Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering a great teacher

Padmasree Professor Dr. R. Ananthakrishnan (1911-1999)

I happened to be one among the many of my generation who was not fortunate to join a career for which I studied. I did my post graduation in Meteorology from the CUSAT (Cochin University of Science and Technology) and despite a first rank and some options to pursue my research in some of the great universities in India and abroad ended up in the banking service. Going forward, I had my field days and I did have my regrets too.

I belonged to the first batch of the course from 1975-77 started by the University and had chosen it because I thought it would improve my chances of landing with a good job and hence retraced from a course in Physics which I had planned earlier.

Author in 1976 at University

In retrospect, the decision was good at least due to one reason that I was to study under a great sage in the form of Padmasree Professor Dr.R. Ananthakrishnan. Dr.Ananthakrishnan was a disciple of the Nobel laureate Sir C. V.Raman and completed his D.Sc, in 1937, under the guidance of the great master, in the field of light scattering.

CV Raman and his close disciples
Dr.Ananthakrishnan is seen standing second from right

In 1975, Dr.Ananthakrishnan was well into his mid-sixties when he came to Cochin University to set up the courses in Meteorology and Atmospheric sciences. He was the Dy.Director General of the Indian Meteorological Department and retired in 1971 as Director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune established under UNDP. He was awarded Padmasree by the Government of India in 1969 and the Raman Centenary medal in 1988.

He contributed scientific research work in every branch of Physics, with special reference to various subjects in meteorology. His book titled, ‘Climatology of Himalayas’ is considered a major work in the field. His research papers in the international and national journals run over a hundred. He also wrote the book ‘An Introduction to Meteorology’ which is considered their “bible “by the students of Atmospheric sciences.

While his scientific works were monumental even by international standards, I thought of highlighting some of the personal experiences about the great master we students shared while studying under him.

Dr.Ananthakrishnan was a teacher in the mould of a Rishi. He was thorough in his knowledge of the subject he taught and had no confusion whatsoever. Probably he founded his path like the sages who wrote the Upanishads who said, “’Nethi, Nethi” (Not this, Not this) till they realized the Absolute. I found the inner meaning of many equations in vector analyzis by sitting in front of this great sage. He seemed to enjoy the analyzis of mathematical equations. Going at great length while deducing some mathematical calculations, he would often say, “You can actually play with these figures “. To this great master, it was quite a playful act to solve big mathematical riddles.

He always used to inspire us. He used to assert that the purpose of education should not be to get an employment. He always yearned for perfection through dedication and commitment. I remember his oft repeated statement: “’There is always room at the top. Only at lower levels you see all the rush”. It took me years to imbibe the real meaning of his words.

He was completely a no nonsense man. We had never seen anything superficial and flimsy about this man. He never indulged in petty talks, gossips, politics or even matters of daily routines.

He was extremely simple in his habits. He used to stay in one of our hostel rooms in the University campus in the Foreshore road, Kochi with only the basic infrastructure in place. This man who was the direct disciple of Nobel laureate C.V.Raman and who was a renowned scientist of national and international importance honoured by the Government of India through a Padmasree was so down to earth that he used to go by walk in the evenings with a cloth-bag to buy fruits, bread and vegetables which constituted his simple food habits.

I and some of my friends like Thomas (Dr.KV. Thomas is now a senior scientist with the Centre for Earth Science Studies, Kerala) and Jose Antony (presently a Dean at the University of New York at Brockport) used to play many pranks and often peeped into the room of the Professor. He, in his abundant peace and sophisticated ways might be seen applying butter to a toast using the knife in the gentlest way possible. Otherwise, we mostly found him reading scientific books or journals.

We had an occasion which threw light into his infinite compassion to the poor. It also showed how far way he lived with his lofty thoughts wandering away from the daily struggles of life. One day while he was taking classes, a wandering woman came with a child begging for alms. The woman came to the entrance of the classes escaping the eyes of a watchman. Suddenly, quite taken aback, the Professor asked us to wait and went upstairs to his room. He returned with a handful of small denomination currency notes, obviously not counted, and gave it to the begging woman who seemed wonderstruck at receiving a large sum and left immediately with folded hands.In those days, it might have been quite a sum and we all got bemused to great extent.

He was a man with exuberance, zest and total dedication to work. He belonged to a generation of our great ancestors who believed in pursuing greater ideals in life and never went after fame and monetary gains. Pursuit of knowledge was the sole mission in course of which they strived for self actualization. He had childlike innocence too as reflected through his spontaneous laughter.

I remember an occasion when another guest professor Wing Commander KK Ramamurthy came to our classroom when Professor Ananthakrishnan was taking classes. They were old friends and possibly were meeting after long time. Both looked at each other, came nearer and went on with their loud laughter born out of surprise which lasted several minutes. It reflected genuine warmth, purity of friendship and childlike reflexes.

Looking back, I realize that I was naïve enough not to have known the greatness of the master. If destiny provided another opportunity to meet him I would sit at his feet and take fresh guidance in lessons to pursue excellence and to be childlike in accepting the ways of the world.

Dubai, 28th February 2009.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crime and Punishment

Ronnie Biggs (photo from The Guardian daily)

It is very intriguing to think of crime and punishment. While crime can be better understood based on the generally applied moral and ethical standards, the punishment leaves many questions unanswered. The title from the immortal work of Fyodor Dostoevsky was borrowed on seeing an article that appeared in the Guardian daily of today.

Much has been written on the Great Train Robbery of 1963 and a famous film was made on the incident. It was a £2.6 million train robbery committed by a 15 member gang in England. The post office train carrying much cash was driven to another track and loads of cash was transported to waiting cars. Most of the stolen money was never recovered even though thirteen of the gang were arrested, imprisoned and sentenced for long jail terms.

Ronnie Biggs, one of the gang members got the sentence of 30 years in prison but escaped through a jail break after 15 months in the jail. He was at large for the next eight years, escaping with large amounts of money, and went to France, Australia and Brazil and had undergone plastic surgery. In 2001 Biggs, 71, unable to meet mounting medical costs in Brazil after three strokes, voluntarily returned to England and promptly went to jail.

Now, a parole board meeting in July will decide if, Biggs, aged 80, suffering from various ailments can be released from Norwich jail after nine and a half years in custody in the UK and more than 35 years on the run.

"All my father can do at the moment is sit down and watch television," his son said. "I think the public will be appalled to see what state my father is in once he gets released from prison. Perhaps the government was not hoping that he would last this long, but he has, and now that he has done his time they have to let him out.”

Many of Biggs's gang are already dead: Charlie Wilson was murdered, Buster Edwards killed himself and others died of natural causes.

Biggs had appealed the authorities for release before he dies and said: "I am an old man and often wonder if I truly deserve the extent of my punishment. I have accepted it and only want freedom to die with my family and not in jail."

Most likely, he will be released in July. Who knows if the punishment was adequate or if justice has been done? What is important is that a life had been wasted; a life full of fear, anxieties, uncertainties and hard ships. Youngsters going into wanton indulgence should think if money is to be placed in importance above all values.

This report also throws another question at our justice system. Do we want the punishment for a single robbery to be more severe and longer than what the system often gives to rapists, murderers committing multiple murders, paedophiles who murder and to other habitual criminals who cannot be tolerated by any civil society? How do we look at political corruption going unchecked and the “daylight robbers” mixing freely in our midst? I am perplexed, to say the least.

Dubai, 18th February 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sir Mirza Mohammad Ismail, K.C.I.E., O.B.E.

Sir Mirza Ismail, Diwan of Mysore visiting Railway Staion Service Centre, Mysore circa 1930s-
Photo from personal collection of Murali
Sir Mirza Mohammed Ismail (1883-1959) belonged to the rare class of great administrators who served various princely states under British India with great distinction. The quality of administration of the princely states had been greatly contributed by men of exceptional caliber like him. Sardar K.M. Panikkar, who was the Diwan of Patiala and Bikaner, was the first Indian ever to get a scholarship to Christchurch and only the second after Romesh Chandra Dutt to get an Oxford first. In the Viceroy’s journal of Lord Wavell, Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, Diwan of Travancore was mentioned as “one of the cleverest men in India”. In 1945, the American Ambassador wrote to the Secretary of State about Sir Syed Mirza Ismail that he “had not met anyone else in India, either Indian or European, who was in his class”.
Born in 1883, Sir Mirza’s remarkable career had its origins in his association with Maharajah Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV of Mysore. Ali Asker, Mirza’s grandfather, had fled the court of the last Shah of Iran and taken refuge under the wings of the Maharaja of Mysore .He trained the royal cavalry and supplied horses to the stable. Sir Mirza's father was Agha Ali Asker, who too continued the family tradition of trading in horses and carpets.
Maharajah Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV of Mysore

After his graduation from Bangalore he started off as an Asst Superintendent of Police with the government in 1905. Mirza became the private secretary to the Maharajah, who had great faith in the administrative acumen of the young man and supplemented it by elevating him to the coveted position of the Diwan of Mysore in 1926. Sir Mirza served the state in that capacity for fourteen years till 1941. Later he became the Diwan of Jaipur (1941-45) and went on to assume the Diwanship of Hyderabad state during the difficult years of 1946-48.

As Diwan of Mysore, he followed the great Sir M. Visvesvarayya’s dream of industrialization. He developed the Brindavan gardens, initiated the first rural electrification programme of India and established the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, besides founding a retinue of other industries. He also established the first medical college of Mysore. He provided irrigation facility to Mandya, Malavalli and T.Narsipura (Irwin Canal) areas. The Jog and Shimsha power station was also established during his premiership.

His contributions to the Indian Science Academy in Bangalore also are worth mentioning. It was his initiatives which helped to get twelve acres of land from the Maharajah for the Academy in which the Raman Institute also is established. The Nobel laureate Sir CV Raman paid eloquent tributes to Sir Mirza in the following words:” For many years, in fair weather as well as in foul, Sir Mirza Ismail remained the truest of friends to me, ever ready to give support and advice. He leaves behind him a memory which will be treasured and cherished by all who have known him.”
Sir Mirza was knighted by the British Government in 1930 for his services to India.

“Sir Mirza’s accessibility and personal charm coupled with his breadth of knowledge and his keen sense of human and cultural values made him a great and highly successful administrator”, so said CV Raman.
The administration of Mysore under Maharajah Krishnaraja Wodeyar and Sir Mirza Ismail was known as the golden age of Mysore, prompting Mahatma Gandhi to call it “Ramarajya”.

The great Maharajah passed away in 1940 and Sir Mirza continued as the Diwan under the Maharajah Jayachamaraja Wodeyar . In 1941, he resigned from his job on personal differences with the government.
Maharajah Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur

Proceeding to Jaipur, he contributed greatly to the State as Diwan winning accolades from all including the British government and the locals alike for his great administrative skills. Soon after his arrival in Jaipur, in 1942, he constituted a committee on Constitutional Reforms. Fondly remembered as the architect of modern Jaipur, his efforts considerably enhanced Maharajah Sawai Man Singh’s reputation and his Durbar in the Congress circles. The main road of Jaipur was aptly named after him and bears the name Mirza Ismail Road, till today. G.D.Birla was a close friend of Sir Mirza who used to fund the grand projects Mirza had for Jaipur. When banks were permitted to open branches in Jaipur, United Commercial Bank, under chairmanship of GD, was the first to be permitted to open a branch there in 1945. The Birla institute at Pilani was upgraded to grant degrees and the National Ball- bearing company was established under guidance from Sir Mirza.The chamber of commerce in Jaipur duly recorded that the regime of Sir Mirza Ismail was “the beginning of the industrial era of Jaipur.”
Lt.General His Exalted Highness Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar, Mir Osman Ali Khan
as appeared on Time dated 22 February 1937

In 1946, he became Diwan of Hyderabad , also called Sadar-i-Azam (Prime Minister). He served under the last Nizam of the Princely State of Hyderabad and Berar, Lt.General His Exalted Highness Mir Osman Ali Khan (r.1911-48), who was reportedly the richest man in the world then. Hyderabad became part of the Indian Union in 1948 as a result of the police action, Operation Polo launched by the Indian Government.

He put forth his best skills on the issue of accession of Hyderabad to the Indian government but the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi made the Nizam think against acceding to India. On this issue, Sir Mirza Ismail had quit the government.

Sir Mirza was a Shia Muslim by birth but he encouraged Sanskrit learning, and helped the Hindu and Christian institutions too and attended to the needs of the society with an impartial outlook holding the interest of the state above that of the individual.

There is a Travancore connection too to Sir Mirza. As Diwan of Mysore, Sir Mirza represented Mysore and Travancore and Cochin in the Indian States Delegation to the Round-Table Conference in London during the winter of 1930.

After his Hyderabad stint, Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had offered him the prime ministership of his state which he declined politely. Sir Mirza retired to his beautiful house in Bangalore. Pundit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Sarveppalli Radhakrishan were among those who visited Sir Mirza Ismail and often sought his counsel. However, he was quite his own man and never joined the Congress or the government. He was also equidistant from Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He thought that the Partition of the subcontinent was a mistake and had expressed this view to his relatives.

Sir Mirza Ismail has penned his memoirs under the title “My Public Life” published in 1954 before his death on 5th January 1959 at his house Windsor lodge in Bangalore.

It was sad to read about his granddaughter Shakereh Namazie's death under mysterious circumstances in Bangalore in 1991.Her first husband was Akbar Mirza Khaleeli an IFS officer and the Indian Ambassador to Iran, Italy and High Commissioner to Australia. Her second husband Swami Shraddananda was reportedly behind her murder and is serving a life term imprisonment ordered by the Supreme Court of India in 2008.

We need to remember the great contributions made by men like Sir Mirza in giving a strong foundation to India as we were approaching the dawn of independence. Their efforts have helped the nation building process in a considerable way as our forefathers built a great nation out of much chaos and commotion.
Dubai, 12th February 2009.

Ref: The Princes of India in the Endgame of Empire, 1917-1947 by Ian Copland, The cat and the lion by Robert W. Stern, Wikipedia, CV Raman’s obituary on Mirza, Raza Rumi’s post, other notes by author.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Princely State of Salumber and a unique vintage photograph

Rawat Jodh Singh II of Salumber(r 1866-1901)

I happened to come across a rare and old cabinet size photograph of Rawat Jodh Singh II of Salumber. Majestic in appearance and with an apparent disfiguration of his right eye, he aroused my curiosity about himself and Salumber, an erstwhile princely state of India.

Rawat Jodh Singh II of Salumber was born in 1833 in Bambora and reigned Salumber between 1866 and 1901. He was the adopted son of Rawat Kesri Singh II of Salumber. A rubber stamp on the back of this vintage cabinet photo shows that he was photographed by Mohan Lall of Oodeypoor.

Salumber was under the princely state of Udaipur and was the estate of Kunwar Khandal Singh. In 1901, it had a population of over 31000 and comprised of 237 villages. The ruler bore the title of 'Rawat', and held first rank amongst the nobles of Mewar. He was the first of the sixteen Umraos or senior feudal barons who had the privilege to wait upon the Maharajah of Udaipur. Salumber later became the capital of the Chundawat clan of the Sisodiya dynasty. Today, Salumber is a major town located 70 km south of Udaipur, Rajasthan. It is just 20 km away from the famous Jaisamand Lake and has the Maharana Pratap airport serving it.

Brief history:

In the dawn of the fifteenth century prince Chunda Sisodiya ,heir apparent of Mewar and the son of Maharana Lakha (1421-1433), renounced his claim to the throne in favour of his younger brother, Mokal, under very interesting circumstances ,but continued to serve the house of Mewar with utmost loyalty throughout his life. The Maharana was pleased with Chunda's commitment and loyalty and authorised the Rawats of Salumber to sign all important documents of State on behalf of the Maharana.

During this era, along with the Ranas of Mewar, the Rathors of Marwar were powerful chieftains. As it happens in India, alliance by marriage between the powerful clans was a tool to strengthen the relationships and to extend the sway over territories.

The heir apparent of Marwar was prince Ranmal and he went to the then Sisodiya capital of Chittor offering the hand of Hansabai, the beautiful Rathor princess to Prince Chunda. Incidentally, Chunda was not present in the palace and his old father Rana Lakha had received the guests when they arrived. The old Rana joked if the princess was a gift to him to which the short-tempered Ranmal nodded. Not to displease the guest, the Rana kept silence. On his return, Prince Chunda decided that a gift intended for his father was best left to him and thus his father married Hansabai.

Ranmal reportedly put forth a condition that Chunda should renounce his claim to the throne in favour of the son born out of the wedlock of Hansabai and Rana Lakha. Chunda, like a modern day Bhishma, took the royal oath and thus Mokal, the son of Hansabai succeeded to the Mewar throne on the death of Lakha in AD 1421.

Regretfully, Maharana Mokal was murdered in 1433. Ranmal avenged the murder and took over as the regent to Maharana Mokal's infant son, Kumbha. Ranmal gradually took control of the administration and wanted to install his lover Bharmali, a palace maid, the Queen of Mewar. Mokal’s widow brought Chunda who sacrificed much for Mewar and they plotted the murder of Ranmal dazzling with wine and women by using the wiles of Bharmali.

Chunda drove of Jodha, Ranmal's young son and captured the Rathor capital which was left to be ruled by his two sons. Jodha returned after twelve years and took revenge by killing both the sons inflicting defeat on the Sisodiyas. Thereafter comparative peace prevailed between Marwar and Mewar for the next three centuries.

Jodha went off to found a new capital in Jodhpur in 1459 and Chunda founded the "Chundawat" dynasty.
(Some information on Mewar history has been collected from
Dubai, 9th February 2009.

Payyanur and its oldest Vegetarian Restaurant

Payyanur Pavithra Mothiram This week we visited Payyanur in Cannanore district that is famous as a cultural centre. An unfulfil...