MADRAS MISCELLANY Columns

Madras and Pennycuick

With all this talk about remembering Col. J. Pennycuick, I've been wondering whether Madras too shouldn't remember him. For an altogether different reason.

There's already a statue for Pennycuick in the PWD campus in Madurai. And that remembers the man veteran PWD Chief Engineer C.S. Kuppuraj hails as having completed a world-class feat in building the Mullaiperiyar Dam. Now, the Government wants to honour Pennycuick's engineering genius all over again. But how about a third statue not far from the campus where he first worked on arrival in India, a statue raised by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and the Madras Cricket Club together? After all, he could well be considered the father of the Chepauk grounds which put Madras on the Indian cricketing map. Or, if Tamil Nadu wins the Ranji Trophy this year when Pennycuick is in the limelight again, would that be a fitting memorial to he who was known for his contribution to Madras cricket before he got down to serious engineering?

Light-heartedness aside, it would not be amiss to look at that contribution. Alexander J. Arbuthnot could in many ways be considered the father of Madras Cricket. But even he, when he was Chief Secretary in 1865, was not keen on giving the Madras Cricket Club, for permanent use, the piece of land in The Island that it had been playing on for nearly twenty years. When the Club received this rebuff, it was Lt. J. Pennycuick of the Royal Engineers, then Honorary Secretary of the Club, who suggested “the piece of ground… bounded on the east by the road running in front of the Civil Engineering College; on the west by a road running nearly parallel to this, and joining it a little further south; on the north, by the road from Government House to the Public Works Secretariat Offices; and on the south, by a line from east to west at a distance of about 180 yards from the northern boundary, making the whole enclosure about 150 yards by 180.” A couple of weeks of follow-up later, “the Governor in Council” authorised the Club on April 20, 1865, “to enclose a piece of ground on the Chepauk premises, as a cricket ground.” And so Chepauk found its way into Indian cricketing history.

Twenty-five years later, Pennycuick, now a Lieutenant Colonel and Secretary, Public Works Department, was himself in a position to act when the Club wanted to build its pavilion that survived till the stadium came up — and sought Government aid. In November 1890 he responded, “The …. request of the … Madras Club is sanctioned. The plans of the proposed building will be submitted to the Chief Engineer, Public Works Department, for approval …. The usual charges on accounts of Public Works supervision and tools and plant will be waived…. And (as) the site is to some extent in the public interest …. His Excellency the Governor in Council resolves to sanction a grant-in-aid of Rs. 2000 towards the proposed new building ….”

Pennycuick, apart from being a sound opening bat and a fine underarm bowler, was also the first curator of the Chepauk pitch and if the grounds are what they are today, it is because the Pennycuick tradition of dedication has been followed. When he retired in 1896, the Club paid tribute to him stating, “For over 30 years this gentleman has been associated with and has encouraged Cricket in the Madras Presidency, while his services to the Club, both as an official and in the field, will long be remembered.” Pennycuick responded by making his last, and perhaps most important contribution to cricket in South India, by presenting the first trophy for inter-collegiate competition. The Col. J. Pennycuick Trophy is played for to this day.

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A tale by Kanigal

A tale Robert Kanigal repeated a couple of times during his recent visit to Madras to launch the 125th birthday celebrations of mathematical genius Ramanujan related to his first visit to Madras in 1988 to start following the Ramanujan trail on the ground as he got down to working on the mathematician's biography.

That November day he landed from London was a bandh day in Madras and the airport was virtually deserted. There was a lone auto rickshaw with a passenger in it and another person haggling to get aboard. That person was Viswanathan Venkataraman, who had also arrived from London. When he noticed the forlorn foreigner wondering what he should do, Viswanathan told him that the only way to get to the city was to squeeze in with them. And Kanigal joined them for that ride in a sardine tin.

During the ride, Viswanathan discovered that Kanigal was not a tourist but a well known writer who was working on Ramanujan's biography. “What a coincidence,” remarked Viswanathan, “I am the grandson of S. Narayana Aiyar with whom Ramanujan worked in the Port Trust.” No, it's not coincidence, it's Providence, a surprised Kanigal enthusiastically replied. And so began Kanigal's first steps in Madras that led to The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan.

Footnote: How S. Narayana Aiyar became V. Ramaswami Aiyar in one place in my item on the former last week is something not even the printer's devil or my Olivetti can explain. I must have been dreaming — about all the material on the Indian Mathematical Society that has landed in my lap.

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Clear-headed about jugaad

As I had expected, there were several responses to my wondering whether there was a Tamil equivalent to jugaad (Miscellany, December 26, 2011) and as I had also expected there were a whole heap of varying suggestions. But I have picked just a couple to offer readers because the writers seem a bit surprised — if not irked — by my lack of knowledge of the subject. And since both of them are quite emphatic in what they say, I offer readers their letters in almost their entirety.

C.G. Rishikesh writes, “I think you must be surrounded by a whole lot of clear-headed individuals, else you would not be still searching for the Tamil equivalent of ‘muddle through'.”

“How can the Semmozhi that Tamil is be without a word to convey the meaning that the English phrase ‘muddle through' does?”

“The word is sodhappu.”

“When we say that someone indulges in this action of sodhappudhal, we mean that one is not only confused oneself but also confuses one's listeners or readers. Sodhappudhal may be not only by words but deed as well; that is, one may by this action be taking part in an activity that is useless or unrewarding. One may sometimes succeed in one's endeavour, but the hint is that the success is not entirely because of one's capabilities and concerted action. One manages it, that's all!”

R. Seshadri writes: “I was a little surprised to read your column for two things. One regarding the usage of the Hindi word jugaad and the other about your comment concerning an India south of the Vindhyas. The word jugaad has become a part of the English language although it is yet to find its place in the COD. The usage has been dated from 1995 as evidenced by the enclosed (quote) from a website. Also it has become a brand name apart from its multiple meanings. The nearest in Tamil should be samalikkum yukthi or jagathjhalam (a feat dazzling the world). The latter expression though used by Tamils is actually Sanskrit. The member of the audience who gave jugam as the translation is not far wrong though it is incomplete and its etymology is Sanskrit. Also the reference to jugaad vehicles as an integral part of rural India is amazing indeed. (CF-website)

“Coming to the second part of your column, you seem to consider that an India south of the Vindhyas is impervious to Mark Tully's forays in Hindi and Sanskrit. This sort of writing is foreign to your genre and despite this sermon, Tully may continue to write.”

Seshadri's citation, offered below, could well interest readers;

Dictionary definition of jugaad

n. an improvised or jury-rigged solution; inventiveness, ingenuity, cleverness. Etymological note: Hindi.

Citations: 1995Barun S. Mitra Asian Wall Street Journal (January 26) “India's‘Informal' Car” p. 10: if one drives out of Delhi in any direction one is likely to encounter these hybrid vehicles within an hour. Known as “Jugaads,” which means roughly to provide or arrange, they have become a mainstay of rural transportation.

2002 Straits Times (Singapore) (September 29) “What's culture got to do with IT?”: New Delhi-based IT entrepreneur Karan Vir Singh, Managing Director of Voxtron Dezign Lab, called it the “jugaad” factor — the improvised quick fix. “It's like putting two spoons of turmeric powder into your radiator if you spring a small leak,” he said. “It works, it will seal the leak. In Punjab, I have seen villagers buying an agricultural water pump at government subsidised rates, cannibalising some otherparts from hereand there, and turning it into a vehicle.”

2004Sudip Talukdar Times of India (January 1) “Makeshift Miracles: The Indian Genius for Jugaad”: The operative world of jugaad, implying alternatives, substitutes, improvisations and make-dos, is spurred by a native inventiveness steeped in a culture of scarcity and survival.

2004John W. Fox Press & Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, N.Y.) (July 16) “Chopra master of the improbable”: Daniel Chopra, who learned his golf in India, “seems to have plenty of the typical Indian quality of jugaad,” …. A reporter who had peeked translated it as “finding alternative ways of doing improbable things… creative improvisation.”

As for my remarks on Mark Tully being “foreign to my genre”, all I can say is that when speakers are “impervious” to their audience, particularly language-limited people like me, there's nothing “foreign” in pointing it out; it's just an expression of dissatisfaction of being left out of the presentation.

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