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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thiru. Vi. Ka, the Tamil Gandhi & His Times: Ch: 5: Tamil Gandhi


Date: Sunday, April 6, 1919

This is a sacred day in Indian History - Satyagraha Day. A Sanskrit word, it means what it says – Truth Takes Over. This mantra won Independence for us. It is a basic Gandhian tenet, brought alive that day to protest the infamous Rowlatt Act 1919 authorizing the government to imprison people without trial. Constitutional protests were brushed aside and it became law on March 10, 1919. The whole country was agitated. Ever the organization man, Gandhiji had set the date for the nation-wide Satyagraha Day well in advance, toured the country, extracted promises of patent transgression of the law and manifest good behaviour. The mantra spread like a wild fire.

ThiruViKa, a signatory of this pledge recalls the Madras outcome in his autobiography. The Royapettah and the Labour beats were assigned to him. Kamath partnered him in the former, Dhandapani Pillai in the latter. Toiling day and night, they let posters and pamphlets fly. A monitoring committee, including him and Rajaji, toured the whole city. Tempers, they found, running high at Perambur, a Labour stronghold. VaOosi and Dhandapani Pillai were struggling to keep peace and ThiruViKa delivered a Gandhian oration, lending the inimitable ThiruViKa touch, by citing Vashista, Prahlada, Jesus Christ and Appar. He asked them to disperse and reassemble the next day and keep peace. The mob behaved on both days.

Satyagraha Day was a day of penance, celebration and sacrifice. Bajans at the crack of the dawn (a Madras ‘must’), waves and waves of people pouring at Desabakthan office, a long procession vending its way to Guhananda Nilayam, the saivete centre, the Day was observed with becoming élan. Bharathiyar meandered in and deferred to ThiruViKa, and chanted, ‘Muruga, Muruga’. This was an impromptu Invocation. The effect was electric, moving the gathering to tears and me now.

A massive Labour army joined. Shops magically opened shutters, hastily prepared pots and pots of sweetened water and served to the thirsty army. The Behemoth wended its way to the waterfront and speeches were made. ThiruViKa complements his own vocal chord for being the in-built loud hailer. He expected imminent arrest; he was not arrested and thereby hangs a different tale! This long introduction serves three purposes - introducing the Tamil Gandhi, highlighting the pulse of the people and bringing out ThiruViKa in his elements. Whoever said that he a reticent person? Though not in this context, one cannot, but, record the outrage that stunned the nation on April 13, 1919 – the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre at the Holy City of Amritsar, Punjab. That single week rewrote Indian history.

He called on Gandhiji in his railway coach at Arakonam halt on March 18, 1919, armed with a letter of introduction from Salem Sir T. Vijayaraghavachariar. It was his first darshan of the Mahatma. The meet is best described in his words.

I felt, he says, the presence of Raja Harichandra, the mythological king wedded to truth, Buddha and The Tamil saint, Thiruvalluvar.

Gandhiji asked him to be his interpreter and the first opportunity came a few days later, when he addressed the Labour at Preambur and Pattalam. The Tamil Gandhi, as he was addressed by many thereafter, took to reading Tolstoy to understand Gandhiji. Thus fortified, he authored the book, ‘Mahatma Gandhi & the Human Situation’ in 1921, illuminating Gandhism for the Tamil. He says in his Preface dated the May 1, 1921 that an essay in Desabakthan Annual of 1919 was developed into a pamphlet of fifty one pages and then into a book, “Gandhiji and the Human Situation” in five hundred pages. He wished to revise it for the third edition in 1926. That was not to be, as he was assailed by tragedies in the family. We do not know what he had in mind. He lived that book for the rest of his life, even in food habits and attire out of conviction.

Gnaniyar Adigal, the saintly scholar, once referred to Gandhiji as ‘ThiruViKa from the North’, Dr. Aa. Nagalingam, the only PhD researcher on ThiruViKa, told the writer. Gnaniyar Adigal was no ordinary person. A mystic and Tamil scholar, he was venerated for his wisdom. Pa. Mahalingam, in the Festschrift 1983, traces the Gandhian influence to an earlier talk by Dr. Henry.S. Polak. It was he, who gifted John Ruskin's book "Unto the Last" to Gandhiji in South Africa and thereby shaped the destiny of our nation. ThiruViKa dedicated himself to all the Gandhian values – truth, Satyagraha, non-violence, harijan uplift, prohibition, patriotism and women empowerment, in his writings and speeches. When exactly Gandhiji overtook Marx? We do not know except that the lines are blurred. This much is clear. He wrote in Navasakthi of March 17, 1922 that institutions should be formed for preserving and propagating Gandhian ideals, as the Congress party would forget him.