Friday, May 26, 2023

Hero worship

If you are asked to name your favourite hero from India's struggle for freedom, the choice set is quite small; not more than 20 names you can reel off from the top of your head, I daresay. And almost all of them would be well known names pan-India. A Birsa Munda, Pazhassi Raja or Helen Lepcha would probably not make it to that list, unless you are from the same region or state they were from. 

But even in Tamil Nadu, and especially Chennai, which makes demigods of actors, it would have been quite a stretch to expect anyone to name this person as their favourite freedom fighter. But there you have it. A taxi paying homage to a man who is a virtual unknown. Cenpakaraman Pillai was an early proponent of aligning with the enemy's enemy and very likely the man who inspired Netaji. He was born in Thiruvananthapuram and even as a schoolboy was used to shouting "Jai Hind" on the school campus. A combination of circumstances found him being sent to Austria as a companion to a neighbour who was headed there. After completing his studies and working for a while in Germany, Pillai managed to put together a band of Indians who were serious about overthrowing the British with help from the Germans.

This was in the 1910s. And one of the most practical ways he found to terrify the British was to direct the light cruiser SS Emden on how it could threaten Indian cities - including a targeted attack on British infrastructure in Madras. But somehow, he got into quite a bit of trouble with the Germans after World War I, including a spat with Adolf Hitler, which led to his being bundled out of Germany and spending his last days in Italy, forgotten by others involved in the freedom struggle. Now tell me, isn't it amazing that this taxi owner knows of the man who is credited with having first used the phrase "Jai Hind"? I'll bet you did not know that yourself. But today, let us at least observe the 89th anniversary of his passing!


Anonymous said...

Glad to know more about our freedom fighters 🙏

Shantaram said...

Thanks! But it would have been nice to know who you are!