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Wranglers all

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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.

Sir Raghunath’s connection with Madras was his founding of the Indian Rationalist Association here in 1949

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