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Mourning the loss

Gift Siromoney was one of the most lively and versatile minds of our time: the event of his death on 21 March 1988 after a brief illness crippled the College and plunged us all into grief. His forty years in college, first as student, and then as a teacher had seen him grow into an academic force with an international reputation in areas as diverse as Statistics, Computer Science, Epigraphy, Art, Music, History, Linguistics, Anthropology, Natural Science, Mathematics and a host of other disciplines which engaged and activated his vigorous mind.

He fashioned the Statistics Department he founded into one of the most productive establishments of its kind, he shaped its style and set its pace by bringing out several books he authored and coauthored, by publishing more than a hundred monographs in a variety of specialist international journals, and presenting hundreds of papers at national and International seminars and conferences. He also guided hundreds of students and teachers through a variety of research projects, and many of them on to doctoral degrees and there were scores of others outside the academic round he infected with his enthusiasm for an insect or bird, a flower or plant in the neighborhood.

Gift was easily roused to wonder and to enquiry; there was very little, animal, vegetable or mineral beyond his interest or below his concerns. He could, for instance, discuss with sure scholarship the career of a pebble or boulder from its varied forms in nature to its reappearance in fossil forms. He was known to visit far flung stone-age sites to pursue his investigation into stone-age implements; and there is not a site, be it temple or other in South India he had not visited to study its architecture and sculpture, first as a trained Statistician to measure and establish links, and then as a Social and Art Historian to draw conclusions on social life patterns from dancing styles and expressions, costumes and hair-styling, jewellery and ornamentation.

At college, the Campus itself was a ready laboratory and he understood its flora and fauna with an intimacy and affection that was amazing. The appearance of flowers, the ripening of berries, the arrival and departure of birds and butterflies made up his almanac.

Except for a few visits abroad, Gift stayed and worked resolutely in Tambaram, not because the West did not beckon to him, but because he found ample scope for his style of creative work right here where he lived and moved and had his being. And so prolific was his output and so highly esteemed that recognition came to him fast and thick in awards like the Homi Bhabha Fellowship, research grants from the UGC, the Department of Science and Technology, the Electronics Commission, and a Best Teacher Award from the Government of Tamil Nadu.

But the tribute he valued most was the unspoken love and adoration from generations of students and staff who valued him for his integrity and intellect, his warmth and goodwill, his good humour and wit which under girded his every function as teacher, philosopher and friend.

We shall never hear the 'puttering' of his old motorcycle on Campus any more, because a Gift Siromoney comes round only once in a very, very long while. The oldest among us here will find solace in the fact that they were blessed with Gift for a longtime colleague and large-hearted friend. The youngest, on the other hand, must learn to cope with the thought that however long they live they can never hope to come upon his like again.

George K. Mathew , M.C.C. Magazine, Vol. LV, 1988-89, pp 77-78. (Colleague and Friend, 1956-88)
Formerly: Professor, Department of English, Madras Christian College.

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