On an unexpected day I had a caller in Bangalore. It was C.S. Ramakrihnan (CSR), a long time friend. I have had many friends, big and small and I often wondered whether I have friends in the sense others talk of theirs. I cant say I have childhood friends whom I remember now. Nor my school friends whom I meet often, nor they care to rember me or want to know of me. As for the college days friends I have rarely one or two whom I even call once a while. Yes, I have some long time friends, may be they also happened to be relations or one or two I happen to remember when I pass through their village or homes if in the city.
Yes, it is peculiar how my life had shaped up. My life had seen several turns and twists, some brought me to very heights of excellence ,be it education or countries or contacts. Some twists brought me crashing down for the delights of my one-time enemies. Now, I have no enemies, nor any great friends in whom I can confide or share my innermost thoughts. Many times I find myself lovely, that is in intellectual, emotional and ethical sorts of ways. Otherwise, I am quite engaged with my family and spending time with family gives unlimited joys.
So, when this unexpected friend called on me I was delighted. He has been a Gandhina constructive worker, as he himself describes, so there is this first time experience for me to discuss issues, men and matters that don’t concern me directly.
The point of interaction with this friend is that he had been watching me from my MLC days. Otherwise, he and me come from the same geographical location, he comes from Chitur in Kerala, just on the same road that passes through my Tamil Nadu village on the border of Kerala. Chittur has many links with me, my first teacher who taught me the alphabets, one Narayana (?) Gurukkal, was from Chittur. So, this name often gives me a fraternal feeling. Those early teachers of mine, all unsung heroes, one Vellingiri Thevar of Rangasamudram village also played a role in my rise to the present level. He taught me the first few English words. So, too Narayana Gurukkal too I remember for teaching the English language!
So, to Chittur and now CSR brings me the earlier memories. I was particularly touched his capacity for friendship. I sent him an invitation not long ago for a literary function in Salem. It was a routine invitation to some friends whose address I had At that time CSR was at Kasturbagram and it was remote place. The last thing I imagined was he would come. But he did come! That touched me deeply. As he narrated, it was an ordeal for him that day to make the trip. His wife was keeping indifferent health, yet he left her in the remote location, he traveled on his two wheeler to nearby Arachalur town. There he left the vehicle and caught a bus to reach Erode and from there he traveled again by bus to reach the spot. That was the measure of the man, the strength of his character and I had no words to thank him. So, this meeting proved to be a point in my life for we spent, rather I spent for the first time almost the whole forenoon and the afternoon to spend time with him and his devoted wife. Long live the couple!
Otherwise CSR brought me closer to many big names ,all in the Gandhian arena, most of them I also had known and some very closely and perhaps CSR himself might not know how closer I came to some of the names whom he mentioned.
Most old time Gandhians were either visiting Ramakrishna Vidyalaya of Avinashilingam Chettiar where I was a student or they were in fact working there like the late K. Arunachalam. Arunachalam I admired and much respected, as much for his Gandhis as for his common sense. There were times, in fact two particular times when he gave me the lead to go ahead. Once when Ayya was discouraging me to proceed to Oxford. I consulted Arunachalam whom I met soon after I left Ayya. He simply said” Go to England, ignore all other advice!”. A Gandhian advice?
I wondered. The man was full of good common sense. A rare trait for a professional Gandhian. On a later occasion when I met him in Madurai where he had retired, I was in a low mood. having closed down my school venture. As he turned towards me, he just said” Look…you have done your job, nobody can destroy history, can they? Someone would come in the future, how long we cant say but surely someone would come to realise the historic importance of your work, so he or she would put a monument, if not anything more. Why then worry, feel happy!” This again for me was untypical of a Gandhian advice.
The other persons we discussed were of course T.S.Avinashi lingam Chettiar, Ayya, as we always called him and G.Ramachandran, the founder of the Gandhigram university, And one or two other Gandhians from Kerala. As for Ayya I didn’t tell CSR all I wanted to tell, for he had much to say and I only wanted to listen to him this time. CSR also told me one uncomfortable anecdote about Ayya. As for me, Ayya was first a realist, then only Gandhian! He closed down the Rural Institute once the going was tough! I had the good fortune to give jobs in my new school to the DRS candidates who were unemployable then! Luckily, no one asked me why I appointed them! The education dept was progressive then. There was a liberal air about the education innovations.
CSR had just now relinquished his latest assignment with the Kasturba Gandhi trust near Erode where he was in charge of orphan children. Thanks to so many mishaps and mishandling of the institution, it refuses to grow and settle down. It, in my opinion, needs a local custodian preferably a new businessman with a charitable mindset. The society as it is, seeks quick publicity with films stars or politicians, where are people for quieter mental satisfaction?
I often drive past off the village located in the midst of a fertile agricultural community, the dominant Gounder caste to which our family too belong . We have family relations and lots of friends and acquaintances around. Some one need to take the initiative. That is all.
I know the psychology of this dominant community which is only now getting out of its old mindset and yet to look out of its narrow environment and concerns. Times have changed and so too values, I tell myself these days. So, we have to live with the realities and the limitations. as we find them and make the most of our opportunities. Otherwise, I know the institution since the time of the LKM family was nurturing it. It had seen bigger and more dedicated patrons, CS was once behind the LKM couple and I was eyewitness to one event when a sum was handed over to the trustee by a mill owner, thanks to CS’s prompting. So, on and on. Now, CSR is out and all I wanted to say was to give him some comforting words of solace.
As for G.Ramachandran CSR has great admiration for his great work, so too me!
GR, as readers should know first a Santiniketanite and secondly he was a Gandhi-ite as well. I had met GR many times, both in Santiniketan and then in CBE and also in Gandhigram. The last time I saw him was at Neyyattinkara, in his mother’s ancestral home and which now serves as his memorial. CSR told me all about its present work and I was glad how there are devoted workers. GR was an exuberant personality, he had a way with words, a great orator and true Tagorean and a Gandhian as well. I am rather more a Tagorean and then only a Gandhian in the sense I inherited many values from a Gandhian school. Lately I have changed completely and I am not sure how far I am a Tagorean or for that matter how far I am a critic of Gandhiji. Lately, I have read so many books, spent lot of time reflecting on the history of India, the long past and recent past and now I have developed my own perspectives.
All these things I didn’t share with my visitor this time, it was not eh occasion. But one thing, no some thoughts. Gandhigram didn’t remain true to its original. It had become like any other job-giving academic institution, take it or leave it. So too for that matter what Avinashilingam Chettiar did in his education enterprises, they have all changed with the times. Perhaps we cant do otherwise, can we, given our present day pressures and limitations of human character?
So, we came to others. He had his own favourote, the Gandhian Radhakrishnan. And we were focusing on Thiruvananthapuram. I asked him whether he knew my friend, P.K.Visvanathan of Mitraniketan? Obviously he had heard but not much personal interaction. My friend Visvanathan was a Santiniketanite, long before me, and after his return he established this mini-Gandhigram! He was good enough to put me on his committee but only I didn’t have the time to visit him as often as I wished. So, I don’t know much about the affairs there. He had been good enough to visit my school in Pichanur when it was in its difficult days.
As readers can imagine, I have become very sceptical of idealists establishing education institutions. Now, it is either money or none else. So, I have watched how great many education institutions that were once conceived as idealist ventures hit the rocks. Of course none cares!
Education is now a different ball game and let us not talk about it here! But the great task of India to live up to its destiny might haunt thoughtful people. As I often see, Indian history had been a terrible past, so many famine deaths, so much endemic poverty, ignorance, diseases etc. Also our 300 years of slavish Macaulay education had produced an educated class that thinks and imagines, it is in our genes that to obey the authority of the ay is every educated Indians’ dharma.
This I want to change. Can I do it? In my time? Why I care? All I have to do is my duty. So, I tell the truth on all platforms open to me.
I have read so many new books on Tagore, Gandhi and Nehru. Particularly the one book, Rabindranath Tagore by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. One advantage of having an English man as a co-author, I thought, is to have some objectivity. So, we find in the book so many shocking and startling revelations! One, though Gandhi first landed in India after his South African stay only at Santiniketan. Tagore gave him all support. So, too in the course of the Freedom Struggle. Yet, there was no love lost between the two. Have the readers, more so the Ganhdians noticed that in Gandhi’s autobiography, there is no word about Tagore or Santiniketan or Sriniketan (rural reconstruction work of Tagore). Gandhiji invited trouble when he made a derogatory remark on Raja Rammohun Roy. So, Tagore defended the founder of the Brahma Samaj. So, too when Tagore surrendered his knighthood, he expected support from Gandhi. It was half-hearted, say the authors. Another latest book on Gandhi. The Un Gandhian Gandhi by Claude Marko its. This author is a French thinker, very much like a later-day Remain Rolland, the only difference, is here is a critical evaluation of Gandhi’s real achievement. The significant point he makes in this book is that Gandhi precluded many details of his life by simply giving us an account of his moral beliefs and opinions. Thus, we don’t get the so many details about how he evolved as a family man, politician etc. I too believe that Gandhians even now behave in child-like fashions.
So, the very same tired old grandma tales! Gandhians if true, have to become more adult-like, more robust and they must show off their moral fiber by taking up current causes like environment, fight PILs in the courts and get justice for the weak. They must also directly participate in politics and cleanse the system.
I can give CSR many interesting other information. I know Tara Bhattacharya, he mentioned her name, the grand-daughter of Gandhi, I met her when she came to Santiniketan first. She was half-Tamil, I full-Tamil. So, we were the first to converse there. Then, as it happened she met my professor, Bhattacharya and with her parents consent he married her!
I know Rajmohan Gandhi and also his brother, the present Governor of Bengal, Gopal Gandhi, when both of them came to Geneva for a conference when I was a student at Oxford. Gandhi progeny is unassuming, unlike the Nehru-Gandhi ones where politics adds glamour to everything!
Today we live in a new environment, India had changed beyond recognition by the old timers and Indians have no patience with grandma talks. It is also imperative we, the educated Indian generation, must learn to look at our past weaknesses, as a nation, as a people, given to subservient behaviour and it is time we are entering the globalising world on a new note of confidence. India is perceived as a Software Superpower and every year 5 lakh engineers pass through our colleges and we have to become more self-confident and self-assertive.
We have produced Independent India’s first generation of lower-middle class engineering becoming billionaires! Just in one decade! How was this possible? The application of new knowledge and new skills. Yes, there is much inequality, inequity, much widespread poverty. All this is true. How we can solve these problems? We have to become a historically conscious people. We have to seek new solutions to tackle new problems.
Yes, there is still room for a civilised civic society that cares for the underprivileged and the weak. There will be NGOs, more Gandhians of a more activist mindset and more direct participation in politics. Gandhi was so many things to so many people. But he was a politician and hence he was taken seriously. So too was Rajaji. These two great Indians were multi-faceted personalities. Deep in their activities was the political change they wanted to bring about. How history will judge them, is not in our hands. I hope more Gandhians of CSR types would take comfort in my thoughts.
As for CSR I wish him long years of happiness in his future endeavors.
One last point. CSR was a nominee for the annual Jamnalal Bajaj awards. I am sure he fully deserves that award. He is a dedicated life-time worker for the great Gandhian causes, he is very much into the current issues too. He led the peace brigade when the bomb blast shook the Coimbatore city. He is a tireless worker, traveler and no cause is small for him as long as the cause is to promote Gandhian values. I hope and strongly recommend his name for the Bajaja Award.
For those who may not know, I know the great Ramakrishna Bajaj so well. Whenever I was in Mumbai in those days I used to call on him, a great inheritor of the Gandhi legacy.
I know the whole atmosphere there. I even once conducted my company’s meeting in the Bajaj conference table, thanks to my friends, Dr.Subramaniam, a former Minister of Maharashtra Government.
So, I wish my friend all the good luck!