Downtown

Friend of the Narikuravars

Raghupathy and his wife Gnanasundari with the children of Thiruvalluvar Gurukulam at Saidapet. Photo: K. Pichumani   | Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

The manager of the private bus company got up with a start. “What is this? Where is your uniform?” he barked at the figure in front of him, his eyes widening into ovals of disbelief.

Standing before him in a skimpy dress, one towel clasping his lower body and another draping his upper, K. Raghupathy told the manager of this Tondiarpet-based company that he was quitting his ticket inspector’s job to go and live amidst the Narikuravas.

“I want to understand the life of the Narikuravas,” declared Raghupathy.

“What sort of irrationality is this? To understand them, do you have to become one of them?” the manager asked.

“I cannot think of any other way,” Raghupathy replied.

The manager tried to talk the 21-year-old man out of what he thought was “moon madness”. He was interested in Raghupathy’s welfare, having provided him with money to pursue his studies.

After a long drawn discussion, the manager realised the youngster would not see reason and decided to do the best he could under the circumstances: give Raghupathy his good wishes, along with 500 rupees.

Raghupathy, today 74 years old and a man who runs an orphanage and an educational institution, has recounted the conversation he had with his manager 53 years ago, a million times to numerous pairs of ears. However, every time he does it, he manages to evoke wonder in the listener. He himself is a tad surprised that he took that bold decision. “I belong to the Veera Saiva Lingayat community: my relatives thought I was out of my mind,”

Raghupathy explains the decision was not fashioned by any fascination for a life marked by rootlessness, but by “personal encounters that underlined the hardships faced by the Narikurava community and the need to lend it a helping hand”.

He adds: “Abraham Lincoln’s worldview also gave me the impetus to take up a work of this nature: I was impressed with his idea that one should not pass on to someone else what he himself can do and that a man should attempt to do something that nobody else has.”

It is not every day that a man decides to give up the known and the familiar in this fashion. As things have panned out, he kept his resolve, lived in Narikuravar settlements and taught their children over the decades.

However, looking back, he concedes that his mission has been only partially successful. In the days of discovery that finally culminated in the formation of Thirukural Gurukulam, a 100-member home for destitute children in Saidapet where every fourth kid is from the Narikuravar community, he says, he saw various efforts fail.

Immediately after he decide to strike out on his own, in 1961, and live among the nari koravas, he did not know where to begin.

“Early efforts to find a Narikuravar settlement led me to Mamamdur, near Chengalpattu, where Narikuravars sold pins and beads to passengers waiting at a bus terminus. This group had pitched tent near Madurantagam. I taught their children for six months: I had studied up to SSLC. To be a better teacher, I went to a teacher training school in Walajahbad from 1962 to 1964. From 1964 to 1969, I stayed at my sister’s house in Washermanpet and taught at a school in Tondiarpet that had been started by Ramalinga Mission. In this period, I carried out a census of Narikuravars and other groups given to a nomadic way of life. In 1967, I organised a conference, inviting these groups to see how they could be helped.”

Three years later, he found an ally in his mission: Gnanasundari. “It was an arranged marriage. She belonged to the Narikuravar community was brought up as his daughter by Congress leader N.M.R. Subbaraman. The highlight of the marriage, which took place at Kalaivaanar Arangam, was that it was graced by MGR,” says Raghupathy.

The couple went to live in a Narikuravar settlement in Orakkadu village, near Thiruvallur. Says Raghupathy, “She worked as a Balwadi teacher. In Orakkadu, we were engaged in an effort to get certain members of the Narikuravar community to settle down. Under a Central Government scheme, land was given to Narikuravar families through a 10-year conditional patta. With many eventually deciding to sell their land, it was not an entirely successful project. The experience strengthened my belief that community development is impossible without education. As a result, we started a home for Narikuravar children in Saidapet, which later became inclusive by accepting destitute children from all communities. These children are provided education at a Tamil medium school that is being run next door. After false starts and many dead ends, I now think we am right on course.”


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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 10:22:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/friend-of-the-narikuravars/article5673272.ece

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