புதன், செப்டம்பர் 28, 2022

Greetings to Prof. George Hart on his 80th birthday during JNU Celebrations

Birthday Greetings to Prof. George Hart on his 80th birthday during JNU Celebrations

It was a pleasure to participate in the George Hart 80 Birthday celebrations organized by the Tamil Stream of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The following is a preliminary draft of my remarks:


Dear Professors Araventhan, Om Prakash Singh, Jeyadevan, Vasu Renganathan, and Chandrasegaran, Honorable Member of Parliament Dr. Ravikumar, other professors, scholars and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Greetings from California and thank you for inviting me to this celebration of Prof. George Hart’s 80th Birthday.

The JNU Tamil Stream deserves a Big Thank You from Tamil Americans, especially those from the San Francisco Bay Area and the University of California at Berkeley. We have lot more reasons to celebrate Prof. Hart and his contributions and these are often unknown outside our area. The obvious one is that Prof. Hart is the first occupant of the first Tamil Chair established in a north American University, U.C. Berkeley and it was setup by Tamil Americans. That was in 1996. But Prof. Hart has been a member of the Bay Area Tamil Community since before 1980. He along with his Tamil wife Kausalya were among the co-founders of the San Francisco Bay Area Tamil Manram in 1980 and contributed to the early literary discussions organized by the Tamil Manram.

The Harts have been part of the bay area Tamil community for long, contributing to the Concord Murugan Temple, Tamil Manram cultural events, the Tamil schools, helping the California Tamil Academy get accreditation for its Tamil classes, among other things. The Harts were great patrons of Tamil American community not only in the Bay Area but also throughout North America. When we celebrate Prof. George Hart’s contributions we also celebrate Mrs. Kausalya Hart for her role in all of these as well. சக்தி இல்லையேல் சிவம் இல்லை.

When the Tamil Chair was established in 1996, UC Berkeley started to bring visiting scholars from Tamil Nadu not only to teach their students but also to interact with the Tamil American community and help promote Tamil culture in the bay area. In the late 1990s, when Prof. Ilakkuvanar Maraimalai came to U.C.Berkeley, Mr. Kumar Kumarappan, the chairman of the Tamil Chair committee and I organized a series of “fireside chat” programs in the residences of Tamil Americans around the bay area to discuss ancient and modern Tamil literature.

Prof. Hart was often a speaker at the annual முத்தமிழ் விழா a literary program organized by Tamil Manram. And his talks introduced ancient Tamil literature to young Tamil Americans who were born in the U.S. The UCB Tamil Chair was not just an academic institution. It was part of the Tamil American community. When we hosted the Tamil Internet conference in 2002 at Foster City, CA, UCB was a co-sponsor. Not many people know that Prof. Hart himself designed Tamil fonts for Apple Mac computers. In fact, the Unicode committees and Apple initially thought that Tamil was an archaic classical language of interest only to U.C. Berkeley researchers and were surprised that a large population spoke Tamil and was eager to use it in computers.

Prof. Hart was one of the pioneers in developing Tamil computing and took part in the internet discussion of standardizing 8-bit encoding for Tamil. And his contributions continue through the era of Unicode encoding.

However, practically everyone has heard of Prof. Hart first through the famous letter that he wrote to the Government of India recommending that Tamil be recognized as a Classical Language of India. When Prof. Maraimalai first requested Prof. Hart to write that letter, he was completely surprised. To Prof. Hart it seemed strange that he should have to write an essay claiming that Tamil is a classical language. Among western scholars, it was taken for granted that ancient Sangam literature was classical, especially so after the brilliant translations of Akam and puRam poems by Prof. A. K. Ramanujan. In fact, Prof. Hart got introduced to Tamil through Prof. Ramanujan and to a large extent Ramanujan’s translations set the standard by which all modern translations are judged.

Prof. Ramanujan himself was a great poet and when he wrote that “I do not translate out of love but out of envy, out of a kind of aggression towards these great poems”, a generation of poet-scholars were inspired to emulate him. Prof. Hart’s translations of Kamban, Akam and PuRam poems can be seen in this light. While Prof. Hart is not a poet, he collaborated with poet Hank Heifetz to produce near literal translations of the great Tamil classics.

In his preface to his translation of “The Forest book of the Ramayana of Kampan”, Prof. Hart wrote “Our purpose is introduce Kampan, who is perhaps India’s greatest poet, to a non-Tamil audience.” Understandably, this delighted the Tamil scholars while raising the eyebrows of Sanskrit aficionados. Prof. Hart’s letter to the Government of India recommending classical language status to Tamil elicited similar murmurs in the Indological community.

However, as Prof. Hart often remarks, scholars should recognize that Tamil civilization was not a blank slate until the arrival of Aryans. He wrote “Tamil constitutes the only literary tradition indigenous to India that is not derived from Sanskrit. Indeed, its literature arose before the influence of Sanskrit in the South became strong and so is qualitatively different from anything we have in Sanskrit or other Indian languages.”

On a personal note, I have known George for about 25 years. Since the time we felicitated him for his translation of the puRa nAnURu, in 1998, until now, it has been my honor to have interacted with George and discuss literature, politics both local and international, religion, Tamil language among other things. When we lived in Newark, CA, George and Kausalya, used to visit us often on the weekends. We used to walk around Lake Elizabeth in Fremont while intensely debating everything under the sun.

All those discussions were friendly no matter how serious our difference of opinion was. He enjoyed a good argument as much as I did. While neither of us changed our opinions after these discussions, we always developed a better understanding of the alternate point of view. I am thankful for those hours of discussion.

For this and his great many other contributions to Tamil language, culture and community, it is a great honor for me to join you in celebrating Prof. George Hart on his 80th birthday. Like the other pioneer, Prof. Emeneau, also of U.C. Berkeley, may he continue to research and write for a very long time.

Mani M. Manivannan
27 September 2022

"தமிழ் - சமஸ்கிருத இலக்கிய மரபுகள் நெருங்கிய தொடர்புள்ளவை" - நேர்காணல்: ஜோர்ஜ் எல். ஹார்ட், தீராநதி, ஏப்பிரல் 2006

"தமிழ் - சமஸ்கிருத இலக்கிய மரபுகள் நெருங்கிய தொடர்புள்ளவை"
- நேர்காணல்: ஜோர்ஜ் எல். ஹார்ட், சந்திப்பு: மணி மு. மணிவண்ணன் தீராநதி, ஏப்பிரல் 2006

இந்த நேர்காணலின் பதிவைத் தீராநதியின் பக்கங்களில் தேடிப்பார்த்தேன். இப்போது இது அங்கே இல்லை. முதலில் அது கீழ்க்கண்ட சுட்டிகளில் இருந்தது.
http://www.kumudam.com/magazine/Theranadi/2006-04-01/pg1.php http://www.kumudam.com/magazine/Theranadi/2006-03-01/pg1.php
எனவே என்னிடம் இருந்த பழைய படிகளை இத்துடன் பகிர்கிறேன். இது ஒரு முக்கியமான நேர்காணல். பலரும் மீண்டும் படிக்க வேண்டியது. பேரா. ஹார்ட் அவர்களின் 80 ஆவது பிறந்தநாள் அன்று இதைப் பதிவு செய்வதில் மகிழ்கிறேன்.

செவ்வாய், செப்டம்பர் 13, 2022

A death sentence

A death sentence

Mani M. Manivannan
September 13, 2013

The magistrate was used to these late night knocks at his door. That is the price one pays if one is the only authority who can grant last minute stays of execution for the death row convicts. Desperate lawyers would try every trick in the book to keep their clients alive for a few more minutes of their miserable lives. He folded his lungi in half and threw a towel over his shoulders and walked to the door. It was two in the morning. He sighed. As he opened the door he saw the jail superintendent and a distraught looking young man.

"Sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night your honour. This young man claims to be a professor and a Presidential Scholar at the C. V. Raman institute. He has an incredible story to tell and I need the sound judgement of someone of your calibre to do the right thing."

"Very flattering" said the magistrate. "Come in and make it quick. And it better be good or I am throwing both of you out."

"Pardon me your honor" said the young man. "Sorry for disturbing you this late but you have to stop the execution of the four death row convicts if you want to save the world."

The magistrate was irritated at this lunacy and turned to stare at the superintendent.

"Professor, tell the magistrate what you do at the institute."

"Your honor, I work on a top secret project for the government to communicate with the people in the future and I just had a breakthrough."

The magistrate was getting impatient.

"Sir, your name is bigger than that of King Solomon for the people of the future and you are the symbol of wisdom to them."

"Go on young man, there is only so much flattery one can withstand at this time of the night."

"Sir, the people of the future were desperate to communicate with us. It seems that one of the four convicts will go on to invent a 'Nuclear Quencher' that can extinguish any nuclear bomb after serving time.

Supee looked at the magistrate with a quizzical eye.

The professor continued. "All four will serve a life sentence, learn a lot during their jail time and try hard to pay their debt to the society. And they help each other towards this goal."

"And if they are all executed, earth's time line is so warped that a global thermonuclear crisis wipes out the planet."

The magistrate looked at the young man with incredulity.

"Your honor, all lives are interconnected and each has a purpose. Our own beliefs tell us that even asuras had a purpose in God's plan."

"Professor, that may have been true. But don't forget that each of them was killed by the Gods. Our Gods were quite fond of death penalty."

"Your honor, that may be true. But today, you hold the future lives of untold billions humans and other living things in your hand. You just need to stay the execution until I have a chance to convince the appeals court. You need to make the call."

"Can we let the vengeance of collective conscience overcome our humane nature and deny these evil men a chance to reform and actually save billions of lives?"

"You decide" said the professor.

The clock was ticking.

Mani M. Manivannan, September 13, 2013. Facebook post is at the following location


திங்கள், பிப்ரவரி 28, 2022

The Trust Deficit between people and Scientific Establishment

The Trust Deficit between people and Scientific Establishment

I wrote the following in a Facebook post 5 years ago. It is still very relevant.

A man that I greatly respect, Dr. Amalorpavanathan Joseph wondered about the anti-vaccine resistance in Tamil Nadu. He asked "is there something deeper to it? Where is the trust deficit and why now?"

I was glad to see that he correctly diagnosed it as "trust deficit" but I was surprised that he didn't see this coming. The recent spontaneous protests across Tamil Nadu in support of Jallikattu and other causes, resistance to vaccination, opposition to "hydrocarbon" fracking, etc., have been highly visible, vehement and unlike any such movement that we have seen in the past decades. To some extent, this is fueled by WhatsApp communities and FaceBook posts. But this willingness to march and face brutal establishment has no parallels in recent Tamil Nadu history exceeding even the anti-Hindi imposition agitation that was largely constrained to students and the Dravidian movement activists. The current movement is broader than that and has a coalition ranging from extreme left wing to the extreme right wing and nationalists of all stripes.

Some have accused it of "anti-science" and "anti-capitalist" reactionary politics. It is not an anti-science movement but an anti-establishment movement. And this anger towards establishment has been building for decades. Engineers, like medical professionals, have responsibility to towards public interest. As an engineer, I have been disappointed that the Indian Science and Technology establishment has repeatedly failed people. The first such instance that I noticed was the 1984 Bhopal disaster at the Union Carbide plant, considered to be the world’s worst industrial accident. That plant was peddled as a state of the art, modern, temple of technology that would manufacture insecticides to protect the Indian crops. But the plant actually ended up killing people and nobody saw that coming nor did the establishment shine after the disaster in championing the cause of the victims. What lessons did the Indian engineering establishment learn from Bhopal disaster? What safeguards are in place now to prevent a similar disaster? How can the public trust the government or the engineering establishment when they assure that the far more complex nuclear plants or hydrocarbon fracking facilities are “safe”? India routinely exports the best of what it produces to command the best revenue, including food. When the best Indian food rejected by the Americans, Australians, Germans and others, people of India have to wonder about the quality of food that they were eating. Where were the Indian standards bodies that should have warned Indians about the poison that they are consuming? What happened to the University professors, the IIT wizards, the IIM managers, the IAS administrators, the IPS policemen, the Scientists, the Medical establishment, and the political leadership? People trusted these highly revered professionals and we have let them down badly.

When people worried about the safety of Kudankulam Nuclear power plant, those protesters were accused of being anti-national foreign agents. The country's science and engineering establishment lined up behind the government. And we just witnessed the ridiculous sight of students using buckets to clean the crude oil that spilled close to the Chennai shores. Where was the emergency preparation to handle that eventuality? The government couldn't even see the Chennai floods coming in 2015 nor could they rescue people efficiently when the city was flooded. Neither the government nor the engineering establishment have proved that they can handle disasters and safeguard public interest. Now the "science and technology" champions in social media are advocating the "hydrocarbon" fracking as the solution for energy crisis and dismiss the concerns of farming communities in the fertile Kaveri delta. This is so despite the fact that such fracking has been destroying communities around the world.

Indian establishment, including the venerated science and technology establishment, has repeatedly lied and let people down. Now this “anti-people establishment” is using pseudo-science as a shield to protect its vested interests. There are very uncomfortable questions. Which Indian scientist or engineer saved people from the Bhopal disaster? What did the Indian scientists and technologists say about insecticides in the food that Indians eat every day? Why does it require foreign agencies to tell Indians that they are eating poison every day? How did the government handle the Chennai floods or the recent Ennore oil spills? And how about the river sand mafia, beach sand mafia and granite mafia that are ravaging natural resources while polluting the environment? And what about those “kalvi thanthais” who are grabbing public lakes and ponds and anything that contains water? And how about pharmacies that sold expired medicines? And how about the scientists, engineers and doctors who stood silently while public safety was being compromised? And what about the political parties, writers, journalists, public intellectuals and bharat ratnas who champion nuclear power plants and methane fracking while evidence is mounting against them around the world? Why is it that Indians have to rely on foreign experts and intellectuals to get information about things that affect their own safety? If the establishment science is anti-people and the only ones that echo the concerns of people about the safety of the food that they eat and the medicine that they take are charlatans who use pseudo-science, can you blame them? If your "friends" are ready to let you die, why not choose people who are accused of being your "enemies"?

Now look at how the Science establishment reacts to all of this? You won't see humility or contrition from scientists for failing the pubic that trusted them. There are no apologies for past mistakes and no admission of guilt but arrogant chastisement and name calling of critics. The science luminaries call people superstitious fools. Why are they that angry? Is it because the establishment is afraid that competition is taking people and money away from them? Yes, there is a huge trust deficit and it is well deserved. Are the healers, antivaxxers, organic farmers, hyper-environmentalists, and social media memesters better than the scientific and political establishment? Yes, oh yes. Anything that challenges the arrogant establishment and shakes it to the foundation is always good. It will make the establishment more accountable and responsive. These arrogant leaders will be discarded. There is yet a chance that people's voice will be heard. There may be better policing of food, medicine, better disaster preparation, perhaps more rational discussions about big “solutions” that the big government or the big business want to thrust down the throats of unwilling people, and so on. But of course, all the scoundrels can get together and strike a deal to keep their loot. I am optimistic though that that won't happen and that this backlash will bring in better results.

Mani M. Manivannan, 28 February, 2017.