Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Featured Inspirational on #Nirmaldasan

I, Nirmaldasan, am a disciple of Dr. Nirmal Selvamony, from whom I still learn the principles of poetic composition”, echoes the modest profile of Dr Watson Solomon, while introducing himself on his website. Nirmaldasan aka Watson Solomon, is a myriad-minded prodigy of sorts, whose interests span media studies, literature, creative writing, mathematics, chess, ecology and more!

One look at his portfolio and you would be in awe with wonder amazement [and a little of envy too!] at his diverse range of interests and multifarious vistas of research. Having known Nirmaldasan for more than a decade now, it’s my pleasure to do a small feature on Nirmaldasan.

It’s not every passing day that you get the chance of stumbling upon an unassuming, modest, and gentlemanly person like Nirmaldasan - a Prodigy of Sorts – the Creator of the Strain Index, a formula that measures readability in texts, and the creator of the Green Density Measure, an eco-critical tool for analysing literary texts.

About Nirmaldasan

Well, Nirmaldasan is the pen name of N. Watson Solomon. He has 15 years of journalistic experience, including a decade with The Hindu. He also has rich academic experience, including a two-year stint as Head — Department of Media Studies, Hindustan College of Arts & Science, and also with the Central University of Tamil Nadu, Tiruvarur.

He has co-authored Plain Language in Plain English (2010), Understanding News Media (2006) and the tinai series (2001-04). He has written three books of poetry. He is a co-editor of Essays in Ecocriticism (2007) and a co-founder of Indian Journal Of Ecocriticism (2008). Most of his writings are available online:

He is an avid and passionate blogger, and has his own website where he posts regularly on Media Studies. Nirmaldasan is also passionate about writing in Tamil. His article titled, 'தொல்காப்பியம் சுட்டும் செய்தியியல்' in his blog HERE reveals his passion for the language.

Nirmaldasan and Media Studies

Having been with The Hindu for well over a decade in a Senior Editorial Capacity, Nirmaldasan not only has a nose for news, but has also outlined an effective poetics for Media Studies. 

click on pic to enlarge
His first ever online articles start way back in the year 2000 when he writes about ‘Ethical Editing’, ‘the Fairness Doctrine’, ‘An Integrative Model of Development Communication,’ and on the ‘Glamour quotient that has overwhelmed Media Studies’, etc. More on his voluminous output on Media Studies can be accessed HERE.

What’s indeed astonishing and what we may call an ‘astounding feat’ by all means is that, Nirmaldasan is the founder Editor of ‘Journalism Online’ an Online Newsletter, which he has been updating regularly ever since the year 2000 – albeit without a year’s break till date. Well, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that his passion and enthusiasm for Media Studies is impactful and contagious, by all means.

And yes, what’s equally special about his articles online is that, they aren’t the run-of-the-mill type, neither do they trod the beaten track, but articles that make you think and meditate on issues that are of current relevance, on which he meticulously and coherently puts forth his ideas. Therein lies the USP of the features that Nirmaldasan sincerely and passionately crafts on the web.

Nirmaldasan on Visual Poetics

Nirmaldasan's scholarly take on ‘The Lemma Readability Index’ at his blog HERE is yet another interesting and scholarly read. The Lemma Readability Index (LRI) measures texts on a scale of 1 to 17 years of schooling. The LRI is the number of words per sentence not in the Commonest Lemma List. Take a sample of n sentences from a text. Count the Words Not in List (WNL). Then, LRI = WNL/n.

Yet another interesting read by Nirmaldasan is titled 'Visual Poetics', which describes the visuality of a poem’s structure, which is made possible by its type. Elaborating on the topic ‘Visuality as a Poetic Principle’ he puts forward an argument that, ‘Words need not be arranged in lines; they can also be placed in curves. Letters can be tilted at any angle. Punctuation marks can be put to expressive use. In fact, a visual poem can be composed of non-linguistic signs. And this would make the poem completely silent. Pure visuality’.

Nirmaldasan on Plain English

Be it Ogden’s Basic English, or
Richard Lederer’s ‘Case for Shorter Words’, or
Orwell’s plea for ‘coining new words’, or
Forster’s [who coined the term round character], who argues for ‘inventiveness’ as an indispensable aspect of language,
the tendency of language enthusiasts has always been towards what, F. T. Wood would call ‘simplification’.

Verbosity and wordiness are sworn enemies to plain English.

And yes, Nirmaldasan is a strong votary of Plain English, and to this extent, he has created the Strain Index formula - for measuring the readability of texts. He maintains a ‘Weblog Readability Monitor’ to keep track of plain language, at To Nirmaldasan, sentences can vary in structure and length, but, on the average, should be short!

Nirmaldasan on Ecocriticism

Having co-authored books on Ecocriticism, Nirmaldasan is also the creator of the Green Density Measure, an eco-critical tool for analysing literary texts. 

He has also taught Ecocriticism at the Central University of Tamilnadu. The tinai series that he has coauthored with Dr. Nirmal Selvamony is in fact, a must read for all Ecocritics and students of Ecoliterature alike!

In the early days of OSLE-India, when I was privileged to be part of a wonderful team as its first PRO, under the guidance and patronage of Dr. Nirmal Selvamony, [who pioneered Ecocriticism as a Paper for study in Indian Institutions in the early 1980s], Nirmaldasan used to enthrall us with his absorbing views on Green Studies, and give us practical illustrations on how the Green Density Measure can be an effective tool for the analysis of literary texts.

Translations from Tamil by Nirmaldasan

The last time I met Nirmaldasan [Dr. Watson Solomon], he gave me a copy of his latest publication titled, Borrowed Robes.

All the translated verses lay claim to your heart, by being true to its original in Tamil.

Well, two things about his book Borrowed Robes amazed and delighted me. Firstly, the excellent Translator’s Preface, which describes the perseverance of the translator in preserving the sound and sense of the original. Excerpts from his Preface:-

Translator’s Preface

Of all the literary labours, translation is the least creative and the most difficult. A good translation is one that preserves the sound and sense of the original. But this is impossible as every language has its peculiarities which cannot be captured by another language. Hence, not without reason, Percy Bysshe Shelley calls translation a vanity.

Translation is a necessary evil, for there is no other way by which great poems can be brought to the lay audience which has no knowledge of language other than its own. Therefore, translation cannot be dispensed with.

A translator should be a master of two languages: the language in which the poem occurs and the language into which the poem is to be translated. The next requirement is that he must be a poet himself.

A translator can lay pretense to a few liberties. He can sacrifice the literal meaning to capture the spirit of the original, and to preserve the sound even at the cost of the sense. This has been my guideline. This slender volume Borrowed Robes comprises translations of some miscellaneous Tamil compositions of different periods: from the Sangam Age to modern times. Some of the poems I have rendered in prose and the rest in metre. And I could not resist the temptation to include two of my English poems in the appendix. The phrase ‘borrowed robes’ occurs in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I hope my translations have done justice to the original compositions; and that the Tamil Muse, here dressed in English robes, has not lost her mellifluous voice.

The second aspect about 'Borrowed Robes' that attracted me immensely, was the way in which Nirmaldasan tries to make his translated text bear the closest resemblance in soul and substance to the original.

The translations in the Borrowed Robes include - 

Two songs from Kuruntokai,
A verse from each chapter from the Tamil of Thiruvalluvar. Translated from May 29 to October 8, 2004,
Seven Songs From Andal's Thiruppavai
Kavimani Desika Vinayagam Pillai’s Temple Worship
Two Poems Of Subramanya Bharati
A Poem Of Bharathidasan
A Poem Of Namakkal Kavignar Ramalingam Pillai
Nirmal Selvamony’s Shadow
Five Poems Of Bharathiputhiran (presently Tamil HOD, MCC) and more…

Just excerpting a 'borrowed robe' from Nirmaldasan's repertoire.

Two Songs From Kuruntokai

1. Song 2 (Iraiyanar)

O bright-winged bee who wingest thine way
Across flowers of various hue
And dependest on their nectary!
My long-lov’d lady dear
The peacock's gait doth bear
And teeth set in close array. —
Tell me, thou, with soul sincere,
If ever came across thy view
A flower blest in perfumery
As rival to her dark and balmy hair!

2. Song 40 (Chembulapeyalneerar)

Who are you and who am I?
Who’s your sire and who is mine?
Sprung from what illustrious line?
Yet as red earth and rain combine,
Our loving hearts mingling lie.

Nirmaldasan’s son Andrew Veda did his UG in English with us at MCC, and after completing his Masters in English at Loyola, now, we are quite happy to know that he has taken after his dad - competing and winning in Chess tournaments all over India. Today, even as I am writing this post, he is fully absorbed in defending his ‘King & Queen’ in Kerala.

Passion is oxygen to the soul, says Bill Butler. Well, this maxim would aptly suit Nirmaldasan to a tee!


  1. nice to see a write up on my teacher. i was his student in MCC Continuing Education. He helped us to understand the ethics of media communication. Watson sir you rock!
    Respects to you.
    Nandita Varghese

  2. Sir....
    we are blessed to be your students in mcc. We learne what journalism and ultimately we learn "what world is" ...
    Than notes and syllabus the much we learn a lot is from your experience sir....
    thanks a lot sir