It must be close on 20 years since I was last in the Triplicane of the streets in the neighbourhood of the Sri Parthasarathy Temple. I was attending a meeting marking Subramania Bharati’s 131st birth anniversary that was being held at Bharati Illam on T.P. Koil Street. Getting to it via Pycroft’s Road and Triplicane High Road was bad enough, but T.P. Koil Street itself and other streets and lanes off it and in the neighbourhood, were a nightmare. I don't think I've seen more two-wheelers parked on both sides of narrow streets anywhere in Madras. And in the barely single lane left, cars, vans, autos, cycles, countless pedestrians and cattle battled for space. I thought cattle were meant to be off the streets in the city, but in Triplicane, they not only roam freely but also seem to have right of way! Even George Town, at its worst, didn’t seem to be as congested as this. Yet no one seems to care, particularly the authorities; worse, they seem to take it for granted that there is no way to improve the situation. I wish someone like the Prince of Arcot will take it upon himself to form a citizens’ committee to help bring about order to the heart of Triplicane.

Having taken nearly 40 minutes to get from near Arcot Mahal to Bharati Illam, it was good to hear Bharati remembered - but by so few. In fact, how many in the city remember his contributions to Tamil literature and the Freedom Movement? One of the speakers pointed out that there are two kinds of Bharati literature, one that he wrote, the other about him. I wonder how much of both is in print and what the sales of both are like.

I raise this question because two books about him that I know of are books I’ve never seen in bookshops. One was a collection of articles about him in English and Tamil that was brought out by the Government on the occasion of his birth centenary. It was a substantial volume with whose copy-editing and printing I had something to do. I saw the volumes come out of the press, I saw the books at the launch, and that was the last I saw of them. I wonder whether even the libraries in the State - and they number in the hundreds - have copies of this book about different aspects of Bharati. Its fate is rather like the fate of a more recent publication, The Raj Bhavans of Tamil Nadu, a beautiful pictorial history that never reached the public. I wonder how many libraries have copies of it?

The other Bharati book I refer to is The Finger on the Lute, a brief biography of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati written for children by Mathuram Bhoothalingam. When she wrote it, she stated that her aim was to make the poet from the South recognised as a national figure. So she chose the National Book Trust to publish it. Which the Trust did in 1970. Despite the book being out of print for long, it was not reprinted till 2012, over 40 years later! And even after the reprint, is it freely available - even in the libraries of schools where the medium of instruction is English? No prizes for the answer.

Which is why I have to admire the few who keep the memory of Bharati alive and speak as eloquently about him as he did on a host of subjects.


Rajaji and his taxes

As answer to my query about the outcome of C. Rajagopalachari's dispute with the Corporation over Professional Tax (Miscellany, March 25), reader S.B. Prabhakar Rao refers me to the autobiography of eminent auditor G. Narayanaswamy, Beyond Auditing. In it, I found not only the answer I was looking for but also a whole chapter on Rajaji’s interactions with Narayanaswamy on his taxes. Particularly illuminating in this chapter were a few paragraphs on the interaction between Rajaji and TTK, two strong individuals “politically opposed to each other.”

But before I get to Rajaji and TTK, let me get back to Property Tax. Apparently, the issue went up to the Supreme Court where R.M. Seshadri argued successfully on behalf of Rajaji that Professional Tax could not be levied on a person’s pension, as pension was paid for “not carrying on a profession.”

Narayanaswamy came into Rajaji's life when Seshadri advised him to use Narayanaswamy to argue a case rather than Seshadri himself. Rajaji had no time for chartered accountants, after one of them had “messed up his daughter's case.” He felt the same when it came to the case he insisted Seshadri argue, namely that his income from freelance writing should be exempt from Income Tax “as it was not his profession or business to write in journals.” But over a period of time, Seshadri persuaded him to give Narayanaswamy a hearing. What Narayanaswamy could not get across at the three meetings that Rajaji rather authoritatively dominated, he managed to in a lucidly argued letter. Rajaji immediately responded in a postcard with words to the effect, “I see your point. Please concede all objections and have the assessments completed.” Thereafter, there began a more cordial relationship.

Rajaji, however, disagreed with Narayanaswamy on a tax dispute that, to Narayanaswamy, seemed “unnecessary” as it involved a receipt of only Rs.400 from AIR that was being taxed. Rajaji's position was, “The amount may be small but the principle is great.” And so he dictated the response to the Income Tax Department. Somehow Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari got wind of the whole issue and instructed a senior tax officer to personally hand over to Rajaji the refund and a letter of apology. Referring to this, in the context of the uneasy relationship between the two principals, Narayanaswamy comments, “We need the early revival of such political decency.”

On another occasion, TTK’s proposal called the ‘Annuity Deposit Scheme’ was one Rajaji “declined to comply with” and he wrote to the Finance Minister explaining his point of view. “TTK,” writes Narayanaswamy, “appreciated the anomaly (Rajaji had pointed out) and exempted elderly persons from the Scheme.” One more Rajaji-TTK story that Narayanaswamy relates to illustrate an age of “political decency” narrates how when he casually made a derogatory remark about TTK’s role in the Mundhra affair, Rajaji lost his temper and shouted at Narayanaswamy, “It is easy to pass loose remarks about the Finance Minister, but it is difficult to perform. Let us not be casual in our remarks.”

One last story, and then we can leave Rajaji for a while. Shortly before he passed away, Rajaji wanted to make a gift of around Rs.60,000, “about all the money he had then.” When Narayanaswamy pointed out that gift tax would be about Rs.12,000 - “a sum beyond his means” - and suggested that he was seeking to pay tax “when no tax need be paid,” Rajaji responded, “A businessman can do all these tricks but not you and I.” And Narayanaswamy concludes, “I still remember Rajaji’s advice, that every time I take a decision I should see whether my action is well within the four corners of ‘Dharma’… that an action may be “legal but not ‘Dharmic’.”


When the postman knocked…

My recent item on the organs of Madras that have been getting new lives (Miscellany, March 25), had at least one reader in raptures. Regrettably, the lyricism of reader V. Kalidas is something I have no space for in this column but here’s a sampling of his recollection of a concert in St. Andrew's Kirk on January 11, 2009. It was a rare concert in Madras by a virtuoso, the organist being the septuagenarian Richard Marlow who was the Organist and Director of Music at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the founder of the University’s chamber choir. Reader Kalidas writes, “Richard Marlow of global fame breathed fresh life into the ancient organ at St. Andrew’s Kirk (it is an 1895 Conacher organ, as I mentioned in my earlier piece) in Egmore …

“After a brief preamble at 7.00 pm, Marlow's tryst with the organ commenced. Even the marbled floor and the thick walls of the hall seemed to reverberate to the rich timbre from the organ's notes. I jogged my memory and recalled how the ever-smiling Chaplain at Christ Church would play those haunting melodies for us. (I pretend to play five or six of those hymns and some carols now on my Yamaha in the Pipe Organ-Chapel Organ mode.) Such memories crafted on musical notation can never be erased.

“Appropriately enough Handel's Organ Concerto in B Flat set the mood for what was a sublime evening. Can there be an Organ recital without Bach whose works for the Organ have made him immortal? Richard Marlow displayed a penchant for Bach's compositions which provided a breathtaking range of Bach's arias and cantatas…

“I may not have understood the nuances of Western Classical Music but its spiritual overtones were not lost on me! To my ears, the music was par excellence.

“Please forgive me for going overboard on this concert, but this was the first time that I attended a Western Classical Music Concert in the holy precincts of a Church! And that too after a month-long obsession with the music of the three Big Bs (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms)…”

Reader M Subburaman and others just won’t give up. They still want to see that map of Fort St. George in readable size. Will someone please oblige?


The lawyer as a writerMay 5, 2013

An album of memoriesMay 12, 2013