of Delhi from 1961, after he prematurely retired from the IFS.

A meteorologist, reader S. Raghavan, writes in not about matters meteorological but on linguistics. Commenting on a contribution the postman had delivered for Miscellany, February 11, he writes - and I think it best to quote him in full: “Thamizh words like karri amuthu are not confined to the 18th Century, or earlier. They are still in use in Iyengar homes. (I use karri with a double ‘r’ to indicate the hard ra in Thamizh. The soft ra will make it mean carbon or charcoal, instead of vegetable.) Besides karri amuthu we use the word sattramuthu for rasam. The latter is a Samskrit word for juice. The Thamizh word for juice is saru (or charu) which with the addition of amuthu becomes sattramuthu. Amuthu is from the Samskrit amrutam. For sambaar, which seems to be a non-Thamizh word, we use the Thamizh word kuzhambu. For cooking we use thaligai instead of samaiyal…For curry leaves, the word I think should be karuveppilai and not kariveppilai; karu means dark.”


Wranglers allJanuary 27, 2013

Musical side of ‘Tamil Thathaa’ December 23, 2012

A story the letters tellFebruary 10, 2013

The Mahals of Chepauk February 17, 2013