Dear Meenakshi Mukeherjee,
I read with great your book review in the Economic and Political Weekly for June 2-8 2007 on A.K.Chettiar’s reminiscences of making a documentary on Mahatama Gandhi. In fact, the late A.K.Chettiar was my long time friend and mentor. I knew him for a fairly long time, since my college days in Chennai to his last years. He helped me in writing and also to get to know people at all sorts of places and countries. When I went to Santiniketan for the first time when I was hardly eighteen or so, he gave me a letter of introduction to some friend who came to receive me at the Howrah railway station! Such was his habit that whenever I sought his help there he was. He knew so many people, big and small and Issued to be amazed at his capacity to strike friendships that lasted his lifetime. He brought his unique personal charm and charisma and that you used to find in his friends too.
He was in his prime the most celebrated writer of a translucent Tamil prose style and he was the pioneer in Tamil travel writing. His books sold in thousands in those days and one classic was called, “A Tamil who is a wanderer in the world”. This narrated the worldwide admiration the Gandhi name enjoyed even long before India got freedom. He must have met almost all the Gandhi contemporaries, from Gandhi’s South African colleagues to such names like Romain Rolland and Subash Bose in Vienna and each of such encounters he brought to life in his sensitive portraits in the Tamil language.
He published his famous monthly, Kumari Malar which itself had some unique achievements. He unearthed the long forgotten writings of the famed Tamil poet, Subramany a Bahrati, before others came in the trail. Mr.A.R.Venkatachalapathy whom I know well is the latest such rare researcher who brought to light rare manuscripts and printed and published magazines of Bharati.
I have so much to narrate on the life and qualities of Chettiar’s mind and his innate humanity. The subject deserves a full-length biography and also much other recognitions.
As for the Gandhi film, he was the true great achiever. I know some details about how the Gandhi smarak Nidhi let him down and also how the friends of Gandhi including Rajajai were so unhelpful in the matter of preserving the Gandhi film. He wanted to sell the film to the Gandhi nidhi but there was no one to buy, I know. Chettiar was a sad man and yet it was his nature he never let others know his personal disappointments.
May be the disappointment with the Gandhi trustees( I know personally how Rajaji and Devadas Gandhi didn’t come forward to help him, they didn’t show enough interest to save his project by purchasing the film) had also led to the film getting lost. How the film got lost is not made known to us, Chettiar’s close friends, though he used to promise us once to screen for us the film in some theatre. This also never came though. The man lost the film, he also lost interest in pursuing any other career as such except lead a routine and retired life by editing the small circulation monthly, Kumari Malar. The magazine saw its glory in its initial years, long ago. I used to call on him at his modest office on the Mowbrys Road, Royappettah, he shared the office with one fellow companion, Mr.Gopalan. The two kept company with each other and there always used to be callers from all walks of life. He used to travel often to district towns, Madurai and Coimbatore where he was my guest often. The last good friend whose company and hospitality he enjoyed is the devoted couple, Gnanalaya Krishnamurthy and Mrs. Dorathy Krishnamurthy of Pudukottai. They run perhaps the state’s only privately-run library of rare Tamil books.
Surely he was a man from another era.
I treasure his memory as the most valuable in my life and also the many small little helps and timely advice at different stages of my life.
Anyway, I appreciate you are able to construct a picture of the man as he lived, he was extremely unwilling to talk of his personal life, though he comes from a community of money lenders(to which the present Finance Minister P.Chidambaram belongs) and most of his community men were so money-minded and here was a man from such a community who never sought money for himself or identified himself with money-minded people.
Of course he had plenty of friends who were always at his service and every one of us who enjoyed his friendship and affection would always remember what they all gained by his personal example.
Vadamalai Media Group
Reply from Ms.Meenakshi Mukeherjee
Dear Mr. Isvarmurti, Thank you so much for taking the trouble to write. I read your letter with keen interest because after reading the Mahatma book in Eng trans. I am fascinated by the the author. I am from outside Tamil culture and did not know much about Mr. Chettiar before reading this book.I am glad I have not gone off the markin assessing the man or the book. . The loss of such a valuable film seems inexplicable to me. If you can write a letter to EPW relating whatever you know on the subject , it would indeed be a useful service .
With warm regards,
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