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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 23, March 16-31, 2013
Our Readers Write

Of emus & jack

I wish to add to V. Sriram's notes on the flightless, aggressive birds of Australia, the emus (MM, February 16th).

I wonder under what pretext the Governments of Tamil Nadu and India permitted the import of these native birds of Australia for commercial breeding purposes. Although economists might justify their import as useful for economic development, they are a major hazard to the native fauna and biodiversity.

Already ecologists and environmental biologists are battling with a range of other organisms (both plants and animals) that have entered India as invasives via the land route. If, by chance, these birds spread into the wild, which is highly likely to occur, with the sort of lax quarantine practices we follow, that too callously, these birds can be a major nuisance to both humans and other scant biodiversity of India.

I think this is what inviting trouble is!

* * *

Regarding the 'rare jackfruit type' referred by Pradeep Chakravarthy (MM, February 16th), two kinds of jackfruit-type trees are known to exist in Madras. Biologically the jack is Artocarpus heterophyllus. The variety, better known as the idi-tchakka (rather, idian-tchakka) in Malayalam produces much smaller fruits than the jack. I am not familiar with the Tamil name for this variety, although I found pala-pinju in literature. I have not heard pala-pinju used commonly in Madras, however. The product of this specific variety can be used only as an unripe fruit cooked in coconut oil to make the delicacy idi-tchakka-t-thoran. Artocarpus heterophyllus is a native of India.

The other is the breadfruit, Artocarpus altilis, fruits of which appear similar to that of idi-tchakka, but introduced into Madras from south-eastern Asia as a garden ornamental, in the 19th Century. A careful scrutiny will reveal subtle differences, such as blunt spines on the fruit skin in this species compared with that of Artocarpus heterophyllus. The fruits of Artocarpus altilis are not used by us in any manner*, it may be used in SE Asia.

By the way, the 'English' name 'jack' (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is a corruption of the Malayalam name tchakka, referred so in the pre-Linnean Southern Indian botanical treatise Hortus Malabaricus (1678-1693) by Hendrik van Rheede, the Dutch Governor of Cochin.

The durian fruit of the Malay Peninsula resembles the jack, but in no way are the durian and the jack biologically related.

Reading Chakravathy's piece, I remembered the street (or suburb?) Pala-t-thoppu in Mylapore, where no jack tree is visible from the street, although the name proudly prevails. May be a few trees still exist in house backyards.

A. Raman
Charles Stuart University, N.S.W., Australia

*(EDITOR'S NOTE: Breadfruit, eara-palakkai in Tamil, is certainly cooked in Sri Lanka and Kerala. In Tamil Nadu too, where the occasional trees are found. As for the two varieties of jack, the flesh of the fruit of one is crisp, of chakkai it is sturdy and stingy.

Special cell needed

The Madras PWD once constructed and maintained buildings similar to Chepauk Palace (MM, March 1st), in which non-Portland-based cementing materials like lime, surki, etc. were used for which there were arrangements for grinding the mortar. After the emergence of Portland cement, the earlier tradition vanished. It is doubtful whether anybody now knows the earlier tradition. To revive it, there must be a special cell formed to maintain such heritage structures and its personnel should be properly trained.

Suptdg. Engineer
PWD (Retd)
64-A, Kalamegam Street Extn.
SBI Colony II Street Kamarajapuram
Chennai 600 073.

Vaccinations in Madras

The Rev. P.K. Mulley (MM, February 16th), has mentioned that the smallpox vaccination was introduced in the Fort William jurisdiction in 1794 and that was for the first time in India and there is no mention of it in the Madras Presidency.

As a matter of fact, smallpox vaccination was initiated in 1802 in the Madras Presidency. There was some objection from the public due to religious sentiments and vaccination was only partially introduced. Later, through the efforts of Lord William Bentick, smallpox vaccination was finally adopted in 1805 in the Presidency.

M.S. Pandian
Plot 16, NGO Colony
Chennai 600 044

Crows at night

A couple of years ago my sister, a visitor from the US and suffering from jet lag, after lying awake for the first few nights in Chennai, remarked, "Don't crows in your place ever rest? They make a noise throughout the night."

Since then I have been trying to keep my ears open to check on this whenever I get up at night. From my rough observations I find there seem to be significant activities of crows during the night. This happens usually between midnight and 4 a.m., roughly once in three days. The activity has the crows calling in the night, individually, two or three birds. No stray calls, but they sustain for a long period. Sometimes a whole lot of cacophony is heard in the late evening. There seems to be no season; it seems to happen throughout the year.

Have these birds taken to night-life? Does someone have a similar observation to corroborate this?

(writing in Madras Naturalists' Society Bulletin)

Maintaining statues

Statues, the world over, are the symbols to mark our reverence to the great personalities who served society and found a place for themselves in the hearts of the people.

In the U.S. and Canada, statues I saw were properly maintained and kept clean always, but it is the opposite in India, particularly in Chennai – which has so many statues lining the Marina and elsewhere. These statues are unkempt and covered with bird droppings –making them an eyesore.

On a different aspect, Jawaharlal Nehru's statue and that of MGR near the Kathipara junction are dwarfed by the huge flyover. And their condition is bad (though MGR's statue received a coat of paint on his birthday in January). The level of these statues needs to be raised, so that people can see them from the flyover. Both leaders deserve better than merely having their statues so diminished as to being almost unnoticeable.

Dirty maintenance of statues reflects poorly on our civic sense and attitude to our great leaders of the past. Let us revere them by keeping their statues clean.

M. Fazal
11, Mosque Street
Chennai 600 064

Straightening the record

Professor H.Y. Mohan Ram (formerly of Delhi University) has brought to my attention that my reference to the creation of the National Brain Research Institute in my piece on Dr. B. Ramamurthi (MM, February 15th) was incorrect.

The National Brain Research Centre, Manesar, came into existence through the efforts of Dr. Prakash Narain Tandon, a neurosurgeon then attached to AIIMS, New Delhi.

In Dr. B. Ramamurthi's autobiography, Uphill all the Way, he states, "I must record the efforts of P.N. Tandon to create a brain research centre in our country. With great difficulty he was able to get the DST and DBT to agree to fund a Brain Research Institute in India."

I regret the inadvertent error.

A Raman

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In this Issue

Dear Mr. Finance Minister
Desalination plants
Govt. funding helps heritage thrive
The Memorials of Schwartz
KVK and his public causes
The Stanley Hospital Story by Shobha Menon
From Gandhi & Rajaji to Em & Big Hoom
Past Times
A management guru remembered

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for Your Diary
Madras Eye


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