I had seen and heard the late leader “Anna” (C.N. Annadurai) as a student when I was at Pachapayya’s College during the 1953-55 period. Anna himself was an old student and as such there was much affinity between his old college and the same college students. The first time I came to know the name of Anna must be in the 1940’s when I went to the high school, namely, Sri Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya founded by T.S. Avinashilingam Chettiar in Coimbatore. Chettiar was a great Gandian, one who had moved with Gandhiji, rather very closely and had toured with him when he came on his Jarijan tour to collect funds for his cause. Gandhiji used to address Chettiar, in his correspondence as simply “Avinashi”, an endearing way to call one’s close associate. It was Chettiar who had spread the Congress ideals in the Coimbatore district.
When I joined the school, Chettiar party was the Education Minister in the Omandur Ramasamy Reddiar Cabinet, when Freedom came in 1947. When I was in the school, we the students used to read mostly nationalist books there were stray cases of some books that found their way into our school. One was the book of by C.N.Annadurai with the title “Kamba Rasam”. (Kamba’s aesthetics). There used to be barbed criticism of Chettiar who was then the education minister. Why Anna’s rather less than respectful reference to Chettiar?
Now, at this distance of time, I can say with more clarity why Anna’s way of writing. Anna’s other books at that time too tended to be what we these days call scurrilous writings, attacking brahminism, brahmins, directly and ridiculting everything held as sacrosant.
In the book on Kamban’s poetry and the criticism to Chettiar’s admiration for the poet’s great compositions, Anna found fault with Kamban’s references to women and their many beauties as described by the poet. Chettiar was a great Tamil lover, it was he who founded a Tamil Academy which published the Tamil Encyclopaedia. Anna was then the emerging platform orator and writer, though his rather not so great pedigree and conformism to the orthodox society’s many conventions made Anna a sort of outsider to this society. So, in 1948 when there was the first Tamil writers’ conference Anna was invited to speak. His speech became a landmark and in this conference Chettiar was the moving spirit as education minister and even Anna’s speech makes some less than respectful remarks to Chettiar.
Thus, our reading of Anna’s book with references to Chettiar was great sensation among us, boys. This was also the time when I vaguely learnt the Dravidian movement, though we in the high school were simply soaked in the great nationalism that swept the early years of Independence, the school was a regular stop for all visiting nationalist leader, Gandhiji himself laying the foundation stone for the school in 1934. The next time I came to see Anna and hear him speak was when I joined the Pachayappa, the breeding ground for the very DMK movement. Many students of my time in the College went on to become prominent leaders of the party.
I remember in the first Governor’s Tea party in 1968, when I was elected to the Legislative Council, all the MLAs were DMK men. I was the only legislator wearing pure all-white khadi dress! All the DMK legislators wearing the party’s red and black border dhotis were my college mates and we made a strong contrast to the shape of politics to come. In his student days he became known for his oratorical skills and had earned a reputation before he left the college.
There used to be so many anecdotes about his speaking skills and also about the influences of Tamil teachers of his time. Pachayappa’s College always had a long tradition of Tamil scholarship and it was this reputation that drew me also to study Tamil course as a special study by myself. So, by the time I was in the D Group (only for Tamil and other language courses) Anna was very much an often-invited speaker. At this time, I don’t remember any of his special skills.
By the time I contested for the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council in 1968 from the Graduates Constituency of the four districts of Coimbatore, Salem, Dharmapuri and Nilgiries, the DMK was in power at Forst St. George with Anna as the Chief Minister. The first defeat, if I may say so for the reigning DMK was at my hands! I defeated the DMK nominee in the election and that too after Anna issued a public appeal for voters to elect his party’s nominee. That must have been a shock to him, though I had no way of finding it out. The one sure indication was that soon after the election result.
Anna sent out one of his colleagues, Mr. Arivalagan who was already a member of the Upper House in search of me. I was traced in an obscure lodge in Coimbatore town and I was surprise to hear the knock at my door. This later friend of mine narrated the purpose of his visit and requested me to accompany me to Chennai to though meet Anna.
I was an ardent congressman, I was elected as an Independent. The problem was the Congress party at that time, though under the great leader, Kamaraj, was in a totally confused state, the party simply didn’t have the stamina to stand up to the DMK. The senior person who represented my seat before me was not only a reputed medical man, he was also closely related to my own mentor, T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar but also a close friend of C. Subramaniam. When my workers approached the local bigwigs in the Congress, they dismissed as men of no consequence! So, we were forced to contest without the official backing of the Congress party. But once we won’t the election by surprising everybody, the Congress party claimed ‘ownership’ of me and Kamaraj, then at Coonoor, is said to have remarked he knew me from the AICC days, when I worked in New Delhi for the 1967 General Election as a pamphlet writer.
Anyway, I protested to my DMK visitor telling I had my own political and other plans, I wanted to set a political college named after Harold Laski, wanted to start a worker’s college, after the John Ruskin’s Oxford Workers College for trade union labour etc.
For all these things, Arivalagan said : “Meet Anna, he would simply accept all your plans, you would have all your plans implemented… “So, I went to Chennai and met Anna duly at the appointed hour.
It was four in the evening , the time the Council would meet at the Council Lounge. The day, the time and the scene are all still vivid in my mind. Anna was looking rather dull, he was sick, he didn’t have shaven face, wearing his light greay shirt stitched in an old fashioned way, he was in fact not evening sitting erect on the sofa, rather leaned against the sofa in a discomforting fashion. As soon as Arivalagan introduced me, Anna looked up, was surprised to see me, a totally unexpected face, perhaps.
Here was I who defeated his own official candidate. Anna’s candidate defeated by an unknown person, he might have thought and he sported a lean smile at me. He was all politeness and asked me to sit near him, the whole lounge was empty, rather his colleagues were all standing at a distance. M. Karunanidhi, who later inherited his mantel was standing at the other end, all were looking at Anna’s face and waiting for his gestures.
To tell the readers at this point of time, I should mention Anna at point of time, was a God, verily he was a living God and looked upon so by his own close colleagues as well as the mass.The state still couldn’t recover from the shock of the defeat of the Congress nor the people were still able to fully get to the new reality of Anna, replacing Kamaraj as the new star.
As soon as I sat near him, I presented him with two of my magazines I was editing. One was a Tamil monthly and the other was an English newsletter named after my school. As soon as he received them he opened the pages of each journal eagerly and with lots of enthusiasm.
He seemed a bit excited about the two new magazines. He himself was a magazine editor and his reputation as a writer of both Tamil and English languages was quite as some, as well as his reputation as a master of the two languages to write and speak with such ease and command over these languages. As such, I guessed he must have been surprised to see an young man with two magazines in the two languages.
As soon as he ran through the pages he once again looked up and saw me in my face. This was the first time I also had the chance to see him fully at his face!
The same being smile ran through his face and at that very moment it seemed we established an instant rapport. May be I was too tempted to imagine all these things at that moment for back in my mind was the urging my DMK friend who persuaded me at meet Anna and who knows there must be the unsaid part of each one trying to guess his own inner expectation or wish to work with one another.
Would I be contemplating to join the DMK? Or did Anna imagined that I would join him? Or as my friend was urging me to declare then and there by desire to guessings. But I was sure Anna was surprised to see me and see that an equally competent man sitting nearer him. Anyway, after a few more minutes I took leave of him and he asked me to see him whenever I wanted. Though I was participating as a member in the Council’s proceedings, I didn’t have another chance to meet Anna in a close encounter. Once I visited Anna’s Avenue Road residence in Nungambakkam, I don’t remember the reason but I recollect this visit was also in the company of my friend Arivalagan.
The one debate in which clearly participated when Anna was sitting opposite, me in the Opposition Bench was when I spoke on the budget Anna presented. I opposed the budget’s proposals to introduce the lottery as an alternative to taxes and other proposals to raise revenue. I was an ardent Fabian Socialist, a great admirer of Hugh Dalton, the great Finance Minister of Clement Atlee, when the Labour came to power in 1947 and as such I was a committed progressive finance reform man. Of course, my speech didn’t carry any weight or caught the attention of Anna. I don’t know. Anna was at the height of his powers and reputation. He had his own way of speaking English.
It was more ornamental and alliteration was one of his great strengths and his oratory carried everybody. Here was I, the youngest person, I was 34, in a Council where all the other were quite senior and older generation. But I was rather bright, with my khadi and yet sporting my English education rather uniquely. I made friends with all party men, the DMK, the Socialists and the so-called Independents whose leader was the formidable Sir. A.Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar.Besides Anna, Sir Mudaliar was the most powerful speaker in English. Speaking in English was still rated high in the Council where there were a liberal sprinkling of reputed educationists like our great men Sir Raja Muthiah Chettiar, D.R.Damodaran, G.Krishnamurthy, DMK firebrands like Janarthanam, Raja Iyer and others.
But here was I from Oxford with my own big ego! I was itching to speak in English and was waiting for a suitable opportunity.Soon after, Anna fell ill and he later died unexpectedly and there was the change of leaders, with Karunanidhi becoming the Chief Minister. Though the Council retained the old-world charm where everyone adopted great manners, showed due courtesies. Manickavelu Naicker, a fine gentleman politician of olden times was the Chairman and he caught me as the most civilised of men.
When the who’s who of the Council was published I was surprised to see many of the older generation members rushing me to wish he well in my life and career. Reason! They found out only the I was an M.A.Visvabharati university and also an M.A Oxon. They were more surprised, specially the educators for they all thought till them it was only Anna and Sir Mudaliar who were masters of the English language. In the year 1970 (we have to check up the Council’s proceedings to find out the exact date) I introduced a Private Member’s Bill. What the Bill about? Till that time, Sir Mudaliar was holding the post of the Vice-Chancellor of Madras University for a record 27 years! I was rather intrigued, why? Why a university VC should hold an office for so long. Were there some serious defects with the university? Were there no qualified people? Or, what as really wrong with the system?
Knowing my education background and my own education work some of the highly placed persons, all VIPs, approached me to raise these issues. I can’t name them here for obvious reasons!
Even I was asked to approach the High Court and in that connection I met one or two heavyweight lawyers. I met the late Mohan Kumara Mangalam, M.K.Nambyyar and even one more senior lawyer. But once was elected to the Council, the pressure was on me to raise this issue. Hence the Private Member Bill. Once I presented the draft of the Bill for fine tuning to the Council’s Secretary, G.M.Alagarswamy, himself a lawyer, he was shocked! He looked at me and asked me: “Do you know against whom you are moving the Bill?” I said: “Yes, I know, I had given lots of thought to this Bill. I have important objectives to achieve… “He didn’t then utter a word and said “okey, we would include your Bill at the due place.”
The Bill must have been circulated among others or perhaps Mudaliar might have got some inkling, his own ardent admirers, in the Council, all educators, got agitated and some of them approached me to drop the Bill altogether. They all first pleaded with me “Mudaliar is such an outstanding educationist, his reputation would suffer…” First, I politely refused, later they even threatened me with dire consequences. I didn’t care! Of course, there is a long history for this Bill and I had disclosed elsewhere how I left Madras University in the early Fifties to go to Visvabharati, as the University rules then didn’t permit a D Group student to switch courses, to either economics or other subjects.
Now, the Bill was before the House and as the day approached I could sense a sense of buzz and discomfort among the members. On the due day I went to the Council, as on days of the Private Member Bills, only a few members interested in the particular subjects would be present and this day there were only those known faces, all supporters of Mudaliar and all were in an agitated mood. When my name was called there was this dead silence and a sense of gloom and a deadening chill in the air! I got up to speak; no sooner I started, there were shouts of “No, no..’” “Sit Down..”. “Nonsense..” etc.. I stood for a minute in silence and surveyed the House.
There were stalwarts, all in full attention. Sir Raja Muthiah Chettiar, the Pro-Chancellor of Annamalai University. G.R.Damodaran, the Principal of the PSG College of Technology, others… Ma.Po.Si. Kundrakudi Adigalar., all reputed Tamil champions…others.
My own Congress party men were present in full strength. I had warned them that I might not have a person to second the Resolution. So, when I moved the Resolution, so many Congress Members rose on their feet to second my motion! They didn’t have cluse to as to the subject of the debate!
They know well here was their party’s new face giving the party so much excitement to raise controversies! I was encouraged by their presence. My silence ended. I started to speak. I held the mike and poured out my harangue for half an hour or so. There was no time limit for the speak who speaks on his Private Member’s Bill. I said so many things that were utterly new to the listeners. How young age is the right age for leadership. Einstein discovered his theory in his teens. The President of Harward at that time was in his early Forties…..
“Did the Tamil Nadu has no talented young man to become the Vice Chancellor of the Madras University?” “Is it the fate of the Tamils to live with so much poverty of talents, to live with one person, for so long in one job…” I don’t know how my speech went on. But when I finished my speech and sat down there was this thunder of applause from my admirers!
There were sullen faces among the educationists. They didn’t imagine an young man would proved to be so daring and so much of things to say. When I left my seat and emerged into the lobby, two VIP’s rushed to congratulate me! Raja Muthiah Chettiar rushed and embraced my in a tight expression of effusive enthusiasm and happiness. The other was Damodaran. The Hindu reported the news prominently. Not soon after there was news that A.LMudaliar resigned and a new VC took over. The term of the VC’s tenure was limited to three years, as asked in my Bill. Here it is enough to say how the Tamil higher education scene was dominated by the iron rule of Mudaliar’s own peculiar genius. My friend, the late Dr. Malcolm Adisheshiah who later became VC of Madras University narrated to me how Mudaliar’s legacy left a bad legacy of one-man worship. Still later the late Sundaravadivelu, another VC of the same university, narrated to me how things were reformed under his rule. However, I still have the feeling Madras University needs a more modern outlook, lots of changes need to be introduced, new collaborations, new innovative courses need to be introduced to make it a world class University.