Thursday, February 25, 2016

August 20,2015: Musical Madras - Sanjay Subramaniam in conversation with V. Sriram

One of the programs for Madras Week 2015 was the interview of the Music Academy’s Sangeetha Kalanidi designate Sanjay Subramaniam by his friend and advisor, Sriram Venkatakrishnan, one of the organizers of Madras Week. This was held at the Park Hyatt hotel in Guindy. Here are some quotes from Sanjay.

“I was a Lalgudi concert and I wanted to play the violin and my mother put me in a class. I was bunking classes because I did not like practice. People would ask me if it was a Veena.

Flute Ramani was on a train and a passenger asked if he was the Lalgudi who played the Veena. 

An accident - playing football in a basketball court with a tennis ball - resulted in a broken bone. I fell in a steeplechase pit and broke my other hand.

At this point it was only learning. Music was not an option as a career. It was other people's suggestion. I started singing at fourteen and the voice broke within six months. In a competition with 120 girls and 4 boys I got a consolation prize.”

Sriram asked, “I have seen a photo with a violin in your hand?”

Sanjay retorted, “Even today you can take such a photo retorts Sanjay. I can't play with my bent hand.”

He continued: “YACM brought youth to stage. No parallel to stage experience. ‘Music is an ocean’, old people say, to prove their superior knowledge. Several forthcoming helpful experts in 1970s.
(Every Kalanidhi says this ocean line says Sriram).

My family said no singing at 18. Vijay Siva invited me to sing at Varasidhdhi Vinayakar temple. My mother invited everyone she met including future mother in law. I couldn't even tune the tambura then.

I was trained to be a rasika not a singer. I would misbehave in dramas, but behave in concerts”

Sanjay had been speaking in English until this point, but not he switched to a mostly Tamil narration. What follows are my translations in English of what he said in Tamil.

“Each family member would feel I sang a different song badly. My brother would never attend because he said he had already listened to my practice at home, what was going to be new at the hall.

Sometimes, I would pass myself off as some random VIPs nephew. Often got in free in Sabhas by impersonation. (Shades of PG Wodehouse.)

Venus Colony Rama Navami and Ayodhya Mandapam were regular venues for listening to music . Lakshmipuram Young men's Association in Royapettah had a few events. Some bhajanais too. Mylapore Kabali temple did not have concerts when I was growing up.

Sometimes, during Sivarathri, there were 24 hours non stop akhandam of Thyagaraja kritis, in several places across Madras. I would attend them. TK Govinda Rao would ask if a particular song had been sung. Nobody would even know that song!

Rukmani Rajagopalan, my grand aunt, who attended every concert at Music Academy, learnt from GN Balasubramaniam, Alathur, Papanasam Sivan, etc. KS Krishnaswamy - composed eight tunes for the Muruga Muruga song. Set several Bharati and Bharati Dasan songs to multiple tunes. Rukmani would ask me to sing a DK Jayaraman song and learn from me and teach her students!”

Someone prompts, “Can you talk about cricket?”

Sanjay quips, “If you can't sing, talk about music. If you can't play cricket, write about it.

Some fans would attend only thukkadas. I was singing a concert when India won T20 world Cup and a fan announced the score in the auditorium. So I sang Jayati Jayati Bharata Mata.

While recording at AVM studio, editor Lenin walked in, and he edited so the scene would change with each avartanam. ‘Cinema folk wouldn't understand but you will’, Lenin quipped. Mohan Raman (actor, also present) will get it, I know.

No headache like listening to your own voice on headphones while recording. After some edits, you would not recognize your own songs. Cutting and pasting phrases from different songs. Swapping swarams from anupallavi to pallavi. One song was edited at a pace I never could sing and one of my students struggled to sing it.

Sriram V interviewing Sanjay Subramaniam

Our level of celebrity is only in this hall. One of my CA friends tried to brag about me but I am unknown to most people. I may be Sangeeta Kalanidhi but I need a loan to buy a car I quit my CA job only when the income from music began to exceed that CA income. And when people questioned that choice I had to convince them that I wasn't exactly raking it in as a CA!”

He had the audience peeling in laughter at several of these incidents.

Among the best was the interview with the bank loan official when Sanjay wanted to get a loan for buying a car. “Do you have a job? Do you have a band? Do you teach classes? Do you appear on TV? Super singer? Big names appear on that show you know?” fired the bank official. “Yes, only big people,” acknowledged Sanjay, humbly.

At the interview for a US visa, he was asked “Can you sing?” He launched into a brief aalapana. “Something with words?” added the puzzled official.

Sanjay on the December music season : “Worst insult to Madrasi is for a Bangalore person to complain about madras traffic. December season starts in October and ends in March. Only in December is the weather a potential topic.

Even canteens do well. But sarkarai Pongal tastes better in temples.

Perhaps we are the last generation who can tune tambura.

Some Sabhas won't give us even parking slots. I'm gonna strike a deal with Uber.”

“Do some venues exert a greater effect on you?” asked a rasika. He replied, “I was a Mylapore snob. Some musicians believe T Nagar had poorer knowledge and would not appreciate finer ragas. Gokhale Hall, Old Hall of Parthasarathi Swami Sabha, Academy are some of my favorites. Any place that hosts for a longtime, even Park Hyatt can be beloved if they host regular concerts!”

Sanjay talking to fans, actor Mohan Raman in foreground

There were comments on the Politics of time slots, Ticketed concerts, which was quite fun for the audience too. Very like cricket politics

Some standard narratives that went well - The veshti undresser of Sastri hall. The avartanam walk outs. Fans with special preference for certain accompanists.

"I once got a thirty rupee contract which amused my dad. Then I had to spell my signature to match their misspelling.

Do cricket players enjoy carnatic music? The pinnacle would be if Sachin Tendulkar comes to one of my concerts. But I had BS Chandrasekhar attend once. Alwarpet Cricket Club had my album because they believed that they would play cricket better with it

The NRI invasion. They bring the money and as long as the dollar is as sixty rupees, let them keep coming.”

Mr Mohan Raman adds “One important point was how many a senior musician would land up and listen to the youngsters and be ready to offer advice or teach...... well most of them”

I typed this live on Facebook as per the special request of Sanjay Bhakta jana sabha’s usual facebook stenographer, Rajagopalan Venkatraman, who was otherwise occupied preparing for a stage show on Bharathi called Chennaiyil Gnanaratham. This blog is a summary of those notes.

Related Link 
  தமிழ் இசை - A rasika's experience of a Sanjay Subramaniam concert (in Tamil)

Sanjay and your blogger, R Gopu

Sunday, October 25, 2015

August 29, 2015: Heritage walk - "The city and its cinema - A tour of the L. V. Prasad studios" by Venkatesh Chakravarthy

It was a pleasant homecoming as I returned to the familiar lanes of Saligrammam for a walk on "The City and its Cinema" by Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Regional Director of L. V. Prasad Film & T V Academy. There weren't any familiar faces however, to  my dismay (except for, of course, the shirtless one). But the programme was very interesting (I wonder why it had been called a walk. Much of the "walk" was actually spent in the the Prasad Film and T V Academy where a documentary film on L. V. Prasad was screened following by a presentation on the history of the Madras film industry).But there were quite a few new things to learn. I was, for example, astonished when told that Arunachalam was actually a film studio nearby. Was Arunachalam Road named after Arunachalam Studios?  Mr. Chakravarthy also described in vivid detail how in the late 1970s directors and film crews craved to go to rural areas to do outdoor shootings    He called this phenomenon "the rural exodus". But there were a few mistakes, too. A snapshot from the controversial bed scene from the 1937 film Ambikapathy was shown and wrongly captioned as "Kannagi [1942]".  Mr. Chakravarthy also repeats the outdated, and now considered improbable, theory that the word "Kodambakkam" was derived from the Urdu "Ghoda Bagh", meaning "stable for horses". But the presentation went far beyond my expectations. And our hosts were gracious enough to take a group photo as a souvenir  and send the same through mail so that we might have something more than just memories to cherish.

Group photo of the participants in the L. V. Prasad studios walk. I had difficulty trying to cramp in so that my face appeared.

August 24, 2015: Panel discussion on "Madras nalla Madras" between S. Muthiah, Stephen Roman and Arun Krishnamurthy at the British Council

My first visit to the British Council to attend a skit followed by a debate. The main events of Madras Week having ended yesterday, it was today very much like the lull after the storm. I went to work as usual and left early, catching the bus to Thousand Lights. From Thousand Lights, I had to walk more than a kilometre through the narrow Rangoon Street to get to the British Council entrance. The heavy security struck me odd; after all what was the need for such high security at a building that wasn't of any strategic importance, its only important function being to teach natives  good English.  

At the British Council, we were directed to the library. The library was a vast spacious building much of which was empty.  At a corner of the room were arranged the chairs and it was apparent that the function was to be held here. The function began with an introduction by the British Council staff followed by a small skit by Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy of the Environmental Foundation of India and his team. Employing wordplay involving Tamil film songs, Arun explained in an innovative way how it was necessary to keep our surroundings clean.  Next, Mr. S. Muthiah was asked to speak on the culture and traditions of Chennai. Mr. Muthiah began a description of Chennai's culture by alluding to a traditional maami  who could switch easily from a short skirt at a club to a madisar in a wedding function. I was shocked at Mr. Muthiah's caustic humour - references to a particular community could have been avoided. But Mr. Muthiah was sincere in his love for the city and its traditional yet open-minded people and made a passionate appeal to the youth of the city to step forth to guard its cultural heritage. The same point was also repeated by Mr. Stephen Roman, Regional Director of the British Council for South Asia and Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy, who exemplified the youth of the city that Mr. Muthiah was speaking about.  Mr. Roman preached that any initiative to conserve the historical heritage of a city should come from its people and only then will it be successful. He cited many examples of such cities whose heritage was rescued by its people -  tales drawn from his vast experience of serving in different parts of the globe. The cities who stories he recounted were Sarajevo, Koenigsburg aka Kaliningrad and his hometown of Coventry. Next when asked which part of Madras city they loved the most, Arun Krishnamurthy listed the beaches while Roman spoke appreciatingly of the calm, serene spaces of the Theosophical Society and St. Thomas Mount (It is for similar reasons that the Theosophical Society's gardens remain a favourite of mine).  Mr. Muthiah had, of course, fond memories of Chepauk and the Marina  but in present-day Chennai he couldn't recall any.

Following the discussion, there was a question-and-answer session. One Ms. Sameera, a student of history from the Stella Maris College spoke of the need to protect the archaeological heritage of the city. She quoted the example of Sriperumbudur where she says, lies a palaeolithic settlement. Though there is an ASI board put up at the place, little has been done for its conservation. I cannot but agree more. When the function came to an end, I pointed out that there is a similar Stone Age settlement and stone circles in Kundrathur hill craving for attention. Soon afterwards, we were invited to have refreshments. I checked my watch and it was already late. So, I hurriedly finished "high tea" which consisted of sandwich and a sweet tiffin - all typically British, and some tea. To avoid travelling in our crowded buses, I walked to Egmore and from there, took the train. As I look back, there wasn't much of an enthusiasm that evening but Madras Week was passe and this was to be the British Council's last event as well.

                                                           The British Council Library

 Ms. Bhama introducing the panelists

 Streetplay by Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy of the Environmental Foundation of India (EFI) and team

Mr. S. Muthiah speaking on the culture and traditions of Madras

Panel discussion between Mr. Roman, Mr. Muthiah and Mr Arun

August 23, 2015: Madras Day events at the Luz House

Attended Madras Day events at Luz House (the family home of the Buchi Babu Naidu family). The venue was the only let down- there weren't enough fans so ventilation was poor and the hosts, in my experience, weren't so helpful.  But suffering such minor inconveniences was worth when you consider what a terrific night it was. And author and translator Mr. Venkatesh added flavour to the wonderful evening by chipping in interesting bits of trivia. Another disappointment was that I couldn't take good pictures of the events as the display in my mobile had shattered. But then, the absence of pictures was in the end a blessing in disguise as it added to the mystique of a magical night.

The evening began with a talk on  the difficulties of translation with authors Padma Narayanan and Kalyan Raman that lasted from 4.45 PM to about 6 PM. The conversation, as I can understand, was quite useful but the speakers could have made it more interesting for the audience (perhaps, with a bit of humour) many of whom appeared lulled to sleep. The point which they repeatedly stressed upon was that it was not possible to justifiably render each and every vernacular phrase in English. This I wholeheartedly agree with. One extreme viewpoint was that making a translation was even more cumbersome than writing an original work. So, the authors sat down and set out to carry out a lousy late afternoon discussion on the nuances of translating vernacular works. The question and answer session was a bit more lively. There was a suggestion that writers should trans-content and not simply translate or transliterate in order to provide faithful translations.   A particular lady in the crowd objected to the translation of keywords related to food items and opined that words like idly, sambhar, spaghetti, etc. should be  used as in the original. If the readers do not known the meaning of those words let them look into a dictionary, she opined. This was particularly my view, too. Of course when I first read Sidney Sheldon I found his works deeply entrenched in the culture and traditions of the places they were set in.   And finally, the guy in the cut baniyan who is a regular at such functions stood and summarily demanded of the two authors to stop making any translations in the future if they cannot do justice to it.  

After the conversation came to an end, we had a tea break after which Dr. Swarnamalya's programme "Dancing in the parlour"  commenced. During this litle break, Ms. Vidhya Singh, a scion of the Vizianagaram royal family made an emotionally-charged speech about Madras and her connect with it.  Many a time during the course of her short one-minute-or-so speech I felt that she was going overboard with her Madras flattery.  Frankly speaking, I feel Madras is truly a great city with a number of firsts to its credit and ahead of many other comparable cities in the subcontinent in a number of aspects but when someone tries to evoke a London, Switzerland or a New York of a typically dirty Indian city, it falls flat on the face. If you ask me, yeah, it was surely a great city but like all Indian cities, it is surely deteriorating with a growing population, increasingly rude people and motorists with scant respect for traffic rules, corrupt police officers, dug-out roads, long pending infrastructure projects and the kind - the same problems which cities across India face. So please don't talk of practising tennis, golf or horse riding at the Club - such glittery tales have no connection, whatsoever, with the life the growing middle-class leads.

The superbly choreographed dance performances of erstwhile actress Dr. Swarnamalya kept us tied to our seats for the next two hours.  Her expertise was keenly visible in screenplay and dialogue delivery. I could not but gape in awe at her versatility as she churned out Tamil, English and Telugu dialogues with equal fluency. And what of the generous amounts of research done. Many of the parts she played and dances she danced had allusions to real people and real performances in history. Starting with a typical Indian sadir, Swarnamalya and her group presented an improvised dance with very European gestures. Then, suddenly, the fuse blew off. As kerosene lkamps in the heritage home were lit to compensate for the poor visibility, we felt ourself transported to another age and taking the places of the exalted nobility of 19th century Madras. Perhaps, it must have been quite impressive back then.  (I sometimes even doubt if the fuse was purposely removed to make it look more real) Next, Swarnamalya rendered a multilingual javali composed by the Tamil poet Sivaramayya from Karur. (The javali was made in a mix of four languages - Tamil, Telugu, English and Kannada).   Following the javali, Swarnamalya and her group danced to the tunes of "Sarasa sarvabhauma jarjinama bhupa", the Sanskrit version of the British monarchical anthem "God Save the King" composed by Pillai Narasimha Rao Naidu during the Delhi durbar of 1911. Next in her repertoire was a Parsi kavadi cindu  - a dance-drama played by two young girls from her group described as her "disciples". It was clearly an awe inspiring performance by all the members of her group and their performance provided us with many moments to cherish. Perhaps, it could easily be explained that most of the ideas were plucked out from Davesh Soneji's book "Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India" but even with ideas in hand, it would have still been a very difficult task to conceptualize them into a dance performance.

After the dance performance by Swarnamalya and her group came to an end at about 7. 15 PM, we had a break that lasted till eight. I had a look around the house which carried framed pictures and photographs from a supposedly glorious past. The ground floor was littered with cuttings from The Illustrated London News (mostly news clippings from The Mutiny). I wonder why we need an exhibition for such public domain newspaper stuff (that too, an UK-based newspaper) that is easily available on the internet. The first floor had something of genuine value though members of the household weren't too keen to perpetuate their knowledge either . A gentleman in one of the photographs bore an uncanny resemblance to Douglas Jardine of Bodyline reputation but the snobbishness of Buchi Babu Naidu clan really put me down. I wonder why the Buchi Babu Naidu family was interested in having this exhibition if they don't want photographs of their photographs taken or people knowing about them. I can understand privacy concerns if they were contemporary portraits but these people died long ago.

As the long break between performances came to an end, we had The Folk Repertory group walk onto the stage to perform their "Chennaiyin Gnanaratham". A melting pot of boisterous folk tunes and biographical snippets from Bharatiyar's life, Gnanaratham was a class apart - all credit to The Folk Repertory team for coming up with this novel idea and to Mr. Kannan Kumar for unconventionally rendering Bharatiyar songs to folk music. Bharatiyar's life story was interestingly narrated in the form of a play that was played in parts with folk performances sandwiched between. Another novelty in the play was the introduction of characters who reflected the culture and lifestyle of the places Bharathiyar lived in at different stages of his life. For example, integrated seamlessly into the play was a Triplicane rowdy speaking the Madras lingo always muttering anecdotes from Bharatiyar's life. Hats off all the dancers - V. Chandrasekaran, Sharadha Chandrasekar whom I understand are in their fifties but they had the passion and agility of twenty-year olds. Hats off also to the narrators - Rajagopalan Venkataraman, Vallabha Srinivasan and Ananya Mahadevan. The performance culminated in an interesting climax when Mr. Balasubramanian Natarajan came on the stage and told the interesting story of the disappearance and accidental discovery of the Bharat Matha statue that the Mandyam brothers created sometime in the early 20th century. With Mr. Balasubramanian's story, the curtains drew to a close. It was a fitting finale to Madras Week, though the celebrations themselves weren't over and would continue into early September. 

The functions came to an end at about 8.45 and I left a few minutes later. Was truly mesmerized and it took sometime for the effects to wean off. So that was it - Madras Week ends now though celebrations will still continue.

Classical dancer, scholar  and erstwhile actress Dr. Swarnamalya during the "Dancing in the Parlour" programme with the Rangamandira team

 This particular gesture in the dance - the salute was originally introduced for an European guest.

 A Parsi "kavadi chindu" on a railway journey from Madras to Kolar

Chennaiyin Gnanaratham - folk dance performance on Bharathiyar's songs

Chennaiyin Gnanaratham

August 21, 2015: Talk on "Photography on glass - When photography came to Madras" by D. Krishnan and S. Muthiah at the Press Institute of India

Attended a beautiful presentation on "Photography on glass - When photography came to Madras" by Mr. D. Krishnan, photo editor for The Hindu and the great Mr. S. Muthiah at the Press Institute of India in Tharamani. Mr. Muthiah didn't look his age and observers would have sworn that he was twenty or thirty years younger.  With his characteristic verve and impeccable English, Mr. Muthiah made it a treat for listeners. Met a few fellow members from the Madras Naturalists Society at the lecture, including General Secretary, Mr. K. V. Sudhakar.

Mr. Muthiah began with a short biography of Harry Miller who, according to Mr. Muthiah, had the largest collection of glass negatives on Madras. The negatives dating from 1880 to 1930 were acquired by Mr. D. Krishnan who catalogued it with the  assistance of Mr. Muthiah.

Mr. Krishnan then took over and explained about the collection. It was interesting to note how the negatives have been painstakingly preserved at room temperature in small handmade paper covers which were in turn placed in boxes made of acid free material all of which were as old as the negatives themselves. That such an ingenious method were used to preserved these negatives a hundred years ago is ironical, especially when we don't use any such methods today.

Mr. Krishnan also gave a brief history of photography before making way for Mr. Muthiah. Krishnan described how the camera obscura had been used for ages with the earliest references going back to the 13th century AD. Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the early scientists to have described it. The subject was asked to sit in a closed room and a camera obscura was placed in its walls,. This camera obscura produced an inverted portrait of the subject at the opposite end. An artist would then paint the subject's portait based on the likeness generated by the camera obscura. The first permanent photograph was taken by Niepce in 1826. It required a seven-hour long exposure. Mr. Krishnan also described many of the early processes used such as the daguerrotype, calotype, wet colloidon and gelatin processes. Almost all the plates in  Harry Miller's collection, Mr. Krishnan explained, were either wet colloidon or gelatin.

Mr. Muthiah, then, gave a brief account of the history of photography in Madras. The first photographer to chronicle Madras, Mr. Muthiah said, was Alexander Hunter who in 1850, founded the Madras School of Arts. In the 1850s, the Government appointed three photographers - Linneaus Tripe, Captain Lyon and W. W. Hooper to photograph people and places in the Madras Presidency. They explored the length and breadth of South India to fulfill their mission. The early photographers, Mr. Muthiah said, were the artistic successors of early 19th century landscape painters such as the Daniells and much of their work was of a similar nature.  Linneaus Tripe was a captain in the British army who carried out an official photographic expedition in Burma before moving to Madras Presidency in 1857 as official photographer to the Madras government. His assistant Iyyasamy appears to have taken many photographs of his own in the process becoming the earliest recorded Indian photographer in the Presidency. Hooper captured the Madras Famine of 1877-78, one of his most important photographs being that of rice bags brought by ships lying on the sea shore in Madras. Bourne and Shepherd arrived on the scene shortly later and to the west, they remained the most prolific photographers of India for most of the 19th century.  But their impact upon the growth of photography in Madras was minimal as they focussed more upon the imperial winter and summer capitals of Calcutta and Shimla. The Madras Almanac for the year 1858 lists four photographers, two among them - Maselamoney and Davasigawmoney being Indians. The arrival of Nicholas & Co on the scene however changed things forever. The Nicholas brothers - John and James arrived in 1857 and 1858 respectively and set up Nicholas Bros. in the latter year. In 1864, it became Nicholas Brothers and Co. when their brother-in-law John Parting joined them. But it reverted to its original name of Nicholas Bros. when Parting resigned from the venture in 1865. It became Nicholas and Curths when a Herman Curths joined the venture in 1868. When Curths left in 1873, they settled for Nicholas and Co. once and for all. Nicholas and Co. declined and eventually disappeared in the early 1900s. One of their greatest discoveries would be A. T. W. Penn, who came to India at the age of sixteen and joined the firm in the mid-1860s. He remained their best photographer for a long time and many of those pictures copyrighted to Nicholas Bros. were probably Penn's creations. There exists only one known photograph of Penn and that portrays Penn at his guitar along with Misquith of the music shop, Misquith and Co. Penn left Nicholas and Co. in 1875 and started his own company but he remained always on  friendly terms with the Nicholases. Mr. Muthiah ended the Nicholas' story with a tragic afterword - James Nicholas and his wife Ellen had a daughter who died suddenly aged three due to poisoning. The child's ayah Mary was suspect and subsequently arrested. She was convicted by a local court and given capital punishment. But Mary appealed to the Supreme Court at Calcutta and a retrial was subsqeuently held. This retrial completely exonerated Mary and ruled the child's death as an accident caused by swallowing of harmful photographic chemicals that James kept at home. So, it was the negligence of James Nicholas and not the ayah's  malicious intentions that had caused the child's death. However, within six months of her release, Mary too had passed away. The circumstances surrounding her sudden and mysterious death remain unknown.

From the 1880s, the Nicholas Bros. faced stiff competition from Wiele and Klein, a German firm which specialized in picture postcards. Wiele and Klein employed a fellow German, Michael Peyerl who they admitted in  the 1920s as a partner.

The firm changed hands after the Second World War but retained its name with fluctuating fortunes till a studio fire in 1987 delivered the final blow. Come 1930s and the biggest names of the period were G. K. Vale and Vasan Studios both of whom specialized in wedding photography. Though they did a few landscapes too, photographing landscapes had by then become out of fashion.

After Mr. Muthiah's enthusiasm-filled and information-packed lecture came to an end, there was a short question and answer session. And I had a readymade question to ask. When was the first colour photograph taken in Madras! The first true colour video shot in India as we know was made during the Delhi Durbar of 1911. Were there colour photographs and videographs of Madras that were as old?
But Mr. Muthiah left it to Mr. Krishnan to answer my question. Mr. Krishnan said that he had absolutely no idea when the first colour photograph in Madras was taken but the sports sections of The Hindu started to  switch over to colour in the 1960s. Mr. Muthiah recalled with childlike enthusiasm how while working on a book on the Chettiar community, he came across scores of hand-tinted photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mr. Muthiah concluded the presentation by recalling memories of a visit by a National Geographic Magazine team to his native Sri Lanka. The photographers, Mr. Muthiah revealed, took great pain to click photographs of people and places in the then Ceylon, fishermen, beaches, etc - thousands of them, in fact, but in the end, selected barely a handful of those to be published in the Nat Geo. Thus, Nat Geo must have built a reputation for quality and perfection.

Thus, an interesting lecture came to a conclusion.  I might have left out many points as I simply can't remember them in the absence of any notes. But this description would have given a fair idea.

Mr. D. Krishnan of The Hindu giving an introduction to the history of photography 

 Mr. S. Muthiah begins his "The Story of Photography in Madras"

Klein and his equipment in the Nilgiri Hills

 Dr. Alexander Hunter - founder of the Government School of Fine Arts.

 Rice bags lying on Madras beach (W. W. Hooper, 1877)

 Catalogue of the Nicholas Bros., 1866

 The pier, Nicholas and Curths, 1872.

Mowbray's road sometime before 1881 (Nicholas & Co)

A. T. W. Penn (right) with his friend Misquith (left)

Stephen's Church, Ooty, A. T. W. Penn

Saturday, October 24, 2015

August 20, 2015: Talk on "Media and advertising in Chennai - A fascinating history" by R. V. Rajan at the Press Institute of India

Attended presentation and lecture on Media and Advertising in Chennai - A fascinating history by R. V. Rajan. Was late and present for barely fifteen minutes of the lecture. Seems by then, Mr. Rajan had already given a detailed presentation on the history of the advertising and approaching the fag end of his speech. When I walked in, he was playing a few advertisement videos from the 1990s and lamenting how the aarrival of retail jewellery stores has affected advertisement ethics and quality. He gave the reason for this downtrend as the  choice of amateurs by these retailers instead of professional advertisement agencies. But fortunately, we were given complimentary copies of books by R. V. Rajan that seemed to contain all the matter.

According to Mr. Rajan, newspapers right from the beginning carried elaborate advertisements in the form of classifieds. The Madras Almanac of 1851 carried details of births, deaths, thefts, auctions and public announcements. The first advertising agency in Madras city was founded by P. S. Mani Iyer in 1939. Mani Iyer canvassed for advertisements for The Hindu and Swadesamitran and in return, got a 25% commission from them. Advertising in newspapers underwent a radical change in the early 1930s with the advent of line drawings and half-tone prints. But perhaps the leading advertisement professional of that era was R. K. Swami who started as manager with J. Walter Thomson in 1955 and continued well into the 1970s.  Starting R. K. Swamy and Associates in 1973, in five years, he had transformed it into one of India's ten best advertisement agencies.

During this time, radio was also a popular medium for advertising.
Radio Ceylon was in particular, a pioneer in this field. During the 1970s and 80s, most of the advertisements in Tamil were dubbed from Hindi and English. When colour television started to become popular in India during the 1982 Asian Games, J. S. Films started by Jayendra Pachapakesan, a  copy writer and film producer and the well-known cinematographer, P. C. Sreeram, took off. Their advertisements became popular nationwide. Some of the popular names that emerged from ad films during this period where the famous cinematographer and film director, Rajiv Menon and the Academy award winning music director A. R. Rahman.

With the turn of the 21st century, came the age of the internet and the MNCs. Advertisements changed their focus and priorities once again. Mr. Rajan, however, doesn't seem too amused by the turn of events. While he ended the presentation with a note of regret, we left the presentation with not much to regret about.  

August 19,2015: Talk on "Archaeological and numismatic evidence of trade in the Indian Ocean" by Dr. Osmund Boppearchi at the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation

Attended lecture on "Archaeological and numismatic evidence of trade in the Indian Ocean" by Dr. Osmund Boppearchi. Reached the venue late thanks to a traffic jam at the DLF IT Park but fortunately not much of the lecture had been missed.  The lecture started with a brief introduction by Ms. Nanditha Krishna followed by feclicitation of the guests, Mr. Boppearchi, Mr. T. Satyamurthy of REACH and Mr. R. Krishnamurthy, President of the Tamil Nadu Numismatics Association.

Dr. Boppearchi then took over. He might have bored many by reading mechanically from a prepared document. Perhaps, I feel, it could have been made a lot more interesting by the usage of lay terms.

The chance discovery of a shipwrech at Godavaya on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka by fishermen R. P. Sunil and B. G. Preminda in 2003, Dr. Boppearchi said,  led to detailed excavation of the site starting in 2012.  The excavations have till now yielded plenty of pottery and coins. One particular artifact of interest was a piece of pottery with the holy Nandipada, Srivatsa and fish motifs. The shipwreck has been carbon-dated to between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC- the oldest of any kind in the Indian Ocean.  

After a giving a brief sketch of the fabulous archaeological discovery, Dr. Boppearchi switched topic and gave a detailed description of South Indian influences in Sri Lanka. There was a continuous exchange of goods and ideas between South India and Sri Lanka starting from the early centuries BC. The earliest art of Sri Lanka drew inspiration from the Andhras. Sinhalese Buddhist iconography, for example, was based on samples found in Nagarjunakonda. The liaisons continued in later times too. The Sinhalese prince Manavarma lived at the court of Narsimhavarman I Mamalla who constructed the rock-cut temples at Mamallapuram. The lion motifs which were a dominating feature of Pallava art was borrowed by the Sinhalese.  Starting from the 10th century AD, Sri Lanka was conquered in stages by the Cholas. The Cholas built a  new capital at Polonnaruwa where they constructed a number of Hindu temples. For centuries, the Sinhalese sculptors and painters portrayed Hindu gods postured in characteristic Chola style next to that of the Buddha. The Buddhist particsed in Sri Lanka was different in variety than those practised elsewehre in the world, Dr. Boppearchi said. Many Indian, especially Tamil gods formed part of the Buddhist pantheon and many such rituals formed a  part of their regular worship that would be considered heretical by orthodox Buddhist cults.  One of the gods that formed a part of their pantheon, for example, was Vishnu who was worshipped as Upulvan derived from  Uppalavanna, Sinhalese for the "water lily-coloured" Could it possibly be the derivation for Oppilla-appan in mthe Oppilliappan shrine! Why not!

With his comfortable familiarity with South India, Boppearchi expertly plucks out specimens from the remotest corners of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The lecture, in the end, was a fitting ode to the syncretism between Hinduism and the form of Buddhism practised in Sri Lanka

Having passed the deadline, Boppearchi's speech was making it late for me. So when he concluded at about 8.15 PM, I left, opting to forego the Q&A session. Before leaving, I had a look at the C. P. R. foundation's interesting collection of old photographs and portraits.