His daughter’s writings reveal unknown facts!

Thangammal Bharati Padaipukal Centenary publication, Amudhasurabi,  Chennai,2004 pages 472, Price Rs.200.

Mahakavi Bharati’s  poetry is well-established. Not only in Tamil but  at the all India level. Quoted and written about in all Indian languages. He lived only 39 years. He also wrote much that was traditional. What makes Bharati stand out, in  the all Indian context, is the fact that he and he alone, even apart from other greats like Tagore, who sang of the Indian people’s yearning for freedom, their nationalism, their awakening for fighting for freedom. He was also a political activist and the role he played in the 1907 Surat Congress is still to be written about in historic context. A poet of his genius in any other country would have got much more recognition and much written literature. Not so in his land of birth.

The revolutionary  poet Subramanya Bharati had lived at the dawn of Indian nationalism and he, born with poetical gifts of unusual kind, started off as a traditional poetical creator of unsuspected  talents and yet soon transformed himself as a poet of genius with foresight and vision. So, when he was still in his teens he started composing poems that showed  lots of inventive  use of words and phrases and once there was the Swadeshi movement he jumped into it with full vigour. This book is a compilation of the writings of his daughter who,after the poet passed away, started writing first her mother’s reminiscences which are also published by the same publishers. Now, the daughter’s writings are collected in a single volume, edited and introduced by her own daughter, the  editor being Dr.Vijaya  Bharati who along with her husband are Canadian citizens and engaged in bringing out a standard edition of Bharati’s poetical works.

This book is divided into four sections. First, One dramatic piece penned by the daughter of the poet, as she herself says in her preface, contains episodes involving the poet and the same didn’t find place in what she wrote in her own mother’s reminiscences. The piece even now makes interesting reading and the language quite lively, as the poet’s own and given in the hands of competent choreographers  must be turned into a theatrical production. The next hundred odd pages give various incidents in the poet’s life and the memorable song and compositions he made. For a true lover of the poet and his writings, researchers in particular this section is an indispensable source material. For those who would read the texts of the poems, the context is given here only. The poets various moods, he as the poet, as the husband and the father of two  young daughters, the various individuals, Aurobindo and the Mother, other well-known friends and acquaintances are all here.

The close friendship that existed between Aurobindo and the poet is well brought out. The daughter had watched how much Aurobindo too sought the company of the poet, rather than the poet sought after the company of the great yogi and seer. There was a violent storm and heavy rain and Pondicherry was devastated. The next day Bharati and the 12 year old daughter went to visit Aurobindo. “Babuji welcomed father with much affection. The two conversed together for long. Babuji did japa the whole night without bothering about what happened around him. While all the other things were intact, the photograph of his wife Srimathi Mrinalini Devi was smashed. That pained Aurobindo much. After two days, there came news from Bengal the dear lady passed away” (page 74) The editor of the volume says no one who wrote of Aurobindo so far had bought out the close association of the yogi and poet as the 12 year old girl who often accompanied her father to the ashram had done. Very true! There were many nights when the poet would visit the yogi and both would spend almost the whole nights together reading the Vedas and discussing such high matters.

The Mother, formerly Mira Richard along with her husband once visited Bharati in his home. This anecdote is also interesting. It was Bharati who taught the  mother not to  shake hands of  strangers and he showed her the Indian way of saying namaskar and from that day onwards the Mother adopted the practice (page 203). More interesting is her observation on Aurobindo and Bharati. Says she: “It is difficult to write on the sort of relationship that existed between the two. It is impossible. Mahakavi Bharati imagined himself as Arjuna, nay, he had the mental resolve and mental faculty to imagine himself as Lord Krishna. Aurobindo understood this side of the poet’s character and he admired   his friendship with the poet” (page 203). Only an innocent and at the same time an intelligent young girl of just 12 could make such observations!

There is also a mention of the meeting of the poet with Sister Nivedita at Dumdum in Kolkatta. I felt it is a pity the dates or the probable dates of these historical meets have been researched and add for the benefit of future generations of readers. Even now, it is not too late. There is another unknown episode about Bharati’s friend and disciple, Bharatidasn. There is a poem given here on Bharatidasan’s composition of Parasakthi! Says  Thangammal” This song is not added in Bharatidasan’s poems nowadays” (page 204) Pages 135 to page 197 is an autobiography of Thangammal. This covers as she herself says in the preface her memories from age 5 to age 15 (written in 1947), these 60 odd pages are the heart of this  archival material. Here we see a child sent to Benares for study and stay with her relations. She attends Annie Besant’s College, learns Sanskrit and Hindi and her observations of girls in North India and her comparison with South Indian girls, her descpritions of the travel both ways make  engrossing reading. I would put as the piece de resistance as the last pages (196-197) the most moving and the most heart-rending.  When the father, the poet, sees his daughter after such a long gap and he finds it difficult to recognise the daughter and for her part she finds it difficult to recognise her father!  “My words fail, my eyes fill with tears, my hands fail to proceed…. “A piece of Joycean prose Tamil could inherit as its own. For times to come!

The 12 pages (223-237) deal with one of the memorable phases of the life of the poet and his dear wife. The marriage of the poet, her mother’s family background, the honeymoon, the young couple’s life at Ettayapuram, the birth of the first daughter , the poet engaged an Anglo-Indian lady to teach his wife English and one day the poet disappears to Pondicherry. These pages carry so much detail and a close observation of life at home and they make  for immortal literature. While this book contains valuable material that helps readers to know more about how the poet lived and composed many of his immortal lyrics, there are some  terribly missing gaps and some agonising questions for intelligent readers.

Since I know the Bharatis (Dr.Vijaya Bharati and her husband Prof.P.K. Sundarrajan) for quite a long time since the  days of their  life  in Coimbatore in the late Sixties, I have to add here some more thoughts and comments for the larger benefit of Tamil society. First,Tangammal was a gifted writer and she had lived,I guess, all the time of 12 years with her father in Pondicherry till she was married  at age 15 (1920) and later she lived in Singapore why she didnt think of writing her father’s last years? May be she was away. Even after she had come back and lived till 1961 she could have written and filled up lots of gaps in our knowledge of the poet’s many-sided personality. A great loss indeed! Either the manuscript is lost or she didn’t write?

Second, why she hadn’t written of her life or the life of her mother and her own thoughts after  the father passed away?

Third, why Bharati’s numerous dedicated friends didnt press her to do so? Or did they try or what happened? One more thought: what were her father’s innermost thoughts after he came out of jail and lived in Kadyam? And later in Chennai? Finally,why Dr.Bharati herself, as a scholar and a writer didnt ask her mother to write more  on her father and mother? Even now, I fee that Dr.Bharati should write her own memories of her mother and ask several questions like the above and answer so that Bharati scholars would benefit immensely. One more thought:Tamil universities, more so the ones like Madras and Bharati university in Coimbatore must open Bharati research wings and even acquire and exhibit Bharati writings and manuscripts.

One friend told me the other day he possesses one rare manuscript of Bharati, the “cheettukavi” Bharati wrote to the Ettayapuram zamindar! These are  national treasures. Universities  in UK and USA have purchased at great costs such manuscripts and established formidable research centres. For instance, Yale university had bought the papers of James Boswell and as a result there has come out a definite new biography of the author of the Life of Johnson!

I hope Tamiluniversities  undertake some  genuine  long-term Tamil development projects. TamilNadu government must entrust Dr.Vijaya Bharati to undertake  organising a Bharati archieve and also write a comprehensive biography of her mother and whatever she can by way of new insights and new interpretations of Bharati works. It is also a great pity we don’t have a complete, reliable edition of Bharati’s poetical works that can be comparable with other great poet’s  similar editions.

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