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)  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When Bose's family ended up snooping

‘‘From 1948 to 1968, the government of India meticulously spied on Sugata Bose’s father, Sisir Bose, along with the rest of Subhash Chandra Bose’s immediate family in Kolkata, as has been recently revealed’’. This is the opening sentence of an interview in, a ‘digital daily’, with Sugata Bose, grandson of Subhash Chandra Bose’s brother, Sarat Chandra Bose. (

Of course, we have read in the news that Nehru’s government spied on Sisir Bose, but from this item we get the startling disclosure that the rest of Subash Chandra Bose’s family has been along with the government in this nefarious snooping! Or that least that is the unintended meaning that the item gives.

Read the sentence again – Reduced to the essentials, it goes as…. The government of India meticulous spied on Sugata Roy…along with the rest of the immediate family! The meticulous spying was done by the government along with the rest (of the immediate family).

'With the rest of the family' is an adverbial prepositional phrase which qualifies (meticulously) spied…and ends up meaning that the government got the help of the rest of the immediate family in its act of spying on Sisir Bose!

If no such preposterous meaning was to have been suggested, the sentence could have been worded as…

‘‘From 1948 to 1968, the government of India meticulously spied on Sugata Bose’s father, Sisir Bose, along with the and on the rest of Subhash Chandra Bose’s immediate family in Kolkata, as has been recently revealed’’.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜருக்கு தற்கால சமூக சீர்திருத்தவாதியின் மூலாம்

டாக்டர்  ஜே. பார்த்தசாரதி 

சில நாட்களுக்கு முன் *  'கே கே பிர்லா பாவுண்டேய்ஷன்' என்ற வடநாட்டு ஸ்தாபனம், சரஸ்வதி சம்மான் என்ற ஐந்து லட்சம் ரூபாய் கொண்ட தன் இலக்கிய பரிசை இந்திரா பார்த்தசாரதி  அவர்கள் எழுதியுள்ள 'ராமானுஜர்' என்ற நூலுக்கு பத்திரிகைகளில் வெளிவந்தது. தமிழ் நாவல், சிறுகதை நாடக நூல்கள் எழுதி பெயர்பெற்ற ஒரு வைணவ ஆசிரியருக்கு ஒரு தமிழ் நூலுக்காக கணிசமான பரிசு வழங்கப்படுவது நமக்கு மகிழ்ச்சிக்குறிய ஒன்றாகும்.

ஆனால் ஆர்வத்துடன் புத்தகத்தை அணுகும்போது, ஏமாற்றங்கள் உண்டாகின்றன. உட்புகுந்து படித்தால் பக்தர்கள் உள்ளம் நோகும்படி ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் சரித்திரம் அமைக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது புலனாகிறது.

இன்றும் பக்தி, சரணாகதி நெறிகளை அனுஷ்டித்து ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜரை நினைந்து, உள்ளம் உருகி, மெய்சிலிர்த்து பரவசமாகி நிற்கும் அடியார்கள் இல்லாத ஊரே இல்லை. இத்தகையவர்கள் மனம் புண்ணாகும் முறையில், அவர்கள் வழிபடும் தெய்வமான ஸ்ரீவைஷ்ணவ குழப்பெரியாரின் வாழ்க்கைப் பெரும் பணிகளை தம் மனம்போனவாறு திருத்தியும் திரித்தும் சித்தரித்துள்ளது வருந்தத் தக்கதாகும்.

புத்தக ஆசிரியர், ராமானுஜர் நமக்கு சமகாலத்தவர் ---அதாவது அவர் கருத்துக்கள் இன்றைய நவீனப் புரட்சியாளர்களுடைய இலட்சியங்களோடு சேர்ந்தவை, 11-12-ஆம் நூற்றாடுகளை மட்டும் அல்ல ---, என்று நாம் உணர வேண்டும் என்று கங்கணம் கட்டிக்கொண்டு, நமது பெரியோர்கள் வழிவழியாக போற்றிவரும் ஸ்ரீராமானுஜர் வரலாற்றை உருக்குலைத்து மாற்றி நமக்கு அளித்துள்ளார்.

ஸ்ரீவைஷ்ணவ பக்தி சரணாகதி நெறிகளை மேற்கொண்டு ,  அவற்றால் உபாசிக்கப்படும் தனிப்பெரும் தெய்வமான, சகல கல்யாண குணங்களும் நிறைந்து விளங்கும் ஸ்ரீமன் நாராயணனுடைய அடியார்களாகி எல்லோரும் வேறுபாடின்றி உய்யவேண்டும் என்று தமது நீண்ட  ஆயுளில் பல்வேறு ஆக்கப்பணிகள் புரிந்தார் ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர்.

அச் செய்கைகள்  அனைத்தும் பக்தியை பரப்புவதிலும் பக்தி நிறைந்த அடியார் கூட்டத்தை விருத்தி செய்வதிலுமே கழிந்தவை. அவர் இயற்றியுள்ள ஸ்ரீபாஷ்யம் என்ற சம்ச்க்ரிட்ட வியாக்கியான நூலில், பொது சமுதாயத்தில் வருணாஸ்ரம தர்ம கட்டுப்பாடுகள் அவர் காலத்தில் உள்ளபடியே கூறுகிறார். சாதி ஒழிப்பு -- பொது சமுதாயத்தில் அதன் ஒழிப்பு -- அவர் பணியாற்றிய அடியார்கள் திருக்கூட்டத்திற்கு, பாகவத சமுதாயத்திற்கு, அபபாற்பட்டதால் அதைப் பற்றி அவர் கவலைப்படவில்லை.. அதைக் கண்டிப்பதற்கு பிரமேயமும் இல்லை.

தாம் தலைமை தாங்கிய அடியார்கள் திருக்கூட்டங்களிலும் தம் சொந்த முறையிலும் ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் பக்தியில் சிறந்தோரை அவர் பிறந்த குளம் எதுவாகினும் தம் போற்றுதலுக்கும் நட்பு பணிவிடைகளுக்கும் உரியவராக கருதிவந்தார்.

ஸ்ரீமந்நாராயணன் மீது பக்தி, அவன் அடிமைத்திறம் இவையே ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் செயல்களுக்கெல்லாம் அடிப்படை. உயிர்கள் எல்லாம் நாரணன் திருவருளாலே உய்யவேண்டும் என்ற ஒன்றே அவர் ஆக்கப்பணிகளின் திறவுகோல். பொது சமுதாய சாதிகள் ஒழிந்திட வேண்டும் என்ற இக்கால சீர்திருத்த வாதியல்ல அவர். நாரணன்பால் உளங்கனிந்து தொண்டுசெய்யும் மறவன் உறங்கா வில்லிதாசனையும் மெய்யன்புடன் திருநாராயணபுரத்தில் திருமால் கைங்கர்யங்களில் ஈடுபட்ட பஞ்சம அடியார்களையும் அவர் அன்பு பாராட்டி போற்றிவந்ததன் அடிப்படை பக்தியே ஆகும்.

இந்த பக்தி அடிப்படையிலேதான் எல்லோரும் உய்ய வேண்டும் என்று அவர் திருக்கோட்டியூர் நம்பியிடமிருந்து கற்ற ரஹசிய மந்திரார்த்தத்தை ஆசை உள்ளவர்களுக்கு எல்லாம் வெளியிட்டார்.

ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜருடைய எல்லா பணிகளிலும் நாராயண கைங்கர்யம் மூலம் மக்கள் வீடு பெறும் நோக்கமே விஞ்சி நிற்கும் உண்மை, இந்நாடகத்தில் மாறிவிட்டது. சாதி ஒழிப்பு, ஆண்-பெண் சமத்துவம், பஞ்சமர்க்கு முதலிடம் அளித்தல், இந்து-முஸ்லிம் சமரசம் போன்ற கருத்துக்களை அவர்மேலேற்றி அவரை இன்றைய முற்போக்கு அரசியல்வாதியின் பிரதிபிம்பம் போல் ஒரு நவீன ராமானுஜரைப் படைத்துள்ளார் நம் நாடகாசிரியர்.

சாதி ஒழிப்பு என்பது இக்காலத்துப் பிரச்சினை. இதை 12-ஆம் நூற்றாண்டில் நுழைத்து,  ஆன்ம பக்தி நெறிகளை திசை திருப்புவது தவறு என்பது சொல்லவேண்டியதில்லை. தம் சாதி ஒழிப்பு சீர்திருத்தங்களினால் ராமானுஜர் வைதிக பிராமணர்களை விரோதித்துக்கொண்டதாகவும், அவர்கள் இவர் கோவிலுக்குள் போக அனுமதி மறுத்ததாகவும், இவர் பஞ்சமருக்கு பூணூல் போடுவதாகவும் ஆசிரியர் செய்துள்ள் பல கற்பனைகள், நல்லோர் உள்ளத்தை நலிவிக்கின்றன.

ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் வேதமார்கத்தை பக்தி மார்க்கத்துடன் ஆழமாக இணைத்து, பக்தியினால் வரும் மேன்மைகளை பேசியும் அனுஷ்டித்தும், வைதிக பிராமணர்களிடையே மதிப்பும் செல்வாக்கும் பெற்றிருந்தவர். இக்காலத்து தீவிர சாதி ஒழிப்பை அவர் மீது சுமத்துவது  சரித்திரத்திற்கும்   அவருக்கும் இழைத்த தீங்கே ஆகும். ஸ்ரீரங்கத்தில் அவர் செய்த சீர்திருத்தங்களால் பகைமை பாராட்டிய ஒரு சிலர் அவரை விஷமிட்டுக் கொள்ள முயன்றதாகக் கூறப்பட்டுள்ளதைக்கொண்டு, வைதிக பிராமணர்கள் அனைவருமே அவருக்கு விரோதிகளாக ஆகிவிட்டனர் என்று ஆசிரியர் சித்தரித்துள்ளது மிகைப்படித்திக் கூறுவதே ஆகும்.

நால்வகைச் சாதி ஒழிப்புக் கொள்கையை அழுத்திக் கூறுவதற்காக, அஷ்டாக்க்ஷர சரம ஸ்லோக மந்திரங்களின் பொருள்களும் திரித்து ராமானுஜர் வாயிலாக வெளியிடப்பட்டுள்ளன...

ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் மடத்தில் ஆண்-பெண் சரிசமமாக  நடத்தப்பட்டுள்ளனர் என்றுஆசிரியர்  அவ்வாசாரியரைப் பேச வைப்பதோடு விந்தையான ஒரு கற்பனை நிகழ்ச்சியையும் படைத்துள்ளார்.

ஸ்ரீபாஷ்ய பேருரை எழுதும்போது ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜருக்கு ஒரு ஐயம் எழுந்ததாம். ஜீவாத்மாவை இயக்குவது அதன் 'சித்' என்ற ஞானத்தன்மையா? அல்லது பரமனுக்கு அடிமைத்தன்மையா (பாரதந்திரியமா)? என்பது அது. திருக்கோஷ்டியூர் நம்பியை நாடி இக்கேள்விக்கு அவர் பெற்ற விடை பாரதந்திரியமே முதலானது, அதுவே ஞானத்தை இயக்குவது என்பது. அதாவது, கடவுள் இயக்கத்தினால்தான் ஜீவாத்மா இயங்கும், இரிவாற்றல் தோன்றும். இதையே 'அடியேன் உள்ளான், அண்டத்து உள்ளான்' என்று திருவாய் மொழியில் (8.8) நம்மாழ்வார் பாடியுள்ளார். இந்த வரலாற்றை அறிந்தோ அறியாமலோ, இந்நாடகம் எழுதியவர், ராமானுஜர் தம் சந்தேகத்தை கூரத்தாழ்வான் மனைவி ஆண்டாளம்மா விடமிருந்து கேட்டுத் தெரிந்துகொண்டதாக காட்டியிருப்பது எப்படிப்பட்டு தவறு என்று கூறத்தேவையில்லை. பெண்ணுக்கு மகத்துவம் கற்பிக்கும் முறையின் சிகரமே இது !

மாறநேர் நம்பி வரலாற்றை  ஆசிரியர் முழுவதம் மாற்றி அவரை அரிஜன சேரியில் உள்ளோர்க்கு திவ்விய ப்ரபந்தம் கர்ப்பிக்குமாறு ராமானுஜர் சொன்னதாக காட்டியுள்ளதும் இது போன்றதே. அவர் திருக்குலத்தார் என்று அழைத்த பஞ்சமர்க்குக் காட்டிய காட்டிய முதலியவைகளும் ஆசிரியரின் கற்பனை வளத்தைக் காட்டி உண்மைகளை மறைப்பவை.

எல்லாவற்றுக்கும் மேலாக ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் செல்லப்பிள்ளை விக்கிரகத்தைப் பெறுவதற்கு தில்லி சென்று முஸ்லிம் நவாபுக்கு சலாம் செய்வதும் அவருடன் மதசமரசம் பேசுவதும் பக்தர்கள் உள்ளங்களை பெரிதும் வருந்த செய்பவை.  துருக்கர்கள் ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜர் வாழ்ந்த 12-ஆம் நூற்றாண்டுக்கு பின்னரே அரசர்களாக இந்தியாவில் இருந்தனர் என்ற சரித்திர உண்மையால், அவர் தில்லி சென்றது ஒரு பொய்யான நாட்டுக்கதையாகவே கொள்ளவேண்டியதாகும்.

நித்தியம் அச்சுத பதத்தாமரைகளின்   இடையறாத மோகத்தை தவிர எனையவற்றைஎல்லாம் த்ரினமாக நினைத்து விலக்கிய, கருணைக்கடலான நம் குருவாகிய ராமானுஜரின் சரணங்களை வழிபட்டுச் சேர்வோம்  என்று ஸ்ரீ வைஷ்ணவர்கள் தினம்தோறும் ஆராதிக்கும் பிரபன்னகுலத் தலைவர் ஒரு நவாபுக்கு சலாம் செய்தார் என்பது பக்தர் உள்ளத்தை எவ்வளவு துன்புறுத்தும்?

இப்புத்தகத்தின் எழுத்துக் குறைபாடுகளையும் பிற முரண்பாடுகளையும் ராமானுஜரின் உண்மை வாழ்க்கைக்கு ஒவ்வாத கூறுகளையும், மேலும் கூறுதலை விரிவஞ்சி இத்துடன் நிறுத்தி கொள்ளலாம். இத்தகைய நாடகத்தை தற்கால பிரச்சார சாதனங்கள் வாயிலாக மக்களிடையே பரப்புவதும்  அது பரிசுட்பெற்றது என்பதனால் பரமான தன்மை உடையது என்ற எண்ணமும் பரவாமல் காப்பது அவசியமாகும்.

ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜரின் சரிதத்தை பக்தி நெறியை வளர்க்கும் உருக்கமான முறையில் கன்னையா கம்பெனி என்ற நாடக கம்பனியார் 1920-30 காலகட்டத்தில் நடத்தி வந்ததும், மக்கள் அதைக்கண்டு பக்திச் சுவை சொட்டச்சொட்ட மகிழ்ச்சி உற்றதும் இன்றைய முதிய தலைமுறையினருக்கு நினைவில் இருக்கலாம்.  அண்மையிலும் இவ்வகை நாடக நிகழ்சிகள் நிகழ்ந்துள்ளன.  இவையே திருமால் நெறியின் பக்தி பிரதானமான சமதர்ம மார்க்கத்தை பரப்பும் சிறந்த சாதனங்கள் ஆவன.

இன்றைய சாதி ஒழிப்பு, ஆண்-பெண் சமத்துவக் கொள்கைகளுக்கு இன்றைய சூழ்நிலையிலேயே வலுவான காரணங்களை ஆதாரமாக கொள்ளலாம்.  12-ஆம் நூற்றாண்டின் பழைய ஸ்ரீ ராமானுஜரைக் கீழ்மைப் படுத்தி, இன்று நமக்கு வேண்டிய சாயத்தை அவர்மேல் பூசுவது, அவருக்கு பெரும் தீங்கு இழைப்பதே ஆகும்.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Satyamurthi's correspondence - a treasure trove of vistas on the freedom struggle

Satyamurthiyin Kadithangal – Paagam 1, 2 ; Oru Desabhaktharin Paarvaiyil Sudhandhira Poaraatta Varalaaru – Vikadan Prasuram : Thoguppu K. V. Ramanathan, Thamizhil – Charukesi

In our neighbourhood of Abhiramapuram in Chennai, Charukesi is a spare and wizened figure who can be seen flitting across the streets at a speed phenomenal for his age, perhaps dashing off to a cutcheri venue or to some appointment occasioned by one of his public spirited works like keeping alive the memory of the late and lamented Devan. I have known him as a journalist ever on the move contributing to an array of popular magazines and newspapers.  He wields a bright and forceful pen in Tamil but is forthright in expressing himself without frills in English too.

Sometimes he has time only for a suggestion of a greeting while passing me along the street, but a few weeks ago we buttonholed each other and exchanged notes on our respective writing careers.  It was then that I heard more of Charukesi’s contribution, significant I should say, in translating the letters of the freedom fighter and pioneering parliamentarian S. Satyamurthi. I decided to learn more about it and paid a visit to Charukesi’s quiet apartment  one languid afternoon.

Charukesi’s translation is of a two-volume anthology titled ‘The Satyamurthi Letters’, selected and put together by K.V. Ramanathan, former bureaucrat who was Resident Editor in Indian Express’s Madras edition for a few years in the eighties. There are about 400 letters written and received by Satyamurthi spanning a time frame between 1908-1942, momentous years in the history of India. It also has articles and open letters he wrote in periodicals and the texts of speeches he made in public forums.  To present all this in Tamil that is as lucid as clear flowing water is a tough task. Charukesi has been up to it and in this rendered real service to Tamil readers.

I gather from Charukesi that Satyamurthi was an inveterate letter writer who also insisted in getting replies for his missives. Translating many of the letters Satyamurthi fired to British administrators, Charukesi is astounded by the patriotism, eloquence and logical thinking of Satyamurthi and adds jocularly, ‘‘I began to feel that the British left just to spare themselves the trouble of replying to the iron-clad arguments advanced by Satyamurthi!’’ Satyamurthi had been a lawyer before he took to full time politics, and the clear thinking and logical reasoning that he brought to his patriotic fervour made him a formidable crusader for his fellowmen and a great communicator on their behalf, a real ‘Dheerar’ in the service of the country.

The letters and responses to them give us an idea of the tempestuous times. For those with an intimate knowledge of the crisscrossing political forces working out in the Independence movement, they would provide added vistas.

The personal equations, rivalries and differences of opinion among leaders of the movement come to the fore too. For example, Sarat Chandra Bose,  Subash Bose’s elder brother mentions his differences with Dr. B. C. Roy in his letter to Satyamurthi, finding fault with Dr. Roy for being  closely allied with some people who were responsible for the undoing of ‘many honourable Bengali families’.  (Page 188, Volume 1). After India's Independence, Sarat Bose, who led his brother Subash’s Forward Bloc and formed the Socialist Republican Party, advocating a socialist system for Bengal and India,  died in 1950 in Calcutta while B.C.Roy went on to become West Bengal’s second Chief Minister and remained in power for a record 14 years until his death in 1962.

Another poignant letter received by Satyamurthi, is that of ‘Deshbandhu’ Chitharanjan  Das. The latter was a founder of the Swarajist party that advocated going to the legislatures to break the British from within, and Satyamurthi was its prominent leader in the Madras Presidency. In his letter to Satyamurthi dated April 19, 1925, the fellow Swarajist openly speaks of his bad health and confesses that he cannot take any more setbacks. This from a man who had given up all luxury – at one time his clothes were tailored and washed in Paris and he maintained a permanent laundry in Paris to ship  his clothes to Calcutta – and  made great sacrifices for the nation. He ends his letter with the tearful parting, ‘‘My dear friend Satyamurthy, I am shattered. My services have come to an end. Somebody keeps calling me from afar. I now want to give up all agitations and strivings and seek solitude alone. Must I not give up at least my last years to God’’.  In the event, C.R. Das survives only for two more months. One can only imagine Satyamurthi’s deep distress and agony at the passing of such a great friend and patriot under tragic circumstances.

The book is of course rife with letters from and to C. Rajagopalachari, Satyamurthy’s arch rival in the politics of the Congress in the Madras Presidency. We have Rajagopalachari berating Satyamurthi about a Congress resolution that called for total prohibition in 20 years.  ‘‘This depresses me a lot. I think you must not have agreed to this. It is not right of you to have accepted this. It will be misunderstood. Things will go awry. Please get this reversed’’. The tone is gratingly critical. In our conversation, Charukesi too wonders about the Rajaji-Satyamurthy relationship. There seems to have been something that didn’t jell, some point that rankled, but it’s difficult to see what exactly it was! Not that the elder leader is all the time unsparing when it comes to the younger….In another response to Satyamurthi, Rajagopalachari admits to having hurt him with sharp criticism and apologises for it.

In another letter, we have Mahatma Gandhi pulling up Satyamurthy publicly and in a letter to him, for unpatriotic behavior during the conduct of the All India Congress Committee Meeting. In his reply, while being extremely respectful to the Mahatma,  Satyamurthy begs to differ from him. After mulling over the incidents mentioned by Gandhiji, Satyamurthy says that his actions were impelled by patriotism and were absolutely necessary! He goes on to accuse the Mahatma himself, saying that the actions of removing M. S. Iyengar and Subash Chandra Bose from the CWC were unpatriotic and against national interest! This amounts to respectfully showing the Mahatma his place! While crossing swords with the Mahatma, Satyamurthi expresses the belief that perhaps they can continue to be friends even while differing politically. This is the extent Satyamurthi could go to fearlessly express his dissent without being openly inimical.

These letters and articles are a mine-house of historical material seen through the prism of the letters and writings of one of the greatest freedom fighters of Tamil Nadu.

 Though beset by numerous ailments and more numerous incarcerations and political setbacks, Satyamurthi plodded on in the cause of his country, as his correspondence reveals. Like the Poondi reservoir that he planned as a water source for Madras city during his tenure as Mayor – though he did not live to see its commissioning in 1944 – his life and letters will continue to be a source of great inspiration for generations to come. 

Both K. V. Ramanathan who collected the letters and Charukesi who has given us a readable version in Tamil – a language that Satyamurthi himself loved – deserve our kudos for their efforts. Ananda Vikatan has added one more feather to its cap with this Tamil version of Satyamurthi’s correspondence.  Students need to be introduced to these letters with a clear explanation of the contexts in which they were written. That way we will sow the seeds of patriotism in young minds.

Friday, February 6, 2015

V. Dakshinamurthi - Telling melodies for cinema


For the film world, success, money, glamour and perhaps make up are god. So it’s rather ironic that it should revere as ‘Saami’ an old man of over ninety ! But as it is, the south Indian film industry, especially its music circles learnt to salute this man who walked barebodied most of the time and didn’t even own a car! With over 100 films in Malayalam and a dozen films in Tamil, he had not been a star achiever ever in his life. But the way this acknowledged master of Carnatic song hitched the classical wagon to the needs of cinema and the simplicity and character that shone through his long life made the Malayalam film fraternity and music lovers flock to his simple flat near Sanskrit College a few weeks ago to pay their final homage to ‘Malayalam’ V. Dakshinamurthi. He had been slowly humming a song a few moments before he passed away peacefully at home. He had wanted to fade like a flower ; his wish seems to have been fulfilled.

Dakshinamurthi’s forefathers belonged to Kallidaikurichi and had settled in Kerala. He was born in Alleppey. His maternal grandfather, mother and maternal uncles were all musically talented. He claims to have learnt 27 Thyagaraja kritis before the age of six by just listening to his mother sing. At Tiruvananthapuram, he learnt classical music from Venkatachalam Pothi who taught his sister. Dakshinamurthi was 13 when he sang at his first cutcheri at a Krishna temple in Alleppey.  Among those who chanced to hear him sing then were M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D.Subbulakshmi and Tiruvavadu Rajarathinam Pillai. They marvelled at the boy’s musical knowledge and foresaw a great future for him. It seems Dakshinamurthi’s guru himself arranged many cutcheris for him.

 With bated breath, Dakshinamurthi would tell you how one day he heard  about the glory of Vaikkathappan, the Shiva deity in the temple of Vaikkom, and how Vaikkathappan has looked after him all these days. It began with a cutcheri offer on a midnight of heavy rain…after which it was one long journey in which, Vaikkathappan, it would seem, booked all his tickets and looked after all his journeys. Having to live as a performer and music teacher, Dakshinamurthi taught none less than Vasanthakokilam and even directed music for a few gramophone songs of T.V. Ratnam – then a budding singer – before returning to Vaikkom to be near his deity. Till about 1948, for a few years, Dakshinamurthi lived a life of piety, having darshan of the deity, singing all night, teaching when he was asked to. And when he got the call to come to Madras, it was with the feeling that he was leaving his treasure at Vaikkom. When he tuned his first song for the Malayalam film Nallathanka (1950), he had the feeling that Vaikkathappan was opening doors for him.

Dakshinamurthi’s success as a music director was as much due to his knowledge of Carnatic music and his capacity to put it to the service of cinema, as to his gift of empathising with different situations. When the Tamil novelist Sandilyan was drafted to write the Tamil version of the Malayalam film, Amma (1952), producer Vasu laid the condition that Dakshinamurthi, who had wept uncontrollably while listening to the climax of the Malayalam version, should do so for the Tamil script too. That was the sign that it would pass muster! Sandilyan saw to it that Dakshinamurthi wept, and the producers smiled all the way to the bank !

Sami’s music and its nearness to the land and its traditions came out soon enough in a lovely lullaby in ‘Sneha Seema’ (1954), ‘Kannum Pootti Uranguka’ sung by P.Leela and A.M.Raja. For another cradle song he enlisted P. Sushila for the first time in Malayalam cinema to come up with another winner, ‘Paattu Paadi Urakkaam Njaan’ . In ‘Paadunnu Puzha’, the same refrain occurs in three disparately different settings, a challenge to a composer to reflect different situations. But as Dakshinamurthi was clear about film song as ‘telling’ something in a musical way rather than mere singing, he could match the varying moods of the film in variegated melody. The combination of Dakshinamurthi with poet Srikumaran Thampi and Yesudas makes a very ordinary situation in the film luminous through the song, ‘Hridaya Sarisile Pranaya Pushpame’.

 We have a very rare occurrence in cinema of a romantic air of great beauty begun in Begada in the film ‘Stree’ (Innale Neeyoru), and tapering off in Amir Kalyani! The imperceptible shifting of gears between Kamboji and Shanmukhapriya in ‘Kaattile Paazhmulam’ is capped rather dramatically with a plaintive Manoloyam (Vilaikku Vaangiya Veena). Dakshinamurthi could easily distill fragrant melodies from multifarious ragas that the sixties and seventies demanded (for example, Ponveyil Manikacha in Velaiikku Vaangiya Veena based on Sankarabharanam, and  ‘Uttaraa Swayamvaram Kathakali Kaanuvaan’ in ‘Danger Biscuit’). When it comes to Mahakavi G. Sankara Kurup’s suggestion-laden poetry in ‘Abhayam’ (Sraantham Ambaram), it gets the mounting, as it were, of Vedic hymns resounding to the rumble of monsoon clouds. The sombre and awesome metre and melody to which ‘an extended sky burning in a rush of fiery dreams’ flows like an Upanishadic incantation is possible only when literature is expressed by a musical oracle like Dakshinamurthi. Those who have listened to Dakshinamurthi reciting his own Tamil hymns like one possessed  can understand that basically he was translating into musical terms an inner state of worship and adoration going back to his Vaikkom days. (Dakshinamurthi published his outpourings, titled ‘Aatma Deepam’ under the pseudonym, ‘Sivanadithondar’).

‘Kaavya Mela’, which is about the tragedy that shadows a poet (and what greater tragedy can there be for a writer than plagiarism!), itself borrows freely from ‘Pyaasa’! The songs by Dakshinamurthi are thankfully original. They were a hit in Malayalam, and when the film was made in Tamil as ‘Devi’, the Tamil songs too made an impact though the film failed. One very interesting song in the Malayalam version, ‘Swapnangal’, has five singers and music directors singing on stage. They are P.Leela, P.B.Srinivos, Yesudas, M.B.Srinivasan and Dakshinamurthi himself! Sahana flows like a breeze in the refrain ‘Swapnangal Swapnangal’. The song features as a paean to the Tamil language in the Tamil version (‘Thithikkum Muttamizhe’ sung by T. M. Sounderarajan and P. Sushila). Once the late TMS remembered Dakshinamurthi to this writer, exclaiming, ‘‘He had the talent to make good melodies in classical ragas’’.

 Being a natural singer himself, Dakshinamurthi tuned songs mainly by singing them. ‘‘Other composers use the harmonium for composing. But this – pointing to his voice – is the only reed I use. And I don’t believe in making tunes and having songs written for them. I invariably tune lyrics which are written for the situation. This helps me bring out the feelings that must be expressed. And generally, it is the tune that strikes me first that proves to be the best’’. Dakshinamurthi’s handful of films in Tamil were marked by winsome melodies but opportunities shrunk because the films didn’t succeed. One of the crowning glories of his career was his work for ‘Jagatguru Adi Sankarar’ (1977), which was made in Malayalam and dubbed in Tamil as well. His ‘Bhaja Govindam’ and ‘Sankara Digvijayam’ are unforgettable songs in this musically rich film.