Colour of India

Colour of India

Friday, July 1, 2011


This book was published in 1993 by Sir.William Jones Institute of Indological Studies, of which I was the Founder Chairman. This Institute has since been wound up on account of financial stringency.

This book was released at a public function at Chennai on 30th October 1993. the Book was released by Late Father Lawrence Sundaram, Former Principal and Head of the Department of English Loyola College, Chennai. The first copy of the Book was received by Bharat Ratna M.S.Subbulakshmi and T.Sadasivam.

M.S. Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam receiving the first copies of the book 'Es­says and Reviews' from Fr.Lawrence Sundaram. Director, Alumni Association, Loyola College, Madras, Author V. Sundaram, looks on.

Shri.T.V.Venkatraman I.A.S. who was Chief Secretary to the Government of Tamilnadu in his Preface to V.Sundaram’s Book observed as follows in 1993:

The finely crafted collection of ESSAYS AND REVIEWS places the reader at the crossroads of the best that can be had on twentieth century history, oriental literature, Tamil Literature and the cultural dialogue between India and the liberal West. For these essays and reviews range across different cultures and disciplines in order to highlight some of the sociological, literary and cultural factors which have helped to shape the modern sensibility.  In fact   some  of Shri V. Sundaram's historical  essays are a   timely response for   making   sense   of   contemporary   affairs,    from   a   truly   international perspective. Again readers have cause to be grateful to Shri Sundaram for his precise documentation of literary activity in the relatively inaccessible areas of Tamil literature. Furthermore, Shri Sundaram has lucid prose style and chronicles the lives of great men like Sir  William Jones,  Jawaharlal Nehru,   Alfred Marshall,   Lord Keynes,   Schumpetter,   Sir  Winston  Churchill, Srinivasa Ramanujam and Sir M. Viswesvaraya, with sympathy and in detail. Actually,   the structure of this volume is essentially historical.  And in the interstices of his chronology are secreted some meaningful pieces of cultural

 “I would claim three main merits for Shri V. Sundaram's collection of Essays and Reviews. First, he has a sense of history. For intellectual questions draw not only upon the present but also upon the past, recalling the pleasures afforded by the celebrities who are gone, tracing their influences -whether in matters intellectual or in subject and style. Indeed, in any discussion of style Gibbon and Macaulay are bound to figure as prominently as Winston Churchill, G.M. Trevelyan and Barbara Tuchman. Second, it gives me great pleasure to commend Shri V. Sundaram for maintaining the tradition of the scholar - civil servant. For eminent judges and civil servants like Sir William Jones, Sir Charles Wilkins, Vincent Smith and Hilton Brown had contributed to a tradition, which is worth emulating. Finally, Shri Sundaramfs volume is an inter-disciplinary emphasis on the freedom to inquire and question and to ask the right questions. And this inter-disciplinary approach to life and literature lends a wholeness to the variety of Shri Sundaram's 'Essays  and Reviews'.

                                               T.V.  VENKATARAMAN

Late Shrimati Mathuram Bhoothalingam, noted writer in English and Tamil, wrote as follows in her perceptive Forward to Shri.V.Sundaram’s Book in 1993:

“Sundaram is a man of many talents, in several of which he excels, displaying a fervour rarely seen. He is a topclass administrator; a savant in art and music and possesses an unrivalled curiosity to delve into the history of every interesting subject he comes across. There is about him a wonder, an innocent joy when he recounts some of his discoveries or displays the findings of his search for archaeological treasures.

This book is a collection of essays on many such searches, adventures and satisfying rewards. They mirror his poetic spirit, his trueness and zeal for more and more happy states of mind. Such states — in his own words are — "I feel I am released from gravity though not raised to any inconvenient height-----so released from my body, I feel in the grip of a melodious sequence of sound-----oblivious of my environs and indifferent to everything around me, I feel encased in a capsule of a motionless bubble". Apart from poetry, I can feel some such spirit emerging from most of his essays on history, biography and literature. In social and economic subjects he reveals a sure grasp of fundamentals and broad vision. But even here he does not lose sight of the human element with which these subjects have to be approached — pragmatic as he is.

Such inherent keenness to take active part in whatever he undertakes has given him an overall view of the socio-economic situation in our country which is explicit in these essays. They are penetrating with a sure sense of the future…… “

This book was first reviewed by my revered School Teacher Dr.Indira Parthasarathy in NEWS TODAY in 1993. Dr. Parthasarathy was decorated with the title of Padma Sri by the President of India on the eve of Republic Day on 26 January, 2010. As an outstanding novelist, he has written several novels in TAMIL which have been translated into several Indian and world languages. He has carved a special niche for himself in Tamil literature --- his characters, mostly urban intellectuals, speak very openly and analyze deeply what others say. Most of his novels are set in Delhi, where he lived during his working years, from 1955 to 1986 or in Tiruchirappally or Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu, where he spent his childhood. He has won several awards including the Sangeeth Natak Academy, Sahitya Academy and Saraswathi Samman Award. He is the only Tamil writer to have won both the Sangeeth Natak and Sahitya Academy Award. He won the Sahitya Academy Award as early as 1970. He is now more than 80 years old.


I am presenting below Dr.Indira Parthasarathy’s Review done in 1993:


“What strikes me most after reading this modestly entitled book "Essays and Reviews", is the immense versatility of the author. He is totally at ease dealing with marbles and well as metaphysics.

This anthology features articles on wide-ranging subjects such as, history, biography, literature, social and economic development and also a few autobiographical sketches. The recurring theme in all these topics is what appears to me Sundaram's nostalgia for the past and his anxiety about the future; in short, he is obsessed with what he describes as 'Madame Time' Let me quote him: ‘Time haunts me like a nightmare. The past with never a beginning, the future going on for ever and ever and the little present in which we live for a second, twinkling between these two black abysses. And the whole trouble with me is that even the present eludes me. I don't know what it really is. I, can never catch the moment as it really passes. I am always for ahead or far away behind, and always somewhere else. My life is all reminiscence and anticipation'.

The above passage, quoted from his 'introduction' to the book, sums up Sundaram. He is Proustean in his objective approach to the past, as golden moments gone for ever; Carlylean in glorifying heroes of a bygone era as men of a nation's destiny and Hegelian, in elevating history to replace God. To him, it appears, history is the arbiter of all values and rightly so.

Sundaram is a poet at heart. It is reflected in all these writings. If poetry is a 'style in thinking', as Elliot says, there is ample evidence in this anthology that Sundaram has his own distinctive and imaginative way in approaching his themes. To quote Sundaram: ‘As important as the art of thinking is the art of imagination. Imagination enlarges vision, stretches the mind, challenges the impossible’. In such diverse subjects as chasing a rogue elephant and a scholarly dissertation on dimensions of poetry, Sundaram brings to bear upon them all his rare talents of encyclopaedic knowledge, imagination and a natural feel for words.

All the essays in this anthology announce the arrival of multi-dimensional scholar and also a poet — could this be a contradiction in terms ---- with an instinctive genius, for discovering the 'astonishingness' in the most common place things which Mrs. Mathuram Bhoothligam aptly describes as 'The Spirit of Wonder'.

In an era of 'aesthetic abundance' unfortunately ushered in by democracy and technological explosion looking for needles in haystacks has become the full-time occupation of a conservative reader, who still clings to the old- fashioned belief that quality is all, I don't feel ashamed to confess that I am a conservative in regard to my reading habits and I am immensely happy, now that I have found a needle.”

Dr.Sridharan, a profound scholar in Hindi, English and Tamil, and Formerly Head of the Department of Hindi in Presidency College in Chennai, also reviewed my Book in November 1993. He has authored several outstanding books in English and Tamil. I have great pleasure in presenting Dr.Sridharan’s Review below.

SUNDARAM'S ESSAYS & REVIEWS - An Appraisal and Appreciation by Dr. N. SRIDHARAN

With apology to Francis Bacon, I classify books into three kinds. Some books are feast to the eyes, others are feast to the intellect, and some few are feast to everything that we are — body, mind and soul. However, there is bound to be some overlapping in the case of books by certain authors who are artistic in outlook, intellectual by training and sensitive by temperament. Books by such gifted writers cannot be cabined, cribbed and caged in water-tight compartments. Mr. V. Sundaram's "Essays and Reviews" is one such book which is a feast to the eyes, a feast to the intellect and a feast to the soul in as much as it is visually pleasing, intellectually teasing and aesthetically satisfying.

Mr. Sundaram's book is pot-pouri of essays encompassing a vast region of knowledge. His abilities in this exploration of knowledge appear to be formidable. He wields a facile pen and he is quite at home in writing on diverse topics — literature, philosophy, economics, politics, personalities, books, education, gender justice, history, art and so on. He is an excellent raconteur too when he relates his impressions of places and people. A kaleidoscopic presentation of a vast range of human feelings and foibles, this book indicates that Mr. Sundaram is endowed with a sensitive mind which dictates to him to write suitably in response to specific persons and events which have aroused his feelings. There are moments of hilarity cheek by jowl with spells of solemnity. Like an aircraft which runs at the ground level for some distance before taking off, some of the essays in this collection start with deceptive simplicity but some sour into rapturous mood with the help of the viewless wings of poetic prose.

If any person wants to wear the mantle of a writer, he must necessarily have something, in fact, a lot of things, to say. There are two main sources of knowledge — direct experience and through books. Mr. Sundaram has taken full advantage of both these sources.

As an officer of the Indian Administrative Service, Mr. Sundaram has had an unlimited opportunity to mingle with all kinds of people — from the rulers of the land to the tillers of the land, from extraordinary persons to the eccentrics. Though one can gain knowledge of human nature by daily concourse with the people around, it will be only scratching the surface. People, whether illiterate or intelligent, do not reveal themselves so easily. All are acting or pretending. There is not much to choose between acting the parts on the stage of a theatre and acting them on the stage of life. Hence, to get acquainted with the subtler shades of the human psyche, one must browse among books. Mr. Sundaram is, in his own words, "an avid collector of books, antiquarian and new for many years" and he has "the instinct and wish to collect books". Reading has made him a full man. Perhaps he acquired more knowledge as a book collector than as a District Collector. As a result, there is an indescribable quality of something evocative, about his work.

To have knowledge is one thing, to be able to communicate it is another. If one is endowed with skills of communication, he can write about anything under the sun —from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Of shoes, and ships and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings,
An why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings.

All people have something worthwhile to say. But only few people can effectively communicate it. Mr. Sundaram is one of the chosen few. He knows how to say what he has to say any better than many writers. Sometimes, to suit the solemnity of the theme, he weaves his sentences in a spiralling fashion, connecting them with great skill. Some other time he employs what is called a staccato style, in which each sentence stands out clear and detached. His command of words, which are at his beck and call like the spirits of Prospero, is a delight to discerning readers. In each essay one can see that all the words are studied and placed with as much care, as a statue of a saint in his niche. I refrain from making an analytical study of each essay for fear of mutilating them in that process.

To sum up : "Essays & Reviews" by Mr. V. Sundaram is a good book for the writing table, a good book for the library, a good book for the fireside too. In a nutshell, it is 184 pages of undiluted enthrallment. I hope Mr. Sundaram will not nest on his oars and will not consider this book to be the end of a beginning or the beginning of an end but the beginning of a beginning.

If any person wants to wear the mantle of a writer, he must necessarily have something, in fact, a lot of things, to say. There are two main sources of knowledge — direct experience and through books. Mr. Sundaram has taken full advantage of both these sources.


I am beholden to my friend Dr. Prema Nandakumar for doing me the honour of reviewing my book. When I was studying in St.Stephen’s College in New Delhi in my final year M.A. Class, in 1962, one of my friends invited my attention to the study done by Dr. Prema Nandakumar of Shri.Aurobindo’s epic poem ‘Savitri’. Ever since then, I have been an avid reader and admirer of all her writings in English and Tamil. As a literary critic and translator of several great works in Tamil and English, she remains unsurpassed. Though I had the good fortune of reading Professor K.R.Sriinvasa Iyengar’s Classic Work on Indian writings in English in 1964 itself, yet till 1975 I was not aware of the fact that Dr.Prema Nandakumar was his daughter! It is a privilege for me to present Dr.Prema Nnadakumar’s Review dated  21ST APRIL 2011 below:


“A rather forbidding dustcover with the firm-jawed Winston Churchill as centerpiece serenaded by eight great personalities (Ramanujan, Visveswarayya, Lenin and Keynes among them) issues a challenge for the reader in Essays and Reviews. But we melt as soon as we move to the foreword by Mathuram Boothalingam. A maternal description of the author as possessing “a wonder, an innocent joy when he recounts some of his discoveries” launches us into seeking the unfamiliar facets of familiar persons.”

“We have here a book for all tastes as we get flagged off by Sir William Jones. We read of his translation of Sakuntalam in ‘A Dramatic Discovery’ also. These foreign friends of India include Lord Curzon.  Warren Hastings not only loved the Gita but spoke prophetically that India’s literary heritage would “survive when the British dominion in India shall have long ceased to exist, and when the sources which it once yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance.”  There was Tipu whose “supreme passion was to oust the British from India”.  For us who have suffered much inconvenience throughout the remodeling of the Central Station, ‘The Madras Rail Terminal’ assures us that it was worth the trouble.”

“In spite of the helpful sectional headings, you never know what you are in for in the next page.  We sit serious and sombre in the Madras Legislative Council to hear the great freedom fighter Satyamurti lustily defending Subramania Bharati’s patriotism and suddenly it is time to grin:

“On the Coast of Coromandel
Where the early pumpkins grow
In the middle of the woods
Lived Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.”

“Sure it is Edward Lear offering us a feast of pelican pie to be eaten under a lotus tree.  Biographical notes on well known personalities like Rajaji and Churchill hold hands with educative flares directed at economists like Joseph Schumpeter, Alfred Marshall and Lord Keynes.  For the lover of history there are four essays on ‘Revolutions & Counter Revolutions’ beginning with the storming of the Bastille. More than two hundred years later, we seem to be looking over an abyss, with Libya as a warning.  Are we going to opt for such revolutions or would we find a peaceful way to transformation?  Sundaram makes a thought-provoking statement at a time when Indians are verbalizing a possible revolution in the light of the terrifying scams at the highest level and the way our motherland is in the suffocating grip of   a couple of families:

 “The basic question before all of us in the world is whether we can take advantage of increasing awareness and knowledge to act together and in time before global problems overwhelm our capacity for dealing with them in an orderly and peaceful manner.  In other words, we are living in one world whether we like it or not and we have to generate institutions capable of regulating and guiding that world.”

John Donne put it well long ago:

            “No man is an island, entire of itself
            every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
            if a clod be washed away by the sea,
            Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
            as well as if a manor of thy friends or of  thine own were
            any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in
            and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
            it tolls for thee.”

That brings me to the section of poems which has a fine inversion of Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer for waking into

the land of freedom; and I would recommend the reader to go through  ‘Sectionalism in India’ a couple of times and heavily underline passages for ready reference in his library. Yes, Essays and Reviews is re-readable for it sparkles with a radiant gladness, the need of the hour in the gloom of the present.”


Note: Those interested in buying the book Essays and Reviews, are requested to send their Order/Request to the following email ID.

The cost of each copy is Rs.750/-+ cost of Postage. The Demand Draft for this amount may be drawn in favour of Ennappadam Educational Publishers and payable at Chennai . The Draft may be sent to the following address:

Shrimathi Padma Sundaram
Flat 2 D, ‘Cedar Park’
No.9, 4th Main Road Extension,
Kottur Gardens, Chennai-600 085

LANDLINE 4208 7746

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