Thursday, July 2, 2015

Kovai Ayyamuthu’s reminiscences of Periyar – V

Translated by Vamanan

We had gone to a conference in Mallasamudram which was in the Tiruchengode taluk of Salem district.  The members of the reception committee had quickly engaged themselves in cooking food for us. But Naicker could not bear to wait.  ‘‘Let us wander round the place,’’ he said.

As we wandered together, we found a woman who was cooking ‘puttu’ on a street pyol. Naicker entered the place swiftly and bought the stuff from her. Both of us ate the puttu to own heart’s content. When we were about to wash our hands, the members of the reception committee who had searched for us all over the place found us to their astonishment.

*** *** ****

Nagammal  was Naicker’s first wife. She was a very beautiful woman. Her qualities matched her beauty. Her perpetual smile indicated her happy temperament. Naicker was famous for his stinginess. She was exactly the opposite. She derived great happiness from serving guests. No visitor could leave without being treated to a meal.

She had immense affection for me. She knew the things I liked. The moment she saw me coming, she would call out to the servant boy, Hey you, Rama, and send him to the market to buy the things she needed to cook for me. One day when I was having my food along with Naicker, he turned to me and said, ‘‘Why the hell don’t you turn up here every day!’’

‘‘Why do you say so? Does the railway pay for my ticket for me to come here every day?’’ I replied.

‘‘But only when you come here I get some tasty food.’’ said Naicker. He was so jealous of me! The point is, he was damn angry at the expense!

(From Kovai Ayyamuthu's Naan Kanda Periyar)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kovai Ayyamuthu’s remiscences of Periyar – IV

Translated by Vamanan

'The same technique (of appointing yes men to Congress party positions), is being followed today,' I said. In this manner, after speaking about a variety of subjects, I rose to take leave of Periyar.

He got up hastily and entered a room. I followed him. He opened an almirah and picked up three oranges and a mango. He put them into the bag that hung from my shoulder, plunging me into utter astonishment.

There was a drum  full of thinned paint, beside his bed. ‘‘Why have you kept this here? It is giving out a strong odour,’’ I said.

‘‘What do you know of my headache! If I keep the dissolved paint any where else, the fellows will steal much of  it,’’ he said. His comment caused me no surprise. I got down the steps to go my way.

* * * *    * * * *    * * * *

The close association between me and Naicker began at the start of 1923. I had returned to Coimbatore just then after living in Rangoon for a year. In Coimbatore, I, my friend Shubri and Chettipalayam Ayyasami Gounder were engaged in intense propaganda for the Congress. We would often go to many villages and towns with Naicker. We would also take Khadi along with us and sell it. At the time, Naicker was the president of the Tamil Nadu Khadi Board. One day, Chettipalayam Ayyyasami Gounder and I asked for Khadi for Rs. 500/- on credit. He refused, saying that unless we paid the money in cash he would not give it to us. We offered to give a promissory note. But he rejected that offer too. Finally, we somehow paid the money and took the Khadi products.

(From Naan Kanda Periyar by Kovai Ayyamuthu)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Vignettes from Kovai Ayyamuthu’s reminiscences of ‘Periyar’ -- III

Translated by Vamanan

(Kovai Ayyamuthu explains to EVR Periyar how his actions led to the removal of Rajaji and how he was instrumental in Kamaraj gaining political significance)

‘ ‘These are events of 1940. The election of the Tamil Nadu Congress President was being held in the Hindi Prachar Sabha.  Rajaji called me and asked me to propose the name of C.P. Subbiah. ‘Suggest some good person, not him,’’ I said. Rajaji would not ever have dreamt of such a response from me.  There were arguments between him and me for four or five minutes.  In the event, he called Muthuranga Mudaliar and asked him to propose the name of Subbiah.  It turned out that Subbiah lost the election by three votes.  Kamaraj won. The total number of votes was 203. Kamaraj polled 103, Subbiah 100. I myself and eight others who worked with me in the Charka Sangh voted for Kamaraj. If Kamaraj had lost the election that day, he would not have been able to lift his head ever again,’’ I said.

‘‘ It is said that History repeats itself.  In 1950, our C. Subramaniam moved heaven and earth to get Subbiah elected to the post of chief of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Even then, I supported Kamaraj. Subbiah, or rather Subramaniam lost by a handsome majority. Subsequent to this, Subramaniam got me defeated in the election for Coimbatore District Congress President.

‘‘Subramaniam flashed his typical smile and told me, ‘You got me defeated in Chennai. I got you defeated here.’  I told him that if the victory had been achieved honestly, I too would have laughed with him. After this incident, in the past seven years I have ceased to be part of the Congress. But it is only the Congress’s loss, not mine’’.

‘‘Kakkan’s name is being spoken of for ministership. Who will they choose for Congress President,’’ asked Periyar.

‘‘Why, isn’t there Obeidullah? They need only a yes man for that post,’’ I said.

‘‘Yes, yes. You are right. In those days they made me Secretary only because I obeyed Achariyar’s orders. They then promoted me as President too,’’ said Periyar and burst out laughing.

That spoilsport of a beard prevented me from seeing the full expression on his face as he laughed!

(From Naan Kanda Periyar by Kovai Ayyamuthu)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Vignettes from Kovai Ayyamuthu’s reminiscences of ‘Periyar’ -- II

Translated by Vamanan

I may forget anybody in this wide world but I cannot forget my great friend E. V. Ramasamy Periyar. I had associated very closely with him for about ten years. Even though in the past twenty years and more that closeness is no more there, my memories are so vivid that I feel that I met him yesterday or today.!

On the second day of this month (April 1957), I met him on the peak of Yercaud. I cannot say that it was a chance meeting. I had gone there to meet him. He was in a storeyed house in the market street of Yercaud. In front of the house, his motor van was parked on the side of the street. A man had mounted himself on top of the van and was painting the gate of the house. Maniammai and her brother Thyagarajan were standing on the pyol of the house. Saying, ‘Why use a motor van as a ladder’’, I too got up on the pyol. I gave Maniammai the garland of champaka flowers I had brought along.

I had first seen her about twelve years back.  I will narrate the unusual circumstances of that first meeting later. The Maniammai I had seen then was in the bloom of youth. Her face was radiant; there was mischief in her eyes ; her body was vibrant with the energy and vitality of youth. The Maniammai who confronted me this day was different --  her face bespoke tiredness, the light in her eyes was gone, her body seemed worn out. I might be mistaken in this estimation. Maniammai was wearing a black saree. Her hair hadn’t been oiled and groomed. There was not a grain of gold on her body. No flowers adorned her hair. Her forehead bore no saffron mark. She wore no bangles. As these elements common to our women folk were missing, Maniammai looked like a widow to me.

I climbed the narrow steps to go to the upper storey. Periyar welcomed me, even as he cleaned his moustache and beard off the stains of grape juice that he had hastily downed after having extracted the stuff himself. Nevertheless, one could see grape juice stains on his dhoti.

In public life, I have gone hammer on tongs at Periyar. Perhaps nobody else would have subjected him to as much criticism as I had done. But even then, I had undying feelings of friendship for him. He too had great affection for me. How can I describe the relationship between us!

I would never visit Periyar bare-handed. I would take something, at least come cashew nuts. I opened the parcel of jalebis that I had purchased for him and spread it in front of him. He happily partook of the sweets and spoke to me affectionately.

Soon, Maniammai walked in. Periyar began to tell her about me in his characteristic style. ‘‘Do you know him? We two are old friend. I should say that this man here laid the foundation for Khadi and the Congress in Tamil Nadu. How many places haven’t we gone around together in those days! See, he has brought soft jalebis so that a toothless man like me can munch them.  He has brought hard and crispy savouries for you. Come on, take some of this.’’

We chatted about many things. Congress, Kamaraj and Kakkan figured in our talk.

‘‘I don’t meet Kamaraj at all. I don’t write to him too. He is a Tamil. Because of that I feel some satisfaction that he annihilated Achariyaar who lorded it over for a long time. That’s why I campaigned for him. There is nothing more to it,’’ said Periyar.

‘‘It was I who got rid of Rajaji, not Kamaraj. And but for me, there would be no Kamaraj,’’said I.

‘‘How is that? I don’t know that secret,’’ answered Periyar.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Vasudeva Sarvam - The Divine Everywhere


In the flowering of the day and the deepening darkness of the night, in the pink shoots that paint the trees red and the withered leaves that tire of being swept by the wind and yearn for the embrace of the earth, in all the great beginnings and endings, My Lord, I see your smile and signature. And in all that was and wasn’t you were and are, the fullness beyond Time, the never-ending plenitude.

Courtesy -
O Lord, how you permeate and envelop all the disparate things of the world, holding them in the unifying embrace of your grace! I see your smile in the lowly hut and the magnificent mansion, in the street urchin and the child in the lap of luxury…You are asking me to rid the world of all disparity by seeing your presence everywhere.

It was then that I heard your voice equally, O Lord, in the shrieks of the suffering, the tenderness of the compassionate and the mocking laughter of the callous….it was then that I saw your rapturous dance everywhere, in pain, suffering and happiness! 
Let this last, My Lord, this vision of your ubiquitous presence, lest I lose my way in the quagmires of duality.
(Transcreated from Pranava Pravaham of Kavignar Perumal Rasu)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vignettes from Kovai Ayyamuthu’s reminiscences of 'Periyar' - I

Translated by Vamanan

Gopalbagh on Coimbatore’s Avinashi Road is a place every one should visit. One can see there, in one form or the other, the great achievements of science from the world over. Similarly, one can see there at at different times, great men from all over the world, commoners, good people and louts. From powerful persons ruling the world to common scavengers…everybody visits the place.

G. D. Naidu, who owns Gopal Bagh, is a very great name to reckon with. He is person who elicits wonder. He is a genius, but also an eccentric. He is a man who has toured the world many times over but does not know how to live in peace with it! He is an expert in law but can also obstinately hold on to indefensible positions. He commands a lot of power and can be offensive as an opponent. He may feast you or send you hungry. He may flood you with his generosity or extract his pound of flesh. He knows how to amass wealth but is equally adept in losing it!

I have known him for the past forty years. I have associated with him for so long. He has not changed a bit. The same speech! The same dress! The same deportment! The same affability!   The same man!  Everything changes on earth. But G. D. alone does not change. I have deep respect for him then, now and forever. But to this day, I have not spoken to his hearing, a word in his praise or support! In fact, I have done just the opposite. I have been telling him that he should be sent to Kilpauk (mental hospital).

I won’t be wrong to say that he has affection for all those who associate themselves with him. He is such a good-hearted man. But he is also mischievous! One night, I had gone to Gopal Bagh.

‘‘Do you know that there is a Tirukkural conference today? Let us go. Periyar has met Rajaji at Tiruvannamalai and shared some secret. We must find out what it is,’’ he said, pulling me into his car and setting out.

The conference was being held in a big shed erected in the vacant plot owned by C.S.R. on Coimbatore Mettupalayam Road. When we alighted from the car, Periyar was addressing the gathering. When he had completed his speech, G.D. Naidu got on to the stage and began to speak.

‘‘Vallavur has spoken against lying. Periyar who recommends Valluvar’s Kural to the people should not lie.  He must reveal to the people gathered here what transpired between him and Rajaji at Tiruvannamalai’’, said Naidu to laughter from the audience.

‘‘There is nothing that you need to know. I had just made a courtesy call on him. We were speaking about our personal matters,’’ answered Periyar. His words did not satisfy anybody.

A play was to be held at the conference pandal after the conference was over. Naidu made the proposition that they could go to his bungalow and come back by the time the play started. Periyar agreed and came with Naidu.

We had dinner at Gopal Bagh, and before returning to the conference pandal stopped at my shop at Oppanakaara Veedhi.

My wife who now saw Periyar in a Black shirt welcomed him saying, ‘‘I don’t know in how many other guises I am going to see you still’’.

My wife Govindammal is a dyed-in-the-wool Congresswoman. She has gone to prison for Congress causes many times. She had no interest in any party or movement that was against the Congress. For her, Congress was a temple and Gandhi the deity!

Naicker’s eyes fell on the bales stacked up in my shop. I pulled out a black silk bale and began to cut out a piece for him.

But by that time, GD, who was standing beside me exclaimed, ‘‘If we keep wasting time like this here, all the money that is collected at the pandal by selling drama tickets will be…’’

Even before Naidu could complete his sentence, Periyar jumped to his feet and rushed to the car, saying, ‘‘Yes…yes…you said it right….Dishonest chaps…One should not trust them at all’’.

As the car sped forth, My wife and I bid goodbye with folded hands, even as we laughed uncontrollably.

(Excerpt Translated from ‘Naan Kanda Periyaar’ published in May 1957)