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VOL. XXII NO. 2, MAY 1-15, 2012
Our Readers Write

This letter appeared in Current Science (v. 102: p. 1087, 2012) and was forwarded to Madras Musings as a contribution to the debate that has taken place in these columns from time to time.

English: The heartbeat of world science

The results of the ACER–PISA test for annual global assessment of students' skills for 2011, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, show the Chinese on the top and the Indians at the last but one position among the South and South East Asian nations. The analysis puts the blame squarely on 'ineffective' English teaching in professional institutions and consequent 'inability' of the students to frame a sentence on their own in English. A cartoon in an English daily, illustrating the article, shows the Indian students sleeping or chatting over a laptop, whereas the Chinese students take pains to learn and practise.

Whether or not English is the international language of science is no more debated. The issue is the assessment of the contribution to science by different linguistic nations vis-a-vis their standards in English, for discussing which Current Science has contributed much in the past. With around 400 million people learning English as first language across the world, 350 million people as second language, as in India, and over a billion people learning English as a foreign language, as in China, Russia, Korea or Japan, it is no surprise that more than 60% of research publications are in English, with the rest in vernaculars giving titles, abstracts or parallel translations in English. 'Non-English' speaking countries are putting a great effort to improve their English-speaking abilities, as English is seen as the 'language of science'.

India, with a different historical background, is almost an English-speaking country with limping standards. In spite of ever-expanding higher education in the country (around 200,000 institutions by the end of the XI Plan period, 2007–2012, including colleges, universities, IITs, IIMs and polytechnics), a steady decline in English standards is being observed.

Thanks to e-mails, chatting, SMS and other computer and cell-phone operations all over the world, scientific English is receiving a further jolt. The inability to comprehend good scientific English and publish good work is not confined to the non-English-speaking countries alone, with researchers from the UK, USA, Canada or Australia no better. The difference between the two groups is rather a matter of quantity or number of grammar and syntactic errors in English writing than in the quality of expression and thematic logistics.

C. Kavitha (Department of Electronics/Physics)
S. Sushma Raj (Department of English)
GITAM Institute of Science
GITAM University
Visakhapatnam 530 045

C. Kavitha can be contacted at

Traits still common

I enjoyed reading the article on Tambrahms (MM, April 16th). Several traits that have been mentioned in the article still continue to be seen among Tambrahms, despite the sweeping changes. While I agree that the profile of a typical Tambrahm has changed, not much in terms of traits and characteristics has changed from then to now. Some other traits that I've found common among Tambrahms are finishing a meal with thayir saadam irrespective of whichever cuisine they are trying out, asking questions about the 'water problems' (thanni kashtam) in the area, and the stress on the centum culture/engineering courses/IIT.

S. Srinivasa Ramanujam

Much appreciated

'TAMBRAHMS' (MM, April 16th) was an excellent piece of informative writing on a community. The author was right that behind-the-scene values put forth by Brahmins come out through politicians and bureaucrats even today. Even anti-Brahminists keep Brahmins as their employees to take care of their interests because they have confidence in Brahmins for their integrity and honesty.

I wonder whether the present settlement 'Tambaram' near Chennai relates to Brahmins, Brahmins started living in large numbers in Tambaram when the place was surrounded with paddy fields.

Regarding the 'West Coast Brahmins' (MM, April 16th), the so-called Vadamas still think they are superior to any other sub-sect within the community because of drinking the fresh and holy Cauvery water. Congratulations to both authors.

S.R. Rajagopal
7/12, Peters Colony
Royapettah, Chennai 600 014

Getting it straight

Sudha Venkataraman ( writes that she is the author of 'West Coast Brahmins' (MM, April 16th). She adds: The link to my runnersblok blog is incorrect. It should be

Sudha Venkataraman

EDITOR'S NOTE: We regret the omission of the blogger's name with the article.

Wake-up call

You keep writing ad nauseam about heritage buildings, culture et al. But have you ever written about, or cared to find out, the state these so-called old heritage buildings are in? Or why? Take for instance Presidency College. Every time I go there to attend meetings of the alumni association I get emotional. The corners of the staircase have turned red with betel leaf juice. No one is bothered. The teachers never ask the students not to indulge in this sickening habit. Near the library, where we have these meetings, there are cigarette butts on the floor. Have you written about that?

Then, the old Teachers' College at Saidapet. The stately building is hidden from view. When the metro rail work is over, this structure will be pulled down. I can bet on that. Or it will just be totally neglected till we forget its existence.

Did you bother about private buildings that remained idle – at Gemini corner, the old Safire cinema, etc. You keep harping on Gokhale Hall or the Bharat Insurance Building. If some of these heritage buildings had been rebuilt, new edifices would have come up and generated more money. Wake up to realities, at least now.

Nimicheri Vignesh

Old Mylapore

The Annual Brahmotsavam of Mylapore Temple was recently celebrated with pomp and grandeur. Wesleyan Missionary Elijah Hoole, in his book Madras, Mysore and South India published in 1844, described Mylapore as he saw it in 1820, thus:

"The original Hindu town of Mielapoor stands at a short distance from the beach and was never included within the Portuguese Port. It has a large ancient temple of considerable repute; adjoining it is a deep stone built tank, filling a very large quadrangle, where the natives bathe, and from which they supply themselves water. The annual festival of the temple is attended by tens of thousand of worshippers, and is celebrated with barbaric splendour, and at great expense. There is no place within the same distance of Madras where the traveller may see such an assemblage of Yogis, Sanyasins, Tabasis, Pandarams, all the varieties of heathen priests, priestesses and devotees each making an exhibition of his peculiar mode of dress, worship and penance, as in Mielapoor on this occasion. The Brahmans and other heathen inhabitants of Mielapoor are less accessible to the exertions of the Christian missionary than the inhabitants of the interior generally; On the north side of Mielapoor there are many Mahommedan inhabitants."

P.B. Mani
F8, Krishna Kutir
18, Justice Sundaram Road
Mylapore, Chennai 600 004

Give it life!

Madras Musings (April 1st) was right in bemoaning the fact that, after all the expensive restoration carried out on the Senate House building, it was kept closed for long resulting in its deterioration.

The reason for its non-use is not given. But any building kept in regular use thrives better than one kept closed. Senate House could be put to all the uses it was put to in the past, like language classes, lectures, meetings, conferences, convocations, etc.

Being one of the finest buildings of the colonial era, the acme of Indo-Saracenic architecture, it could be opened to the public for guided tours for limited hours during the day and a small fee charged for going round the majestic hall and enjoying its beauty. This would generate some revenue, and the visiting public walking under its canopy would give it back its vibrancy.

N. Harinarayana
120, Big Street, Triplicane
Chennai 600 005

What a Doctor!

We have known Dr. T.J. Cherian (MM, April 1st) from the time he was in Golden Rock Railway Hospital, Trichinopoly. He was even then married to the hospital. I still remember when my youngest son, a baby, developed diphtheria at a time when it was fatal for a child under two. He was with us night and day and but for him my son would not be alive today.

At 90, all those of my generation who have known Dr. TJC will not forget him. We followed him from Golden Rock to Perambur Hospital to Vijaya Hospital to Devaki, wherever he went, like Mary had a little lamb!

A distress call to him any time and his advice would put us at rest. He had a rare God-given gift for diagnosis!

Anna Varki
1D, Rosamere Apts
18, Harrington Road
Chetpet, Chennai 600 031

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In this issue

Government offers hope again for Heritage Act
The least pedestrian-friendly Indian city: Chennai
When will we get all this power?
An exchange of letters
Perambur Railway Hospital - A remarkable journey to excellence
An Old Boy's advice
METERPODU – A work in progress
The economist as a Shakespearean scholar
A Chola temple near Tambaram

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


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