Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Unread Story of ‘Auto’ Chandran’s Dumbbells

At a time when people generally identify a poor man as a Tamil writer just by observing his gloomy face and scruffy clothes, M. Chandrakumar alias ‘Auto’ Chandran, a novelist and body builder, is always cheerful with his radiant face and sense of humour. In a Sunday literary meet, an orator, by his inelegant speech, makes even the handful of audience sleep on their chairs. Chandran too, who is also a dignitary on the dais, deviates himself from the orator’s lengthy speech, but lovingly observes his large biceps unnoticed to the audience.  

The city-based auto driver cum writer’s Tamil novel lockup became the storyline of the box office hit Visaranai. The film bagged the Amnesty International Italy’s “Cinema for Human Rights” award in the 72nd International Film Festival of Venice.
Chandran was a muscleman first and then a writer. Nevertheless, he says that only the books, which he enjoyed in his teens, ignited his flair for workouts and made him fancy performing the valorous deeds of the heroes that appear in those books.    
“The books Romapuri Pandian, Pattampoochi, Kolayuthirkalam and the popular Tamil comics Ambulimama and Pativikramadityan Kathai had a great impact on me. The heroes in these stories  were strong and adventurous and they fought against evils in the society. They inspired me to start workouts and become like them. “Says Chandran, who owns a gym in his home.

A man who created a number of youth as champions in bodybuilding and martial arts, Chandran says:

“ Provide me just a little area, measuring  of one’s sleeping mat, I can teach the nuances of various exercises and convert  anyone  into a bodybuilder without using any fitness equipment “       

Chandran philosophizes that performing workouts and martial arts is the path to attain the wisdom of comprehending body-mind coordination.  
On how workouts and martial arts make the performer ambidextrous, Chandran explains:  

“As we use our hands equally in workouts, the right and left brains get coordinated. Unless performing such strenuous physical exercises, I doubt, whether mere meditations prescribed by self-styled god-men can create the harmony between the two hemispheres of brain. Performance of martial arts as Silambam, Karate and Kunfu demands the use of both arms. Hence, being ambidextrous in their stunts, the heroes Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and M.G.Ramachandran, the film actor and former Tamil Nadu chief minister, could scale the heights of fame and carved a niche for themselves in the history of action movies.  

A teenage runaway, Chandran learned lessons from practical life by taking up odd jobs at places including Vijayawada and Guntur. He wrote his real life experiences into short stories and novels.  Author of the books Boomiyai Kolaikalamaakkum America, Lockup, Kattuthulayinoode Kaatru and Veppamatra Velloliyil, Chandran’s academic qualification is SSLC. 

Link to the article in The New Indian Express http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/33953470


Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Poet, Who Broke the Shackles of Prosody

The departed DMK patriarch Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, as a poet, seems to have been a self critic too on his poetry. If not, he would not have written poems in his earlier days and titled them as Kavithaiyalla (It is no poetry)! Besides being a veteran politician and one of the pillars of the Dravidian movement, the poet of the poets was so humble about his creative writings.  

Despite the linguistic fact that grammar being born of literature, and not literature from grammar, Karunanidhi says:

“I was writing poems in my earlier days under the title Kavithaiyalla (It is no poetry). Because I could not accommodate myself within the boundaries of Tamil prosody.  After I became the state minister  in 1967, I eased out my stress under the shady, cool woods of Kaviarangams (Poetry reading sessions). When I felt the spontaneity of poetry through words, I could not bridle my poetry to the strict rules of Tamil prosody. I accept it is my weakness” says the humble poet in his foreword to the book Kalaingarin Kavithaikal (The poems of Kalaingnar M. Karunanidhi) which was published in 1977 by Thamizhkani Pathipagam.

The book, which this correspondent treasures in his library, was priced at Rs. 10 some four decades ago. It contains a miscellany of Karunanidhi’s poems, which include his individual verses and the ones he read out while presiding over a number of Kaviarangams across Tamil Nadu.
The eminent poets who had taken part in the Kaviarangams presided over by Karunanidhi, include Kannadasan, Pulamaipiththan, K.C.S. Arunachalam, Tho.Mu.Si. Raghunathan, Ponnivalavan, Anandam, Soundhira Kailasam, Erode Thamizhanban, Abdul Rahman, Mudiyarasu, Kovai Elancheran, Murugu Sundaram, Shahul Hameed ( Inquilab), Va. Mu. Sethuraman and Tamil scholar Ki.Va. Jaganathan.   

It is also surprising to come across in the book that Periyasamy Thooran, who edited the ten-volume Tamil Encyclopedia and Yogi Suddhanandha Bharathi, who rendered Thirukural in his beautiful English, had presented their poems in the Kaviarangams presided over by Karunanidhi. Moreover, poet Puviarasu of Coimbatore, a two-time Sahitya Akademi award winner, had presented his poem with Karunanidhi on the dais.

The politician and poet, who used to be busy in one way or another, was invited to preside over a poetry reading session on his mentor and rationalist leader Peryiyar E.V. Ramasamy on January 11, 1974.
“From last morning till midnight, I had to address about eight meetings in Coimbatore. Do you think my spring of imagination for writing poetry would open thereafter? Still, like a creeper that moves to the direction of wind, I have come here after your orders, friends” said Karunanidhi in his poetic speech.

The atheist poet, who was known for his pun in Tamil, said:  

“Let’s first worship Samy (God)   before beginning to present our poems”
Then he finished the line to the thunderous applause of the audience:

“By saying ‘Samy’, I meant Periyar E.V. Rama ‘Samy’ “

The poetic way, through which Karunanidhi dropped a hint at his mentor and rationalist leader Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, enthralled the audience.  

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/31145575 


Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Coimbatore Recalls the Young Kalaignar

A pall of gloom descended in Coimbatore, as Former Tamil Nadu CM and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi passed away after battling illness at the Kauvery hospital in Chennai on Tuesday.

With the functioning of Central Studios and Pakshiraja Studios in Coimbatore in the 1940s, the city was a popular cinema hub and it played a key role in shaping the Dravidian stalwart's literary personality. Because it is here Karunanidhi wrote scripts for the film Rajakumari ( 1947), Abhimanyu (1948), Malaikallan (1954) etc. Interestingly, the tile-roofed house, where Karunanidhi lived for a monthly rent of Rs.10 at Singanallur, is still the same, bringing back his memories to every Coimbatorean.

A. Mani, son of the late Dravidian activist Annasamy of Singanallur, recalls:

 “ My father was an uncompromising crusader in Dravidar Kazhagam that he carried Dravida Nadu, a maganize edited by C.N.Annadurai wherever he went. On an occasion during a train journey, a self-styled god man looked at the magazine in my father's hand and picked up an argument, criticizing Periyar E.V.Ramasamy and Anna for their atheist ideology. As the debate gained momentum, another gentleman,who was in the compartment, backed my father in the argument. In a little time, the gentleman alighted at a railway station between Erode and Salem. However, at his point of leaving, my father asked his name and he said that he was Karunanidhi, an activist in Dravidar Kazhagam and sub-editor of Kudi Arasu, a popular magazine, published by Periyar E.V.R !”

Mani says that, though the friendship between his father and Kalignar M.Karunanidhi began just as a 'Rayil sneham' ( A short-lived train friendship) on a day in the early 1940s, it lasted till my father's demise in 1993. Sharing another anecdote in Karunanidhi's life in Coimbatore , the 66 year old Mani, reminisces:

 “ While my father was working as spinning clerk at Saroja Mills in Singanallur, T.S Rajagopal, a Tea Board Officer befriended him and sought a help from him. It was to find a rented house to accommodate one of his relatives, who got an opportunity to write script for a Tamil film in Central Studios. And my father told him that he was ready to allot a portion in his house ”

 A rare coincidence awaited Annasamy, when Rajagopal, later, brought the young script writer. And Annasamy was all surprise to meet the script writer as none other than Karunanidhi, who backed him in the argument with a god man in the train journey!

“Glad in providing accommodation to the debutant writer and his wife Padmavathy, my father bought all the essential household articles from the Singanallur weekly Shandy to the couple. Later, my mother and Padmavathy became close friends that they always went together to fetch water at a nearby well and wash clothes in the kolatheri ( Singanallur tank) “ recalls Mani.

The D.M.K patriarch, who did not forget his early days in Coimbatore, published a tribute in his party's mouthpiece Murasoli when Annasamy passed away in 1993. He also made his presence to the house at Singanallur, where he once lived.

“ The leader sat silent for a little time in the room. From his eyes welling up in tears, we felt his taking a trip down memory lane. You know, it is in this room, he wielded his pen for the Tamil cinema” avers Mani. The D.M.K chief recalls in his masterpiece Nenjukku Needhi: “ Our house at Singanallur was very small like a sparrow's nest. Staying there, I penned a plenty of literature. But, after I scripted dialogues for the film Abhimanyu ( 1948), I did not find my name in the title cards. When I asked the reason, the film producer told me that I was not popular enough to get the byline. It is quite natural that a writer expects only recognition rather than remuneration. Deeply agonized, I shed tears and decided to leave Coimbatore “

 B. Meenakshi Sundaram
 Photos by A.Raja Chidamparam

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/31023778


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

A Teacher cum Ascetic Called ‘ Vadhiyar Swamigal’

In the vernacular of yesteryear Coimbatore, when a man deserts his wife and children, he is said to have gone as a Samiyar, though he would not literally become an ascetic. People used the term  to indicate a man, who either remained a bachelor or renounced his married life. But, in a village near Tirupur, some 150 years ago, a man gave up his domestic life, literally became an ascetic and spent the rest of his life at the Avinashi Lingeshwarar Temple, which is one of the seven celebrated shrines of Kongunadu. The hermit was a Tamil scholar, whose writings in palm leaf are still treasured by his descendants.

“ ‘Vadhiyar Swamigal’, as he was called,  taught the children of his village at his house pyol, though his major occupation was weaving” informs Pulavar Sundara Ganesan, a history enthusiast and headmaster of Panchayat Union Elementary School, Chellammal Colony, Tirupur.

A diploma holder in epigraphy, Sundara Ganesan stumbled upon the palm leaf manuscripts of Vadhiyar Swamigal and he has taken up the work of deciphering them in order to bring into books. However, ‘Siva Thothira Thirattu’ a piece of bhakthi literature penned by Vadhiyar Swamigal got published in 1969 by his disciple A. Ramasamy Naidu of Coimbatore.  

“The natural name of Vadhiyar Swamigal was ‘Ammasai’. He got the name ‘Vadhiyar Swamigal’ as he taught the children of his village. Nevertheless, the teacher cum weaver  had a wish to become a disciple to any god man. Therefore, one day, he walked to the Avinashi Lingeshwarar Temple via Periyayipalayam. At the ‘Pukkuzhiyur Mutt’ ( Pukkuzhiyur was the name of Avinashi in the bygone era)  near the shrine, he met Arivanandha Swamigal, a sanyasi.
The palm leaf manuscripts of ' Vadhiyar Swamigal'

Ganesan says that Arivananda Swamigal would not accept anyone as his disciple, unless the latter was capable of reciting a song, which he would be allowed to listen to only once. With Vadhiyar Swamigal clearing this test, the ascetic accepted him as his disciple.

Pulavar Sundara Ganesan 
“Arivananda Swamigal, thereafter, assigned him the job of Deepa Kaingaryam ( Regularly burning lamp in the temple). However, Vadhiyar Swamigal, who is said to be good at astrology and indigenous medicine, had written many works on palm leaf. His descendants have been treasuring the manuscripts” informs Sundara Ganesan, who learned the art of deciphering stone inscriptions and palm leaf manuscripts from the late ‘Avinashi’ Ma. Ganesan, a popular epigraphist of Coimbatore.

Ganesan says that he was interested to know whether the palm leaf manuscripts of Vadhiyar Swamigal could contain references on the Tirupur of the bygone era.

Citing from Alagumalai Kuravanji, a bhakthi piece of literature on the hill shrine ‘Alagumalai’, Ganesan says that the work mentions ‘ Tirupur’ as ‘ Thirupayyur’.

“I have been tracing the etymology of ‘Thirupayur’ and I am yet to know what the place name means”  “says Ganesan. 

Link to the article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/29099721

The Blood Stains Behind the 'Manchester of South'

The burial scene of the four trade unionists, who were hanged to death on January 8, 1946 

V.O. chidamparam Pillai 

World knows that freedom fighter ‘Kappalottiya Thamizhan’ V.O.Chidampam Pillai was put behind bars in Coimbatore and made to pull the oil press as punishment. But, in the modern history of Coimbatore, many are hardly aware that it was V.O.C, who launched the first trade union for the welfare of workers here. Fraser Square, which is a busy spot opposite the C.S&W Mill or ‘Stanes Mill’ today, had once been called ‘Puliyanthoppu’ (Tamarind grove). It was here the leader addressed the gathering and launched the city’s first trade union named ‘Kovai Thozhilalar Sangam’ with N.S.Ramasamy Iyengar as its president and K.P.Subbayya Kounder as honorary secretary on April 4, 1920. 

“V.O.C, who was also a lawyer, served his sentence in Coimbatore prison. However, even after his release in 1912, the British government cancelled his Sannath (The license for practicing as lawyer those days). He reeled under poverty after losing all his assets by launching the first indigenous shipping service in Tutuicorin, his native town. Following this, he ran even a provision store and also sold kerosene to eke out a living, but all in vain” informs a chapter in the book Kovai Mavatta Communist Iyakkaththin Perumaimiku Varalaru, written by N. Ramakrishnan.  

“CS& W Mills, ( Coimbatore Spinning and Weaving Mills), the first mill in Coimbatore was founded by Sir Robert Stanes, an Englishman, in 1888. Thereafter, came up in the city the Kaleeswarar Mill and Somasundara Mill. They were all adjacent to the Railway Station and goods shed. The Brooke Bond Company too was about the railway track. As a labourer in Brooke Bond between 1969 and 1970, I have even seen a railway track running through it. This facilitated the British-owned companies to unload the raw materials and load their productions in close proximity” said K.Purushothaman, a trade unionist, who worked in Brooke Bond company.

K. Purushothaman addressing on ' Trade Union Activities in Kongunadu
Addressing on the topic ‘Trade Union Activities in Kongunadu’ in the monthly lecture series organized by The Vanavarayar Foundation, Purushothaman pointed out:

“The British founded the railway in Coimbatore, primarily not to facilitate  travels of people, but  transport cotton and other raw materials to the port towns including Madras and Bombay, from where they were sent by sea for production in England”     

Purushothaman said that before electricity came to Coimbatore from the Pykara Project in the early 1930s, the mills were functioning with machines being operated by the power obtained from burning coal.

“The advent of electricity contributed to the establishment of a number of textile mills further in Coimbatore. This led to the extent of calling the city as the Manchester of South India.  Between 1932 and 1938, the city, which earlier had just four mills, witnessed as many as twenty four” said Purushothaman,

He recalled the selfless crusade of trade unionists N.G.Ramasamy, P.Jeevananthan, P.Ramamurthy and many others for establishing the rights of the working class.  

Purushothaman informed that the country had no strict labour laws then  and workers  were mercilessly exploited by  the mill owners and supervisors, who ruled them with an iron hand.  
“Since atrocities by mill supervisors were frequent, workers were treated no less than slaves and women workers were subjected even to sexual abuse. In one such incident, Ponnaan, the supervisor of Sri Ranga Vilas Mill and his aides outraged the modesty of a woman worker ' Poolaimedu' Rajee. With the incident sending shock waves among the mill workers, a team led by  four trade unionists encountered Ponnaan and his aides. The incident, which turned into a conflict, led to the death of Ponnaan.
In order to put down trade unionism with an iron hand, the proprietor of the mill, with the support of police, allegedly forged a 'dying declaration' of Ponnan and sent the four trade unionists Venkatachalam, Ramayya, Chinnayyan and Rangannan to prison. The case, which went up to London Privy Council, was finally closed with the judgment that all the four accused shall be hanged to death.
In the early morning of  January 8, 1946, the four were executed as per the judgment and their bodies were brought to Chinniampalayam in a mammoth mill workers rally.
Fulfilling their last wish, the mill workers buried all the four together in one grave at Chinniampalayam.

Link to the article in The New Indian Express : http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/29099238

Friday, 25 May 2018

The Odour that was Red in Colour

Amidst smoke and noise of gunshots                                                                                                                          
The blood, oozing out from her throat                                                                                                                         
Drenched that night 
And left the dark world                                                                                              
Dampened in the odour 
– it was red in colour.

Perhaps, she hardly presumed                                                                                                               
That something deadly would pierce
Through her mouth                                                                                                         
 And plug the path -                                                                                                                                   
A point, where she had a word for the saline wind                                                                                                                            
A thick smoke engulfed
Her world of colours                                                                                                            
She lay like a stray dog, crushed to death on the road                                                                              

Blood trickling down her mouth fails to freeze
They bring oceans of water 
To clean the red stains on her cheeks                                                         
But run back, as they billow in blood                                                                                                              
The hunters in khaki, with their modern rifles, continue their search 
For human meat

Birds that flew
In the firmament                                                                                                                   
Feel the worth of wings.                                                                                  

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

A Walk Down the Memory Lane of Old Coimbatore

The Thottikattu Veedu (A house in the style of traditional architecture) of ‘Sivakavimani’ C.K. Subramania Mudaliar, an eminent Tamil scholar, freedom fighter and former Vice chairman of Coimbatore municipality, still speaks the glory of its past at Vaishyal street. On both sides of the heritage building at the traffic congested road, grown high - the two trees planted by Mahatma Gandhi, when he visited Coimbatore.
'Sivakavimani' C.K.Subramania Mudaliar

“C.K. Subramania Mudaliar would receive letters from eminent freedom fighters including Sri Aurobindo. However, on a day when the police were about to raid his house, CKS’s wife Meenakshi tore all the documents, burned them, stirred the ash in water and poured it into the well at the backyard of the house” recalls a descendant of C.K. Subramania Mudaliar.

“An eminent Tamil scholar, Subramania Mudaliar penned commentaries on  Periyapuranam, a saiva piece of   bhakthi literature by Sekkizhar.   Since CKS was of great help to freedom fighter, ‘Kappalotiya Thamizhan’               V.O. Chidamparam Pillai, the latter christened his son as ‘Subramaniam’ in memory of his Coimbatore friend”  informed Rajesh Govindarajulu, who led a team of history enthusiasts in the ‘Heritage Walk’ organized by The Vanavarayar Foundation as part of the Coimbatore Vizha.

Coimbatore historian Rajesh Govindarajulu addressing the Heritage Walk
“Rao Bahadur A.T. Thiruvenkatasamy Mudaliar, who was the Municipal chairman of Coimbatore, could have built  the largest house in Coimbatore in 1888, The Manikoondu ( Clock tower), which  stands tall in the centre of the city, was built by Mudaliar’s sons in memory of their father in 1923”    
Rajesh  informed the two other old names of Coimbatore:

“While the area quartering the agraharam (Brahmin colony) had been called Uma Parameshwari Sathurvedhi Mangalam, the rest in the city had the name ‘Veerakerala Nallur’ ”
Tracing the etymology of the two Uppilpalayams in the city, Rajesh informs:  
“The two localities were named as ‘Uppilipalayam’ after the community Uppiliyars, who were experts in constructing, maintaining and repairing forts. They also engaged in making cannon balls.”
Now, Rajesh halts for a while near the Victoria Town Hall, which is presently the administrative building of Coimbatore Corporation.  

“ Commemorating  Queen Victoria’s  reign of 50 years, Sriman S.P. Narasimhalu Naidu, a Brahmasamaji, popular journalist and travel writer, who  mooted the idea of bringing Siruvani water to Coimbatore, got the Victoria Town Hall built at a cost of Rs.10,000 in 1892 “  he said.
Recalling his memory of catching a glimpse at the matinee idol and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.G.R alias M.G. Ramachandran, Rajesh reminisced:  

“The Nawab Hakkim Road houses two popular cinemas – Raja and Nazz. When the MGR starrer Nadodimannan ran to packed houses in Raja, the matinee idol, on the celebration of the film’s victory, came on foot in a procession, waving at the multitude of his fans”
Coimbatore is not a coastal town:  

“But the city has a street by name Siviar Veedhi where only fishermen lived! They eked out a living by making nets and fishing in the tanks including Periyakulam and Valankulam
Echoing Rajesh’s view, R. Jegadisan, an epigraphist who organized the Heritage walk, says:

“The Kannada term ‘Siviar’ denotes fishermen. The Nawab Hakkim Road, from where the street branches, had once been called ‘Meenkadai Theru’ for the line- up of a number of stalls selling fish”


Link to my article in The New Indian Express : http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/25464186