Her family came first

Dr Sarada after receiving her degree  

It was, at last, nice to catch up with details about the life of the unassuming Dr. Sarada, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Madras (Miscellany, January 7) that was not an honorary one. They come from her daughter Dr. Manorama Srinath, who was Professor and Head of Department of Library and Information Science, and reveal why so little is known of Dr. Sarada. Once she got married, Dr. Sarada put her family first always and a regularly interrupted career only came second. Nevertheless, it was a career that many would envy.

The daughter of Avula Govindarajulu Naidu and Seenamma, she was born on that auspicious day of 12.12.12, the youngest of three daughters and the only one to go to college. Govindarajulu Naidu, a building contractor in Madras, should himself be remembered for two landmarks in the city he built -- the two huge cooling towers at Basin Bridge which were once the first sight anyone arriving at Central Station would see as they approached journey’s end. At a time -- the early 1930s -- when few girls went to college he sent Sarada to Queen Mary’s and then for her Honours degree to Presidency where she won the Gold Medal. She still had time to become a popular tennis player. On the side, she became an accomplished veena player.

Joining the University in 1935, she completed her Ph.D. in 1938, guided by Dr. P.J. Thomas. Her thesis was titled ‘Economic Conditions in the Madras Presidency 1800-1850’ (and not ‘of Women’ only, as I had stated) and was published in 1941. It was reprinted in 1988 and again last December, thanks to her family who released it at a small commemoration function. That third reprint included a brilliant Presidential Address she delivered at the 37th Indian History Congress Sessions in 1976.

After her Ph.D., Sarada worked on a study of cotton mills and at the Salem Rajendra Mills, she met C.V. Raju, an outstanding technocrat (he had a way with the biggest and most recalcitrant machines, those in the industry often said) and a long-time bachelor. Love and marriage in 1939 followed and Dr. Sarada Raju became a full time housewife in Madras, bringing up in due course their two daughters and a son. A bright career was sacrificed and when she began on it after the marriage of her first daughter, she had lost valuable years in the career race. To get back on the rails, she went to the University of Wyoming (U.S.) in 1966 to work as a Lecturer in the Economics Department. But the pull of her family was too strong and she returned to Madras a year later. In 1968, she joined Fatima College in Madurai as Professor and Head of the Department, but two years later she was back in Madras - to recover from homesickness again as well as to get her younger daughter married.

With more time on her hands, in 1970, she accepted an invitation from Vice-Chancellor N.D. Sundaravadivelu, her classmate at Presidency together with C. Subramaniam, to become a Fellow and Visiting Professor in the Department where she had done her doctorate. She also became an external examiner for various institutions and a visiting lecturer at the Mother Teresa University.

Dr. Sarada joined Dr.B. Natarajan’s Institute of Techno Economic Studies in 1976 and served as Honorary Director (Projects) till her retirement in 1984. These were, in many ways, the best years of her professional life. Two papers commissioned by the Ford Foundation -- Tamil Nadu 2000 AD and Tamil Nadu 2020 AD -- whose preparation she spearheaded, have been commended for their “remarkable accuracy.” In 1984, she and Dr. Dharmalingam Venugopal did a study of transport in the future and the requirements of tyres for MRF. Again, it was a vision that was to come true. After this paper, she decided to call it a day. Dr. Sarada Raju passed away in 1993, her last years spent more at home than at economic fora.

Dr. Venugopal tells me that she was “deft in writing reports in an easily understandable way” and reader Meenakshi Thiyagarajan says that her book was “one of the first on Indian Economic History.” It is sad that her decision to attend to domestic compulsions deprived students of Indian Economics more of her insights.


The monuments of Serfoji II

Prof. Indira Viswanathan Peterson of Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, was back again in town to talk about one of her favourite subjects, Serfoji II. And once again, I learnt something new from her when she spoke about the monuments he commissioned for Tanjore. One was of his mentor, the Rev. Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-98), and the other was of himself. John Flaxman, the well-known British sculptor, executed both.

I’ve seen the former, but what I didn’t know was that it was “the first sculptural memorial for an European commissioned by an Indian.” The portrait sculpture of Serfoji II that came out with it in 1807 -- long delayed for one reason or another -- was also a first; the first of an Indian ruler by a European.

When Serfoji commissioned the “monument in marble” to Schwartz in 1802, he stated that it was intended “to manifest the great esteem I have for the character of that great and good man and the Gratitude I owe him, my Father, my Friend, the Protector, and Guardian of my Youth.” The sculpture, completed in 1805, cost £ 1,000 and was installed in Christ Church, Schwartz’s old church in the Fort in Tanjore, in 1812. It took five years to get a mount built for it.

The short, almost matter-of-fact inscription on the Tanjore memorial ends with the words, “And the very marble that here records his virtues was raised by / the liberal affection and esteem of / the Raja of Tanjore / Maharaja Sirfoji.” On the other hand, the granite slab covering Schwartz’s grave at St. Peter’s Church in Tanjore (once the SPCK Mission’s chapel) has this moving verse by Serfoji which Bishop Heber, no mean hymnalist himself, described as the only English poem he knew of, which was written by an Indian prince “and a very fine one at that”:

‘Firm was thou, humble and wise,

Honest, pure, free from disguise,

Father of Orphans, the widow's support,

Comfort in sorrow of every sort.

To the benighted dispenser of light,

Doing, and pointing to that which is right.

Blessing to princes, to people, to me:

May I, my father, be worthy of thee,

Wishes and prays thy SARABOJEE.’

Not long after Serfoji had commissioned Flaxman, the Governing Council in Madras decided to commission another memorial for Schwartz, who had been a negotiator on behalf of the British with Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. This sculpture by Bacon Junior was installed at St. Mary’s in Fort St. George in 1807. Curiously, both sculptures have Schwartz on his deathbed. In the Tanjore sculpture, the focus is on a sorrowful Serfoji standing by his mentor’s bed, one hand behind Schwartz’s head and the other holding his hand while Schwarz looks at him. A few small boys, those orphans Schwartz sheltered, are a tearful group in the foreground. In the Madras bas relief’ there are many more children surrounding the bed while Schwartz stretches a pointing arm to an angel with a cross in the sky on whom he has his eyes fixed. The former is a personal remembrance, while the latter has a spiritual focus. Whatever the messages, both are striking works of art.


The Dutch tombstone

Prof. Bauke van der Pol (Miscellany, December 31) has come through with what he had promised me, a picture of a Dutch gravestone in Madras. It is the best of the five in St. Matthias Church, Vepery, which he thinks are the only Dutch burials in the city. The tombstone, with a coat of arms and the words Hodie Mimi Cras Tibi (Today I, Tomorrow You) at the top, has a Dutch inscription which the Professor translates as follows:

“Here rests the Honourable Mr. Martinus Stoffenberg. During his lifetime Merchant and Head of the Administration of the Dutch Government in Palliacatta from where he went to St. Thome for recovering from Quaal (illness) but where he died on the 8th of August 1789 and the day after got buried here at the age of 46 years, 3 months and 10 days.”

Being a unique tombstone, given its Dutch roots, it should be a protected monument. But then, I’m not sure whether the authorities have even heard of it or the Dutch connection.

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