Rufus Anna was an English Literature student. We were natural allies (Like the Congress-DMK one? No... Please!). Anywhere we go, we search for a friend who is suitable for us from the first day itself, right? He was a find from such a search. I changed a lot as a person after meeting him. He had a lot of influence on me. I used to easily make enemies earlier. Only after meeting him did I realize that it's only friendliness that can help you go places. It came naturally for him. Looking at him, I worked hard against my nature to change myself. Both of us were interested in politics. But, my politics was only to the extent of speaking till late nights whereas he was doing a lot of fieldwork at that time itself.
Generally, in college days, it is only those boys who smoke, drink and do all the naughty things become popular among other boys. I used to wonder what made him so popular in his entire batch despite not having these habits. Almost everyone in his batch used to call him "thalaiva", which means "the leader". I even used to feel jealous of it at times because I also wanted to become a leader but didn't have the stuff. He had it so he became a leader. It's not so easy to become a leader of everyone's choice so automatically. He had extraordinary faith in people around him. He was very active in Congress party and used to believe that all his party men were very nice people. I was always skeptical about that. But, now I have realized people like him ‘have to’ be optimistic like that. What can you achieve when you are working with people if you don't believe them? What keeps most of the politicians in their business today is their strong belief in people's foolishness. On the contrary, he used to believe in the positives of people. That's how one should be. That's why they also liked him so much. It's only critics like us that need to look at both the sides. Only we are under compulsion to keep talking about the negatives. Those in the field are there because of their faith. He is in the field so it's not wrong.
He was interested in literature as well. Even in that, my interest was only to the extent of speaking about it. He went ‘into’ it. Literature to me was just the weekly magazines. I remember he was reading a lot of good quality books at that time itself. We used to discuss about spirituality as well. He was born in an environment which believed that converting everyone that they met to their religion is the whole purpose of their birth and it looked like he also believed in that philosophy for about 25 years. But now he has lost interest in all that and dedicated himself to what really is divine - working for people. He was very active in Congress party during college days but now he is working with people who are working day in and out to wipe off Congress from our land. Only when you see things first hand would you realize how horrible they are, right? He was practicing in the Supreme Court in Delhi for some time and is back in Madurai High Court now.
He is all the more dynamic now. He is an advocate just for the namesake. He is more active in working for people's causes. He hasn't married yet. He is living a life that both of us dreamed of. I am just running after worldly things and still envying him. I am not sure if I would have been as successful as him even if I had gone with him. I don't think I have the mettle. Even now, once in a while we connect on a call and speak for hours. I don't see so much frequency match these days like earlier. His exceptional reading habit and real life exposures have taken him far ahead and I am stuck in the materialistic world so the gap between us has widened. It's a life time relationship for me. If he doesn't run even faster and go too far ahead, or if I run faster in his direction and get closer to him, we can think of working together on something some time in future, as we dreamed of in our college days. As of now, it doesn't look like there is an opportunity for it. But, I wouldn’t think the purpose of meeting him in my life is realized unless I work with him on something for at least a short period of time. Let's see.
When I talk about Rufus Anna the next thing that comes to my mind immediately is the students union. We had students union in our college when I was in the first year. He was planning to become the chairman next year. I thought people like him who talk of ethics and values getting into it would be a disaster. I always used to sow these negative seeds in him. He always used to say he had plans to tackle all that so he would handle them easily. The only expectation students have from their chairman is, every second day, he should come out of his class and call for a strike even if there is no reason. I was never convinced that they would listen to him if he goes to them and says, "We shouldn't strike with no valid reason; we shouldn't stop vehicles; we shouldn't throw stones on buses!". But, he is a person who thinks, ‘Yes, you are right but that is not enough. What have you done to change it?’. I thought he was getting into a meaningless thing then. Now when I sit back and think about it, I think he might have succeeded in doing what he wanted to. Worst case, he would have got a temporary success for a year at least. The next year, they might have gone with a leader of their choice again – someone who calls for strike at the drop of a hate.
I saw everything that we see in politics today in the students union elections then. I even heard that a friend of mine who was contesting for a post as useless as the class representative offered cash for vote. All your supporters need to be pampered with drinks and everything during the entire election week or month. A gang of ten to twenty people would make a circle around all those who won as class representatives on the election day and take them to a safe place to avoid last minute horse trading before the chairman election. Money and muscle were the two basic requirements for success. Some boys would praise the colleges in nearby towns Tuticorin and Tirunelveli for being more student-friendly. Student friendly... what is that? Having more strikes and breaking more glasses! All these wouldn't happen in our college. Somehow there was a good culture right from the beginning. The college had its own proud heritage. Once in a while when things went beyond control, they knew how to bring it under control and they did succeed in it. It crossed all the limits that year so the next year student union was dissolved after long debates.
Already my respect for trade unions was fading away after hearing about some of their atrocities though I had a lot of respect for them earlier. I was losing respect on almost everyone that claimed to fight for their rights. I somehow started feeling that the generation next was going to the dogs. I was one of those who prayed inside for the dissolution of the students union. I was so happy when I heard that it was dissolved. The only reason behind the strikes was - the few days off we got. Happy if it is one day… Thrilled if it is for few more days! My blood would boil when my friends crib, "In other colleges they close indefinitely for months. Only here it's so bad – we get only a day or two. Our union is waste!". As if the union is only to get holidays! All those who damage public properties during the strikes used to be heroes among students. I used to wonder how he would manage this sort of people if he becomes their chairman. Now I think maybe if he had been given that opportunity he would have changed the culture.
When I saw some of my friends pelt stones on buses, break glasses and disturb peaceful lives of innocent people on roads, I used to pray that those same guys should get stoned, bleed and cry in the same place when they come with their family and young children some ten-twenty years later. I had heard that many leaders started their political career as union leaders in their colleges before becoming big in politics. That worked like a launch pad and dress rehearsal for them. Knowing that, I also had some interest in students union but the price paid for that rehearsal was too much and it’s not worth it. Then I decided it was better not to have such an experience at such a huge cost. Even Gandhi and Nehru were not union leaders in their colleges. That way, none of them that became so big in politics were union leaders in their colleges. Many leaders hadn't even gone to college. Maybe, only the second rung leaders, that too not all, wanted such education and experiences.
Though I come from leftist background that advocates unionism everywhere, I strongly feel that there is nothing that the students have to fight for - there is no right of theirs to be protected. They should just focus on their studies when they are in college. It's more important that their families are protected later with the help of their degrees. Sometimes even the teachers unions use them for their benefit. Any union that just fights for salary increase is meaningless in my view. It’s such an irony that they even fight for the resolution of Kashmir issue, Sri Lankan issue, the American imperialism and all at times. The moment they get their few days off, they would go off - as if the problems were resolved overnight. I still have a mixed opinion about trade unions. They also behave odd many times. At the same time, I also think that they would be exploited and cheated completely by the capitalists if there are no unions. The conclusion is - It's not enough to start something with a good intention. It has to sustain that intention throughout and work only for that cause. That's what will determine their success and failure in the long run.
We heard a lot of stories about the past when we joined. We were told, until the previous year, like in college, even in the hostel there used to be a lot of strikes. The approach in hostel was, any problem, everyone will fast that night. Gandhian approach! There are two losses. One - all the food would go waste; two - the cost of the food wasted so would anyway be borne by the students. Maybe there were valid reasons at times but most of the times they were done to irritate the wardens and test their patience. Sadism is not the property of any particular age but I think it is too much at that age. One of the nightmarish experiences they had in the previous year was, every night they would hear an explosive sound (just a powerful cracker!) in one or the other place. One night in front of wardens room, next night in one of the toilets, another night in mess hall, another night in TV room and so on. This continued for almost three months till the college ended for that year. They could never find out who did it till the last day. Don't know where that gentleman is now. For the students, it was a big fun because it hurt none. Every night they would meet up in the place where explosion took place, laugh out and dismantle. But for the wardens, it was a big challenge and a matter of concern.
The reason we heard for such naughtiness was - the then warden was very strict. He would have thought that was the right way to treat students and otherwise they wouldn't be in control. But, it actually hit him back. That's what happens when you are very strict with people who are supposed to be in your control. Those in receiving end would try to give back in some way or the other. That's exactly what happened there. There was a new warden in the year we joined. He proved to the world how he could keep the students in control by not controlling them - being friendly and flexible with them. If you respect them, they would respect you back. He proved the simple theory – ‘What you sow is what you reap!’. Some people may think, ‘Why should we please them to keep them under control?’. We don't necessarily have to see that as a compromise formula for peace. It's just about respecting individuals irrespective of their age and status so that you would get reciprocated the same way. Not just for college - hostel students, I think, this would apply for all social problems. I know it's not so easy for everyone to be so.
The new warden was a very nice person. He always used to wear a friendly smile on his face. He used to respect everyone and speak very nicely. From the day one he came, it was celebrations galore - one after the other. Starting with Vinayak Chathurthi, we had a lot of celebrations in the first year - Quiz competition, Christmas celebration, Pongal celebration, Ramzan celebration, Tree planting day, Discussion on Religions, etc. etc. I gave a speech on Vinayak Chathurthi; read a poem for Christmas; read another poem for Pongal and won first prize. Rufus Anna's poem was better than mine but it got only second prize. Reason - at that time itself he used to write in a style that commoners can’t understand. Ramzan celebration - I just watched from off the stage. My favorite speaker - our then Tamil HOD Mr. Abdul Razak gave a superb speech. Planted a few trees and gave nice poses for photograph on Tree planting day. They would have all grown big now. I anchored the Discussion on Religions.
There were five colleges under the same trust. It should be more now. We were talking about becoming a separate university then itself. I am surprised why it has not happened yet. We used to bring guests from other colleges as well for some functions. Apart from these, there would be many games and cultural events as well. In Pongal celebrations, a friend of mine Saravana Krishnan had brought his uncle from his native place and both uncle and nephew played Silambam – a dying martial art in Tamil Nadu.
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