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    Chennai :

    V S Aarthi, a Class 9 student from SBOA Matriculation School and Junior College at Anna Nagar, won the first prize at an extempore speech competition conducted by the British Council here on Thursday.

    Amrutha Desikan and Akileah Raman (both from PSBB school at K K Nagar) won the second and third prizes, respectively.

    As many as 50 students from 10 schools in the city participated in the competition. The contestants for the competition were chosen based on their performance in a computer-based English language competency test held last week.

    The British Council has launched an English language competency test — Aptis — in Chennai and Delhi to test the reading, writing, listening and speaking skills of students aged between 13 and 17 years.

    “The test content has been designed based on the day-to-day activities of teenagers, and the topics reflect the scenarios that they go through every day,” said Gwen Caudwell, Aptis product development manager.

    Caudwell said the test content had been designed based on global parameters but the topics had been chosen based on the activities that are carried out in India.

    Mei-Kwei-Barker, director, South India, British Council, said, “The response for the test has been good, both in Delhi and Chennai. The students have performed well in speaking.”

    Aarthi said, “Winning this extempore contest has given me a moral boost. I can now do public speaking anytime, anywhere.”

    source: / The Times of India / Home> City> Chennai / by Adarsh Jain, TNN / February 26th, 2015

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    Sir Edward Barnes by William Salter

    Sir Edward Barnes by William Salter

    Satyajit Ray astonished me at our first meeting. I had trotted out various Santiniketan connections I expected him to know. He looked at me for a moment while I felt his brain darting through the lanes and bylanes of the genealogical network. Then he said, “You must be related to Bussa Susheila Das!” It was the last name I expected to hear from the Maestro. Bussamami – whose death last week, three years short of a century, must be counted a merciful release – was the most fashionable, Anglicized and probably richest of my relatives. In georgette and furs, sporting a long cigarette-holder, she was a vision of elegant grandeur, the Last Burra Memsahib. When I told her about Ray, she said, “It must be because of Keshub Sen!”

    If so, the Brahmo Samaj meant more to Ray than anyone imagined. Although neither Bussamami nor her husband, Mohie R. Das, had set foot in a Brahmo temple for many years, she was Brahmananda Keshub Chunder Sen’s great granddaughter. She was also the great granddaughter of General Sir Edward Barnes, India’s commander-in-chief and governor of Ceylon. That connection was embarrassingly highlighted when Bussamami stayed with us in Singapore. On the day she arrived, the afternoon tabloid, New Paper, which normally confined itself to sensational local tidbits, went to town with an unexpected cover story on Barnes and his Ceylonese mistress. As governor, he lived in what is today Colombo’s Mount Lavinia Hotel from which a secret underground tunnel snaked away to his inamorata’s dwelling. Bussamami wasn’t disconcerted.

    She had flown in wearing a saree. It was her habitual garb when travelling abroad she explained. “I get better service.” At one time people laughingly called her “Susheila please!” because of her strenuous but unsuccessful efforts to banish the Bussa nickname. She was indignant when a British Indian woman in Singapore asked why she didn’t have a British passport. “Why should I?” she retorted. “India is my home. I’m Indian. I have property there.” The patrial clause in British immigration law would at once have granted her British citizenship. But people like her didn’t need to emigrate to raise their living standards or become Westernized. They easily did both in India. Her sister, Moneesha Chaudhuri, whose husband was the first Indian head of Andrew Yule, the biggest British managing agency in India, and an army chief’s brother, was also like that. She once refused the then whites-only Saturday Club’s invitation to play the piano in a concert under her English mother’s maiden name. “After all, you could pass for English,” they pleaded. She didn’t take it as a compliment.

    Singaporeans found it intriguing that Bussamami and I were related twice over. She and my mother were second cousins, great granddaughters of Annada Charan Khastagir, who presided over an All-India National Conference session in 1883, preparatory to the Indian National Congress being launched two years later. Her husband, Mohiemama, and my mother were first cousins, grandchildren of Bihari Lal Gupta, who was responsible for the Ilbert Bill, which led to the AINC and INC. She and her husband being related, the marriage presented difficulties: one version for which I can’t vouch was they went to French Chandernagore for the registration.

    Mohiemama’s father, S.R. Das, founded Doon School. He himself was the first Indian head of Mackinnon Mackenzie, the Inchcape shipping giant. When he joined Mackinnon’s exalted band of covenanted hands (UK-based officers who had signed a contract with the company) in England, the Numbers One, Two and Three were known in inverse order as Three, Two and One. Those figures indicated their monthly salary in lakhs of rupees. Mohiemama’s ways were upper-class English, the legacy of public school in Britain and Cambridge. My son, Deep, quoted Bussamami in this newspaper (“Learning To Speak Like The Masters”, October 13, 2004) as saying when asked if her husband went to Mill Hill or Millfield school, “Mill Hill of course. Millfield was only for the post-war nouveau riche!” Being dark and heavily built, he borrowed a turban from Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur – husband of the beautiful Gayatri Devi, who was Bussamami’s cousin – to visit America in the Fifties. He enjoyed describing how he clamped the turban on his head before entering restaurants in the American Deep South.

    They settled down in a gracious villa called Faraway in remote Coonoor. But their world straddled Calcutta, Darjeeling, Hong Kong, London and the south of France. Or rather, small gilded niches in all these places, with extensions to Simla, Colombo and Singapore. World War II and the 300 Club had lent zest to their cosmopolitan set. Not everyone could come to grips with this dizzy diversity. Raj Thapar, wife of Seminar magazine’s Romesh Thapar, betrayed her own provincialism by dismissing Bussamami in All These Years as “an erstwhile crooner”. Yes, she, Moneeshamashi and their only brother K.C. (Bhaiya or Kacy) Sen were all gifted musicians. In her youth, Bussamami had indeed given music lessons in Calcutta, and Moneeshamashi continued to do so for free at St Paul’s School, Darjeeling. But the sleaziness that Thapar’s comment sought to convey just didn’t go with the Ingabanga (Satyendranath Tagore’s term for Anglicized Bengalis) elite.

    Kacy called his delightful memoirs The Absolute Anglo-Indian. He wasn’t “a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent, but who is a native of India”, which is how the Government of India Act, 1935, defines Anglo-Indian. Nevertheless, his was the culture of the Rangers Club, Grail Club and the club of which he says “if ever there was a place that separated the men from the boys, and no angels feared to tread, it was the good old Golden Slipper”. I was struck as a child by his imaginative wedding invitation, “Bridgette and I are going to be married at the Golden Slipper Club.” His Cavaliers was a popular band. He frequently compered at the Oberoi Grand Hotel’s open-air Scherezade night club, which occupied the space now taken up by the swimming pool.

    He provided Ray with Devika Halder aka Vicky Redwood for Mahanagar “over a cup of tea on the verandah” of his flat. The voice off-screen in Mahanagar was Devika’s, but the song was a ballad, Time Gave Me No Chance, he had composed in his rowing days. Major Sharat Kumar Roy of the American army was an unusual wartime buddy and surely the only Indian to be commemorated by a mountain in Greenland: he discovered Mount Sharat. Laced into the light-hearted banter of Sen’s memoirs was the fear that the “Absolute Anglo-Indian” would become the “Obsolete Anglo-Indian”.

    Bussamami built personal bridges to very different milieus. Cooch Behar, Mayurbhanj, Jaipur, Nandgaon and other royals, some also descendants of Keshub Sen, were relatives and intimates. When I mentioned the novelist, Maurice Dekobra, she told me she had known him as the Paris-born, Maurice Tessier. Axel Khan, whom I met as India’s ambassador in pre-unification Berlin, was another old friend. Rumer Godden produced a flood of memories, which were borne out by Ann Chisholm’s biography, Rumer Godden: A Storyteller’s Life. Her apology for arriving late for dinner with my wife and I in our Calcutta flat was that she had got lost in the suburban lanes to Kanan’s house. Kanan who? She meant the legendary star, Kanan Devi, whom the young Bussamami had taught her dancing steps in the Thirties. They had remained friends ever since.

    The real burra memsahib didn’t need to keep up appearances. Neither did she have to try to be stylish. To adapt the Comte de Buffon, the style was the woman herself. There won’t be another like her.

    source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta / Front Page> Story / by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray / Saturday – February 28th, 2015

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    Coimbatore :

    Medicinal plants on the verge of extinction may get a shot in the arm with the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB) in Coimbatore setting up a repository of seeds. The institute plans to grow the plants within its campus, create a seed bank and sell the seeds.

    “We are trying to save medicinal plants using the tissue culture method. If we are successful, we will give seeds to farmers and medicinal plant lovers,” said a senior scientist at the institute. “They will be stored in a seed bank, which is a room with sections for chryopreservation, germination and x-ray facilities to check if the germ is alive,” said A Karthikeyan, senior scientist of IFGTB.

    This is part of their plan to keep tabs on disappearing medicinal plants and preserve the ecology of the region. Three of the plants the institute is looking at are vishnukranti, veldt grape and morning mallow or kurunthotti.

    The roots of the kurunthotti plant, found in the state’s western region and Kerala, can be crushed to make oil which is used to cure fever, asthma, join pain and cough. Vishnukranti, which is found on the red-soiled plains in the western region, is used with cumin and milk to cure fever, nervous breakdowns and memory issues. Veldt grape is used to in Ayurveda and Siddha to heal fractures and ligament tears.

    The plants grow on waste land and road sides. “These plants grow in Mettupalayam, Madhampatti on the way to Siruvani, Thudiyalur and Anaikatti. They thrive in red soil,” said C Kunikannan, senior scientist at the institute. “But now their numbers are dwindling,” he said.

    Clearing of weeds to widen roads, large-scale plucking by Ayurveda practitioners and spread of invasive species has led to the decline of the species.

    “Many medicinal plants are rhizomes so the roots and stems which grow underground are valuable. People pluck out 10,000 to 20,000 plants with the roots for Ayurveda and Siddha, which have become industries,” said T Rajamani, professor, department of medicinal plants, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

    “Invasive species also block sunlight from reaching these plants. “There is a fear that these plants will slowly become seasonal and later when a drought comes become unavailable,” adds Rajamani.

    Dr Joseph T Varghese of Indian Ayurvedic Hospital and Research Centre said suppliers has said there is a decline in the number of medicinal plants. “We use kurunthotti extensively in our hospital, but suppliers have been saying that fewer plants are being found,” he said.

    source: / The Times of India / Home> City> Coimbatore / by Pratiksha Ramkumar, TNN / February 25th, 2015

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    A view of flowing of the Vaigai river and pathway for pedestrains at Madurai. Photo: The Hindu Archives

    A view of flowing of the Vaigai river and pathway for pedestrains at Madurai. Photo: The Hindu Archives

    Curious explorers, a two-member dance company that visited beautiful Madurai and a page out of the archives…. Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh shares her findings.

    India was a place of great curiosity and interest to many westerners in the early parts of the 20th century. Notwithstanding the threats about epidemic diseases and unhygienic surroundings, many from America and Europe dared the adventure and lived to write their own memoirs.

    Ted Shawn and Ruth St Denis, who formed a company and was a couple in real life, known as Denishawn, were American dancers. Today considered the founding parents of American modern dance, they travelled to India as part of their grand tour of the Orient between 1925 and 1926 CE. Their interest in the East and particularly in India owed it to St. Denis’s obsession with the Nautch and the dancer. Initially Ruth’s disciple, Ted Shawn became her dancing partner and husband. Shawn was also drawn to Indian dances. He was especially interested in the Nataraja Tatva and the dance of Lord Siva.

    In May 1926, towards the fag end of their Indian tour, the company travelled to Madras, to perform. They had visited many North Indian cities like Lucknow, Benaras, Calcutta and Hyderabad in the South, before coming to Madras. Wherever the company travelled they dressed themselves in native costumes and posed for pictures, shopped for Indian artefacts and tried to see the local dances. Shawn and Ruth’s particular interest in Nautch had them always searching for performances, perhaps to absorb more from the ‘authentic’ into Ruth’s already staged Radha and Nautch repertoire. But in the 1920s it was rather difficult for foreigners to go into the interior dwellings of dancers and watch their performances, unless invited. In his account, Shawn laments that they could only see some street performers. He of course, calls these as nautch too but remarks that they are “quite not up-to-the-mark.”

    However, when they come to Madras they are greeted by, one Mr. Krishnaswamy Rao who, as the last leg of their Indian trip before taking the ship to Colombo, arranges a visit to Madura (Majura or Madurai). Upon the recommendation and arrangement made by Dr. A.K. Coomaraswamy (whose writings and guidance Ted took to create his Indian dances like the Cosmic Dance of Siva), Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis along with their company dancers which had Doris Humphery and her likes in it, readied themselves to watch the dance of a devadasi named Kamalambal in Madurai.

    Here is his observation:

    “Kamalambal, a temple deva-dassi, danced for us for several hours. She was technically very fine and attractive in a plump way, and an extremely wonderful pantomimist. She was quite the finest we had seen in all of India,” Shawn exclaims. He also admires the beauty of Madurai and compares it to Benaras calling the city a “dream or something read in a book.”

    Madurai Kamalambal during one of her performances.

    Madurai Kamalambal during one of her performances.

    The beauty of Madurai with its teeming South Indians seems to have really captured the dancers. Records Shawn, “The men with their heads shaven half way back and a bush of hair on the rear half, wearing the scantiest bit of goods in the way of a G-string that I ever saw, as their only garment, the women heavily swathed in thick, but richly coloured cotton saris, made the city itself exciting.”

    During my recent research of the Denishawn archives, parts of important ethnographic details such as these pictures emerged. One of the missions of the company during the travels to the Orient was to take pictures and video footage (film reels) of Indian lives, music and art. Their visits to the bazaars of Calcutta, Palaces in Lucknow, tea party gardens where Ruth is dressed as a Nautch dancer and is posing are all archived. Photograph and video filming were done by Ruth St. Denis’s brother who was called “Brother St. Denis” or simply “brother.” His actual name was Rene St Denis and he was their travel manager as well for this tour.

    The photo here is a picture taken a few days after May 10, 1926, which is when the company gave their last performance in India at Madras. Then they travelled to Madurai to watch Kamalambal (picture). She is seen here with her team (Sadir melam) comprising a nattuvan, a pilangrovi player, a muttukaran and another player with what seems like a clarionet. This photograph has been doing the rounds for years now as part of Sadir archives, but it is only now that we get to know the name of the dancer, date and the place it was photographed in and the photographer’s name.

    Kamalambal and her team with the dance constumes.

    Kamalambal and her team with the dance constumes.

    The other photo with many girls clad in dance costume and posing, sitting and standing in front of a large tent, which is an often seen image of 20th century Sadir dancers, seems also a photo courtesy of Brother St. Denis taken. during this trip.

    We thus put a name to the face in the picture and a name to the man behind the lens too. That’s the story of how Brother brings us our own Madura Kamalambal after an incredible eighty years.

    (The author is a dancer, choreographer and dance historian. She is the Director of Ranga Mandira School of Performing Arts and Research Academy. As a recipient of the Fulbright fellowship, she is currently researching and teaching at University of California, Los Angeles, in the World Arts Cultures department.)

    source: / The Hindu / Home> Features> Friday Review> History & Culture / by Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh / February 26th, 2015

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    February 26th, 2015adminArts, Culture & Entertainment
    Suguna Purusothaman was known for her flair in layam —Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

    Suguna Purusothaman was known for her flair in layam —Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

    Noted carnatic vocalist and teacher Suguna Purusothaman, an exponent of the Musiri school of music, died here on Wednesday, after a battle with cancer. She was 74 and is survived by her husband and two daughters.

    “She wanted to listen to something in the hospital. I had, on my mobile phone, Musiri Subramania Iyer’s Nadupai in Madhyamavathiand Marivere in Shanmugapriya and her daughter played the songs for her. She opened her eyes for a second, and the end came,” said Rajeswari Thyagarajan, a family friend and wife of Thyagarajan, the grandson of Musiri Subramania Iyer.

    Suguna, a native of Ponvilainthakalathur in Chengalpet, came under the tutelage of Musiri Subramania Iyer, on a Central Government scholarship in the 1960s. She was also a good composer.

    The late mridangist Thinniyam Venkatrama Iyer taught her the intricacies of layam , and introduced her to Musiri. “She would say it was the emotion and feeling in his music that convinced her to learn with him though Musiri then was past his prime,” said Mr. Thyagarajan. She studied with Mani Krishnasamy, Suguna Varadhachari, Padma Narayanasamy and Rukmini Ramani.

    Suguna had a great flair for layam and could use her hands to keep two different thalams even as she sang. “An expert in pallavi singing, she could even render simma nanthana pallavi (128 counts) in a way that appealed to a lay rasika,” said writer Lalitharam.

    Mr. Thyagarajan recalled she would ask more questions than other students and had a great sense of humour.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by B. Kolappan / Chennai – February 26th, 2015

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    February 26th, 2015adminArts, Culture & Entertainment

    Chennai :

    Veteran cinematographer-turned-director, A Vincent, the master of black and white photography who marvelled even the best with his ability with the camera, passed away at a private hospital here on Wednesday.

    He was 86, and is survived by his wife and four children, including two sons who are cinematographers.

    A Vincent (1928-2015)

    A Vincent (1928-2015)

    After making his debut as a cinematographer in 1953, Vincent shot into prominence in the very next year with the acclaimed Malayalam film, Neela Kuyil that won awards at the national level. Vincent then went on to man the camera for over 250 films and directed about 50, in languages including Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi over the years.

    Born in Kerala in 1928, Vincent landed in Chennai, then Madras, the capital of the presidency, to begin his career in films as an assistant cameraman. Here in Chennai, he assisted the legendary cinematographer, Marcus Bartley, who introduced what is called Hollywood style camera work in regional language film industry.

    His noted works as cameraman include Amar Deep (Hindi, 1958), Uthama Puthiran (Tamil, 1958), Nenjil Oru Aalayam (Tamil, 1961), Sumaithaangi (Tamil, 1962), Kadhalikka Neramillai (Tamil, 1964), Enga Veettu Pillai (Tamil, 1965), Vasantha Maligai (Tamil,1973) among others.

    His directorial debut was in Malayalam with Bhargavi Nilayam in 1964. The first film in Malayalam to feature a ghost, this was a runaway hit, establishing Vincent as a director. He went on to make several popular and critically-acclaimed films, often choosing scripts based on works by renowned writers.

    Family members said Vincent’s funeral mass will be held on Thursday at St Joseph Church in Nungambakkam, and the burial will be at the Quibble Island Cemetery.

    Jaya offers condolences

    Chennai: AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa on Wednesday condoled Vincent’s demise. “His demise is  a huge loss to the film industry. I convey my deepest condolences to his family members and pray that his soul rest in peace,” she said. He had directed Tirumaangalyam, in which she had acted .

    source: / The New Indian Express / Home> Cities> Chennai / by Express News Service / February 26th, 2015

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    February 25th, 2015adminArts, Culture & Entertainment

    Chennai :

    Books and the sea filled her life, and the city gave her enough of both. That’s author Anita Nair reminiscing her Chennai days.

    “Growing up in Avadi, my main interests were to go to the Moore market to buy books and hit the beach where the sea seemed like an endless horizon of abundance and hope,” said Nair, whose latest novel is ‘Idris: Keeper of Light.’

    She was addressing English literature students of Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women as part of a collaborative lecture series organised by the Madras Literary Society (MLS) to create awareness about its project to restore books, digitalise its catalogue and enroll more members.

    In a sense, writing the book itself was a journey for her as she “travelled to places beyond to tap into the great unconscious world” where she visualised Idris, an African trader who is the main character of her novel, named after a prophet who wielded a pen. She wrote in long hand and it took six years to complete the book. ‘Idris’ was inspired by stories narrated by an acquaintance on a boat ride on the Nila river, now called the Bharatapuzha in Kerala, about a group of warriors in the 1600s who unsuccessfully tried to assassinate the Zamorin of Calicut every 12 years. Historical fiction, she said, “makes history palatable and fiction relevant.” She researched the period and culled material from foreigners’ travelogues and records kept by a Portuguese clerk called Duarte Barbosa. Dr Fathima Banu, head of English department, Admiral M Raman and Padma Padmanabhan of MLS were among those present.

    source: / The Times of India / Home> City> Chennai / TNN / February 25th, 2015

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    S. Thabuna, a former student of Cluny Matriculation Higher Secondary School, has won the Bal Shree award for creative writing at the national level for 2011-12.

    The Bal Shree Honour Scheme was constituted by the Centre in 1993 to recognise and tap creativity in children in the age group of 9 to 16. Ms. Thabuna, now an MBBS student at the Government Kilpauk Medical College received the honour for her talent in creative writing.

    She told The Hindu that topics were given just before the competitions began.

    “The national competition went on for four days, and each topic was challenging,” she said adding that she wanted to become a medical writer.

    She wanted more school students to participate in the competitions.

    Her parents A. Sivaprakasam and S. Girija said that they were proud of their daughter winning a national level award.

    B. Hemanathan, Regional Assistant Director, Art and Culture Department, Salem Zone, said that the competitions were held in painting, collage designing, formations from waste materials, clay modelling, c classical vocal, and Bharatanatyam.

    Union Minister for Human Resource Development Smriti Zubin Irani presented the Bal Shree award at a function held in New Delhi recently.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> News> National> Tamil Nadu / by Staff Reporter / Salem – February 25th, 2015

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    February 24th, 2015adminArts, Culture & Entertainment
    A file picture of director Sakthi with Kamal Hasan

    A file picture of director Sakthi with Kamal Hasan

    Chennai  :

    Exactly two months to the day he lost his mentor K Balachander, Kamal Haasan lost the man who directed his first film as an adult. R C Sakthi, who directed an 18-year-old Kamal and Srividya in a movie about sexually transmitted diseases, Unarvugal, in 1972, passed away on Monday afternoon. He breathed his last at the SRM Institutes of Medical Sciences in Vadapalani, where he had suffered a massive heart attack at 10 pm on Sunday night and passed away at 2.55 pm on Monday.

    At 76, Sakthi may have appeared as one of those active, old directors who still had a keen eye on cinema – with few worries in the world. But his doctors have a different story to tell. A nephrologist who had treated him at SIMS said, “For over four years now, he has been on dialysis twice a week. His kidneys were in really bad shape and his sugar levels were extremely high. Recently, we found that his heart wasn’t pumping blood quite actively, with an ejection fraction rate of only 30 per cent. He needed surgery, but with all the medical complications, there was simply nothing we could do.” They had almost lost him when his second kidney failed in 2011, at Vijaya Hospital, but he fought back and survived against massive odds – much like his cinematic career. In 2013, 20 years after his last feature film Pathinipenn, he made a short film featuring his grandchildren with a song sung by Kamal in the soundtrack.

    He had been in and out of the hospital several times for his kidney and heart issues – but on Sunday, it was diarrhoea and high fever that had brought him there.

    A flustered, almost teary-eyed Kamal rushed to the hospital by 5 pm and paid his respects to a man who was much more than just a director to him. “He was a brother… a part of my family… a true friend,” said Kamal, struggling to find the words that best describe Sakthi. “But above all, he was a true fan. He remained one of the most ardent fans that any true actor could have and his loss is one that will take me some time to accept,” he rasped, before leaving the hospital with Gauthami.

    After making Unarvugal – a film that was held up for four years because of its radical content by the censor board – he did Dharma Yuddham with Rajinikanth and films like Manakannaku with Vijayakant, before tapering off into small projects. With his roots firmly planted in theatre, he had come to Chennai from a small village near Paramakudi and joined Villupaatu Subbhu Aarumugham’s troupe, before graduating to cinema. He remained a close friend to both Kamal and Rajini.

    source: / The New Indian Express / Home> States> Tamil Nadu / by Express News Service / February 24th, 2015

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    February 24th, 2015adminArts, Culture & Entertainment, World Opinion
    Sabrina Siga with her painting 'Equine Elegance.' Photo: R. Ravindran / The Hindu

    Sabrina Siga with her painting ‘Equine Elegance.’ Photo: R. Ravindran / The Hindu

    Sabrina Siga tells Deepa Alexander what it means to be a sporting artist — and why 40 years after she first painted horses she still finds them captivating

    The teak frame can barely contain the charging steed and its heroic windswept warrior. A naval officer’s sword clangs in the breeze. Copper port and starboard lights glint in the afternoon sun. The burnished bugle almost sounds the end of a polo chukker. Trophies line the shelves and sketches and paintings of stallions crowd the walls. This is a house that clearly celebrates the horse — an animal that, as a writer once said, carries all our history on its back.

    Sabrina Siga, who is perhaps Chennai’s only sporting and animal artist, has had a lifelong love affair with horses. Her paintings, inspired by the school of Realism, capture favourite race horses, players astride polo ponies and cavaliers. They have been exhibited in galleries in London and New York, auctioned by Christie’s and Bonhams, and displayed as centrepieces in regimental messes and the private halls of Indian royalty.

    “I was drawn to art even as a child,” says Sabrina, who as a boarder at St. Hilda’s, Ooty, won the top prize every year. “I was keen on studying architecture but didn’t qualify for the course and went on to pursue a degree in Fine Arts from Stella Maris College.” Colonel Brijendra Singh who chanced upon her sketches of horses in action at a Delhi game where her naval officer-international polo player-husband, Commander John J. Siga, was participating, encouraged her to quickly put together a collection. “At the 1979 Polo Ball, which used to be held at the old polo club inside the President’s Estate, I managed to sell every one of my sketches and that is how this passion was born,” she says.

    It helped that Sabrina also is a rider. “When you spend time with the horse you learn to empathise with it. Your work tends to be more fluid. You observe the fall of the mane, the lay of the saddle and the dynamics of the footwork…”

    It is this accuracy in capturing the spirit of the animal that has drawn many patrons to Sabrina’s art. “I do about 30 paintings a year, some of them commissioned works. A premiere of my paintings is often held to start off the polo season in Delhi,” says Sabrina. On one occasion, Arvind Singh Mewar, the Maharana of Udaipur, even flew her to Cambridge to paint his polo horses at play.

    Sabrina’s work has taken her from stud farms in Pune to the green grass of the Royal Western India Turf Club, Mumbai, where she has painted the winner of the race, the jockey and owner of the horse for its galleries. She has also done portraits of the current world number 1 in polo, Adolfo Cambiaso and cavalrymen in vintage uniforms for regimental archives.

    Her works hang at the National Maritime Museum, Mumbai, the Cox art gallery, London, and have featured in the U.S. magazine, Polo Players’ Edition. Sabrina was also commissioned by the Bombay Natural History Society to paint animals for their calendar and cards, following which she did a series on endangered birds and animals such as the red panda for the Maharaja of Nawanagar (Jamnagar).

    Mane matters... / by Special Arrangement

    Mane matters… / by Special Arrangement

    Through Snaffles Fine Art Gallery, established in the 1980s, Sabrina brings home some of the thrilling moments of polo as well as the races. Naming her gallery after a bit mouthpiece for a horse, Sabrina captures the soul of the thoroughbred largely in watercolours, to which she is partial. “Being a sporting artist means being technically correct in all three — portraiture, landscape and animal painting. On the field, I quickly sketch the horses even as they gallop with the rider. I then fill in the colours. I work with Winsor & Newton watercolours or Camlin oils, depending on the medium. I prefer the English style of watercolour painting, where you carefully fill in the greens and browns and leave out the white of the paper. Watercolours go from light to dark and oils the other way round, which is why painting the first calls for greater skill. Oils can be rescued but I love watercolours because they are immediate and fresh.”

    Inspired by English painters Sir Alfred Munnings, Lionel Edwards (both of whom painted equestrian sports) and the realist painter Paul S. Brown, Sabrina says with time she has changed her style. “It is no longer tight. I focus on the face, the legs and the fearless but gentle eyes — each one’s is so different, so expressive. But I keep the edges loose so that they are part of the scene.”

    And so, her paintings are known for blue skies, gnarled oaks, stable scenes, crowds at the races, green turf, flying mallets and man and beast thundering across the canvas. Though sporting art does not have many takers in Chennai, it hasn’t stopped her from working on a series for an upcoming exhibition.

    “These are not just manifestations of the good life. My paintings hope to capture the enigma of an animal that has been part of our history for over centuries now.”

    source: / The Hindu / Home> Features> MetroPlus / by Deepa Alexander / February 23rd, 2015

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