MadrasWeek@Prajnya concludes


And so Madras Week 2010 at Prajnya concludes with a presentation of 10 posts on Chennai women who have done extraordinary things. We thought we would carry profiles but what we got were personal notes about individuals the contributors admired; this was also a good thing, because it personalised the posts, underscoring why it is important to profile people at all–so that others can connect with them and find things to admire or emulate or recommend.

In this last post, I want to acknowledge two people who bravely and selflessly (and unusually readily) offered to help with the most tedious and difficult part of any such exercise: editing!

Nirmala Iswari was a Prajnya Summer Research Intern in 2008. She wrote a short paper for us on the impact that the Second World War had on Madras Presidency. Since then, she has gone on to doctoral studies in Singapore and we hope she will be a regular contributor to the blog from now on.

Meera Srikant is a Bharata Natyam dancer and freelance journalist who volunteered with Prajnya last year during the 16 Days Campaign. She helped us draft the citations we gave in recognition of the work of four women’s organizations in Chennai. She also wrote about the campaign in Retail Plus, one of The Hindu’s supplements. We know we will be working with her often.

I want to thank Nirmala and Meera for their enthusiasm and hard work, and book them (well) in advance for the next time we do something like this!

Swarna Rajagopalan

MadrasWeek@Prajnya/ Dipika Pallikal, rising squash star


Dipika Pallikal: the next star in the world of squash

by Shilarze Saha Roy

Coming from a family of sports personnel, there was no doubt that Dipika Pallikal would pursue sports, although there could have been no certainty that she would excel in it. To everybody’s amazement, this 19-year-old Chennai girl has risen by leaps and bounds in the world of squash. Currently no. 34 in the world rank, Dipika Rebecca Pallikal is climbing the ladder of success with huge strides.

Originally starting with athletics and tennis, Dipika began to play squash when a friend introduced her to the sport in the Indian Squash Academy summer camp. Dipika played her first international tournament when she was in her sixth standard. The rest, as they say, is history.

Apart from the world junior championship crown, Dipika has won every other tournament on the European Junior Squash Circuit, including the German Open, Dutch Open, French Open, Australian Open, and Scottish Open. Recently, she also won the prestigious Asian junior under-19 championship.

WISPA world No.1 Nicole David praised her by saying that Dipika is the next big star on the world of squash citation. But Dipika wants to keep her feet firmly on the ground. She attributes all her success to her family—comprising of her parents and two sisters, Diya and Divya—and her coaches, Amar Wagih, Malcolm Wilstrop and Cyrus Poncha.

Although she has to travel all throughout the year for her training in Egypt (under Wagih) and England (under Wilstrop), this Ethiraj College English Literature student is a strict disciplinarian and follow rigid fitness regime in order to achieve her ultimate aim to be among the best in the world of squash. But she wants to take one step at a time. And for now, Dipika’s only ambition is to make it into the top 20s by the end of this year.

With a great deal of self-confidence and faith in God, a line from Robert Frost’s poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ comes to my mind: this Chennai girl has “miles to go before” she sleeps.


Suryanarayan, S. “ Sports runs in her family (an interview with Dipika Pallikal)”. Sportstar. 33: 30. 29 July 2010.

Squash Info. 14 Aug. 2010. Inactive link

MadrasWeek@Prajnya/ Rohini Rau, not just another sportswoman


Rohini Rau

by Sweta Narayanan

It’s not just another sport. Or yet another sportswoman.

The first time I heard about Rohini Rau, it’s the sport she so loves and excels in that drew my attention more than anything else. It’s not everyday that you hear a sportsperson, especially a woman, bagging laurels for her country in sailing.

It’s not a field where men dominate. In fact, in a country like ours, I am not sure if sailing is even considered a serious sport. Yet, here is a woman who has managed to make her mark in something different. All this at 24 years of age and while simultaneously pursuing a course in medicine at the Chenglepattu Medical College. Not easy at all. Her blog bears testimony to this: “It hasn’t been easy doing medicine and my sport! My first year was quite hard…”

Doing a balancing act, I am sure, is not new to Rohini, who has been sailing since she was 11. I can’t remember having so much zest and vision when I was 11. It’s no wonder then that people have tagged her ‘superwoman’. Rohini has won a total of ten national gold medals, five national silver medals and 2 Asian gold medals. She is the first Indian woman to win an international medal in an Olympic class.

And sailing is not all that she does. She is into a variety of sports, from throwball to gymnastics to Yoga. Her extra-curricular interests range from playing the piano and the violin to Bharatnatyam and Jazz ballet. Her humility is what I am sure will set her apart from others in the long run. In her own words: “A lot of people think I have a great life… and that it’s all hunky dory all the time. But you will all be quite happy to note that I am no extraordinary human being.”


Rau, Rohini. “Rohini Rau: India’s Number One Woman Sailor

MadrasWeek@Prajnya/ The Joshna Chinappa juggernaut


Joshna Chinappa

by Hamsini Ravi

When somebody once referred to her as the “Sania Mirza of Squash,” quietly but defiantly, she replied, “If I’m the Sania Mirza of Squash, then Sania is the Joshna Chinappa of tennis.” This is how Joshna Chinappa answers every challenge that comes her way–in squash,  as well as in life–with élan.

The easygoing 23-year-old cemented her indisputable place in the national rankings as a teenager when she won the national championship as many as five times before the age of 21. Ever since, she has taken women’s squash to dizzying international heights, paving the way for other good women contenders. Most recently, she won the German Open in Saarbrucken, taking her world ranking to 28, the best yet in her career.

Joshna Chinappa is training in London under the top squash coach, Malcolm Wilstrop.

As the Joshna Chinappa juggernaut rolls on, her trademark quality is to stay grounded, never acting like the celebrity and achiever that she is.

Joshna Chinappa’s International Wins:

  • 2010- German Open
  • 2010- International Doubles Invitational
  • 2009- NSC Series No 6
  • 2005- British Junior Open
  • 2005- Asian Junior
  • 2004- SAF Games
  • 2004- Malaysian Junior


MadrasWeek@Prajnya:: Patricia Narayanan: Fighting Against Odds


Patricia Narayanan: Fighting Against Odds

By Meera Srikant

It came as a jolt when her love marriage broke up. The man of her dreams had turned a nightmare, and apart from what it did to her, she was more worried about her two young children who were witnesses to domestic abuse.

Wisely, she left (her?) husband to return to her parental home. She may have despaired, but Patricia Narayanan was not about to let that stand in the way of the future of her children. She took up what she could do best and loved best – cooking.

Patricia started Prasan Catering Services 30 years back, naming her business after her two children, and sold pickles, squashes and jams. Soon she began a food stall in the popular Marina Beach, providing snacks such as cutlets, samosas, bajjis, fresh juice and coffee and tea. With time, she moved on to institutional catering, running a team that prepared and served food to offices like Slum Clearance Board and later, at the Bank of Madura canteen. In 1998, she partnered with one of the units of the Sangeetha Restaurants group, thus entering the hotel business.

Just as she seemed to be emerging from the blow life had doled her, the second one hit – her daughter and son-in-law died in a road accident, leaving her shattered. Knowing that work was the only opium that would bring his mother out of depression, in 2004, Praveen – Patricia’s son – started Prasan Sandeepha, a vegetarian restaurant in T. Nagar.

Patricia uses all her learning and experience to help her son steady the new business he has launched. Though the restaurants on GN Chetty Road and TTK Road had to be closed due to logistical issues, they are popular stopovers at IT parks around Chennai. The group has also opened San’s Kitchen – their non-vegetarian chain, Quenchers – a new venture that offers mocktails and chaats, and Golden Wok – with Chinese food.

For her contributions, Patricia was recognized as this year’s ‘FICCI Woman Entrepreneur’. Modest to the core, Patricia understands challenges and leads by example. She is there in the kitchen, ready to fill in any role required. Only then, she believes, can she win the respect of her employees and keep the business going.


Author’s interview with Patricia Narayanan on 9 July 2010.

Warrier, Shobha. “From 50 paise, she now earns Rs 200,000 a day”. Rediff Business. * June 2010.

MadrasWeek@Prajnya/ Revathi: A powerhouse of talent


Revathi: A Powerhouse of Talent

by Nandhini Shanmugham

Whether as the mother of a mentally challenged child in ‘Anjali,’ or the subservient wife in ‘Thevar Magan,’ her acting prowess has made her one of the finest actors of our film industry and one of my favorite actors.

Born Asha Kelunni, better known by her screen name, Revathi, she has enthralled audiences for more than two decades with award-wining performances. I think among her contemporaries, she was and still remains one of the most versatile actors in Tamil cinema. Having acted in close to a hundred movies in four different languages, she has won numerous accolades including the National Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Thevar Magan (1992).

A multi-talented personality, Revathi turned director with Mitr, My Friend (2002) and Phir Milenge (2004), which were widely acclaimed. As a social activist, she has spoken out on various women-related issues. Her show on KTV called Pudumai Penn was aimed at spreading awareness of women’s rights.

She has also lent support to various organisations in Chennai including the Ability Foundation, The Banyan, TANKER foundation, Vidyasagar, and spoken out on women’s issues. On her support to NGOs, she writes in her website: “I support them for the good work they do and my popularity as an actress helps to raise funds for the organisation. I believe that if my popularity as an actress can be used for a good cause, I should not let go of the opportunity.”


Women in media need support: Revathy,” 24 June 2010.

Ratnaveera, “Admirable Indian Film Actress Revathi,”  HubPages.

Subha J. Rao, “Of Grace and Social Commitment,The Hindu 21 April 2003.

Revathi Speaks to Rediff. Com”.

MadrasWeek@Prajnya/ The Art of Leela Samson


The Art of Leela Samson

by Nirmala Iswari

(Leela Samson is a noted Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, and choreographer. A former student of Kalakshetra, she took over as Director of the institution in 2005.)

“The classical arts have always been traditionally exclusive. I think our contribution in our time has been to demystify them,” Leela Samson, the current director of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai, says in her recent interview with NDTV.[i] Samson understands that exclusivity of knowledge doesn’t go a long way towards preserving an art form; it may be done instead by making such knowledge accessible to anyone who wishes to learn, by passing it on.  Regard for classical arts shouldn’t deter students and discourage them from learning.

Like so many of us, Leela Samson belongs to multiple communities and geographies; a fact that seems to have sensitized her to the need for understanding and tolerance in her engagements with people, work, and art. “(W)e can touch each other without infringing upon each other’s natures, or points of view,” she asserts in an interview with Frontline.[ii] Her commitment to Kalakshetra and Bharatanatyam appears rooted in this conviction. “I don’t want (Kalakshetra) to be a forbidding place,” she says, “Kalakshetra should be larger than itself in its spirit, in its heart.”

Writing in Outlookmagazine, Samson recalls learning to dance and living in Kalakshetra in Adyar, attending a sabha in Mylapore, visiting Kalanjiam Brothers in Parrys Corner for her dance jewellery, and attending the annual utsavam around the Mylapore tank.[iii] She has lived in various cities, but, she writes, “it is Madras that I feel attached to in ways beyond explanation; to energies that I cannot identify in words, to a spirit of other lives, perhaps. How else can I explain the connections I have made here?”

But no explanation seems necessary. She has, one thinks, given to the city as much as the city has given her.


[i]We Connect – Leela Samson” (Interview with Leela Samson). NDTV Hindu. 3 Aug. 2010.

[ii] Surya, Vasantha. “Brush with Art.” Frontline. 24.15 (2007).

[iii] Samson, Leela. “Patterned Blanket.” Outlook. 12 Jan. 2009.