Prema Nandakumar

BHARATI KARUVOOLAM — Bharati Archives: Edited by A.R. Venkatachalapathy; Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, 669, K.P. Road, Nagercoil-629001. Rs. 140.

With Subramania Bharati, even a letter to the editor was an act of faith. We have known this for quite sometime, because a few of his letters to The Hindu have trickled down to our gaze thanks to Bharati scholars like R.A. Padmanabhan, P. Thooran and Seeni Viswanathan. A.R. Venkatachalapathy has gone for a thorough kill by painstakingly going through old issues of The Hindu and has mined gold. Each one of his finds adds to our understanding of the life and times of the poet of patriotism and interpreter of nationalism who generally wielded his mother tongue but occasionally wrote in English.

Clarity

Enviable clarity and honest resentment (“Civis Brittanus Sum” for instance) mark the letters, short and long. There are times when Bharati’s feelings are sharper than the tone of his verbalisation: “I am aware that on account of your ingrained love for temperate language and dispassionate logic, you do not give publication in your columns to correspondence couched in violent language, even in cases where such language might be the result of a feeling of righteous indignation.” A letter exposing the fiction in Annie Besant’s criticism of Sri Aurobindo reveals the closeness of the Mahakavi to the Mahayogi. Sometimes the letters sound awesomely contemporaneous.

In these days of fake encounters and phone tappings, Bharati’s complaints against the British police sound familiar: “Later on, they said they were going to use personal violence against some of us and carry us away by force. A few adventurous Sub-Inspectors tried to influence some local rowdies to injure us. In one case, at any rate, there was a midnight visit from the rowdies and my own house was looted and robbed in my absence by men who afterwards confessed the guilt and whom everybody knew to be the hirelings of the British spies.” As the eminent Nigerian poet, John Ekwere exclaimed: “No more now the foreign hawks on alien chickens prey — but we on us!”

The First World War haunts many letters (loyalty to Pan Brittanica, Servia’s heroic ballads), while a Bharatian simile streaks through as a lightning flash when he compares G. Subramania Iyer to “the unfailing sacrificial fire.”

And the Bharatian spirit comes to the fore when he advocates Tamil as the medium for teaching, long, long before our new rulers woke up to the reality: “…one’s mother-tongue is the only natural and human medium for imparting instruction. If anyone should doubt this, let him go and make enquiries of educationists in Japan, Scandinavia, England, Italy, Mexico or any other land where human beings are human beings. Speaking of the Tamil country, especially the blunder of using a foreign medium becomes shocking because the Tamil language happens to be far superior to English for accurate and scientific expression …”

Translation

All the letters come to us with suitable Tamil translations. The appendices include an interview with Bharati that tells us of the poet’s “forcible and pointed English”, the replies and comments by others on Bharati’s letters and S. Satyamurti’s obituary: “So long, however, as the Tamil language lives, and there is a spark of patriotism in Tamil India, Subrahmanya Bharati’s songs will live.” This has been proved very well by this recent, priceless research of our intrepid scholar, Venkatachalapathy.