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Vol. XXV No. 10, September 1-15, 2015

Our Readers Write

A Collector’s transport
Madras Month is crowded with so many programmes that it is a problem to pick and choose, and it is also difficult to rush from, say, Taramani to the heart of the city. When I rushed to Savera to listen to the scintillating talk of Mohan Ram on Sowcar Janaki, combined with a conversation with the highly talented 84-year-old Sowcar Janaki, the hotel’s front office did not even know about the programme! Eventually I discovered it was on.

Sowcar’s performances in all her pictures were superb, particularly her role as a District Collector in Iru Kodugal. Director K. Balachander, having been in the Accountant General’s office, knew how to portray a government official and the office. But in that picture, the Collector (Sowcar) goes on an inspection of a slum in a limousine, an Impala. At that time, I was the Collector of Pondicherry and wrote to Balachander that I wished my government had also given me an Impala instead of a Jeep or, at the most, an Ambassador!

He was a good friend of mine for long and used to reply to my letters immediately. But he did not reply to this letter. He must have felt that it was a Directorial flaw. Had it been S.S. Vasan or A.V. Meiyappan, they would have re-shot the scene and replaced it with a Jeep or Ambassador. Within a few months thereafter, I met Balachander in Madras. I did not, tactfully, mention my letter. But he himself broached the subject and told me that in the cinema he had to add a bit of glamour to the character and hence the limousine.

He also told me that, if I wanted, he would get me a limousine for four or five thousand rupees (a Fiat or Ambassador was about twenty thousand rupees in those days); only my problem would be that the car would give only two or three miles per gallon.

Dr. G. Sundaram i.a.s. (retd.)
A-601, Dugar Apartments
Keshav Perumal Puram Greenways Road
Chennai 600 028

The founders
Regarding the founding of the Jolly Rovers Club (MM, August 1st), V. Ramnarayan sends us the following which appeared in a column titled ‘Among the Clubs’ which appeared in The Hindu of August 18, 1963:
‘The 1962-63 cricket season in Madras was notable for the participation of S.A. Durrani, Test Cricketer, in the league championship. The versatile all-rounder played for Jolly Rovers Cricket Club and the public mustered in numbers to see him. Even without him Jolly Rovers had impressed with their performances and with Durrani they were very much in the run for the championship. They had the distinction of being the only team to beat State Bank of India Recreation Club ‘A’, the champions.

Jolly Rovers was formed in T. Nagar in 1945 by V. Prabhakar and N. Narayanaswamy, two cricket enthusiasts.
In 1951-52 they dropped out of the league. T.V. Girish, a solid opening batsman, and N. Balasubramaniam, wicket-keeper-batsman, who later played for the State, stood out by their performances.
The Club was, however, in existence with V.A. Parthasarathy as Secretary, and after re-entering the league in 1954-55 they made rapid strides… with K Balakrishna Row leading it most of times…’
Editor’s Note: In the picture published last fortnight, both V. Prabhakar and N. Narayanaswamy are featured.

More on talking mynas

I used to have a myna (MM, August 16th) trained to talk for a long time.
I still remember the visit to the farm of Duncan Gravy, Hobart, Tasmania, whose name appears in the lovely magazine, Tasmania Regions, a publication of the Department of Primary Industries. But, I am sorry to see that the Indian mynas, which were introduced to Australia to control insect pests, have now become invasive birds upsetting the eco-balance. Eliminating the bird is one of the aims of the Department.

Many years ago, we had a myna that was kept in a cage at a tea plantation in Vandiperiar, Kerala, where I worked as Manager. The myna soon learnt the local language and used to call our cook ‘Johnson, Johnson’ and went on to say to him Shoodu vellam konduvaa (bring hot water) and when the cook placed the water in a bowl, the myna would have a bath, splashing the water everywhere and dry itself for its morning breakfast, It then ordered him Valapalam konduvaa (bring banana) a couple of times and chattered in anger if meeting its demand was delayed. Soon enough, the bananas would be placed in its cage. It would soon dirty the place and more water needed to be kept so that it could clean itself.

Whenever the phone rang, it used to answer ‘Hello, Hello’ and used to call out ‘Raju, Rajoo’, ‘Krishna, Krishnaa’, calling my wife as ‘Raju, Rajoo’ and me. And when the children came home from school, it used to say ‘Ro, Ro’ or ‘Jo, Jo’, a short form of their names Rohini and Jyotsna. This was a daily routine. We used to say that this was a bird fit to be gifted to the then President of the US, Lyndon Johnson
These intelligent birds are pets in India. Kumily,the border town between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, used to specialise in training and selling mynas to talk in Malayalam. Once, the Irish GM of Travancore Tea Estates bought a myna and he was proud of his myna till a Malayalam-speaking Manager informed him that it was abusing people in Malayalam. He would thereafter not keep the myna and so the bird earned its freedom.

K.V.S. Krishna

Tribute to a colossus in Indian biology

T.N. Ananthakrishnan [TNA] (b. December 15, 1925), who revolutionised Indian biology in general and Indian entomology in particular, passed away in New Jersey (U.S.A.) on August 7, 2015. Close to 50 students got their PhDs working with him, when he was at Loyola College, Madras. He was well known all over the world for his scientific contributions to Indian insects, especially to a group of poorly known agricultural and horticultural crop pests called the thrips (Thysanoptera).


T.N. Ananthakrishnan.

Ananthakrishnan’s journey with insects commenced during his short stay as an academic at Madras Christian College (MCC), Tambaram, in the mid-1940s. Alexander Boyd, then principal of MCC, recommended him to Jerome D’Souza, sj, then Principal of Loyola College. Alfred Rapinat, sj, an Alsatian Jesuit, had just then been transferred from Trichy to establish the Department of Natural Sciences at Loyola. Ananthakrishnan joined the Department to teach Zoology, while Rapinat taught Botany. I am not sure whether Ananthakrishnan, at that point of time, ever thought that his life at Loyola would go on till 2005.
He developed the Department of Zoology from scratch. I can say this confidently and loudly because of my 25-year-long association with Loyola as an academic and also because I am a TNA alumnus. The astounding array of museum specimens of large-mammal skeletons (e.g. tiger), taxidermied birds, and an extraordinary variety of snakes of southern India stand in Loyola’s Zoology Department today in silent testimony to the hard labour TNA put in to build the department.
Innumerable former students of the Intermediate class (Natural Sciences) until the early 1960s and the Pre-University class until the 1980s will remember the powerful, content-rich lectures TNA delivered and the fascinating laboratory sessions he organised for them on the biology of animals. His lectures on human anatomy and physiology were delightful, fascinating, and educative, when the pre-1960 Intermediate class zoology syllabus included elements of human physiology and anatomy. Many of the leading surgeons of India, such as S.S. Badrinath and the late N. Rangabashyam, belonged to early Intermediate (Natural Sciences) batches of Loyola College, when TNA taught them and I have heard them speak eloquently of TNA and his classes.
He revolutionised research at Loyola. Research was the least heard term in colleges such as Loyola, although a few stalwarts such as Lourdu M Yeddanapalli, sj, and Charles Racine, sj, were there. In the 1970s, after Yeddanapalli and Racine, TNA marshalled and led research in Loyola aggressively. With funding secured under the US-supported PL 480 programme, he travelled the length and breadth of India and brought to light details of hundreds of thrips, which indeed have changed our understanding of this little-known group of insects. In essence, during 30-odd years of working at Loyola College, Ananthakrishnan made immense advances collecting and describing scores of Indian thrips and their importance in agriculture, horticulture, and forestry. He led his research group with an open mind and encouraged us to explore groups of economically important insects in India such as grasshoppers and beetles. For three years (1977-1980) he was the Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Calcutta, the most exalted position an Indian zoologist could ever dream of. He realigned the research directions at ZSI.
Having been associated with him for a little more than 25 years, I can say that the most significant message he left us was that good work could be done anywhere and that too with minimal external funding. This is particularly critical as Indian science managers generally assume that securing massive funding is the norm.
TNA was a brilliant speaker and a fascinating writer. He was one of those few highly regarded and most-wanted science speakers in various forums in India. He inspired us at every level with his versatility and comprehensive knowledge. His demands were indeed high and we struggled to meet his expectations. However, looking back, I can confidently say that every one of us thinks of him with gratitude for the skills and capacities he embedded in us by awakening the joy of exploration and, thus, kindling the desire to know more.
The words of American author William Arthur Ward “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires” come to my mind as I write this piece. TNA inspired us by his life and actions by living a life of academic grandeur and elegance. In the arena of Indian biology he strode like a colossus.

– Anantanarayanan Raman

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