Madras miscellany

A 50-year connection

WHEN TWO middle-level American military officers graduated from the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington in the Nilgiris a few weeks ago, it marked the 50th anniversary of U.S. participation in this prestigious upgradation programme of the Indian Defence Services. It was in 1951 that the first U.S. Army Officer, Lt. Col. J. C. Mataxis, graduated from the DSSC. Since then, there has been an U.S. Army Officer and either a U.S. Navy or Air Force Officer attending the programme every year.

Convocation Day at DSSC is normally a family occasion, but this year, the U.S. Embassy had requested special permission to attend and mark the Golden Jubilee of American participation in the college's programme. And present were the Embassy's Defense Attache, Col. Don Zedler, and the Defense Cooperation Attache, Major Rick White, a 1995 graduate of the DSSC. They formally presented the DSSC Commandant, Lt. Gen. P. P. S. Bindra, a framed crossed sword and scabbard to mark the 50 years of American participation in the DSSC programme and thanked the College for the study opportunities it annually gave officers of friendly countries.

The American graduates this year were U.S. Army Capt. Patrick Kelley and U.S. Air Force Major Jeff Swegel. They were amongst the 33 foreign officers in this year's graduating class of 425. It was a particularly memorable occasion for the Americans present when the award for the best dissertation was presented to Capt. Kelley. This is the first time ever a foreign officer has won this award. But more than the award, it was Capt. Kelley's subject that caught the attention of all present; the paper he presented was on the Arthashastra and its relevance in international politics!

The DSSC was first established as the Army Staff College in Devlali, Bombay Province, in 1905 and two years later moved to Quetta in Baluchistan where it still functions as a Pakistan military training establishment. After Independence, the Indian Army in 1947 re-established the college in Wellington, appropriately in a town that is the regimental centre of the oldest regiment in the Indian Army, the Madras Regiment.

The College became the Defence Services Staff College in 1950, where outstanding middle-level officers of all branches of the Services came to upgrade and widen their knowledge.

That same year, the DSSC opened its doors to officers from friendly foreign countries and many who are senior officers in these countries today, even a national leader or two, have passed through the portals of the College.

It is a policy that has enabled many bridges to be built over the years.

A loss to tourism

A MAJOR loss to tourism in Tamil Nadu, perhaps even in the South, has been the recent passing away of Sunithi Narayanan, the best tourist guide in the State and certainly the most knowledgeable one in the South on Hindu philosophy, traditions, temples and temple art. She many have been a traditional Mylapore maami to all appearances, but she enthralled the most knowledgeable and sophisticated of foreign travellers with her narration of the stories the stones and faith told in Mamallapuram and Kancheepuram, Madurai and Thanjavur.

The first woman, and the first non-graduate, to receive a guide's licence from the Government of India's Department of Tourism, 70- year old Sunithi had been a tourist guide for nearly half a century and was still active in the profession she loved when she passed away. She may have spoken English with a Victorian correctness and her later acquired German may have been precise, but that precision of speech was what endeared her to the scholarly groups that sought her help. It was in appreciation of her ability to convey the knowledge they had sought in India that over 200 travellers from Switzerland and Germany, France and Belgium had gathered at a dinner one evening in Switzerland in 1985 to fete her. Then, for six weeks it was not the travel agency that had organised the felicitation but the scores who had come to Madras as travellers but had gone back as friends, who took her around Western Europe.

Sunithi Narayanan always acknowledged that her success was due to her early training and the interest it kindled in her when she joined the Tourism Department's training course in the late 1940s. It was the scholars of dance and music and culture, of art and history and literature who briefed us those days who got us interested in learning more, she used to say, recalling the lectures by Rukmini Devi Arundale, K. R. Srinivasan, K. R. Venkatraman and Rangaswamy Aiyengar. The other thing that made her a success was her ever-willingness to learn all her life. When I used to meet her at numerous lectures on art and architecture, history and culture, she would always say, "I'm still a student; there's always something new to learn at these talks which I can offer my clients."

All that knowledge led to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inviting her to give a series of lectures on Indian art and culture. The highlight was her talk on 'The evolution of Art in Granite'. These lectures were also ones she gave to numerous tourism students in Madras; she was always willing to share her knowledge. And a part of the sharing process was the book 'Discover Sublime India' that she and fellow tourist guide Revathi Rangaswami wrote a few years ago. In it are the answers to the questions the knowledgeable tourist most asks about India. Almost all of them were a learning experience for me too. The pity of it is that the book did not get the wide distribution it deserved, but it's still in print and warrants a place on more bookshelves than it is on.

While art and archaeology are what Sunithi Narayanan was most associated with, they were only aspects of her passion for history. And it was that passion that led her to pioneer walking tours in Madras and other cities of Tamil Nadu. Her walks in the Central Station area of Park Town, in George Town, on First Line Beach or Rajaji Salai, in Mylapore, Madurai and Kancheepuram were delightful experiences, all who went on them swore.

If she had groups during Navarathri, she would take them to homes to enjoy kolu. If a bus broke down, she would take her groups on an exploration of the nearest village and organise bullock cart rides. Will we ever have another guide in Madras as full of life as her, as knowledgeable as Sunithi Narayanan?

Calling the Old Boys

WHEN I recently bumped into Gopi Nair at, as usual, an English theatre gathering, we got around to talking about our old school, Royal College, Colombo, and about the number of boys from the old Madras Presidency who had their schooling in Ceylon's public schools with their very English traditions.

N. Kannaiyiram, the first Indian captain of the Madras Cricket Club and who went on to play for Madras and India, and Balu Alaganan, who led Madras to its first Ranji Trophy triumph, were two who learnt their cricket in those schools. Perumal of the Education Department and K.R.N. (Ravi) Menon were others who played good cricket in Madras after playing in Ceylon school cricket. Several members of the P. T. Rajan family, including, if I am not mistaken, Palanivel Rajan, eye specialist Baboo Rajendran and several others were names we exchanged.

Indeed, Royal and St. Thomas', Trinity and Kingswood and Ananda and several other schools in Colombo and Kandy always had boys from the Madras Presidency in the years before Independence. Girls' schools like Ladies' and Bishop's, St. Bridget's and Visakha also had a few girls from across the Palk Strait. Why don't we all get together occasionally and talk of old times and, perhaps, even of the present, suggested Gopi. It's a Ceylon Schools' Old Students' Association that Gopi is thinking about and he'd be glad to hear from all those who think it's an idea worth pursuing. Gopi Nair's address is New 59 (Old 16) Ormes Road, Kilpauk (Tel: 6424986, 6423016, 6411977). I'm quite sure it'll be fun, if we all get together occasionally during the year to remember the good old days.

Wanting to do something similar - and, perhaps, even something more useful than Ceylon-influenced fun evenings - are two from the London School of Economics who would like to start a Madras Chapter of the LSE Alumni Association. Interested LSE alumni/ae are requested to contact Vivek Harinarain (Cell: 98410-70652, Off: 8571210, Res: 4872988) or Pradeep Chakravarthy (Off: 8293565/6; Res: 8281429/8214929, or pradeep@vsnl.com).