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Vol. XXXI No. 15, November 16-30, 2021

Our Readers Write

Why spend on Archaeology?

“A people or a class which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and to act as a people than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This why – and this is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue.”
– (from Ways of Seeing by John Berger)

Vincent Smith said India is an open-air museum. And there is as much buried under the soil as there is on the surface. So when the British were consolidating their rule over India, one of the earliest departments they set up was the Archaeological survey, in 1861 itself. Lord Curzon saw the need to conserve the monuments. In time major archaeological excavations like Mohenjodaro were begun. Imagine if some official had said that it is not wise to put money in digging to know the past. The world would never have known that in India 4,500 years ago there was a flourishing civilization.

The excavation site at Keeladi. Picture courtesy: The Hindu.

The beginning of World war II put end to all archaeological work in India as the funds were frozen. The inscriptions copied in Tamil Nadu before the war were stored in the vaults in Mysore in the form of enstampages. They are yet to be published. In Adichanallur, the oldest site in India, where a German historian conducted excavation in 1914, no further work was done.

However, in the sixties, some states created archaeology departments. In Andhra, the state undertook a major excavation in 2002 at a Buddhist site, in Phanigiri, 125 km from Hyderabad and brought to light details of a large monastery. (See Phanigiri. Interpreting an Ancient Buddhist site – Marg publications, 2021). Kerala state undertook large scale excavation in Pattanam. In Tamilnadu some attention was paid to epigraphs in the sixties, particularly to secular inscriptions on hero stones. Some smaller monuments were protected. But no major work in this realm was undertaken till a few years back, when excavation at Keezhadi began with dramatic results. It has attracted a lot of attention and an interest in archaeology and in knowing about the past has been created.

In independent India, the use of Archaeology as a science has not been adequately appreciated. May be because it is not as immediately useful as other sciences. So it was discounted. But with new technology to find the date accurately of any artefact and to conduct surface exploration through drones , its use to further the knowledge of our past, has increased. We should use it when there is a political will. It has been decided to get the unpublished Tamil inscriptions stored in Mysore and publish them. This will open new areas for research in the coming years.

Woody Allen wrote a short story about a man without memory. The character was born without memory. You can imagine his life. What memory is to an individual, History is to a society. If we forget or neglect history, we will be like the man without memory.

by S. Theodore Baskaran


I belong to a service organisation doing charity work and other social activities. Every year we celebrate Navaratri and Deepavali with those less fortunate than us. This year we decided to do this in such a way as to stress on our culture and tradition and impart them to young girl children between the ages of 8 and 12. We chose 18 children from the economically weaker sections of society residing in a tenement at Saidapet. We took efforts to get the measurements from each of the girls and got colorful pavadais with matching blouses with zari work for them.

The D-day arrived. We were determined that each minute we got we would make them imbibe our culture and traditional values. We sat them down and applied Nalangu on them all the while singing Nalangu songs (albeit quite off tune). The children, though slightly bewildered, waited patiently for their dresses.

Often the weakness of the givers is that they tend to make the most of the captive audience. So, many of us launched into speeches on our culture, how the children should study and later on take care of their parents as they aged etc. This went on until some of the children started squirming in their seats.

Later, adorned in their attractive dresses, a necklace, jimmikis and bangles they presented a beautiful picture. Though we had only planned for Sundal and Kesari, members surpassed themselves by adding Sonpapadi, Chikkis and the like, all traditional foods, you see.

The function drew to a close with the Arathi. Here too we wouldn’t miss the opportunity of explaining its significance. We were busy congratulating ourselves for a job well done. As we were leaving we saw a group of students lingering. Thinking they wanted more food we started to check on its availability when the girls quickly interjected to thank us and ask “Will you be doing this next year too?” Bursting with pride we said “Yes, we would. “ Hesitatingly they then asked, “Next year can you give us Jeans and T-shirts with Pizzas and Burgers?”

Prema Raman
88 Harrington Road,

My tonsorial travail

The legendary R.K. LAXMAN approached by Reader’s Digest to illustrate my article, — initially refused, because barring his brother R.K. NARAYAN he did not take up such outside work. Nevertheless, he agreed to make an exception if the article was up to his standard. It proved to be and so he sent his sketch within a day! Fancy that! I consider it as a feather in my cap.

– J.S. Raghavan

When I was a child, one of the hurdles to be surmounted was a monthly shearing by our village barber. The task of initiating and supervising this process was given to our awe-inspiring grandpa, whose falsetto voice had a special effect on meek lambs like me and my cousin, Visu.

For grandpa, hair cutting was an important affair. Periodically, he would sharply scrutinise our heads and frown at what he saw there, as if he were gazing at weeds on a field.

When the locks crossed an imaginary line around the occupant, he would reach for the almanac in the puja room to fix a shedding date. Our hearts would sink at the thought of scissors mercilessly snipping away our crowning glory.

On the auspicious day, the barber would appear shirtless at the crack of dawn, his small black box tucked under his arm. He would perch in front of the house, and spread the tools of his trade, his posture that of a wicket-keeper sitting close to the stumps for spin bowling.

Clad only in faded shorts, I would squat before him, hanging my head like a prisoner about to be beheaded. This submissive gesture seemed to please him no end.

Gently, he would push my head further down. A few tentative clicking noises wtih his shearing machine, and he would begin operations on my nape. The idea of wearing an apron had not yet caught on and the locks fell all over my near-naked body, giving me a tingling sensation. Consequently, I moved my head now and then making his task more difficult.

The barber would not tolerate such nonsense, however, and would hold my head between his knees in a vice-like grip. I could hardly steal a glance at the small, cracked mirror he would thrust into my hands to witness for myself the beauty of his workmanship.

In the absence of a swivel chair, I would have to turn, around to present the front, back, left and right sides of my head, while my grandpa hopped about at a distance, shouting at the barber to snip here, snip

The preliminary shearing over, the barber would begin the embellishing work, all the while his unloosened tongue exchanging local gossip. If he were amazed at the speed with which his last cut on my left ear lobe had healed, he did not show it.

When he had finished with me, it was my cousin’s turn, and Visu would pass me without a word, like a batsman going in to face a demon fast bowler: The scene would now shift to the backyard. Unmindful of his age, my grandpa would draw water from the deep well and pour it noisily on my head. Wet and shivering, I would hop about like a chicken plucked of all its feathers.

Now insult was added to injury as the females in our family would make their appearance, all teeth and giggles, to steal a glance at my head. They would burst into shrieks of laughter, covering their faces with their saris and hands, and colliding against each other in a frenzy of unbridled fun and frolic.

I would stand there, bristling like a grumpy porcupine, cut to the quick at the affront to my masculinity, and try to splash them. But a sharp bang on my head by my killjoy grandpa would save the ladies from getting wet.
Years have rolled by. “How long your hair is!” the same ladies gush with envy. I just smile, without turning a hair.

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