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It was the end of the academic year in 1965. The faculty members of MCC had their traditional break-up social in the lawns in front of the Miller Memorial Library (old premises) and Chandran Devanesen, the Principal, had just finished his end-of-year rhetoric in his classical style and wishing us a happy summer vacation, had dispersed us for the special dinner. I was one of the new recruits then having joined the faculty in 1961- and happened to sit opposite Dr. Gift Siromoney at the dinner table along with other colleagues who always enjoyed Dr. Gift's pithy jokes. Mid way between the meal, Dr. Gift addressed me and said that he had recently collected a fossil leaf specimen from Dalmiapuram, in Tiruchirappali. Much fascinated, I went with him to his house soon after dinner to see the specimen. It was an impression of a dicot leaf on greyish shale. However at that early stage, I knew very little about plant fossils especially those available in Tamil Nadu or for that matter, in India. That night, I must say was the beginning of a long time association between the two of us in collecting fossils from many localities in Tamil Nadu; and indeed, such collection trips were the very motivation that drove me to pursue my studies on plant fossils for my Ph.D. at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow, during 1976 to 1979 under FIP of the UGC.
Many of the specimens we collected from Sriperumbudur, Arkonam, Tiruvakkarai and neighbouring localities were studied by me and my student friends during the following years after my return from Lucknow. Realizing the fact that there were several specimens that had to be entirely subjected to palaeobotanical analysis, my initial task was to set up a laboratory for that purpose. Dr.Gift placed in our hands a small specimen of petrified wood that he had collected at Sriperumbudur in 1970 for detailed study. Upon sectioning, grinding and polishing the specimen for microscopic study at the Laboratory of Palaeophytology in MCC, we found it to be a new species of Araucarioxylon. As the piece had been collected close to the site where Rajiv Gandhi, our former Prime Minister, was assassinated, we named it A.rajivii. However, by the time the paper was published*, Dr.Gift had passed away. In order to commemorate his memory, we included the description of another new species of Araucarioxylon collected from another locality in Sriperumbudur and named it A.giftii.
I will have no hesitation in declaring that if today palaeobotanical studies have taken root in this part of the country (in Tamil Nadu), it is due to the enthusiastic motivation that Dr. Gift Siromoney had provided in his unique multifaceted academic style, way back in the 1970s and '80s.
*Araucarioxylon from Sriperumbudur Formation, Upper Gondwana, Tamil Nadu, India, Geophytology, 24(1), 43-48, 1995.
Jeyasingh D.E.P (Colleague: 1965-88)
Formerly: Head, Department of Botany, Madras Christian College.