Daring mapping saga on celluloid
THE BEGINNING of this circle was a triangle. Inching across the 78th meridian to determine the shape of India is a true story of the triumph of numbers. And tracing the dimensions of the Great Arc on celluloid is award-winning documentary filmmaker, Pankaj Butalia.
Part of the Survey of India's "Great Arc Bicentenary Celebrations" this two-part series helps recreate the journey to survey India on "correct mathematical principles" for the East India Company as Brigade-Major William Lambton set out to do.
Before the advent of modern technology, map-makers of yesteryears were only armed with the spirit of adventure and the ability to apply trigonometry. For those who need a reason to study mathematics "Tracing the Arc" will provide more than just one.
Bringing to screen the genius of the men who dared to dream of undulation of the peninsula on paper, this is a tribute to Lambton and George Everest. "It was an exciting film. The challenge was to recreate a world where there were no images. Usually government documentaries are not exciting but this one was different. I have used graphics to bring alive the theories," says the filmmaker.
The first step in scientific map-making, all earlier attempts were more enthusiastic than accurate. Large areas were left blank or were off the mark by miles before Lambton drew the first triangle. A mammoth task that began by measuring the baseline at St. Thomas' Mount in Chennai, the whole peninsula was covered triangle by triangle. This calculation made by Lambton still serves as the basis of all surveys even today.
While the first documentary focuses on laying down of the first base line, the second takes the journey a step further. Literally. Well, more than just a step, Pankaj explores the contribution of the men who mapped the "Roof of the World" -Tibet. Sealed off by the Chinese emperors with the order that "no Moghul, Hindustan, Pathan or Feringhi shall be admitted into Tibet on the pain of death'', the task to map the country fell on the shoulders of Nain Singh, a school-teacher.
Disguised as a `lama', Nain Singh walked all over the country with a prayer wheel and a hundred beads. Measuring miles on his rosary, he secretly surveyed the country. A chance to travel with him incognito, "A Million Steps'' will give viewers a taste of his adventure.
Being screened at the Sri Fort Auditorium here this Thursday, the documentaries bring alive this fascinating quest for accuracy. The capsule exhibition on the Great Arc will be also be open for visitors in the foyer of the auditorium.
By Mandira Nayar
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