Madras Miscellany Society

Another pioneering woman engineer

Shanta Mohan (Miscellany June19) continues her search for pioneering women engineers from the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG). Today she introduces Rajyalakshmi Reddi, the first woman telecommunications engineer in India and the oldest living woman engineer from the College. She’s 96 and lives in the US.

CEG was the first engineering college in India to introduce Telecommunications Engineering. That was in 1945. Rajyalakshmi had joined the Electrical Engineering stream (also a first in India, in 1930) but when Telecommunications was introduced, the new course beckoned and she switched.

On graduation, she joined Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore, but in November 1948 moved to All India Radio, Delhi, as a sound engineer in the control room. It was an opportunity to work on the technical aspects of recording personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, Lata Mangeshkar (who demanded perfection), MS and Melville D’Mello among others.

Following husband Lakshmana on transfers – he too was from CEG and their inter-caste love marriage created quite a furore in the 1940s — she worked with AIR Nagpur, Delhi again, and Hyderabad, the constant moves not exactly pleasing her superiors.

While in Hyderabad, she was deputed as principal of the Kamala Nehru Polytechnic for Women in 1970. There she added garment technology to the existing courses, which included engineering, architecture, computer science, commerce, hotel management and catering, and pharmacy, making herself familiar with all of them. Secondment over, she returned to AIR in 1976, retiring five years later as Assistant Station Engineer.

On retirement, she founded in Hyderabad the Lakshmi Industrial Training Institute, offering several vocational training streams. Many of the Institute’s graduates were absorbed by Hindustan Cables, Hyderabad, founded by her husband in 1970. Apart from their love for technology, she and her husband shared a love for Carnatic music; she sang well, he played the violin.

Recalling her CEG days, Rajyalakshmi remembers the difficulties she, from an orthodox Brahmin family, had in finding suitable accommodation near the College. But despite a peregrinating five years, she got a good degree that served her well.

Shantha Mohan tells me her detailed article on Rajyalakshmi is on her website Mathisarovar. She also says much of her information was from Rajyalakshmi’s children Ramakrishna, Ravi and Indira. And the picture is from Rajyalakshmi’s sister Sarada.

Tales of three books

I was delighted that scheduled for release during Madras Month were three books by Madras authors, even if one was about the writer’s experiences elsewhere.

I first caught up with Madras On My Mind, which was much around town during Madras Month together with Chitra Viraraghavan and husband Krishna Shastri Devulapalli who edited the anthology. Krishna says: “I am the ultimate Madrasi … (but) I’m no Tamilian. Also I don’t particularly care for Bharatanatyam or Carnatic music (dislike them if anything and am ready to face the music as long as it is not Carnatic). I am far from fanatical about cricket, and am not, nor have I ever been, in Saratoga, running a software company even as my son learns mridangam on Skype from a vidwan in Raja Annamalaipuram… But I’ve been in Madras for pretty much half a century … on and on … and on … If I had experienced a Madras so vastly different, yet so quintessentially itself, wouldn’t there be others like me, too”, to enjoy “a city in stories”? And inviting you to explore the Madras in the minds of twenty authors, known and unknown, Chitra promises, “Every piece – fiction and non-fiction – bristles with its own peculiar, indefinable Madras energy; maybe it’s because the salt air is to taste…”

Next came Bishwanath Ghosh with his Gazing at Neighbours while travelling along the line that partitioned India. Travelling more on the lines of his Chai, Chai, The Hindu’s Bishwanath describes his “travels along the scars” left by “an imaginary line”. He writes, “I had read and watched enough about the horrors inflicted on humankind by the creation of the Radcliffe Line to be curious to take a look at the line itself.” He might have added ‘and the lives of the people who live alongside it today’. The little stories about ordinary people simply told is what Bishwanath scores with time and again.

One story, a state secret possibly, is that the choreographed Wagah ‘Challenge’ is practised every morning by the rival teams together and each points out the mistakes of the other!

Another pioneering woman engineer

Uninterspersed with horrors but with everyday joys, is the world of insects. When I was invited to receive the first copy of Insects - Guardians of Nature, I had demurred saying I knew nothing about insects. But they’re Madras insects! the author almost shouted. How could I say ‘No’ after that?! The author, a sound engineer, got interested in macro-photography 25 years ago. He’d visit the campuses of girls’ schools like Stella and WCC, Queen Mary’s and Kalakshetra and do you think he’d be talking to the birds?! No, he’d be seen talking to the bees – and charming poochies to pose as he clicked away. So, S Venkataraman became PoochiVenkat, star portrait photographer – of poochies. Art-lover Chandra Sankar of Sanmar’s publications section, Kalamkriya, just couldn’t help but bring out this beautiful collection of pictures as her annual gift to the lovers of the city’s heritage and environment.

Three books this year. How many next year? We may even have a Madras Lit festival.

The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places and events from the years gone by, and sometimes, from today


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 11:18:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/another-pioneering-woman-engineer/article19708579.ece

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