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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XXI No. 6, July 1-15, 2011

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Bringing up elephants

... Will you join us?

City core densification must be halted...

... but how do we ensure greater road safety

The surgeon with the KISS approach

Bringing up elephants
Gaja Shastra Sara – Rakmaji Pundit, 1812
(In the Saraswati Mahal Library with pradeep chakravarthy)

For most kings in India, and surely for those who ruled Tamizhagam, elephants have been their key strength in military victory. Many verses from the Purananooru and other ancient Tamil epics speak of kings who waged war securely seated on towering elephants whose feet were wet with the blood of fallen soldiers. Elephants were also used as battering rams to break open the doors of forts.

The Madras museum has in its storage a grand piece of armour for an elephant that was appropriated when the British occupied Thanjavur in 1855. Along with this are many elephant goads, each a fine example of the metal worker’s skill. Just as these languish in the curator’s safe, many books on the art and science of capturing and maintaining elephants remain secrets on the shelves of the Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library.

The capture, training and methods for keeping elephants healthy were integral parts of a prince’s education. The Gaja Shastra Sara, a work in Marathi by Rakmaji Pundit completed in 1812, was written on the instruction of King Serfoji II (1798-1832) to serve as a guide and instruction manual for his son, Shivaji II, the last king of Thanjavur.

The text borrows heavily from earlier treatises on elephants – one by Palakappya Muni, King Serfoji’s Gaja Shastra Basha Prabhanda and Vayshampayana’s Gaja Shastra. These and other rare manuscripts on elephants are possibly found nowhere else, but in this Library. One of them is a medicine treatise called Gaja vaidya and another is by King Venkatapathiraya of the Vijayanagara Empire. The latter is probably a text that survives from the Nayak corpus of manuscripts. Many of these texts have several versions. The Gaja Shastra Sara, published in English by the Library in 1951, summarises the essence of most of the texts it holds.

The author traces his own lineage (his father seems to have been a scholar and author of several other texts as well) and that of the Marathas. The first few chapters are given over to the mythological origin of elephants and the positions that different Gods and Goddesses have within the elephant.

The life span of an elephant is fixed at 120 years divided into four periods of 30 years each. The first period is considered the best. This period is suitable for training, the second for war and the third for manual work. The fourth is when the animal should be allowed to die in peace. Growth of an elephant stops by its 40th year.

Each of the first 12 months of the calf has a specific name with characteristics listed. For each year thereafter, the book describes what will happen to the appearance and qualities of the elephant. For example, in the fifth year, it will like eating barks, stems and the rinds of trees and will recognise pleasure and pain. It will also be fond of playing in water and will understand words of command.

A considerable portion of the text is devoted to auspicious marks – there are 19 of them and can be found in 11 places. There are also places where inauspicious spots may be found. Cutting the tusks of elephants seems to have been a regular practice. The text specifies that it cannot be done on elephants that are young, sickly, aged or ailing with eye trouble. For others, several complex procedures are prescribed with strong injunctions on the pre/post preparation of the area that is cut. The cutting seems to have been done with a saw, rope and mekha (?). The tusk growth varies with the three types of elephants and the average growth rate is between 3 and 6 inches.

The qualities prescribed for the Gajadhikari or officer in charge, the physician and the mahout read like a list of all desirable qualities we would want in an employee!

Training of the elephant is a long chapter. Nine people are required, with each having assigned positions. June and July are listed as the best months to capture elephants using trained elephants. Five ways of capture are described in detail.

There are six varieties of elephants, each having its own measurements, recognisable features, faults (that make the elephant not suitable for use), gait, voice, sitting posture, methods of goading them, colour of eyes and body odour. Even the masth that male elephants go through are given seven recognisable signs.

The original text with the English summary and an excellent introduction can be purchased from the Library. The book is priced at only Rs.12!

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... Will you join us?
(By The Madras Week coordinators)

Madras Week, which started off as Madras Day eight years ago to celebrate the founding of the city on August 22, 1639, has become Madras Fortnight this year, if not Madras Month. Though Madras Week will be celebrated between the 21st and the 28th of August this year, the celebrations will begin by the first week of August itself and will carry on till the 31st. For the small band of volunteers who began this celebration as a one-day affair, and now help coordinate the programmes, the response from corporates, clubs, hotels, schools and citizens has given enormous satisfaction.

A major development this year is a promise by the Murugappa Group to get the schools involved in the celebrations through a major Madras-focussed quiz. The Group had helped celebrate ‘Madras 350’ with such a quiz and hopes to make it an annual event if this year’s revival is a success. The Chennai Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is also planning several competitive programmes for schools. Mylapore Times too is organising a wide range of events for Madras Week. And Chennai Heritage, publishers of Madras Musings, will be hosting eight talks at various locations on subjects related to the city. It also plans to team with the Freemasons on a series of performance programmes from August 29 to September 4. Plenty of heritage walks are also being organised this year. Further details will be available at the site

Perhaps indicative of the success of Madras Week as a concept is the number of institutions that have come forward each year to celebrate the city. We are also seeing several IT companies displaying interest. Rotary Clubs are also having several programmes. The celebrations have also spread to areas such as Nanganallur, Kodambakkam, Anna Nagar, Tambaram and Tiruvottriyur. Private apartment blocks and clubs are planning their own events.

Participation is purely a voluntary effort by those wanting to organise programmes during the Week. The role of the informal group of co-coordinators is only to encourage such participation, try to organise publicity for the events, offer advice and, where possible, arrange venues. This is a first call for individuals/volunteer groups/institutions who wish to celebrate the founding of this city to join in. For any assistance or information please contact or

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City core densification must be halted...
(By Prof. N.S. Srinivasan - Chairman, Transport Advisory Forum, Chennai)

Its central part occupies a very important position in any city and is characterised by dense land-use and very high land value. The central area also acts as a regional centre for the surrounding metropolitan region and as a local centre for the surrounding residential areas. Due to its central location and dense development, it attracts huge volumes of traffic.

Studies have shown that about 40 per cent of all the passenger trips of a city have origins or destinations in the core area. With the increasing concentration of activities in the core areas of cities, the volume of traffic to and from the city core is bound to increase and immobilise traffic conditions, unless effective steps are taken by proper planning of cities.

From the point of view of traffic circulation, the city centre should have ease of access and the internal movement should be safe and convenient. At present, the roads in cities do not satisfy either of these functions properly. Under the existing conditions, the accessibility of vehicles is seriously hampered. Many shopping centres take the form of a linear shopping street, which also acts as a main traffic arterial. As a result of inadequate capacities of roads and parking spaces, the efficiency of the city centre is reduced.

The sheer magnitude of traffic is the cause of the traffic problems. The traffic should be provided with good circulation system and adequate and convenient parking places. This problem is more complicated under Indian conditions due to the diversity of land use in the central area of a city and also the mixed nature of traffic.

Road capacity

When comprehensive urban transportation planning was undertaken for the first time in the country in the 1960s, one of the basic goals considered in planning was to limit the size of the city to a travel time of 30 minutes from the city centre to the outskirts of the city and vice versa. Alternatively, the transport system was planned to achieve this planning goal. But under the present circumstances, the sizes of our cities have grown beyond this limit, and the efficiency and capacity of the transport system cannot be augmented to achieve this goal.

Most of the main arterial roads in the metropolitan cities have volume capacity ratio in the range of 2 to 3, and hence it is very difficult, and also costly, to augment the capacity of arterial road corridors. The remedy is to provide high capacity mass transport system on selected corridors with a network concept, but this is very cost intensive. The experience has shown that cities have become liabilities rather than assets. Any attempt to further intensify the land use of these corridors will be suicidal, as there will not be any reserve capacity in the system to meet the normal growth of traffic taking place in the cities.

City solutions

One of the ways of tackling the problem of the city centre is to recognise that the long range solution to the problem of the city centre does not lie within itself, but lies elsewhere in the city and its region. In cities like Delhi, the city has been divided into several planning zones and each zone has been planned and developed into self-supporting communities with adequate employment, health, education, recreation, residential and other facilities within each planning zone. Decentralisation of wholesale markets has also been carried out.

Action necessary

In India, transportation planning is the most neglected field in urban and regional development. Attempts made so far have been inadequate and also limited in scope. The transportation planner is usually brought into the picture to solve problems created by defective circulation system or due to land use being finalised without examining the traffic and other implications. In some cities, even after traffic has reached a point of near immobility in the central areas, it is not uncommon to find conversion of land use and other developments, making the traffic problems still more severe.

These complex problems cannot be solved merely by widening a few roads or adding a few buses on a particular route or by any such improvements. There is an urgent need for halting further densification of the core areas of the city and evolve planning solutions at the city and regional levels. Only thus can we save the city core from the chaotic traffic conditions of the type witnessed


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... but how do we ensure greater road safety
(By A Special Correspondent)

In 2008, India surpassed China in registering the highest number of traffic fatalities in the world. Chennai had the third highest number of fatalities of any urban centre in the country last year, and the second highest if you include the suburbs. Chennai, it is reported, plans to invest nearly Rs.72,000 crore towards providing new and retrofitted transport infrastructure. Can the city direct some of this money towards more effectively protecting vulnerable road-users? Can government also be made responsible for ensuring the safety of the road-user? A meeting was recently held to address these questions, as well as to see whether citizens could get involved in the issue. The meeting was organised by Transparent Chennai*, which focusses on important civic issues to empower citizens and to seek greater government accountability.

Experts anchored a panel discussion on the topic. Dr. K.P. Subramanium, a retired professor of transportation engineering at Anna University, highlighted the norms and standards for pavements based on those determined by Indian Road Congress. Most roads in the city do not meet these standards. He also showed simple interventions that could make roads much safer.

Rajiv Rajan from the Disability Legislative Unit at Vidya Sagar showed and discussed a short film made by his organisation on the problems that differently abled people face in using existing pavements.

Transparent Chennai researcher Roshan Toshniwal presented data he had collected on road safety largely through RTIs. His presentation highlighted the following points:

l 33 per cent of those affected by accidents in the city are pedestrians and cyclists.

l Furthermore, 18 per cent of all accidents in the city are on the roads where the Metro Rail is coming up (Inner Ring Road, Anna Salai, and Poonamallee High Road). The advent of the Metro will certainly increase the pedestrian traffic on these roads. Metro planning needs to include improvements in road safety and pedestrian infrastructure.

l The number of accidents actually peaked in 2008, the year after the Road Safety Policy was instituted in the State and is still 5 per cent higher than what it was in 2006, even though Government wants to reduce the accidents by 20 per cent from the 2006 numbers by 2013.

l Government has levied a road safety cess since August 2009, and collected Rs. 15.5 crore in the financial year 2010-2011 in Chennai alone. However, only Rs. 2.31 crore was released during last financial year to the traffic police to fund road safety projects in the city. Much of this money goes into education and emergency care, rather than safety infrastructure to prevent accidents.

l Although hawkers are often blamed for encroaching on pedestrian space, government records indicate that hawkers take up less than 3 per cent of existing pavements meaning that more inclusive planning could easily accommodate both hawkers and pedestrians. Zone 8 (Kodambakkam, T.Nagar), which is known to have the highest concentrations of hawkers, has only 5 per cent of its pavements occupied by hawkers, according to Government records.

Government data seems to undercount the total number of accidents, because of the way in which accidents are recorded by officials. Without better data, how can improvements made or needed in road safety even be correctly recorded?

Bala Subramanium and Rama Rao, both residents of Nanganallur, responsded to these statistics by pointing out that the suburbs of Chennai are even more neglected than the city. Balchand Parayath from City Connect argued that we needed to take a more holistic view of this issue. Road safety, he pointed out, will improve only when we increase the use of high quality public transport, and improve the process of giving driving licences to prevent bad drivers from ever getting on to the roads. Vidhya Mohankumar from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy said that what we need is not to identify the problems of the roads, which we all know about, but to figure out how citizens can actually take action.

But, how can such action be effective? Nanchil Kumaran, who retired as the Additional Director General of Police in Tamil Nadu, recounted instances in which roads were made into one-ways even against the wishes of powerful residents. But, regardless of this, he pointed out, the most effective way for citizens to influence traffic planning was to come together, and work with their local elected representatives to make representations to the concerned agencies.

This point was echoed by Karen Coelho, an Assistant Professor from the Madras Institute of Development Studies and convener of a pedestrian advocacy group called Walking Classes United. She pointed out that speed of automobiles was the factor most highly correlated with road deaths. The current single-minded focus on making traffic move faster can only be combated through the creation of a strong pedestrian lobby.


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The surgeon with the KISS approach
(Masters of 20th Century Madras science - An occasional article in a series by Dr. A. Raman)

Solomon Victor was born in 1938, studied at the Madras Chris-tian College School, completed his MBBS at Stanley Medical College in 1959, MS (General Surgery), and MCh (Cardio-thoracic Surgery) in the Madras Medical College (MMC). His early training in cardio-thoracic surgery was with the Madras surgeon C.S. Sadasivan, who established the Department of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery in MMC. Solomon won a distinction in the primary examination leading to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) in England, which he wrote in Calcutta in 1963 and won the Hallett prize. During his FRCS training in England, he worked with Donald Ross, a name highly regarded in British medicine. He is the singular Indian cardiac surgeon to qualify for the Membership of Royal College of Physicians (Cardiology), to be later admitted into the Fellowship of Royal College of Physicians of England (Cardiology), in addition to his fellowship in the English Royal College of Surgeons. An eulogy by one of his close associates and a Mangalore-based cardio-thoracic physician B.M. Hegde refers to Solomon having acquired an FRCP (Cardiology) from the Edinburgh Royal College of Physicians.

He was the professor of open-heart surgery in Madras Medical College between 1973 and 1986. As a senior heart surgeon at the Madras Government General Hospital, he treated many economically marginalised patients and brought light to their lives. Against the severe set of challenges in the treatment of heart surgeries in India (and Madras), Solomon and his team developed a cost-effective, novel approach for open-heart surgeries, now known as the KISS approach (Keep it Simple and Safe), which is described in detail in his letter to the editor of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery (1996, 62:1890–1891). Frederick Glover (Cardiac Surgeon, Denver, Colorado) in response to Solomon’s letter applauds the KISS approach with the following remark: “Dr Victor has been far ahead of most of us by implementing ‘fast track’ efficient cardiac surgery since the early 1970s. Many of us in industrial nations can learn much from our colleagues who perform their work in an environment of scarce resources.” According to Hegde, Solomon practised humane medicine of the highest order. Solomon endeared himself as a teacher to his students who learnt cardio-thoracic surgery from him and who recall their association with pride and joy. From 1986, he directed the Heart Institute in Vijaya Hospital complex in Vadapalani.

The English Royal College of Surgeons honoured him by inviting him as the Hunterian Professor, Arris and Gale lecturer, and Arnott demonstrator. He founded the Indian Journal of Thoracic and Cardio Vascular Surgery and edited it from 1982 to 1990. He was the president of International Society for Buddchiari Syndrome.

In terms of science, Solomon pursued valvular heart diseases (VHD). He passionately studied rheumatic heart disease (RHD) – a common health problem in India – to reduce its incidence. RHD begins as a throat infection in children aged between 5 and 15, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus. The infection damages the mitral, aortic, and tricuspid valves, which results in the heart malfunctioning when the RHD-affected children grow into adults. Based on several studies pertaining to VHD and RHD, Solomon argued that schools must provide primary and preventive health care to children and health education should be a part of the school curriculum.

In addition to being an expert heart-lung surgeon and physician, Solomon enthusiastically played the violin, studied the biology of Strelitzia (birds-of-paradise plants), and passionately photographed Nature. Fellow cardiologists speak highly of the photographs he took during surgical procedures he led. He explored the evolution of human heart by studying the heart and vascular system in fishes and mammals.

Solomon wrote more than 200 research articles and trained more than 80 cardio-thoracic surgeons. He died of cardiac arrest in 2006.

His life demonstrates that he was not only a surgeon of profundity and humaneness, but also a scientist, who seriously searched for the secrets of sterile truth in its sparkling candidness.

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Education standards fall in levelling
What will be the fate of the Cooum?
Getting ready for ­Madras (Day) Week ...
Quest for that precious Blue
The artist who designed the State emblem
Early modern Tamil novels
Other stories

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