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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 19, January 15-31, 2011

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On the Bookshelves

My greetings card of the year

The voices of Green

The three Gentlemen of Tennis

A peregrinating image

(By Savitha Gautam)

• All about Thanjavur
• A love affair with books
• For a healthy, happy life

Thanjavur: A Cultural History
Pradeep Chakravarthy (Niyogi Books, Rs. 1250)

The first thing that strikes you about this coffee table book is its jacket… the rich costume, bright colours and clean lines. And yes, the people featured… The traditional Thanjavur painting beckons the reader and is the first of the many pleasant experiences that the book has to offer.

Thanjavur… a seat of power, home to a magnificent temple, a repository of art and architecture of royal dynasties, that shaped the history and culture of the region in more ways than one. Well, these are but just some aspects that writer Pradeep Chakravarthy and photographer Vikram Sathyanathan capture as they narrate the cultural history of the temple town.

They begin in the beginning – its early days of grandeur during the Chola Empire when Raja Raja I built the Rajarajeswaram temple (now the Brhadeeswara temple), which celebrated its 1000th year of consecration in 2010. They weave together known and unknown histories of various rulers besides the Cholas — the Nayaks, the Marathas and the British.

Of course, the Big Temple takes quite a few pages as it is a symbol of the cultural heritage that is Thanjavur.

Pradeep and Vikram showcase the rich treasures of the Sarasvati Mahal Library and lead the reader through the narrow lanes, or sandhu-s, where live the painters who created the now famous Thanjavur style.

Look out for bangle-sellers, textile merchants, perfumers and the devadasi-s, who formed an integral fabric of society.

The temples, the palace, the bronzes, the paintings, the frescoes, the cuisine, the weapons of war and ivory dolls, the kalamkari-s, and literary genres like the Abhyudayamu-s, the Prabandham-s and the Kuravanji-s – all these and much more make the book a must have for lovers of culture, history, art and anthropology.

The Groaning Shelf
Pradeep Sebastian (Hachette Group, Rs. 395)

Asking a bibliophile about books is like asking a historian about old buildings. This book is a bibliophile’s take on his romance with the art of collecting books... the smell of the pages, the magic of dust jackets and spines, the possessiveness about first editions and much more.

The book about books inspects what it takes to be mad about books. And, of course, the whole process of transforming ideas into words and then into that beautiful form... a book.

Read about how a book is bound, the art of typesetting, the involved proofreading process and the final outcome... the sheer joy of watching your imagination get a tangible and gorgeous form. It’s all there... the drama of bookish obsession, the joys and snares of the bookish life, and the gentle madness that is book love.

Women and The Weight Loss Tamasha
Rujuta Diwekar (Westland Books, Rs. 200)

Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep and Relationships... if these four principles are in place, you are assured of a healthy and happy life. That’s what celebrity fitness expert Rujuta Diwekar discusses in her second outing.

The woman who helps the likes of Anil Ambani, Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta and our very own Namita keep fit, talks about specific issues, including pregnancy, menopause, and thyroid, and offers simple solutions for one and all. And, of course, there is much more.

Read it, absorb it and follow it... it works!


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My greetings card of the year
(By the Editor)

My greetings card of the year was from Shankar Vanavarayar of Sakthi Auto Motors Limited and INTACH, Coimbatore. His striking photograph of a corridor of the Airavateshwarar Temple, Darasuram, and three stamp-size ones from the temple were accompanied by the usual Season’s Greetings and the following text. – THE EDITOR

The land of the Cholas in the interior parts of the ancient Tamil country houses many magnificent and fabulous temples which stand as relics of the imperial power, unparalleled artistic creativity and skill and more importantly as symbols of immense submission to the divine.

The three great temples of the Cholas in Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram exemplify the artistic pinnacle among thousands of temples. The Airavateshwarar temple in Darasuram is an example of our luminous civilisation.

The temple was built between the 10th and 12th centuries CE by the great Chola Emperor Rajaraja II. This temple is a storehouse of art and architecture. The Vimana is 85 feet high and with its beautiful outer corridors and the fabulous front mandapam in the form of a huge chariot drawn by horses is a sight to experience. The richness of the carvings in the temple is unparalleled. The main deity’s consort, Periya Nayaki Amman temple is situated adjacent to Airavateshwarar temple. This temple is one among the three great temples of the Cholas to be declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The temple complex is managed by the ASI and the Thanjavur Palace Devasthanam.

The temple complex is a visual treat for the mind, soul, eye and the camera.


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The voices of Green
(By Gitanjali Das & Rohini Chatterji)

‘Whose Water is it Any way? Water Management Between Human Rights and Ecosystem Needs’ was the subject recently discussed by three panelists, students from the Environment elective at the Asian College of Journalism, along with Jayshri Vencatesan of Care Earth, Chennai, and they were unanimous that in our country the poor pay more for water than the rich, while the big corporates violate rules and pollute the water bodies with impunity. Barkha, a student panelist added, “We are a country obsessed with damming our river systems. Nature can sustain itself only if we keep our hands off it.”

Jayshri Vencatesan pointed out that there is nothing called encroachment by the poor; it is the rich who encroach and then legalise it. Slums in Chennai are flooded under sewage water during monsoons, but they have no water to drink. She also charged that the Government does not take into consideration any inputs from the public during planning. ‘Beautification’ projects like the Semmozhi Poonga are an eyesore, where nature is immensely harmed for the sake of ‘beauty’. The Adyar Poonga too, she felt, had harmed water bodies due to construction activities and artifical restoration in the park.

The discussions were part of ‘Shades of Green’, a film festival organised by the students of the Environment elective of the College and their Professor, Nityanand Jayaraman. The no-frills festival, keeping in mind a low carbon footprint, was focussed on the three elements of the environment, Land, Air and Water. Documentaries were screened on each element and the screenings for each session were followed by a panel discussion on the environmental issues that the films looked at.

The issues and problems discussed seemed to develop a common consensus, namely that development was at the cost of the environment. Panelists repeatedly pointed out how, in the name of beautification of our cities to make them global and cosmopolitan, administrators abused the rights of the poor and turned the cities into concrete jungles.

The first session was on Air. Two surprise guests who participated through Skype were Annie Leonard, the woman behind The Story of Stuff, and Patrick Bond, the director of the film and a political economist. Both agreed that no country, irrespective of its financial status, had a right to pollute and that its leaders needed to figure out how they could ensure that their people lived sustainably and equitably without polluting the atmosphere.

Environmentalist and guest panelist Shweta Narayan pointed out that carbon emission is the one thing we think about when it comes to air pollution, but there is much more to it than that. She said that India has spent more than 1.4 billion dollars on health costs due to air pollution.

The experts stated that, in North Chennai, air pollution is especially high in Manali where a Bhopal-like disaster is imminent.

The films screened during this session were Home by Yann Arthus Bertrand, The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Carbon Connection by Fenceline Films.

During the lunch break, Siddharth, who is a part of ‘Reclaim our Beaches’ (ROB), lit up the evening with his song ‘Don’t work for dirty DOW’. He said that ROB does a little more than just trash collection on the beaches of the city. It also teaches school students how waste is created, where it comes from and where it goes. ROB has started a ‘dustbins on the beach’ campaign that is trying to get dustbins and urinals on Chennai’s beaches by the end of January 2011.

After the lunch break there were screenings based on the element of Water. The film Uber wasser, a German film by Udo Maurer, portrayed different people’s lives and their struggle for water and survival from the heart of Africa to the Aral Sea in the Kazakh steppes.

The last session of the festival was on Land. After the screening of Mine: The Story of a Mountain by Toby Nicholas and Kasargod: In God’s Own Country, there was a talkshow on Urban Development and City Beautification: Who pays?’ moderated by Dr. Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, Adjunct Faculty of the College and Senior Deputy Editor of The Hindu.

The story of the mountain was based on the Dongria Kondh who live in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills and worship a mountain as God. It is about how they protected their forests when London-based mining company Vedanta Resources planned a vast open-cast bauxite mine in the hills.

The talkshow began with a Skype address by Dr. Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, JNU, New Delhi. The three student panelists then looked at three areas suffering the consequences most of urban planning: Chennai’s IT corridor, the Dharavi slum, and the Commonwealth Games. Madhumita Dutta of the Vettiver Collective was the guest panelist. This session was enthusiastically interactive, with the audience posing questions like ‘Why are land acquisition laws so problematic?’ Bangalore was brought up as an example of a city that was not subject to proper planning. Questions were raised about how youth could protect the environment.

The evening ended with the audience writing postcards to the Environment Minister.
Eco-friendly jute bags too were on sale. Budding environmental journalitsts appeared to want to try and save the world.


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The three Gentlemen of Tennis
(By R.K. Raghavan)

The Krishnan family is un-doubtedly one of God’s precious gifts to the tennis world. However, only a few of the game’s followers know of the small-time farmer from a remote village in south Tamil Nadu who shaped India’s two tennis legends, Krishnan and Ramesh. Tenkasi Ramanathan (TKR) first groomed his son Krishnan (in the 1950s and ’60s) and, later, his grandson Ramesh (in the 1970s). Both rose to great heights and vindicated TKR’s faith in their ability to stand up to the rigours of a game that demands enormous physical and mental reserves.

T.K. Ramanathan with his son Ramanathan Krishnan, daughter-in-law Lalitha Krishnan and grandchildren Ramesh Krishnan and Gowri Krishnan (courtesy: The Hindu)

Neither of them may have won a singles title at hallowed Wimbledon. But this was just a technical detail. They did enough – two semi-final appearances by Krishnan and a quarter-final for Ramesh – to win international acclaim and be regarded among the best in the world of their times and became legends in India. In the process, they brought glory to a steely TKR, who was synonymous with tennis in the southern provinces of the India of the 1930s.

Wherever I have been in the world, tennis followers have always asked me about the Krishnans and the Amritaraj brothers. So much so, when a friend of mine from Philadelphia, Professor Mark Haller, visited me a decade ago, he insisted on looking up for the Krishnans, and he later made arrangement for Ramesh to play at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. But of TKR’s contribution he did not know anything, like most others.

The grateful son and grandson did not allow TKR’s centenary year (2010) to slip by unnoticed. They recently got together a group of tennis buffs in Chennai to relive memories of the patriarch. Speaker after speaker regaled the knowledgeable audience with anecdotes of how TKR worked singlehandedly to instill enough ambition and grit into the young Krishnan, who displayed phenomenal talent even while at high school. Krishnan, then at R.K. Mission High School, T’Nagar, got special permission to play in the annual Stanley Cup tournament conducted by Loyola College which was meant only for college students. He justified the unusual gesture by winning the Stanley Cup that year.

C. Ramakrishna, a senior lawyer and no mean player himself of the 1950s, recalled how he became one of Krishnan’s victims on his way to the finals at this annual tournament. Ramakrishna was used to defeats. But losing to a wisp of a boy was a different proposition. He has not forgotten to this day how badly he was hurt when he was taunted by many friends for losing to just a schoolboy! The doughty lawyer also recalled how one of the other speakers, P.S. Seshadri, later that year beat Krishnan convincingly. But Krishnan did not take this lying down. Within months he earned his revenge by beating PS by about the same margin.

Krishnan galloped from one success to another constantly upgrading his skills, and eventually won the Wimbledon Boys’ title in 1954, a feat that was emulated 25 years later by his son Ramesh, who also came under his grandfather’s admirable tutelage. Every year when I go to Wimbledon I take a particular delight looking at the honours roll as if I had myself achieved the glory.

The Stanley Cup win greatly ignited Krishnan’s ambition. An aid to achieving further excellence was TKR, who never allowed his son to rest on his laurels. It was an understatement that the father was merely demanding. He expected the son to become a workhorse, a player who would not demur or protest at the considerable physical hardship involved. Krishnan was ungrudging and put in long hours of labour to hone his inborn skills. TKR strongly believed that his son was destined to reach great heights. Riding on the pillion of TKR’s motor cycle, to play long hours under a merciless sun at courts over which the duo did not have any control, became a regular regimen for the young Krishnan. It was years later that TKR invested his precious earnings in a Raja Annamalaipuram property to put up a court for training his son. That was a great foresight for a man who was not in poverty, but was not exactly affluent!

TKR’s speciality was strategy. He would quickly identify the weaknesses of his son’s prospective opponents, such as inability to bend, reluctance to play at the net, or an imperfect overhead. The son was fed all such vital information before the start of a match, and this prepared the ground for a quick and savage demolition of the adversary. Can you believe it that Krishnan had a poor backhand to begin with? At least that was what one of the speakers at the meeting told the surprised audience. You can guess how he went on to build one of the best backhands in the world, in the company of those like Rosewall, Emerson, et al. The father worked on all that he considered his son’s shortcomings, and did not rest until they were upgraded to world class standard. How else could Krishnan have reached the Wimbledon semi-finals twice in his career?

Krishnan concluded the proceedings of the memorable morning appropriately by recalling how much he owed his father. Among those things was a DNA that made both him and Ramesh inherit the strong legs that TKR had! TKR was basically a farmer who strived so hard in the field that he had to have a pair of strong legs, the essential for playing any game at the highest level.

Krishnan said that TKR firmly believed that you played the game to win and not to sulk or wilt even when the opponent was more talented. To him there was no place for frivolity on the court, something which Krishnan said he and son Ramesh learnt from TKR and practised right through their careers. (You must watch how Ramesh plays at the MCC even these days with lesser mortals like me! His serious demeanour puts us on guard all the time while on court with him.)

Another bit of character-development that TKR, by personal example, drilled into his wards was that while on the court you had to be sporting and fair at all times. This, he would say, was the essence of professionalism. It gave tremendous satisfaction to genuine players. Krishnan ended by saying that if you also won a match in the process of being ethical, it brought even greater satisfaction!

When will we see another trio that not only dominated the game but played it fairly? Their motto of honesty and hard work remains relevant to the country in many spheres. We owe it to the nation to spread it, especially among the youth, for we are now facing a crisis of character in every field.


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A peregrinating image
(By Chithra Madhavan)

The illustrious emperor Krishnadeva Raya’s 500th year of accession to the Vijayanagara throne was celebrated in many places in South India in 2009-2010 and Chennai was no exception to this. And this is as it should be, because an image very dear to this mighty monarch is to be seen right here, in the heart of Chennai. Only, most people are not aware of it.

The Krishnadeva Raya sculpture seen in the Government Museum, Chennai.

One of the most important military campaigns of Krishnadeva Raya was his expedition against King Prataparudra of the Gajapati dynasty of medieval Orissa. He besieged the fort of Udayagiri in 1513 and, after a stressful campaign, captured it. He was captivated by a beautiful image of the infant Krishna (Balakrishna) and took it with him from Udayagiri to his capital, Vijayanagara (present-day Hampi). To commemorate this victory, Krishnadeva Raya constructed an ornate temple for Krishna, which is a ‘must-see’ in the itinerary of every visitor to Hampi. A lithic inscription of the ruler dated 1513 C.E. in the temple clearly records that the Balakrishna icon was brought from a temple in Udayagiri during his Orissa campaign and enshrined in a large mantapa in the Krishna temple.

Subsequently, in 1565 C.E. when the Vijayanagara army was defeated in the Battle of Talikota (Rakshasi-Tangadi), Hampi was ransacked and many a temple, including the Krishna temple, fell into a state of utter ruin.

The ancient Balakrishna masterpiece, which he so admired and which travelled from Udayagiri to Vijayanagara, was discovered by archaeologists amongst the ruins. It was then brought to Madras and can be seen in the Government Museum, Egmore. A peregrinating image indeed!

This sculpture is much damaged, with both its arms broken and only the fingers of the left hand seen resting on the thigh. The left leg is bent and placed on a pedestal and the right leg hangs down. Adorned with many jewels, it is indeed a beautiful piece of sculpture. Many an art historian visiting Chennai has marvelled at the dexterity of the anonymous sculptor who chiselled this granite image. But, alas, for those who know no history nor have an eye for things beautiful, this is just another damaged sculpture in a lonely corner of our Museum.


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In this issue

The Three Woes of
the City's heritage
The Most Vulnerable Road-user
The accounts chief –
& the maths genius
The Lilliputians in Madras
At last, a unified transport authority
Other stories

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