Anna Mani or ‘The Weather Woman of India’ was a renowned #physicist & #meteorologist. She worked at the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) for 30 years & retired as its Deputy Director General in 1976.
Featuring artwork & words by Arghya Manna, Sci-Illustrate Stories. Set in motion by Dr. Radhika Patnala.
Anna Modayil Mani (1918–2001) was born on 23 August 1918 in Peermedu in Kerala. Her father owned a large cardamom estate. From an early age Anna was fond of books, and when she was twelve her favorite pass time was to visit the local library. On her eighth birthday, she declined a set of diamond earrings and opted instead for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Books opened up a whole new world to her. In the early 20th Century India was a colony, the literacy rate for women in India stood at less than one percent and the total number of women enrolled in colleges was less than one thousand. There was a consensus at that time that education for women should be tailored to their particular roles as mothers and homemakers. But instead of marrying early like her sisters, Anna Mani opted for higher education.
After finishing her graduation in Physics Anna Mani went to the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore in 1940. There she earned a fellowship to work under the supervision of Prof. C. V. Raman, who was the only Nobel Laureate scientist in India. However, since Prof. Raman was not eager to offer female students a place in his laboratory, it was even harder to get into his research circle. But Anna Mani made it! At IISC she worked on the spectroscopy of diamonds and rubies, recording their fluorescence and absorbance. She had to expose photographic plates for 16–20 hours so she often slept in the lab. Anna wrote five research papers on the luminescence of diamonds. In 1945 she submitted her Ph.D. dissertation to the Madras University. But just because she did not have a master’s degree, she was denied the Ph.D. which she so rightly deserved. Fortunately, the lack of a paper Ph.D. degree never impeded her scientific pursuits.
Afterward, she was awarded a government scholarship for an internship in England. In 1945, Anna Mani went to the Imperial College, London to pursue physics, but landed up specializing in meteorological instrumentation. There she studied several weather instruments, learned their calibration and standardization procedures, and even made them on her own.
Independence from British rule offered generous opportunities and Mani overcame the previously faced challenges. In 1948, she joined the Indian Meteorology Department (IMD) at Pune in the Instruments Division then headed by S. P. Venkiteshwaran. Prof. Venkiteshwaran, who was a visionary with boundless energy. Before 1947, even simple meteorological instruments like thermometers and barometers were imported. But after independence, amid a nation-building climate, Venkiteshwaran wanted to make scientific instruments in India. Henceforth, he set up a workshop with precision machines to manufacture simple instruments like rain gauges, evaporimeters, thermometers, anemometers, wind vanes, etc. Along with this, he initiated the development of self-recording instruments like thermographs, hydrographs and many more. To run his workshop Anna was the perfect recruit, as she was trained to calibrate and manufacture meteorological instruments. Moreover, Anna was a true Gandhian by philosophy. She was a supporter of ‘Make in your own country’ (or ‘Swadeshi’) concept, first propagated by Mahatma Gandhi. Anna used her newly acquired expertise and fulfilled her dreams to make India self-sufficient in weather instrumentation in the shortest time possible. This was not very easy as skilled human power to operate sophisticated machines was not readily available then. She had to manage with what was available, but she inspired the 121 men under her to put in their best. ‘Find a better way to do it!’ was her motto.
In 1963 at the request of Vikram Sarabhai, Anna successfully set up a meteorological observatory and an instrumentation tower at the Thumba Rocket Launching Facility. Anna retired as the Deputy Director-General of the Indian Meteorological Department in 1976. Later she set up a millimeter wave telescope at Nandi Hills, Bangalore. Her two books, ‘Handbook of Solar Radiation Data for India’ and ‘Solar Radiation Over India’, published in 1980 and 1981 respectively, have become standard reference guides for engineers engaged in solar thermal systems. As a visionary, she realized the wind energy potential for India and organized round the year wind measurements from over 700 sites using state-of-art equipment. Today as India takes a lead in setting up wind farms across the country, part of the credit goes to Anna Mani.
Anna never married. She was passionate about nature, loved trekking and bird watching. She was member of many scholarly academies — Indian National Science Academy, American Meteorological Society, and the International Solar Energy Society, etc. She received the INSA K. R. Ramanathan Medal in 1987. In 1994 she suffered from a stroke which left her immobilized for the rest of her life. She passed away on 16 August 2001 in Thiruvananthapuram.
Sources & Further Reading:
Anna Mani, a Pioneer Who Changed the Way We Gauge Weather
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About the author & artist:
Contributing Artist, Sci-Illustrate stories
Arghya Manna is a comics artist and illustrator. He began his biomedical career as a doctoral student at Bose Institute, India working on Tumor Cell migration in a 3D environment, but soon left wet lab research and his doctoral studies to find refuge in art. Finding himself becoming increasingly passionate about visual science communication through comics, he now is an History of Science enthusiast and showcases his work through his blog “Drawing History of Science”.
Arghya, through his artwork, aspires to engage the readers of history and science with the amalgamation of images and texts.
About the series:
There are the stories of persistence, ingenuity, calibre, scientific achievement against all odds.
These are the stories of Indian women who were the pioneers of Science in India.
These are stories of lives that must be remembered and cherished.
Sci-Illustrate stories is proud to add a new chapter in our WIS series where through the words of the sci-illustrate team, complimented by the artwork of a very talented Indian artist Arghya Manna, we will be revisiting and highlighting the lives of some incredible Indian women in science.
— Dr. Radhika Patnala, Series Director