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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thiru. Vi. Ka, the Tamil Gandhi & His Times. Ch 3:ChinnaINNASAMY

IIIrd Chapter


The native returned thrice to Thullum, his birthplace, which he left in 1890. Dismayed at the derelict remains of his hamlet in 1928, he went back to return in 1938 and met with playmate Appadorai Pillai. His hopes of resettling there were dashed on his third visit in 1940; Appadorai Pillai had died on the day of his visit. He savours though, his accosting Muniammal, his class mate by name, though she failed to recognize him. We see a vignette of rural frankness. She, a poor village housewife going about her humdrum chores, chided the scholar, ‘Chinnasamy! What will you do here? Go back’.

ThiruViKa was born to Vriddachalam Mudaliyar and Chinnammal on August 26, 1883, the sixth child and the second son. The genealogy goes back to Thiruvarur Kandasamy Mudaliyar, which explains the ‘Thiru’ in his initials. The elder boy is ‘peria’ (the senior) and the younger is ‘chinna’ (the junior); ‘samy’ was the common suffix. Thus, his brother, Thiru. Vi. Ulaganatha Mudaliyar and ThiruViKa became Periasami and Chinnasami respectively in family circles. Colleagues and friends in later life referred to them as ‘Peria’ and ‘Chinna’ Mudaliyars. Given to tantrums, Chinnasamy was quite the brat in childhood, the school bully later and played the hooligan in his youth. His parents could hardly discipline him, with his doting grandmother hovering around. Well-built, he took to sports like fish to water, becoming an adept in athletics, martial skills, games like tennis and of all things, in a native form of fencing!

A scare to timid boys, he spared not elders either, if they displeased him. He recalls disturbing public meetings and pelting stones at speakers, whom he did not fancy. He was to become the Tamil Gandhi!

Vriddachalam Mudaliyar, a third-generation scholar, taught Tamil and English to his boys in his thinnaipallikudam, literally the home-school. Keen on reaching the best modern education to his boys, he returned to his Royapettah moorings when Chinnaswamy was seven. Chinnasvamy schooled at Wesley Mission School in 1894 and again from 1898 to 1904, preceded by two years at Aryan Primary School. The interruption in schooling was due to the sudden onset of a rheumatic disability. A diligent student, he always stood first, gaining accolades and winning prizes. He vividly recalls his schooldays and his teachers in his autobiography. He did not finish school, though. The contrarian in him missed a crucial examination, as he was caught up in litigation!

He had to earn a living, his father having died on September 11, 1905. He worked for Spencer & Co for about two years, having qualified himself as an accountant and taught Tamil in a nearby school for six years, thereafter. He became the head of the Tamil department in Wesley Institution in 1916, only to resign that post, the very next year. He was poised to jump into the political fray.

A calamity had befallen him in 1918. He married Kamalambikai on September 13, 1912. Two children were born and did not survive infancy. Devastated, she fell ill and consumption racked her weak physique.

She died on September 18, 1918. There is a moving account of his wedded bliss in his autobiography. The tragedy scarred him forever. Remaining single for the rest of his life, he took to his pursuits with single-minded devotion. Kamalambikai, a sad memory for ever, obviously influenced his feminism. His biographical sketches are from his close associates. They have, for some reason, dealt with this sensitive facet in his life, as though it is a closed chapter.

Reticent and abstemious in private life, he plunged into public life through the Indian National Congress, the Madras Labour Union and by accepting the editorship of Desabhaktan on February 28, 1919. His autobiography hints at the intrigues which made him resign his editorship on July 22, 1920; he would not elaborate. Nearing his forties, he was at crossroads. Coupled with the founding of Justice Party in December 1916, the ubiquitous schisms within the Indian National Congress and the rise of Annie Besant’s Home Rule Movement, for which Desabhaktan was the Tamil flagship, the mix was heady and in its midst, the widower found himself orphaned once again in 1920. He seriously considered withdrawing from public life for governing a girl’s school in distant Karaikudi. Unbeknownst to him, a twenty-year political tenure was beckoning him. Fond of him as they were, his workers bought him a printing press and Navasakthi was born, Periasamy owning the weekly. The gift was actually a rebirth of his working life.

He published his autobiography in 1944. His health deteriorated, diabetes ravaging his body. Cataract surgery failed and he lost his eyesight in 1950. He persisted and took to dictating his books, though he suffered much in later life. He was, for all practical purposes, evicted from his rented premises and found it difficult to go about his life in an unfamiliar rented accommodation, having lost his eyesight earlier.

The end came on September 17, 1953. Periasamy’s family had looked after him with steadfast devotion and sincere love for more than three decades after he was widowed in 1918. Periasamy was his bulwark throughout. Ever the backroom boy and the steam engine behind all the endeavours of his famous brother, he was the more self-effacing of the two. Possessed of practical wisdom, he took care of every thing and never questioned his brother’s judgment and was the Hanuman to the other’s Rama. His service and sacrifices have not been adequately acknowledged by the Tamil world.

The emergence of scholars in his and the earlier generation has some striking features. Most of them missed formal schooling. They took lessons from their fathers at home and then sought out teachers in distant villages. Great scholars, those teachers were obscure and poor. A modern university cannot instill the high academic standards and the wide spectrum of scholarship that they bestowed on their pupils, as to manner born. There is a fair sprinkling of reclusive spirits among them, like Gnaniyar Adigal, Pamban Swamigal, Maraimalai Adigal, Swami Vipulananda of the Ramakrishna Math, Fr. Xavier S. Thani Nayagam S.J, Suddhanantha Bharathi. A significant number of others lost their wives young, but got remarried without much loss of time!