From Sachi’s Files – Chapter 22

My meager contributions to Tamil Writing in the Natural Sciences

by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 5, 2023

Science writing is an orphan genre among Tamil writers, due to specific conditions needed by a Tamil author. These are, (1) one should have studied natural sciences and/or technology to earn a university degree in any discipline; (2) assuming that natural sciences are learnt in English by Tamils and not in one’s native tongue, the writer should possess a strong will and passion to explain the nature and technology in Tamil language, as well as possess good Tamil vocabulary; (3) what one writes should be reader-friendly. It is a pity that though three reputed Indian Tamils (C.V. Raman, S. Chandrasekhar and Venki Ramakrishnan) had been recipients of the Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry to-date, none of them had written about their science specialty in Tamil.

Dr. R. Sivakanesan (lt) and Sachi in Jan 1981 at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens

Among the Eelam Tamil writers, one can count in both palms, the number of established names in the science writing genre. To my knowledge, few established writers of this genre in the 20th century include, Prof. Sellathurai Sivagnanasundaam (nom de plume, Nandhi; 1928-2005), Padmavathi Sabaratnam (wife of journalist T. Sabaratnam, and one of my high school teacher at the Hindu College, Ratmalana), Prof. Sivanandam Sivasegaram, Dr. K. Indrakumar (1945-2008), Dr. Muthiah Kathiravetpillai Murugananthan (b. 1948) and Dr. Ramaiah Sivakanesan.

As one learns from the above listing, Nandhi, Indrakumar and Murugananthan had qualified in medicine. Thus they were blessed with a direct handle in writing about medical themes in Tamil to the public and patients. I had met Nandhi in 2004 (please check this link and Murugananthan during my university days. But, I never met Indrakumar, but had heard about him through our mutual friends. Late Rajan Sriskandaraja told me that Indrakumar was a year junior to him, at the Colombo medical school. He was a ‘character’ with Communist leanings in his young days, with a literary bent. As such, Indrakumar specialized in writing about space travel (specially chronicling the achievements of Soviet Union). He married a bharatanatyam dancer Vijayambikai Ramasamy, and later had ambitions as a movie actor. He did act in one Tamil movie produced in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, he also was keen to produce (and act!) in a Tamil movie and pestering one of my influential kins in Colombo for contacts with Tamil/Muslim financiers. Dr. Murugananthan, my immediate senior contemporary at the University of Colombo, is a leading contributor in medical themes now. Those interested can check this link

Being qualified a qualified academic in engineering, Dr. Sivasegaram tackled topics in engineering. Mrs. Sabaratnam wrote on general science themes for school students in the Thinakaran daily. She taught physics to us in 1960s.

While I was a high school student in late 1960s, there was a publication titled, Tamil Ilaignan (Tamil Youth), from the University of Peradeniya which focused Tamil writing in natural sciences. Beginning from 1967, it had a short life span until 1970. It’s main readership was Tamil students who were studying for the university entrance examinations. The materials covered were mostly chemistry, physics, botany, zoology and mathematics, written by junior academics teaching at the university and university students. After the May 1970 General election and the SLFP party led by Sirima Bandaranaike came to power and within a year, had to face the April 1971 JVP insurrection. One serious outcome was that the admission of students into university passed into the hands of ruling party politicians. Resulting enforcement of the racist ‘standardization policy’ by the Ministry of Education (then headed by an unelected Muslim politician Badiuddin Mahmud who had a Rasputin like grip on Mrs Bandaranaike) drastically reduced Tamil Ilaignan’s primary subscribers; Tamil Ilaignan withered and became defunct.

The Ootru Tamil science journal, which had a good run for more than 15 years from 1972 onwards, proved to be a good facilitator in Tamil writing on natural sciences for the then young scientists like Dr. Sivakanesan and me. Both of us were then affiliated with the Dept. of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya. While Dr. Sivakanesan was a veterinary scientist, my specialty was zoology. Both of us were in the editorial team, and we had to split our labor in soliciting and reviewing the contributions to the journal, during 1980-81, adding ‘fillers’ for readers’ interest, negotiating with the printer and finally checking the galley proofs. It was absolutely a labor of love, for the sake of contributing to the growth of an orphan genre in Tamil writing. No remunerations were claimed.

An influence for my writing about science in Tamil, was Isaac Asimov (1920-1982), the famous encyclopedic author, who never got tired in tackling all vistas of knowledge.. Beginning from 1979 for a period of five years, I contributed 8 articles/essays/opinion to Ootru , After almost 40 years, I could find time to assemble these 8 items for easy reference,. These are provided adjacently in a pdf file. Eight ‘Ootru’ articles (1979-1984) in Tamil by Sachi Sri Kantha

Ootru, Jan-Feb 1979 issue cover, carrying Sachi’s article on the Bats

The details are as follows:

 Bats – part 1 Ootru, 1979; 7(1): 9-12, and part 2 Ootru 1979, 7(2): 15-17.

 An animal called man. Ootru, 1979; 7(3): 20-22.

 Role of library in intellectual growth. Ootru, 1979-80, 7-8: 2-3.

 Global food problems and solutions. Ootru, 1981; 9(3): 16-19.

 Bharathy’s dream comes true. Ootru, 1982; 10(3): 26-28.

 Some scientific ideas in Kannadasan’s film lyrics. Ootru 1982; 10(4): 41-44.

 Scientific miracles in the 20th century: 40 years of atomic age. Ootru 1983; 11(2): 9-12.

 Rock ‘n Roll music: 30 years retrospective. Ootru 1984; 12(1): 9-15.

I’m thankful to the Noolaham Foundation archives, for location of these items. The final four articles listed above, were written, while I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, as topical/commemorative items. Year 1982 marked the birth centenary of the reputed Tamil poet Subramanya Bharathi (1882-1921). Also, as multitalented poet-lyricist Kannadasan (1927-1981) had died in Chicago in the previous year, as a tribute to him, I focused my attention on the scientific themes sprinkled in his movie lyrics. These included, emancipation of fore-limbs, parental care, urbanization related ill effects and the vitality of farming. Year 1982 also marked the 40th anniversary of the origin of ‘atomic age’ by the splitting of atom by Enrico Fermi’s group at the University of Chicago, and I reviewed the highlights of atomic age. Year 1983 marked the 30th anniversary of the origin of Rock ‘n Roll music, with the release of Bill Haley with Haley’s Comets ‘Crazy man Crazy’ song in April 25, 1953. [the Youtube link is

Ootru, 1984 issue, cover, carrying Sachi’s review of Rock n’ Roll music

Being born two weeks later, I was also 30 years old. So, I wrote a Rock n’ Roll music retrospective to celebrate both, in more than two parts. Unfortunately due to the Black July events of 1983 in Sri Lanka, this article’s appearance was delayed by a year and was published in the Ootru issue of 1984. Only part 1 appeared, and I don’t know, what happened to part 2. Even I don’t have the original script of part 2 with me now!

Other than the above-listed, while I was Sri Lanka, I also contributed three more brief items on science themes to the Kama Nalam (Farm Health) magazine during 1980-1981. These were solicited by the then editor of this magazine, and my pal Somasundaram Rameswaran. The titles of these contributions were,

Solar rays – a new energy source. Kama Nalam, Sept. 1980, 7(3)

The beauty of winged bean. Kama Nalam, Dec 1980, 7(4): 112-113.

Tamil proverbs on farming. Kama Nalam, Jun 1981, 8(2): 28.

With these, my meager contribution to the science writing in Tamil came to an abrupt end, for want of solicitations from Sri Lanka and my primary focus on completing the Ph.D degree.


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