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VOL. XXII NO. 6, July 1-15, 2012
Our Readers Write

Only true in parts

In MM, April 16th, you reproduced what the late N.S. Jagannnathna had forwarded on Tamil Brahmins. When I first came across this a few months ago. I sent it to my friend S. Krishnan, himself a Tambrahm and who was the former Director of Finance, BEL. He, while acknowledging the contribution of Tam-brahms, cautioned against sterotyped charaterisation of communities by narrating his own experience when he joined the Railway Accounts Service. He has approved its publication.

Captain S. Prabhala
9/8, Haudin Road
Bangalore 560 042

The Tambrahms article is interesting. As is usual with such articles, it is only true in parts.

Regarding the discussion about intelligence and intellect, I would only point out a few facts. Of the four Indians who have won Nobel Prizes in Science, three are Tambrahms. The only Indian who figures in the list of the world's greatest mathematicians is a Tambrahm. The only Indian who has won the world championship in Chess (and that too in all its three different formats) is a Tambrahm. And the Indian who was ranked highest in the world in Tennis (No.3) was a Tambrahm. I think that for a community that is 0.01% of India's population, that is a fantastic record.

Another fact that is relevant is the overlap between Tamil Brahmins and Telugu Brahmins and between Tamil Brahmins and Kerala (specifically Palghat) Brahmins. There is so much intermingling that it is difficult to pinpoint the foci of excellence, particularly in the Arts. For example, two out of the three members of the Carnatic Music Trinity are Telugu Brahmins. While the Telugu pedigree of Tyagaraja is well known, not many are aware of the Telugu pedigree of Shyama Sastry. That is because of the dates of immigration of their families.

Here is an article I had written for the IRAS Golden Jubilee Souvenir. It gives my views on the subject of ethnic stereotypes.

"The Unified Gauge of IRAS

I would like to highlight an aspect of IRAS that is perhaps not unique to it but is nevertheless of great importance to me personally. My batch of IRAS, the 1955 batch, consisted of 19 officers. It had a highly skewed linguistic distribution. It consisted of six Punjabis, a Kashmiri, a Sindhi, a Bihari, an Oriya, a Keralite, an Andhraite and six Tamils.

Like so many of us, I too had been fed several prejudices based on the supposed qualities of particular linguistic groups. I was told that Punjabis were go-getters but often tended to sacrifice scruples in their quest for success. I had also an impression that they were not as religious as some other groups. (I found that my own group, the Tamils, were no angels in others' eyes. We were supposed to be a bit more cunning and calculating than others!)

But my experience with the fellow members of my batch exploded these myths. I found that Ved Prakash Dang, with whom I shared my lodging at Calcutta, was perhaps the most upright one among us. And when I accompanied the mother of Prithpal Singh Bami to the Harmandir Sahib almost every day during my week's stay at Amritsar, I was moved by her genuine devotion and her transparent goodness.

My Bengali friends had led me to believe that the Oriyas did not have particularly great artistic and aesthetic sensibilities. But when Nimai Charan Mohapatra revealed to me the sublime beauties of Gita Govinda and the spiritual heights of Sri Aurobindo during a long moonlight walk by the riverside at Garden Reach, I felt ashamed that I should have allowed my mind to be polluted by baseless prejudice.

I can go on and on about this subject but I think I have made my point. In the very first session I take while teaching any course for MBA students I make it a point to tell the students that if they wanted to become good as well as successful managers, they should not allow stereotyped group prejudices to influence them at any time in their career. I would tell them that they would be interacting with Banerjis, Zahiras and Johnsons in their career, not with Bengalis, Muslims or Christians and each one of them was as likely to have the virtues and vices they themselves had in them.

This awareness, I think, is the greatest gift that IRAS has given to me. I also feel that it is of special relevance, particularly for our post nine-eleven and post seven-seven world."


Cell-phone menace

It is gratifying that the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly has banned the use of cell phones by MLAs in the Assembly premises. This has been long overdue and others should emulate this example.

The cell phone has become a menace. Its use in workspots including factories and offices is affecting the smooth flow of work and work culture. Even in places of worship, where people are supposed to go and pray to get mental solace, the use of cell phone is increasing at an alarming rate. The priests doing poojas in temples and homes are often seen suspending the poojas in the middle to attend to their cell phone calls, causing great distress to the devotees. Some places of worship have now put up notices that cell phones are banned. Before commencing meetings and workshops, requests are made to switch off the cell phone. But, people rarely listen. During meetings and conferences, chatting over cell phone is not uncommon, disturbing the proceedings. I wonder what these cell phone enthusiasts did in earlier days when cell phones were not available!

There is no difference between the educated and the not so educated, the rich and the not so rich people, men and women, the young and the not so young. All use cell phones without bothering about the location, unmindful of circumstances, causing disturbance to those around.

It is not as if unavoidable discussions take place. Most of the calls are for trivial matters and exchanging pleasantries which can well be postponed.

The conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that many organisations think that discip-linary proceedings should be initiated against employees who use cell phones during office hours and in workspots.

The cell phone culture is something that well-meaning people should fight against.

N.S. Venkataraman
M 60/1, 4th Cross Street
Besant Nagar
Chennai 600 090

Auto answers?

The letter in MM, June 1st, contains commendable suggestions towards solving the current autorickshaw impasse. However, two of the suggestions evoke some comments.

The suggestion to compel the sale of autos to drivers is impractical. Why should the present owners kill their goose, which lays them golden eggs when, on a single outlay, they are gaining a sizeable (tax free) cash return year after year? There is no legislation/authority to compel them to do so.

Second, the suggested constitution of the 6-member Empowered Fare Fixing Board, widely variant in its membership as suggested, does not lend itself to frequent meetings to change rates.

Having said that, this apparently elusive problem that has been plaguing the aam admi all these years (including frequent octogenarian auto-users like yours truly) is not insoluble. The solution lies only or mainly with the government.

As a first step, with resolute determination, it should, in consultation with auto drivers' associations and the public (including the suggested 6-member Fare Fixing Board, if necessary), fix reasonable rates, taking into consideration the current living costs and reasonable returns to the auto drivers/owners, acceptable to all. Having done so, the law enforcement agencies, inclu-ding traffic police and magisterial authorities, should then regularly monitor and rigidly enforce compliance by the auto drivers with a warning of stringent penalties, including suspension of driving licences and auto permits. A few examples, to start with, will help bring offenders quickly to book. A responsibility also vests with the user-public, who must not fail to help bring violators to book by taking the trouble of reporting the violations promptly to the enforcing bodies.

It is only thus that this long-pending vexatious issue of fleecing by auto drivers can be solved. If trouble-free, honest metering can work in other metros, why can it not be made to do so here with some efforts by the authorities?

The other suggestions of the writer are worthy of implementation.

K.P. Mahalingam
6-B, The Peninsula
778, Poonamalle High Road
Chennai 600 010

Implementation needed

Reader K.R. Baliga (MM, June 1st) has scripted rules for Chennai autos. We have enough ordinances to keep auto drivers in check. But there is hardly any implementation. 'Meter podu' is a non-entity in Chennai.

When fuel costs are different, Government must fix rates according to fuel utility and enforce them. Corrupt traffic police personnel must be booked for their behind-the-screen support for auto drivers. Strong government machinery alone can make auto drivers behave better.

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

Yaanais in Sangam times

Apropos the review article on Elephants (MM, June 1st), I wish to point out the following:

  1. It is incorrect to say that aanai of Tamil Sangam times has become yaanai of contemporary usage. Sangam texts actually contain no less than 350 clear references to yaanai. Separate references to kaliru (male pachyderm) and to pidi (female pachyderm) have not been included in this count.
  2. One particular Sangam text (Akam 169) is of some interest.The text says that the left-over flesh of an elephant after being devoured by a tiger is said to have been carried away by the Maravar of Paalai zone for their own consumption.
  3. The veryattu referred to in Sangam texts has nothing to do with elephants.
  4. No Sangam text to date has been corroborated by any copper plate grant!
  5. John Sullivan, Collector of Coimbatore (which then included the Nilgiris), in one of his notes (1821) has distinguished between South Indian elephants and the Ceylon ones.

Rev. Philip K. Mulley
St Luke's Church
Kotagiri 643 217,
The Nilgiris

Another overlooked

Your pieces on Iyengars and cricket seem to have overlooked the granddaddy of them all – K. Seshachari who was the wicket-keeper of the Indian team that went on an unofficial tour of England in 1911. T.V. Parthasarathy kept wicket for India in the Calcutta Test against the Australian Services team captained by A.L. Hassett that toured India in 1945 after the World War. While I am not sure, he too was probably an Iyengar.

K.V. Ramanathan

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In this issue

Still no solutions to woes caused by parking
How do we curb cell-phone use on the roads?
It's fascinating to catch up with local history
Looking back
When Madras went on the AIR
Driving Down Memory Lane
The actor in the shadows
There's urgent need to list heritage in 800 towns

Our Regulars

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


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