Apparently there have been at least four more Indian Wranglers, apart from Dr. S.R. U Savoor (Miscellany, January 7) going by all those getting the postman to call on me, literally and figuratively. There could well be more - and perhaps I’ll hear about them one day. But of the four only one appears to be from the South, K. Ananda Rau. But another has a Madras connection, Sir Raghunath Purushottam Paranjpye.
Paranjpye was the first Indian to be awarded the title ‘Senior Wrangler.’ That was in 1899. He returned to head the Mathematics Department of Fergusson College, Poona, and then served as its Principal from 1906-26. He then successively became Vice-Chancellor of Bombay and Lucknow Universities. He was knighted in 1942, and from 1944 to 1947, served as India’s High Commissioner in Australia. His daughter Shakuntala received the Padma Bhushan for her work in spreading the family planning gospel and his grand-daughter Sai received it for her work as a film director and scriptwriter. Sir Raghunath’s connection with Madras was his founding of the Indian Rationalist Association here in 1949. He remained its president for many years.
Reader R. Seshadri adds a note on the title of ‘Senior Wrangler’ which was first awarded in 1842 to the topper among those getting First Class Honours in undergraduate Mathematics at Cambridge. The title was announced in public until 1909; thereafter, no identities were officially revealed. But the Examiner would, while reading out the First Class Honours list at the Convocation, tip his headgear when announcing the topper’s name. So tipped was Jayant Narlikar in 1959. Is he the second Indian Senior Wrangler? To be called Senior Wrangler was synonymous with “academic supremacy,” mathematics being considered “the most challenging of all subjects,” it has been stated.
Reader Dr. N. Sreedharan - who deserves a place in this column in due course - writes to tell me his inspiration was another Wrangler (1926), Dr. Ganesh Mahajani, who was the Vice-Chancellor of the Udaipur University (1963-71). He also served as Vice-Chancellor of the Rajputana, Delhi and Pune Universities, his career as a Vice-Chancellor stretching from 1947 to 1975! Dr. Mahajani was a founder member of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, and the National Institute of Sciences, Calcutta.
Dr. Jayant Narlikar, the latest Wrangler that I have heard of, through reader Girish Menon, is an internationally renowned astrophysicist known for his work on cosmology. Recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, he was the founder director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, which the UGC established in 1988.
And so to the other Madras Wrangler, who was on the First Class Honours list in 1916. Madras-born K. Ananda Rau, after Hindu High School and Presidency, went to Cambridge in 1914 where he was a contemporary and friend of Ramanujan. Returning to Madras in 1919, he was made Professor of Mathematics at his alma mater, when only 26. Later, he acted as Principal, but refused permanency in the appointment, preferring to concentrate on his students. And some of those students were to turn out to be some of India’s leading mathematicians, like T. Vijayaraghavan, S.S. Pillai, K. Chandrasekharan and S. Minakshisundaram. Ananda Rau retired in 1948 but continued to work on mathematics till his death in 1966.
Cricket in another age
When the Indian edition of Wisden Almanac was recently launched in Madras, it was followed by a team of panellists discussing cricketing topics, I was told by an old-timer who attended. The presentation he was most struck by, perhaps naturally, was that of C.D. Gopinath, the oldest Test cricketer from South India. Gopi, he recounted to me, spoke of how different cricket was during his Test career from today’s game and what he related floored his young fellow-panellists and the greater part of the audience who reacted with expressions like “Oh, my God!” and “Is that really true?” What struck my informant was how little those in the game today and their fans of the same age groups know of the history of it.
Gopi, when asked what was different about the game in his day, responded with “Everything, on the field and off it.” Off it, he remembered a tour of Pakistan where at one centre, they had to stay in the train bogey that had brought them to the Test centre; there was neither hotel accommodation nor billeting! The bogey was parked at a siding in the station of the town where the match was being played and, to make space for themselves, the team had to pile high much of its luggage and struggle to get whatever box anyone wanted.
On the field, he recalled how different playing conditions were. Batsmen wore none of today’s protective gear, wickets were uncovered, and intimidatory bowling was all part of the game. “Imagine playing on uncovered English wickets after a sharp shower without any protective gear and facing Truman at his peak as he hurled a ball down which reared up towards your face!” Gopi word-painted.
Gopi played his Test cricket in the 1950s. How many remember that era today when India won its first ever Test match in 1951, at Chepauk, Gopi taking the catch to end the innings victory?
When the postman knocked…
Reader Indukanth Regade, referring to my item on Dr. S.R.U. Savoor (Miscellany, January 7), felt that I had got it all wrong, that Dr. S.R.U. was not a Director of Meteorology in Madras, that it was S.R. Savur. According to Science and Modern India - An Institutional History 1784-1947, “The three part-time posts of Meteorologists at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay were filled by Prof. P.C. Mahalanobis, Dr.S.R.U. Savoor and M.V.D. Iyer.” And the 1921 Madras Department of Meteorology Report lists Dr. S.R.U. Savoor as being in charge of the Madras Observatory (the main observatory had moved to Kodaikanal) from May to December 1921. No matter how hard I searched for information about S.R. Savur, all I could find him listed as was only as being from the Indian Meteorological Department, Poona, under which description he had authored several valuable papers in the 1930s. There was no reference to him and a Madras connection. Perhaps someone connected with the Meteorological Department will set us all straight.
If it was a Pandalay, there had to be a medical connection as I had indicated in Miscellany, January 14, and, sure enough, Justice K.K. Pandalay was the father of Dr. G. Madhusudhan and grandfather of Dr. M. Krishnan, the former being his uncle Dr. K.G. Pandalay’s anaesthetist for 40 years at the Pandalay hospital (“now defunct”). Reader Krishnan provides this information and adds that his grandfather lived in Lanark Hall, a garden house on Rundall's Road, “which was the eye hospital before the Institute in Egmore got its facilities.” He also tells me that Justice Pandalay’s most famous judgement was in what was known as the ‘The Gandhi Cap Case.’ N.L. Rajah, in his history of the 150 years of the Madras High Court, lists it as one of the cause cèlébres of the Court.
Apparently in June 1930, the District Magistrate of Guntur passed an order that the Gandhi cap could not be worn by anyone in a public place in Guntur and within five miles of it. Negotiations on this went back and forth, but the Magistrate eventually backed the Police plea that they could not differentiate between who was a member of the Civil Disobedience Movement (all of whom wore the caps) and who was not but who might be wearing the cap. In rejecting the contention that the order was necessary for safeguarding public tranquillity, Justice Pandalay, who heard the appeal, stated that those who wore the Gandhi cap could not necessarily be considered supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement; such an inference would be an injustice to the numerous persons who wore the cap as a mark of sympathy with Gandhi’s views for a long time before the Civil Disobedience Movement. It was well-known that Gandhi was interested in several other causes besides the Movement. He did not think there was any danger in allowing people to wear the Gandhi cap in Guntur. Reader Krishnan takes this further and states that he had heard it said that his grandfather had, in the course of his judgement, said that if an Englishman can wear a top hat or a bowler or a peak cap or a pith helmet as part of his attire, there was no reason why an Indian couldn’t wear a Gandhi cap, which was part of the national dress of many.
Dr. Manorama Sridhar says that her father was O (for Ooty) V. Raju and not C.V. Raju as I had it last week. I’m afraid I let the gremlin in my Olivetti get away from me. Mea culpa.