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Mourning the loss
Dr. Siromoney has been the most gifted and versatile of our contemporaries. He was a scholar, musician, natural historian, artist and designer. His contribution to Tamil culture and language was remarkable and in the field of Indian History, he was absorbed in the study of epigraphy, temple architecture and bronzes. He was also a linguist.
Professor Dr. Gift, head of the Department of Statistics, Madras Christian College, Tambaram died on Monday the 21st March after a brief illness. He is survived by his wife Prof. Dr. Rani Siromoney, head of the Department of Mathematics, Madras Christian College and son Arul Siromoney.
Dr. Gift Siromoney hailed from the family of Abraham Pandithar of Tanjore and he was born in Tanjore in 1932. He had his college education in St. Joseph's College, Trichy and later in Madras Christian College, Tambaram. He received his Ph.D. from Madras University in 1964. He was an Ecumenical Fellow at the Union Theological Seminary, New York during 1958-59. He also visited the United States of America as a Homi Bhabha Fellow in1974.
Dr. Siromoney showed keen interest in the study of the origin and development of Tamil Script. To teach the common man the difficult art of deciphering the various forms of ancient Tamil scripts, he adopted a novel and effective method. He took the 1330 verses of Tirukkural and wrote them in the different scripts that prevailed from the Ashokan era to the modern day. Starting from the known to the unknown he began the first chapter of Tirukkural in the modern day script, and then proceeded in the successive chapters the scripts of the earlier periods thus making a smooth transition from period to period. And finally the last chapter was done in Tamil-Brahmi script which is closely connected with the Brahmi script of Asoka.
He brought out this book under the title Tirukkural in Ancient Scripts, and it was a costly production. I had the privilege of witnessing the production of this great book in the Diocesan Press, Madras. In order that the book should reach everyone, he fixed the selling price at the minimum cost price of Rs. 60/- while a book Publisher would have unhesitatingly fixed the price at Rs.120/-. With the excellent get up and quality it looked like a foreign edition. Realizing that even Rs.60/- was beyond purchasing power of the common man he brought out immediately a cheap edition at a selling price of Rs.9/- only. Not satisfied with this he wrote on the title reverse (back of the title page), "Any part of this book or the whole book may be reproduced and freely transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopy or any information storage and retrieval system". He strongly felt that many an inscription could have been saved if only people knew how to read the inscriptions.
Dr. Siromoney with his colleagues (in the Department of Statistics) was able to find new inscriptions hitherto unnoticed by epigraphists and had developed side-lighting photographic flash techniques to copy inscriptions and had applied computer methods of image enhancement and dating of inscriptions to Pallava and Chola inscriptions. His paper on "Computer methods of dating medieval inscriptions" and on "Indus Valley Scripts" presented at the fifth international conference of Tamil studies and research held at Madurai in 1981 are notable contributions in the study epigraphy. Dr Siromoney has been a member of many professional societies including the Epigraphical Society of India and the Archaeological Society of South India.
He had co-authored a book entitled Mahabalipuram studies which is a veritable encyclopedia on Mahabalipuram rock-cut temples, sculptures and images. Again he co-authored a book Mathematics for Social Sciences. He had published many articles on computer mathematics, Statistics, Natural history, epigraphy, art and archaeology. Dr. Siromoney always gave credit to his colleagues acknowledging their joint efforts by printing their names on the title page, if it were a book, or a research paper. This benign quality is seldom found among scholars.
Dr. Siromoney was a gifted teacher of Statistics and computer management. He had conducted extensive research work on Information Management and fed us through Newspapers, periodically, statistics on the fortunes and popularity of our political parties and their leaders in the country. His findings were accurate.
Only last year the Government of Tamil Nadu selected both Dr. Gift Siromoney and Dr. Rani Siromoney and honoured them with "the best teacher" awards. Probably that was the first time the Government chose "the best teachers" from among college teachers. Prof Siromoney was a man of varied interests. He had a profound knowledge both of Indian and European music. He was also a student of natural history. He regularly watched the incoming and outgoing birds in Tambaram, and made a thorough study of the local history of Tambaram.
In the midst of his multifarious activities he was very much concerned about the illiteracy of the wandering tribe Nari Kuravars., and with the help of his colleagues he worked out a Translation of Tirukkural into the dialect Vaagriboli spoken by the Nari Kuravars. Vaagriboli has no script of its own, and Dr. Siromoney used Tamil scripts to write in Vaagriboli. He had also published a translation of the Gospel of St. Mark in Vaagriboli for the benefit of Nari Kuravars. Thus with great insight Dr. Siromoney continued the challenging work of the pioneering missionaries from the West.
Dr. Siromoney was a man of sterling qualities, and friendship with him was highly rewarding. To quote Tirukkural, "Like learning, the friendship of the noble, the more it is cultivated, the more delightful does it become." Friendship with Dr. Siromoney was like learning, and I had the privilege of acquiring his friendship ever since I joined the Christian Literature Society, Madras in 1968 as its Publication Secretary. He used to give me many valuable suggestions in the art of book publishing. He was himself a wonderful artist, a great designer. The cover designs for all his books were done by him. He used to bring us many good manuscripts. Whether it was on music or mathematics or inscriptions or archaeology or drama or research or even cookery, when it was published it would have the stamp of Siromoney. The proverbial statement the publisher and author would have always strained relationships did not hold water with Dr. Siromoney. He has been the darling of the publishers. It was always a pleasure to work with him.
When I wrote to him in May 1987 that I was going to start a Tamil literary monthly, he immediately responded by remitting the annual subscription with greetings. He was the first to respond and he remains the first subscriber to Nanbar Vattam. Now Nanbar Vattam has lost one of its sincere friends. He was just 55 when he passed away. His death is a great loss to the nation and especially to Tamil Nadu.
Christian Literature Society and Editor, Nanbar Vattam