The world knew him as Periyar’s editor

V. Anaimuthu   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Periyar E.V. Ramasamy was a great thinker and propagandist. To disseminate his ideas he established a series of publishing firms such as the Kudi Arasu Pathippagam, Pagutharivu Noorpathippu Kazhagam (modelled on the Rationalist Press Association of London) and the Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution. Printed on flimsy paper with worn-out types, the price of the publications was kept low. In the near-daily meetings that he addressed, Periyar would urge the audience to buy these books. Often, his wife Maniammai herself would hawk them. The downside of this democratising zeal was that his ideas were scattered in booklets and pamphlets and unavailable for systematic study until V. Anaimuthu (1925-2021), who passed away on April 6, stepped in.

Two years before Periyar’s death, Anaimuthu undertook the challenging task of compiling his writings. What Periyar wrote and spoke over a 50-year period lay dispersed as ephemeral publications. No library assembled the back volumes of his Kudi Arasu, Revolt and other journals.

With no file copies of his own, Periyar himself had to issue notices asking for them from his committed party cadres.

A project and its hurdles

In January 1972, Anaimuthu issued the first notice about his plans to publish the collected writings of Periyar. A few months later, another advertisement sought to raise ₹1.5 lakh. Even as the project was under way, more than a year later, funds remained an issue. After acquiring copyright permission, Anaimuthu marshalled the voluminous source material. Periyar was greatly enthused by the project, and there were poignant moments especially when his emotional obituary to his wife Nagammal was read out to him. Months before his death he saw some printed formes, but not the final publication.

Originally planned as two volumes, Periyar Ee.Ve.Ra. Chinthanaikal (Thoughts of Periyar E.V.R.) eventually appeared in three crown quarto-sized volumes. Thematically classified and chronologically arranged, it came with a good index. Running into over 2,000 pages, bound in black rexine, and embossed in gold letters, the volumes included photographs and facsimiles. Printed at the Kabeer Printing Works and published by the Chinthanaiyalar Kazhagam of Trichy (Thinkers’ Forum), Periyar Ee.Ve.Ra. Chinthanaikal remains a landmark in the pre-Desktop publishing (DTP) era of Tamil publishing.

On July 1, 1974, six months after Periyar’s death, the volumes were formally launched. Anaimuthu’s travails did not end there. At ₹200 per set, the price was steep. The print run was a substantial 2,500 copies. Less than 200 subscriptions had been raised and the uptake by the government’s directorate of public libraries was a disappointing 300 sets. Binding being expensive, unbound printed formes lay at Anaimuthu’s house, and there was a real danger of termite attacks. It was some years later, during the Periyar centenary year, that 1,500 sets were acquired by public libraries.

As it often happens, what at one point did not have takers, later became a collector’s item. As an oft-cited primary reference for subsequent scholarship on the Dravidian movement, there was new demand and second-hand copies were sold at a premium.

Other contributions

It was another 35 years before a greatly expanded second edition — 20 demy octavo volumes of about 10,000 pages — appeared. While Anaimuthu bravely confessed to earlier sins of omission and commission, the second edition was not as well organised, as has been pointed out by the scholar Pazha. Athiyaman.

Like the first, the new edition too was launched by M. Karunanidhi even as a possible copyright issue hung over it like a sword of Damocles..

Publishing Periyar Ee.Ve. Ra. Chinthanaikal alone would have made any life worthwhile. But Anaimuthu had further claims to fame. In 1997, he unearthed and published Periyar’s diary of his European and Soviet tour (1931-32). A detailed chronology of Periyar’s life followed. Since 1975, he gleaned documents for a detailed biography of Periyar. The incomplete manuscript, said to run into hundreds of pages, apparently covers only the early part of his life.

Another major contribution was Anaimuthu’s discovery of Thathuvavivesini (1882-1888) and the Thinker (1882-1885). Published by the Hindu Freethought Union, these pioneering rationalist weeklies ran ‘a crusade against superstition, poverty and prostitution’. His search for the radical thinker Athipakkam Venkatachala Nayakkar (1800-1897) had led Anaimuthu to unearth these unknown vehicles of radical thought. Author of the iconoclastic Hindu Mathachara Abasa Darshini (1882), Venkatachala Nayakkar was also the voice of peasant distress under the Ryotwari system.

In a rare act of intellectual generosity Anaimuthu permitted the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi and the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai to microfilm these volumes for wider scholarly use.

Sadly, a dodgy academic tried to steal Anaimuthu’s thunder by trying to upstage him in the publication of these volumes.

Life and times

Born in a village in Perambalur district, an 18-year-old Anaimuthu was inspired by Periyar’s speech. After studying for the intermediate examination at Annamalai University, he took an active role in the Dravidar Kazhagam. Maintaining a close association with Periyar in his last years, he accompanied him on many of his tours. Expelled from the party soon after Periyar’s death, he started his own party, Periyar Samaurimai Kazhagam (renamed Marxia Periyariya Pothuvudamai Katchi), and strove to bring together Periyarists, Marxists and Ambedkarites on a single platform. Apart from editing the monthlies, Chinthanaiyalan (Tamil) and Periyar Era (English), he commissioned the Tamil translation of Dhananjay Keer’s biography of B.R. Ambedkar. Associated with the Lohiate leader Ram Awadesh Singh, he participated in agitations that led to the constitution of the Mandal Commission, and lobbied tirelessly for the implementation of its recommendations.

A committed and self-willed man, Anaimuthu worked without respite. There was a time in the 1980s and 1990s when it was hard to take the Tamil Nadu Express without running into him on the train.

For a life packed with meaningful activities, Anaimuthu will always be remembered as Periyar’s editor.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy is a historian and Tamil writer

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 12:24:20 AM |

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