Mr. RV - A Freedom Fighter!
We are celebrating his centenary this year. We all thought our life would be incomplete if we don't do this for him. At a time when even crooks and clowns are promoting their fathers and leaders as martyrs, we didn't have someone to take this responsibility for a true martyr. None of us are so attached to the political party that he worked for as much as he was. Only an uncle of us, my grandfather's direct disciple, jumped in and started the work in full swing. He kept on saying that his life itself would become meaningless if he didn't do this in his lifetime. Mr. Nallakannu, one of the most respected communist leaders from Tamil Nadu, is doing everything possible to make this centenary celebration meaningful.
Our native place is a place called Boothalapuram in the erstwhile Kovipatti taluk in estwhile Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu. As per the new maps, it is in Vilathikulam taluk in Tuticorin district in Tamil Nadu now. If you just walk a few miles eastwards, there is Ramnad district. Ramnad district is supposed to be the most underdeveloped one in the whole of Tamil Nadu. So, needless to say, even our place was underdeveloped and not very well connected with the outside world. Our people mostly used to marry people from the same village or nearby villages within a radius of 5-10 kilometers.
Ramnad district is known as a desert-like area with no water most of the times and its people are seen as the most barbaric by the outsiders. People in our place used to be scared of them. Our people used to say that they do robbery in our places at times of famine and they would even kill someone for a bottle of liquor or a few pieces of meat. Maybe it's a slightly exaggerated opinion but if you know the place you would agree that it's not totally wrong. But, our people are more peace loving. Unlike them, we have never had caste-based riots. Not only our village, that entire region is such a peace-loving one. The southern and south eastern parts of Tamil Nadu have always been known for their violent lifestyle. However, our region was like a cultural island there. Caste was never a major factor that united or divided our people. We never had the animal instinct of killing fellow lives for the sake of such a nonsense like caste. The entire village used to be like a large family. It's like everyone is everyone's relative. Though they lived in a small world, I would say they are one of the broadminded lots I have come across.
When I talk about my grandfather's story, I should also talk about how broadminded the place where he was born and brought up was and the people with whom he grew up were, in addition to saying how broadminded he was. Only that will make the story complete. Not only that, I also believe that this would help the future generations understand what all ingredients should go into any revolution when they fight for a change. What are the ingredients? It should have a decent leader. More than that, there should be open minded people around him who would listen to him. He had such people. That is the reason why he could do many extraordinary things very easily later. We only hear stories that talk about how leaders change their land. Before that, we should also understand that the land also makes a leader. When I say land, which land? It could be any land. It could be the home, the streets, the school, the playgrounds... it could be anything. But, when we write biographies, what we should also take into consideration is, the land in which one lives and the people with whom he spends his time also play a major role in shaping up the leader. Then we can talk about the stories of leader changing the land.
My great grandfather's (grandfather's father) name is Ramaswamy (I am consciously avoiding his surname here as it would indicate my caste. Having talked so much about its evils, I don't think it would be in good taste if I myself use it so proudly. I am not very keen in talking about it either. At the same time, I should also admit that I feel like talking about someone else when I don't suffix his name with it!). Ramaswamy was called "kudhiraikkaarar" (the horseman). It was the style then. He would always roam around on a horse with a tuft on head, handlebar mustache and earrings. In my aimless quest for unknown (!) things in childhood, I found a rusty sword in our house. Heard that even that was his. They were the richest in the village. They had lots of land. Their house was the biggest in the village. It used to be called "keezha veedu" (the east house). In the east house, except on east, there were gates/doors on all other sides. Thanks to the partitions, every gate has become many houses now. Some houses have become debris as well.
Boothalapuram was a remote village in Tirunelveli district with no connection with the outside world whereas Palayanoor was a bigger village (or small town) with Madurai in close proximity. Their house in Palayanoor was called "kallu veedu" (stone house). The latest update we got says there are only stones now and no house! Ask anyone in that region about "kallu veedu", they would tell you where it is. It was so popular. My relatives in "kallu veedu" used to claim that they were from a royal family and the descendants of some king. I don't know which king. Should be some small time king or a chieftain! The lake that is spread across the outskirts of Palayanoor which is serving the entire village even today is on the land that was donated by their family to the village about a century back. Such a big family! Since it was a yielding land, there was no shortage of anything. The story is different today. The descendants of the royal family are aimlessly roaming around in the streets of Madurai today - having lost their identity, spoiled reputation and not knowing the purpose of their lives. Before the next generation, their history might get wiped off completely with no traces.
Thanks to the extraordinary affection his aunt and uncle had on him, they took him to their place and joined him in a good school in Madurai. He studied in United Christian school there. That's when he got introduced to friends who were involved in the Indian freedom movement. Mr. Muthuramalinga Thevar was one of them. They were very close for sometime (maybe as long as they were students) and then parted ways. Thevar was close to Bose till the end so he joined Forward Bloc when Bose founded it whereas my grandfather joined the Communist party (I will tell you how he became a Communist later!).
Nobody tried to stop him from getting involved in all these. On the other hand, even his in-laws got involved in the political movement and did whatever was possible from their side. It includes hoisting the national flag on their terrace (doing it today is a fashion; it was an offence then!), arranging for food and accommodation for all of those who were in hideouts with him, gathering people for demonstrations, etc. More than all these, keeping their sister with them and taking care of her and her children were the biggest responsibilities they had accepted happily. I don't think it would have been possible if things at that time were like now. Though it wasn't a time when women could speak much about anything, we all know that we are grateful to his brothers-in-law and their wives for generations. I am not sure if people in our generations could think of keeping their sisters for even a week in their place these days.
You wouldn't believe, my dad saw his dad only when he was seven years old. Until then he was with his mom and uncles in Palayanoor. His father was just not fond of any worldly things. He didn't let his family commitments come on his way. Relations were not nuisance. His brother (RK) was taking care of all the family responsibilities as long as he was not at home. What more do you want when you have such a supporting family and in-laws?
There were seven girls in the "kallu veedu". All of them were very fair. Since we have not got that complexion now, we make fun of them saying they had the color of lazybones. Second daughter was Kandammal. Since she had some health problem, her parents were scared to give her outside and hence married her also to my grandfather. So, he had two wives. Wondering what the heck?! When he didn't even have enough time to live with one wife, what would happen if you give him another girl? Nothing would happen! Even she would sit outside the gate every day and wait anxiously for her hero to come home in a bullock cart one day. Just like how RV also was waiting with a hope that his country would get independence one day when he was living in jails and jungles.
We used to call Kandammal "chinna paatti" (younger granny). Others would call her "Iyeramma" (Iyer lady). Reason - she was brought up in an Iyer (Brahmin) house, which was next to their house in Palayanoor. Thanks to that Iyer house and their lifestyle, not only Kandammal, most of those seven ammals were pure vegetarians till the end. All the utensils in our house used to be used only for vegetarian food. There used to be ceramic vessels separately in a corner for non-vegetarian. They were taken out only on the days when non-vegetarian food was cooked and kept back immediately after use. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian items were always cooked separately. We always used to have a water bucket in the entrance of the house. Once you come out, even if you have to go back the next minute, you have to wash the legs and only then would you be allowed to go inside. All these habits died naturally when new new daughters-in-law came in. Natural, right?
RV-Kandammal marriage is a funny story. Only bride was there in their marriage. No bridegroom. Why? How can you expect someone who never came home for years to tie the knot? So they sat a stick next to the bride in place of him and completed all formalities. When the real bridegroom returned, they told him "this is your next wife"! How would he have felt? Heard that this kind of marriages were common in that region at that time. So, he had too much responsibilities to handle at a very young age. But, nothing could tie him down. He continued to do what he thought was his responsibility.
One thing that you have to understand correctly here is, throwing away a job that we don't like is not a big deal. Even now some of us do such things (though very few). But, most of us continue to do whichever job we have in hand just for the sake of the bank balance and some additional benefits even if we don't like it. Some people even call you a loser if you throw away a job that you are not interested in. Some of the books that have come now might have taught us that sticking to something adamantly even if you don't like it is a winner's attitude. But, Revenue Inspector's job is not something that one can throw off so easily those days. As a family of his, we are still suffering the losses of that decision of his to throw away that job at that time. Because, my father was not brought up like a Revenue Inspector's son. Instead, he was brought up like an orphan without his dad. Had he been brought up like a Revenue Inspector's son, he should have become a Tahsildar or something more than that, right? But, that didn't happen. Then, what should we have become? Even that has not happened.
RV took his family back in the opposite direction by many generations, which had actually gone few generations ahead of others by then. When he was working for the betterment of his nation, what he failed to do was his responsibilities as a head of the family. Today, when the grandchildren of those who worked as servants to the English imperialists behave like some big lord, I do feel disgusted for what my grandfather had failed to do. He didn't like his job so he threw it off. That's okay. Why did he jump into the freedom movement? Was it because he enjoyed that job - living in hideouts and jails? Public life was not that easy then. Nor did it have huge money making opportunities. Then why did he go like that? Would he have thought at least once when he was suffering in the jails or jungles, 'If I leave my family like this, my children and grandchildren would go backwards by many generations!'? If he had thought so, he wouldn't have continued with what he was doing, right? He should have thought about something beyond that then.
It was not a time when politicians would just read Bhagavat Gita in jail peacefully - like now. The police would harass them like mad. The amount of scars that he had on his body were countless. He died at the age of 73. If he had not suffered those injuries, he might have lived for longer time. He would have spent some time for us at least in his later part of life. On every independence day and republic day, I am also reminded of the injuries he suffered. So much of blood and sweat have gone into this struggle. Today, they are all going waste like mutton blood and chicken blood. Because, the country has gone to wrong hands. The hands of those who have some manufacturing defect! It's all okay. Buggers... they have even changed the meaning of sacrifice now. It's because the stories of people like him (who sacrificed their lives forgetting all their other responsibilities and lost everything for the sake of their land!) were not told aloud, the clowns and crooks are calling themselves martyrs today. So, let's tell the stories of the real martyrs aloud now.
One early morning, even before it dawned, police surrounded the house. Knowing that the villagers will cause trouble if they do it in daylight, they came so early (So, this custom was introduced to us by the British!). The British officer sends his servant inside the house to get RV outside. RV delays coming out saying one after the other reasons - "Will take bath and come", "Will have breakfast and come", etc. His plan is to leave only after it dawns. He thinks, 'Why should I get arrested like a thief? Let the whole village get to know that I am being arrested for so and so reason'. Our man is not able to wait and gets angry. He sends his servant again for the last time with a message - "There are policemen surrounding your house every feet. If you are planning to escape, please don't try that. You can't do that. We will shoot at sight!". RV says, "Tell your boss that there is a dog tied outside my house. He is like that for me!”. Now, the English man is shocked like hell. Then, he decides to wait till it dawns and arrests RV after that as he wished. That's when he gets the shock of his life. His mother who comes out to clean the courtyard waves her hand and says, "Come back with victory, my son!". Note these words. This is what that mother said though in a different language. Which mother would say like that? So many generations back... even before the period when people used to cry if there was a telegraph... before even knowing what message the telegraph carried!
Now the officer writes in his report - "I have only seen mothers that cried while seeing off their sons so far. This is the first time I see a mother that wishes her son success. Looks like this whole family is rebellious, not just the guy!". That gets him the first class facilities in the jail. Another reason for that was his English that he learned in Madurai. It seems there used to be good respect for those who speak English at that time. Another story that we have heard from the uneducated people in our place - When he went to the collector office in Tirunelveli once, the collector who was keeping everyone else standing asked his assistant to put a chair for RV as soon as he heard him speak something in English very fluently. All these are very interesting stories for us who heard it later after he died. This also tells us how the British rulers had ensured first class treatment for their language at that time itself.
Got independence in 1947. Does the story end there? No. It doesn't. If he had remained in Congress, it would have ended. But, he was in Communist party, right? Even they had to be banned in Nehru's period despite which they had to go ahead with all their protests for certain demands against the government, which eventually resulted in continued absconding for my grandfather. This period of absconding from Indian rulers was more horrifying than the period in which they were absconding from the British rulers. That is when he got close to Communist leaders like Jeevanandam, Baladhandayutham, Kalyanasundaram, P Ramamoorthy, KTK Thangamani, Sankaraiah, Nallakannu, P Manikkam, D Pandian, etc.
They used to hide in each of their places for some time. Even in our house, village and the surrounding areas, there are many places that remind us of those days. Our elders tell us that this is where this happened, that happened, etc. When they were hiding like that in our jungles, there were a lot of people who used to take water, food, etc. to them regularly from our village. The kids and youngsters of that time used to tell us a lot of such stories in my childhood.
Party? Communist party. Goals? Many goals like "land belongs to those who work it". Historical thing? It was the famous Nellai Plot Case. What is that? If you are from the southern Tamil Nadu and if your father or uncles have been interested in politics from childhood, check out with them. They would have heard of it. In their agitations against the government, they toppled a train that came to Tirunelveli. Don't worry. They didn't kill innocent lives like the ones that do such things now. It was a goods train. Will the government leave them? They chased them, caught them, locked up, beaten them to near death, made them bleed, vomit blood, killed some of them in lock-up, killed rest of their valuable life time and released them after that. RV and many of his friends are such people who have lost most of their life and youth. Comrade Nallakannu is one of them. He has been with him and witnessed everything that RV went through. That is the reason he is trying to bring out his history at all costs adamantly.
By virtue of coming from an agricultural family, he headed the farmers wing of Communist party. He has not held any high post in the party. The highest position he held in the party was state council membership and district secretary post for a short period. But, he has been instrumental in growing the party, gathered youngsters and still remains in the hearts of all leading Communist leaders. When he got an opportunity to contest in Kovilpatti assembly constituency in 1952, he was not interested in that and he allowed Mr. Shanmugam Pillai, a close junior party cadre from our village, to contest in place of him. When he got an opportunity to contest in Ramanathapuram parliament seat in 1962 as well, he refused to contest. What we heard was that he was not interested in both the opportunities because he thought he would lose. He could have just contested. We would have been able to boast about it forever. :)
Not only that, he was the one that solved all infighting problems in the forty odd surrounding villages. North gate was the place where all those hearing used to happen. That's the place where his body was kept when he died. Even now, when some oldie from our region asks, "Which place are you from?", "Whose son are you?", etc., when we reply, they would say with glowing faces, "Your grandfather only solved my land dispute with my brother, sister, etc.". When I met a old woman from our village in Bangalore recently, after mutual introductions, she got very emotional and said, "If ayya (sir) was not there at that time, all male members in my family would have cheated me. Those days... Where was the court? Where was the law? Who was there to understand women's problems and give judgement? That time itself, he gave me more share considering I was a woman and I had girl children!". I also got emotional. I was wondering how many such people's wishes and blessings may be with us today!
It's not such an easy calculation. This local justice system doesn't only produce well wishers. There are also affected parties. In the same number! Will their curses leave us? My mom keeps saying that our granny used to tell her that no family that give such judgments would be peaceful. My mom also repeats it now. They believe that it's the effect of those curses. The hearings didn't just happen in North gate sitting on rope cots. There was also a long stone lying next to the North gate. A lot of hearings happened there also. Like in the South Indian movies, even in our villages, on the banks of the lakes, there are banyan trees and stone pads under them. These hearings happen there also. In addition to that, they went in bullock carts and ran mobile courts as well. More than his involvement in freedom movement and his sacrifices in the Communist party, what made him so popular among the local people in that region was these judgments that he delivered.
Then, he brought facilities that none of the surrounding villages got in his time. He got tar roads laid in that time itself to that remote place and got buses from distant towns like Tuticorin and Kovilpatti. When the villagers were drinking lake water, he arranged for wells. Even now when we meet oldies from the neighboring villages in Ramanathapuram district, they say, "He was the one who got wells to your place. Only after that, you people started drinking well water!". It is a land fertile only for cotton and chillies. In that land, he tried to make them rice fields by getting a big lake. Before it came he died. But, when his dream got realized later, our village didn't fail to remember him. There was only one flag as long as he was there. That was red flag. Now, just next to that, there are too many different flags. Village has got divided into multiple groups on different lines. There is absolutely no unity. Some people are saying that only now the democracy is maturing. I somehow don't understand what they are saying!
He had two sons. First one is Sethuraj. He also, like his father, was brought up in the stone house in Palayanoor, went to Madurai for studies, then to Bombay for further studies, did inter-caste marriage (as I said earlier, they were our relatives though from different caste!), got double M.A., joined the Education department, got very good name in very young age and died when he was 42 years old. His son's death was a much bigger blow to RV than the injuries that he got from the police. From then itself, his health deteriorated and he also died in next three years.
The family was shaken by two back-to-back deaths. We would take few generations to bring the family back on track. Reason - His second son, i.e. my father is the most impacted family member by his negligence towards the family. He was not as successful as the first son in terms of Education or professional life. You may ask, "Why didn't his maternal uncles take care of him also as they did to the first one?". My answer is simple - It's not that easy to replace the father's role by someone else... for all kids! Only dad can do that for some.
Mr. Sethuraj was an intellectual. Both father and son were getting all sorts English magazines that came nowhere to close to our village in that region. They made others also read those magazines and encouraged them to debate over issues. His inter-caste marriage created a major problem for his children later. If either my grandfather or he were alive, that wouldn't have become such a problem. When they were not there, those who didn't know about them and their revolutionary lifestyle came and questioned us. We were forced to think if those revolutions failed in our case. Why did a marriage which was appreciated and blessed by the whole Communist community fail so miserably? Do you have an answer to this? If you do, please write to me.
Finally, the biggest strength RV had was his kin and kith. Notable strength came from his nephews. His brother Kandasamy's sons! Even his brother got married to two girls in the same house - the stone house in Palayanoor. So, all their children grew up in an united environment. He was always surrounded by many of his nephews. In addition to that, he had some wonderful friends whose families are still very close to us and they just behave like our family members.
He was very close to the popular advocate NT Vanamamalai and writer - professor N Vanamamalai. He had always been in touch with them through letters. There are lots of letters that were received from them in our old wooden box. There are also many diaries that he had written in English and some English books whose titles are about some minute stuff in Communism and Economics that we can't even understand. A lot of people came to understand about his life and took away all those evidences. I am not sure how much is left out now. Should go to my village once to see if there is anything still left out for me.
We should surely talk about his death in a separate paragraph. Though I was 4 years old, I still remember that morning when the news came. He had passed away in the early morning in his elder son's house in Vilathikulam. The news came in a bus that his body was coming in a car. A lady that heard it came running towards my granny and mom crying like mad - hitting with her hand on her own head and chest. She banged on my granny and cried non stop. Looking at that, my mom cried aloud. Without understanding what was going on, I also cried. Then I could understand what had happened. What happened afterwards were all dramatic. It was like watching a south Indian movie. Our village women were all lamenting through some songs about him. Exclusive songs composed about him in various times! All songs that were composed about him were coming out on that day. The one who composed most of those songs was an illiterate woman by name 'Kumarayi'. She is no more now. Many people came and took note of those songs. We don't know where they are now. We want to collect them before the book comes out. I don't think a book is more for a person who lived such a revolutionary life. What do you think?
* A list of things that we should never do. Why? Because, we have a feeling, 'We are his descendants. So we should never do such things. If we ever do such things, it would be a humiliation for us!'. I don't have to boast about myself. But, there are some people who lived with him very closely who are living an extraordinarily decent life to ensure that his name is not spoiled for whatsoever reason. I also think that I should keep that name too.
* Having known very well that our politics would never get better, we always have some kind of attraction towards that. Just like how he hoped that one day India would get freed from the British, we hope that some day our politics would get freed from all these cheap stuff. Not just in politics, we have this interest in everything that is to do with public life.
* We get some extra patriotism on Independence day and Republic day and we feel that we have more privilege to celebrate those days. We don't ask for any extra benefit. We just want to feel more proud. By the way, none of us have enjoyed any of the freedom fighter ward benefits so far!
* When we see the kind political prostitution done by some rogues today, we get a question - 'Is it for you guys did he lose everything in his life?'. The inability boils our blood. We also yearn that if he had had even 1% of your selfishness we would have been little more better (if not like your children).