Rajaji, author and critic

The news a few days before Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari's 29th death anniversary on Christmas Day, was that, with the latest editions, his English language Ramayana (34th edition) and Mahabharata (40th edition) had reached one million copies each since they were first published in 1951. And that must be some sort of an Indian publishing record. The news also brought me, from Rochelle Shah, this archival picture of Rajaji with S. S. Vasan. The Rajmohan VaiMuKo had named, was a reminder that he had linked the two in his biography, A Rajaji Story, revealing Rajaji as a `film critic', even if he confined his critique to his diary.

In 1953, C.R. had written, "Seen Gemini Vasan's Avvaiyar. T. K. Shanmugam's play is a hundred times superior to this picture... A lot of stock scenes of thunder, lightning and storm, of water flowing and elephants trooping and cardboard fortresses falling. Avvai is too angry and cursing... The picture is poor but when so much has been spent on it and the stake is so great how can one frankly condemn it... "

That's a perceptive thought valid to this day of much of film and literary criticism. But as though to get back to telling `nothing but the truth', Rajaji concluded, "The music is execrable!"

The third person in the picture, on the right, is, if memory serves me right, K. Srinivasan of The Hindu, as enthusiastic about racing as Vasan. Then at the helm of The Hindu at a time when he and other members of the family played a more active role in national politics than their successors, Srinivasan visited Rajaji in Trichy Jail in 1941 with a message from Sikander Hyat Khan of the Punjab who sought Rajaji's blessings for an attempt to bridge the gap between the Congress and the Muslim League.

Rajaji was in jail for writing to leaders in the Madras Assembly, with copies to the ruling power, that it was "wrong to help the British war with men and money".

Srinivasan got Governor Sir Arthur Hope's permission to meet C. R., but the visit displeased Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, who wrote to Hope, "Perhaps you would let me know whether Srinivasan was allowed to see Rajagopalachariar alone or whether anyone was present. I do not want to go too far in the direction of facilitating formulation of policy or of tactics as the result of discussions between Congressmen in jail."

Whether policy or tactics was discussed in not known, but shortly afterwards The Hindu editorially urged the abandonment of satyagraha.

Sometime before that, the ruling power decided that neither politicians not intermediaries would in future be allowed to meet C.R., "who wondered and waited and sought to enrich his mind and spirit".


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