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Vol. XXV No. 11, September 16-30, 2015

Our Readers Write

Question of identity

Greek history started with the City-States of Athens and Sparta and the birth of Madras is as good a reference point as any to celebrate the history of our city including the older villages which it comprise. The slur on Madras Week, targeted as anti-national has more to do with identity than with history. Identity and self-respect are closely linked, hence the creation of linguistic states after Independence or, for that matter, the creation of Pakistan.

The history of colonial Madras, what some see as an unhealthy fascination with all things British, from forts to buildings to erstwhile rulers, is seen as a threat not so much to national identity, as to regional identity. The renaming of cities and now of streets is an attempt to reinforce this identity.

The danger lies in the fact that while history is non-threatening, a sense of identity can get narrower and narrower, breaking down into caste, sub-caste, community, language, etc. When this happens the regional and, in extension, a national identity, and the Indian psyche itself, gets fragmented and it is not the celebration of history that is a threat to nationalism.

Dr. Beatrix D’Souza

Such men should be remembered…

Forgive me for saying this: I feel dejected that our fellow citizens of Madras take pride in celebrating the birthdays of movie stars. I do not wish to find fault with that. But in that process they forget and even ignore the immense and prolific contributions made by great men and women, such as M.S. Swaminathan. At least journals like Madras Musings must think of such great men and remember them with gratitude.

A scientist of remarkable calibre, a distinguished son of India, a great and clear thinker and most importantly, a Madras resident, Monkombu Sambasiva Swaminathan (b. August 7, 1925), completed 90 years of age recently. Scientists all over the world have celebrated, and are celebrating, this event by showering tributes and encomiums on this peerless agricultural scientist of India.

It will be too hard to recall all of Swaminathan’s achievements in this space. Most of us know that he is one of the few men of science who made great impacts on the science and management of Indian agriculture. It is a great fortune for us – citizens of Madras – that he decided to live in Madras and establish his research institute.
Born in Kumbakonam, the son of M.K. Sambasivan and Parvati Thangammal, Swaminathan made great strides as a student of crop genetics in the late 1940s-early 1950s. He earned a B.Sc. (Agriculture) as his second degree studying at the Madras Agricultural College (now Tamil Nadu Agricultural University), Coimbatore, and subsequently moved to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, for his Master’s. Swaminathan expounded the genetics of Solanum (potato is a Solanum) for his doctoral degree at the University of Cambridge. He returned to India soon after to accept the position of an academic-research scientist at his alma mater, the IARI, and was closely associated with the internationally famous rose enthusiast and geneticist Bipin Peary Pal, whom Swaminathan sees as his mentor-teacher. The rest of Swaminathan’s story is well known to most of us.

He rose to be the Director of IARI, subsequently the Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), concurrently holding the position of Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Government of India. Later, he moved to the International Rice Research Institute, Manila, as its Director-General. As the Director-General of ICAR, he pioneered reforming and enabling ailing Indian agriculture by marshalling and extending Norman Borlaug’s concept of the Green Revolution, teaming with the dynamic Central Minister for Food, Chidambaram Subramaniam, and his Secretary, Sivaraman. This association indeed changed the complexion of Indian agriculture dramatically in the next few years.

After his stint on Manila, he decided to establish the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Madras, which, since then, has been rendering yeoman service to Indian farmers and farming by spreading the message of eco-friendly farming tactics and offering education in no small measure.

The whole world salutes this gentle giant for his substantial contributions to Indian agriculture. We need to take pride in the fact that Swaminathan is a fellow citizen of Madras, whose presence and work have added an inimitable sparkle to the city and the State. Let us salute Swaminathan wishing him many more years of achievement.

– Dr. A. Raman

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