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Vol. XXXI No. 24, April 1-15, 2022

Remembering Mina Swaminathan

by K.R.A. Narasiah

I was once invited to a tea party that my uncle Chitti Sundararjan had arranged to meet all Tamil writers. It was there that Komal Swaminathan told me that Chitti’s life history needed to be recorded. He said as Chitti’s nephew and a Tamil writer I should take up this job. Reluctantly Chitti agreed and when I was looking for sources, I thought of the letters exchanged between Mathuram Bhoothalingam and Chitti that would provide a starting point. I therefore met the former as the letters were all with her.

Known as Krithika, Mathuram was in correspondence with Chitti for nearly half a century. It was then agreed that I should bring out a commentary on the letters and that was left at that, then, since I was called away by the World Bank to proceed to Cambodia as a consultant for rehabilitation work. Later I could not continue due to various reasons till the end of nineties. However I managed to finish the task of writing the biography of Chitti though the bunch of letters that I had seen continued to fascinate me.

Both Chitti and Krithika both passed away and later in 2005-6 I had occasion to meet Mina Swaminathan, daughter of Mathuram, who, by then had the letters neatly compiled and filed. At her initiative the project of writing a commentary on the correspondence was taken up again and from then on Mina helped me in every possible way to complete the book titled Lettered Dialogue that was launched in 2012.

Born in 1933 to Mathuram and civil servant Bhoothalingam, Mina graduated from Delhi University and later obtained her PG degree from Cambridge University. Of her three daughters, Dr. Sowmya is Chief Scientist with WHO, Dr. Madhura a professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute Bengaluru while Nitya works as a Senior Lecturer in Gender Analysis and Development.

Most unassuming, Mina Swaminathan, Distinguished Chair, Gender and Development, at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and wife of illustrious agriculture scientist Dr M.S. Swaminathan, passed away at her Chennai residence on Monday in her 88th year. She was a specialist on early childhood education (ECE) and was the Chairman of the Study Group on the Development of the Preschool child. Earlier she was a teacher at St. Thomas’s School, New Delhi, where she had developed methods using drama in education and language learning, both inside and outside the classroom. She was interested in drama and got up a women’s theatre project Voicing Silence where three women characters from the puranas , Tatakai, Amba and Nalayini were presented in new light with all women artistes in a musical theatre form. She felt that only through such medium the rural folks could be reached.

When the writing of the book started she used to call on me regularly enquiring about the progress and helping me in clearing doubts in the correspondence, arranging a typist for the work etc., She came to the office of the publishers with me to ensure that the finished product was worthy of her mother’s reputation. We had to avoid some letters that were of no interest to the reading public and purely private in nature, and it was she who guided me fully in this aspect. Again it was her effort that made it possible for Sri Gopal Krishna Gandhi to launch the book with an unforgettable release speech through the forum of the Madras Book Club.

Very simple and open minded she used to discuss certain points in the book and I can never forget her honest opinion about the characters in the book and their role in the family’s life.

She was much interested in bringing out her mother’s literary works again and the book Finger on the Lute by her mother on Bharati’s poem was republished. The release of the same was done in July 2012 at Bharatiyar Illam in Thiruvallikkeni due to her efforts. She had invited Bharati’s great grandson Niranjan to ­receive the copy that was released by artist Gopulu (who had done the sketches for the book in his inimitable style) and she asked me to preside over the function. It was a memorable evening as Prof. M S Swaminathan, Dr. Indira Parthasasathy, and Sri Gnana Rajasekharan (of Bharati film fame) attended. As she was conscious that the book should reach the younger generation she asked me to select two young speakers to talk about the book. One could feel her devotion to her mother Mathuram Bhoothalingam, when she gave a welcome speech then. In fact it was her idea to republish all her mother’s books. This is being accomplished by her daughters with a first book republished a couple of years back.

An unforgettable personality, she will live on in the hearts of her admirers and friends.

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