Friday, July 25, 2008

Two epics and a long life

I don't know about others of my vintage, but the first time I read the Ramayanam and the Mahabharatam, it was in English. Maybe some of the charm of the epics was lost in the reading; but having had to listen to grandmothers reciting them in the vernacular, a verse a day (or so it seemed) one was impatient to find out What Happened, rather than listen to discourses on How To Behave. And Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was the man who helped me in that quest. He translated both those great works into English, keeping the essence of each canto but going off on his own interpretation of how they defined / prescribed correct behaviour.

But that was only to be expected from one who was Gandhiji's sammandhi*; this man, the only native Governer-General that India had. After India became a Republic, he was a minister in the Union Cabinet for a short while, but then came to Madras in 1952 to become the Chief Minister of the (then) Madras state. He was by all accounts a man with several bees in his bonnet. Prohibition, Kulathozhil kalvi (schooling for half-day and learning the family trade during the other half), Hindi as a compulsory language - all of these, imposed by him, were seen by the people of Tamil Nadu as an extension of Northern hegemony and repression of the lower classes. And so, his Chief Ministership was short-lived; he resigned in 1954 and went into a tailspin of sorts; the second half of his life was a story of petty rivalries and pot-shots; certainly not lived in a manner befitting one of the earliest recipients of the Bharat Ratna.

This statue of Rajaji stands half-way along the long road that bears his name. But it is tucked away to a side, just like an old relative whose glory days are cherished by the family, but is today too embarassing to be included in a gathering of the clan!

*Rajaji's daughter was married to the Mahatma's son; that's a rather complicated way of saying they were sammandhis!

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