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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 16, december 1-15, 2009

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Medical thought & institutions and education & missionaries

After wrestling, search for a job

Naturalists’ notes: Breathtaking birdwatching

Point of View: Lost Sanctity

(By Mithran Devanesan)

In the last two years, there have been some remarkable trends that have cropped up in Chennai and I am not talking about the Yuppie IT world of pubs, lounges, tapas bars, farmhouse parties and weekend motorbike races along the ECR.

Here are just a few from my collection:

Houses as colourful as you can get.

Houses in Vaastu colours

Dotting Chennai, and especially suburban Chennai, are houses painted in vivid fluorescent green, lemon yellow, orange, pink, blue and colours that require you to wear dark glasses if you don’t want them to hurt your eyes. I have even spotted engineering colleges sporting these colours. The stretch of road where my Home for HIV+ children is located, boasts of over 12 homes painted so vividly that it is almost like going on a psychedelic journey.

Watch out for ‘Vaastu Fish’ that can cost you over a lakh of rupees each!

The burkha

Gone are the days when the burkha was just a black shapeless robe for women of the veil. Today the burkha sports classy sequined and beaded work in all hues and colours. I saw one from Mecca that would have put some of the Swarovski designer clothes to shame. So popular have these become that burkha boutiques have sprung up across the city! While it was taboo to ogle a woman in full burkha, today heads turn to take in the new fashion.

Bull’s eye & ‘half boils’

Classy burkhas.

The omelette which used to be staple fare at TASMAC bars, cheap restaurants where you go after a good booze, and kaiyendhi bhavans (roadside carts) has been replaced by the “Bulls Eye” (some of you might know it as eggs fried sunny side up) but to the masses it is now known as “Half Boil”. It is not uncommon to see people eat four or five half boil at a time after they have finished at the bar. Ever since Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps stated that part of the cause of his fitness was the eating of six ‘half boil’ every day, there has been a spurt in the demand for ‘half boil’ and now competitions to see who can eat the most number of ‘half boiled’ eggs are the order of the day. There is a catch though – the minimum target is 15 ‘half boils’ in 10 minutes. If you fail to eat 15 in the time stipulated you have to pay for the eggs! A hardcore ‘half boil’ eater friend of mine told me that it is not just the question of eating the egg but the style in which you do it, which is to sprinkle a liberal dose or pepper on it, fold it over, pick it up and pop it into your mouth without the yolk breaking or dripping down the side of your chin!

English in Chennai Tamil

Docomo – I am going for a ‘docomo’ in Tamil translates as meaning ‘I am going to buy a cheap quarter bottle of liquor’. If they say they are going for an Aircel, it means going for a higher priced bottle of liquor.

Terror – Ever since the Mumbai attacks, the word has crept into usage, meaning ‘ultimate’ or ‘superb’. Example: Antha padam terror aaga irunthuthoo.

Common Man – Taken from Kamal Hassan’s latest superhit (in Tamil they would say mega hit), it is commonly used to denote low income groups.

Torture – Has been around for a long time now and is used in English: meaning Vela torture thaanga mudiyadhu!

Validity over – Taken from cell phone usage, landlords now drive out tenants who don’t pay rent by saying Unga validity over!

Tsunami – The ultimate macho expression is Tsunami illa, naan soap pottu kulippen! (I’ll bathe with soap in tsunami waters!).

Time to go hit a Docomo! Till next time – Cheers!


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Medical thought & institutions and education & missionaries
(LITERATURE ON MADRAS (an annotated bibliography from the Web)
compiled by Dr. A. Raman)

Medical history

Wujastyk D (2005). Change and creativity in early modern Indian medical thought. Journal of Indian Philosophy 33:95-118

This paper begins with a frame story, the reports of Indian medicine recorded in the 17th Century travelogue of British traveller John Fryer. Fryer’s observations as an outsider are contrasted with an internal view of the works of three different Sanskrit medical authors, who were working at the time of his travel. Wujastyk poses questions on the purposes of these works, their relative popularity, and the reception they got. This paper refers to a Dutch-speaking Padmanabha, who clarified aspects of Hinduism to Abraham Roger (1649), the first Chaplain at the Dutch factory at Pulicat in the 1630s. Padmanabha translated Bhart­rhari’s Satakatraya from Sanskrit into Dutch and it was printed at the end of Roger’s book.

Dorairajan N. Pandyaraj, Muralidharan, Arivalagan, Anandi, Ramalakshmi & Arun (2007). An ode to my alma mater – Madras Medical College. Indian Journal of Surgery 69: 163-168.

The Government General Hospital (GH), the first British hospital, was started on November 16, 1664 as a small hospital to treat the sick soldiers of the East India Company on the orders of Edward Winter, the Agent of the Company. In its early days the hospital was housed at Fort St. George and, in the next 25 years, grew into a formal medical facility. Governor Elihu Yale was instrumental in the development of the Hospital and gave it a new home within the Fort in 1690. This hospital was shifted to 13 locations before it was eventually established at its present site (then called the Hog hill) in 1772. By 1772, the hospital was training Europeans, Eurasians and Indians in allopathic methods of diagnosis, treatment and preparation of medicines. These trained personnel were posted to various dispensaries in the district headquarters of the then Madras Presidency to assist qualified doctors. In 1827, D. Mortimer was appointed as the Superintendent of the Hospital and a private medical hall run by Mortimer was regularised as the medical school where Mortimer made great efforts to teach his students. The Madras Medical School, the forerunner of the Madras Medical College, was opened by Sir Frederick Adams, the then Governor of Madras, on February 2, 1835. No regular preclinical classes existed then, but students were taught in detail allopathic methods of diagnosis, treatment and follow-up and detailed methods of preparing medicines and dressing. Also refers to many critical milestone events in the development of MMC-GH complex up to recent times by referring to eminent surgeons who served in the portals of MMC-GH system. Includes a few black and white images of historical relevance and a chronology of key events in MMC-GH, such as the first open heart surgery in 1970.

Tamil Nadu Government Dental College (2008). History of Dentistry in Madras Presidency and Madras Dental College.

H. Venkata Rao started the first dental college in Madras (Madras Dental College & Hospital) in 1935, but it folded up in 1942. In the early 1940s, H.M. Rao, a general medical practitioner, after qualifying for a DDS in the USA, started the American Dental College in Madras, which was well equipped and functioned on scientifically sound methods, generating many efficient practitioners. This college was shut down due to the untimely demise of Rao. The origins of the Dental Department in the Government General Hospital (GH, Madras) date to 1883 when the Madras Education Department set up a dental clinic in GH, then managed by a Dental Assistant of the Royal Army. Based on the Joseph Bhore Community Health Survey (1943), a Dental Wing attached to Madras Medical College and GH (Madras) was started in December 1949 to train candidates for the BDS and recommended an intake of 15 students a year in 1953. On completion of 25 years of service to the Madras public, the State Government upgraded the Dental Wing to Madras Dental College in 1980.

Education history

Seth S (2007). Secular enlightenment and Christian conversion: missionaries and education in colonial India. In Education and Social Change in South Asia, ed. K. Kumar & J. Oster­held, Orient Longman, New Delhi, India.

An account of XIX Century missionary acitivity in India observed that missionary work had been ‘intimately connected’ with the British Empire in India and had extended in reach and scope with the Empire. This account went on to observe: “No thanks, however, is due in the matter to the East India Company,” for “that Company gave no helping hand to missionary work,” but rather “performed the services of herald and forerunner to which Providence had called it in an unwilling and reluctant manner.”

It is true that the presence of British rule facilitated Christian and missionary activity in several ways; it is also true that in its official capacity the British Indian Government resolutely refused to champion Christianity. For instance, when the Madras Council of Education proposed to permit the use of the Bible in class in Government schools, the Court of Directors in London disallowed the proposal. Translating the Bible and preaching to the heathen were accompanied by another tactic – an emphasis on schooling as an aspect of the proselytising endeavour. From 1811, the Serampore missionaries began establishing a network of schools around Serampore. The schools provided an elementary education, accompanied by religious instruction. They were modelled on the system devised by Joseph Lancaster (the so-called ‘Madras system’, or monitorial system), which Carey, even in its non-denominational form, considered to be one of the three ‘powerful engines’. Reverend Miller, Principal of Madras Christian College, went even further and told the Allahabad Missionary Conference of 1872 that conversions were not the measure of the success of Christian education.


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After wrestling,
search for a job

(Continued from last fortnight)

When school opened after the vacation, we still had no money for either food or train fare to go to school.

The Indian and World Arts & Crafts is a journal we had never heard of till a well-wisher sent us a fascinating series of articles that appeared in it in 1985. They were by an expatriate artist and art critic SUSHIL MUKHERJEE, who in them looked back at his memorable days at the Madras School of Arts then headed by the renowned artist Devi Prosad Roychowdhury as well as painted a picture of Madras in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The series titled ‘Devi Prosad and His Disciples at the Madras School of Arts’ is ­featured in these pages in a somewhat abbreviated form.

Paniker came up with an idea. “Paritosh, you and I will tell the old man that we are planning a figure composition for our final exam and we would like to study Sushil’s back. We want him to pose for us. Sushil would tell him that he would pose, but on principle he must get paid as a model. We are final year students, I’m sure he will not turn us down. If Sushil gets paid three bucks a day like any other male model, then we’ll have enough money every day for food and train fare and at the end of the week if we are careful our savings will enable us to buy our monthly passes and provisions for at least a couple of weeks.”

Thanks to Devi Prosad, Paniker and Paritosh were allowed to have me as a model. I posed for five days before the entire senior class and thanks again to our understanding guruji, I was paid a fee of five rupees a day instead of the usual three a day for male models. However, according to government regulation a student of the school couldn’t be employed as a model. So my name was changed to Chinnaswamy by Paniker. Twentyfive rupees those days was quite a large sum of money. It solved our food and transport problem for nearly a month.

* * *

Paniker was a wrestling enthusiast. Once we went to see an exhibition of professional all-in wrestling in which some of the stars of the time like King Kong, Dara Singh and Kartar Singh were taking part. On our way back home we dropped in to see Devi Prosad. As was usual with him, after a hard day’s work he was sitting on the veranda of his studio with a bottle of brandy and practising target shooting with his air-rifle on tin cans hanging from the branches of a tree in the school garden. Paniker started talking excitedly about the wrestlers. Devi Prosad listened to him for a while and then said, “Paniker, those fellows are really not good wrestlers in the traditional sense, like Gama, Gobar and other great Indian pahelwans. They are showmen and their wrestling is only for show business. I know a little bit about wrestling. I learnt it from a pahelwan when I was young.”

“Then, why don’t you teach us sir? We would love to learn wrestling from you.”

“Well, how many of you would be interested?”

“Besides me and Sushil, I’m sure we could persuade four or five others to join us.”

And so Devi Prosad agreed to teach us wrestling. An akhada (wrestling pit) was dug under the neem tree behind the studio, the expense for it met entirely by Devi Prosad. Other staff seeing this wondered, “Is this an art school or a lunatic asylum?”

* * *

The wrestling fever gripped us for over two years: Devi Prosad was a formidable wrestler. Under his tutelage we became more disciplined, learned some of the finer points of the sport and its usefulness toward achieving physical fitness. One day in the spring of 1940, Paritosh, Paniker and I sat under the neem tree and chatted with Devi Prosad. “Do you know,” he told us, “next week is Holi in North India. No Holi here in Madras, but we should observe it this year, right here in the akhada. Holi is an important festival for wrestlers in Benares. I’m going to invite a few of my friends – unfortunately males only. You three are invited.”

Among the guests that evening were two nephews of Sir Mirza Ismail, one was Dawood and the other’s name I don’t remember. They were a suave, sporting and sophisticated pair. The other guests were Jackson, the editor of Madras Mail, and Banerjee, the very anglicised manager of Connemara Hotel. Every guest was given a new dhoti, an angavastram and a Holi thread. The guests threw gulal at each other and drank champagne. There was a lot of laughter, fun, joviality, and feeling of camaraderie.

Late in the evening, at about nine or ten, a big black limousine pulled up near the akhada, out of which alighted the Maharaja of Pithapuram. Devi Prosad greeted him with folded palms and introduced him to all of us and then took a handful of gulal and rubbed it on his head and face. Pithapuram got very upset. “Stop it, stop it, Chow­dhury, you can’t do that to me,” he shouted, and added, “You know I am a Brahmo. We don’t believe in these primitive rituals.”

“What?” Devi Prosad was taken aback. “Don’t be a philistine. You think Holi is primitive? Tagore is a Brahmo too, but don’t they celebrate Holi at Shan­­tiniketan?” And so saying he rubbed some more gulal on Pithapuram’s head. The Maharaja, really angry, turned around and without taking leave or saying a word got into his limousine and drove away.

After the departure of Pithapuram, a totally sloshed Benerjee started an argument with Devi Prosad. “You know Chowdhury, sometimes you’re too bloody egoistic. Never gave what’s his name, the Maharaja, a ghost of a chance ... poor chappie. Awfully unsporting of you old chap. Now you say you’re big, right? I’ll bet a rupee for a paisa you can’t beat me, man. I’m too big for you, see too big. I’ll beat you any day.” Devi Prosad tried his best to calm him down. “Take it easy Banerjee. You’re too tipsy to stand on your hind legs. We’ll wrestle some other time.”

“Come on, Chowdhury, you brag too much. You know I’m sober as a judge. I’ll beat you any day, wanna bet, man?”

“You are insulting me in front of my students and guests and you’re my guest too. This is not nice. But guest or not, tipsy or not, you flabby old cow, I’ll have to take you on and teach you some good manners.”

The silk sheets were quickly removed from the akhada and they stood face to face in the centre of the arena a few feet away from each other. Suddenly, Banerjee, the taller and bigger man, charged with his head down straight at Devi Prosad. With the grace of a matador. Devi Prosad effortlessly sidestepped the on-rushing man and planting his left foot firmly before his opponent sent him helplessly cartwheeling over his thigh and into the air. Banerjee fell flat on his back, dazed but not hurt. It was a clean and sparkling exhibition of wrestling skill and there were spontaneous cheers from everybody.

* * *

Paritosh and Paniker finished school in 1940. Paritosh was appointed the art master of Daly College in Indore. He was also responsible for starting the Calcutta Group with Prodosh Das Gupta, Gopal Ghose and Rathin Moitra.

Paniker and I joined four other chaps from Kerala and rented a house on Gengu Reddy Street in Egmore. The other four of our fraternity were Kutty, who later became a well known cartoonist in Delhi, Kesava Menon, a clerk and an amateur artist, P.S. Menon, a radio engineer, and Radha­krishna Menon, a bright young lecturer at Pachaiyappa’s College. Paniker and I were the poorest of the lot.

Paniker didn’t have a job and made ends meet mostly by doing heartbreaking commercial work. Once in a while he was able to sell his watercolour landscapes to aesthetically undemanding English civil servants, who bought them more for sentimental, nostalgic reason rather than for any aesthetic needs. I was still a student at the Art School and my main source of income was selling an occasional painting and broadcasting flute recitals on All India Radio once in two months.

Paniker’s sensibility after finishing school, both as a man and as an artist, had undergone a devastating change. He was no longer the bright, optimistic and witty person he used to be.

One afternoon, Paniker and I sat on the balcony sipping tasteless tea. “You know, Sushil,” Paniker said. “I think I’m finished, finished as a man, finished as an artist. I feel so terribly worthless.”

“Come on, don’t be so melodramatic. What in hell is the matter with you? What’s bugging you?”

“I’m not being melodramatic at all. I’m telling you the honest truth. Have you seen me even pick up the brush lately?”

“No, but that’s because you have been feeling depressed. One of your usual, moody, low spells. You’ll snap out of it soon enough.”

“Not so simple this time, I’m afraid. I can’t paint even if I want to. I’ve terrible tremor in my right hand. I can hardly hold a brush, let alone paint.”

“Listen, you must see a ­doctor. I’m sure something can be done about it. Let’s go and see Doctor Krishna Pillai today.”

“No it’s useless. It’s not physical. It has something to do with my mind. I’ll never be able to paint again.”

“Nonsense, you’ve another hand, haven’t you? Some time ago I read about an artist in America who became a paraplegic after a car accident. He now uses his teeth to hold a brush. You’re much better off. Try to paint with your left hand.”

So it was that Paniker started to paint with his left hand. At the outset it was rough going. I remember him with a brush in his left hand standing before the canvas and murmuring to himself, ‘Steady lad, steady’ and then trying to paint which obviously required tremendous mental and physical effort. But slowly he overcame his handicap and, after a while, was able to paint with his left hand as well as he did before with his right hand. Paniker had a strong will and a tremendous drive to be successful.

* * *

One evening, Paniker and I were in Devi Prosad’s studio admiring his latest mixed media painting, The Defender of The Faith, when a message from the Director of Industries was delivered to him. Devi Prosad read the letter and smiled, “I’m really glad. Finally they have approved it. It’s so difficult to convince those philistines in the Department of Industries. They think of The Art School as a waste of money.”

“What’s it, sir?” Paniker asked.

“Yes, yes, you should be interested, Paniker. They have finally approved of a new painting instructor’s post I’ve been fighting for a long time. It will be in the papers next week. Bring your application personally to me. You know I’ll do all I can for you, but do keep it a secret.”

For that one job, artists from all over India had sent in their applications. Jobs for artists were practically non-existent those days and for a serious painter, a job in an art school was like a dream come true. Artists, except for a very few successful ones, were considered the waifs and strays of society.

Among the applicants for the job were a few who were well known and had studied art abroad in England and France. Paniker became increasingly more despondent after submitting his application.

On the day the selection tests started, Paniker came to me and said, “Hey you pattar, put a little curd dot on my forehead for good luck. You may be bad Brahmin but a Brahmin after all and good friend I hope.” And so I put a little dot of curd on his forehead and he went off for the test.

(To be concluded)


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Injuring the fabric of youth
(By Vincent D'Souza, Courtesy: Mylapore Times)

Who owns the beach?

Hawkers and Frisbee players? Walkers and cricket players? Swimmers and vagabonds?

Everybody has a right to it and everybody owns it. But if everybody has a share of it, then we need to respect each other.

The State does not seem to think that way. It takes sides.

It shot and bruised fisherfolk when one government drew up beautification plans.

It allows big players to have their big musical nites on the sands and roughs up teenagers who want to strum on their guitars in support of turtle conservation.

It threatens fisherfolk with clean-up orders because it visualises a Singapore-like waterfront space for foreign embassies and lifestyle stores.

It chases away kids who enjoy flying kites in the open, kids who don’t use manja, but allows omnibus operators to turn the sands into auto workshops.

And it bans cricket on the Marina accusing boys of injuring a VIP and damaging the Italian marble tiles of the pavement, but turns a blind eye to the stink on the waterfront.

The State has been treating our young people like rowdies and rogues on the Marina cricket issue.

I would have expected a few young city police officers in Tees and shorts to have engaged the Marina boys on the sands, dialogued with them and provided equal space – to the youth and to the walkers.

Instead, the State became the Big Brother.

A more worrying issue is of the State taking away what is intrinsic to our lives.

When it got Woodlands Drive-In to close down, it snapped the lives of a legion of people. When it clears the beach of kuppams, it is wiping out the original inhabitants of the region. When it bans cricket on the Marina, it injures the fabric of thousands of youths and upsets the sentiments of many others who played there and still treasure great memories. (Courtesy: Mylapore Times)


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In this issue

What the city's road rage...
Is Bogota the way...
The problem of our...
Some thoughts on cricket...
Historic Residences...
Other stories

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