Musings on the Life & Tines of Chinnaswamy Subramania Bharathi Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan 23
Musings on the Life & Tines of Chinnaswamy Subramania Bharathi
Bharathi was least concerned or worried that Swaraj Day procession was being organised without the requisite police/local administration permission. It seemed as though ‘ Bharathi’s invigorating write ups and personal appeals in ‘India’ and in person sounded the bugle and constituted the licence for the marchers. And Bharathi was eagerly looking forward to the day and was constantly talking about the minutiae of the logistics. One thing he was clear about and made clear too. That he would be leading the procession.
Come the day, Bharathi was dressed in his customary black coat and wore a sparkling white Mundasu, handpicked for the day. He bought a jasmine flower garland and wore it. He walked with an assertiveness becoming of a ‘Senapathy’”, said Chellamma.
‘ Bharathi may have been at his cheerful and effervescent best. But, we at home had butterflies in stomach not knowing what was in store. To add to our anxiety , I was constantly being urged to ask Bharathi to call off the celebrations. The family was bombarded with advices that police/Britishers who were keen to catch Bharathi on the wrong foot, may be served with an opportunity on a platter. I did well to disregard, aware of the enthusiasm and wholehearted immersion by Bharathi and his friends in the Swaraj Day event. It would have been futile and spoilt the atmosphere at home.
Come the day. Bharathi woke up early and constantly muttered to himself, ‘Vande Mataram’. The bugle sounded would spell the death knell for the British Raj. At last the subdued sentiments of Swaraj had found an outlet in Balgandhar Tilak, felt Bharathi. He led the procession as it assembled on Bells Road. The crowd was huge by then standards. There was boisterous keenness to launch a movement which should be on the face of the Britishers. Bharathi behaved like a young cadet leading the brigade.
The procession wound through the narrow lanes and reached the Triplicane beach. Several speakers were feverishly talking of the patriotic fervour in the nation and if Madras Presidency was aroused thus, the foreigner needed to take notice and their days were numbered. Bharathiyar took the stage and thundered that India would no longer suffer in silence. He broke into verse and prose and kept the audience hooked in trance. The look out was for police administration to unleash their men.
The procession and beach meeting went through without a hitch. And as it appeared, the Britishers sensing the enthusiastic roar of the assemblage, chose to avoid any conflict. They discretely kept the police unseen and did not prevent or provoke the gathering. The Britishers knew from intelligence reports that the processionists were ready to take on the forces, for a confrontation, if need arose.
I heaved a huge sigh of relief as Bharathi returned home late. It was amazing that nothing untoward happened and that was the most untoward thing. Policemen were not to be seen along the route or on the sands of the beach. The Bharathi volunteers ensured a disciplined passage and conduct of meeting and despite the volatile and volcanic environment, and it came in for high praise in the media. “
Alas, while Madras saw an anti climatic end, Thoothukudi saw the arrest of VOC and Subramania Siva and Sedition charges being instituted against them. And Bharathiyar was to be a witness. It was during this time that Bharathi’s ‘India’ newspaper came into its own. Heated and animated articles were written. There were even cartoons hit upon as a source of communication, possibly for the first time, in these parts. And Bharathi led from the front, as every edition was picked up with gusto and articles read in public and literate and illiterate were instilled with a deep sense patriotic fervour and hope, hitherto missing.
The impact on the psyche of the citizenry by ‘India’ was no ordinary accomplishment. The exuberance was electric said Chellamma m, which convinced her that South was not waning or lacking in voluble support for India’s freedom. That is why she did not agree that it was North of India which led and had the sway over the Swaraj movement. For her, Bharathi was playing a phenomenal role as reports emanated that Bharathi was now a ‘marked man’.
The arrest of VOC, Subramania Siva was followed by arrest of M Srinivasachariar and G Subramania Iyer who ran the ‘India’. There was huge speculation that Bharathi would be next in line and the others’ arrests were a prelude to send to the Mahakavi, a loud and clear message.
Just who was this G Subramania Aiyer who keeps cropping up alongside Bharathi vis a vis Swadesamitharan and/or ‘India’. His was a devoted life in national cause too. Ganapathy Dikshitar Subramania Iyer (Tamil: கனபதி தீக்ஷிதர் சுப்பிரமணிய அய்யர்)(b. January 19, 1855 – d. April 15, 1916) was a leading Indian journalist, social reformer and freedom fighter who founded ‘The Hindu’ newspaper on September 20, 1878. He was proprietor, editor and Managing Director of The Hindu from September 20, 1878 to October 1898.
Subramania Iyer was born in January 1855 in Tiruvadi in the then Tanjore district. He was the fourth of seven sons of Ganapathi Dikshitar, a pleader in the Munsiff’s Court of Tiruvadi. Subramania Iyer had his early schooling in Tiruvadi and matriculated from St. Peter’s College, Tanjore in 1871. In 1873, he passed his arts examinations in merit and attended a teacher’s training course at Madras from 1874 to 1875.
Subramania Iyer taught at the Church of Scotland Mission School at Madras from 1875 to 1877 and at Pachaiyappa’s High School in 1877. In 1877, he cleared his B. A. examinations as a private candidate and was appointed headmaster of the Anglo-Vernacular school, Triplicane in 1879.
In order to voice their support for Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer to be appointed to the bench of the Madras High Court, Subramania Iyer founded The Hindu along with M. Veeraraghavachariar, T. T. Rangachariar, P. V. Rangachariar, D. Kesava Rao Pant and N. Subba Rao Pantulu, on September 20, 1878. Initially, The Hindu was started as a weekly, but later, it was converted into a tri-weekly and then a weekly.
Soon, ‘The Triplicane Six’ broke up when the other students were called to the Bar and editor G. Subramania Iyer and Veeraraghavachariar were the only ones who remained with the newspaper.The Hindu made its presence felt for the first time since its inception. Subramania Iyer was known for his fiery articles with plenty of sting. Subramania Iyer actively supported the cause of India’s freedom and used his newspaper to protest British Imperialism. In 1897, when Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested by British authorities, The Hindu vehementy condemned the arrest. On December 3, 1883, the paper moved to 100 Mount Road and established its own press called ‘The National Press’.
The Hindu welcomed the birth of the Indian National Congress in a December 12, 1885 editorial:
The objective of the Congress… is to bring to a focus to our scattered political energy and to give solidity and organisation to native opinion… [on such] topics in which… all parts of the country are interested…
In May 1889, at Subramania Iyer’s invitation, the Anglo-Indian barrister Eardley Norton began to write a regular column Olla Podrida for the newspaper. The two later became intimate friends.
Subramania Iyer was dead against conservatism and blind superstitions and try to use his newspaper as a vehicle for reform. However, Subramania Iyer’s articles landed the newspaper in many defamation suits and Subramania Iyer was reduced to dire financial straits while trying to fight them. In 1898, Subramania Iyer quit as Chief-editor and was succeeded by Veeraraghavachariar. In 1906, the newspaper was bought by prosperous barrister Kasturi Ranga Iyengar whose legacy it continues to this day.
Subramania Iyer actively participated in the Indian Independence movement. He was one of the 72 delegates present at the Bombay Conference at Tejpal Sanskrit College on December 12, 1885, which resulted in the founding of the Indian National Congress. In the second session of the Indian National Congress, Subramania Iyer was selected member of the Committee to report on the representation of Indians in the public services. In the Madras session of 1887, Subramania Iyer was appointed member of the Committee which framed the constitution of the Indian National Congress. During the 1894 Madras session, he was selected as a part of the delegation which presented the case of Indian nationalists before the Secretary of State for India in London. In 1906, he was appointed member of the Standing Committee to promote the objectives of the Indian National Congress.
When he conducted his widowed daughter’s remarriage in 1889, Subramania Iyer was socially boycotted by his own relatives apart from the conservative Mylapore society. Subramania Iyer lost the support of conservative elements who formed a powerfu lobby in the Indian National Congress. As a result, he was never elected President of the Indian National Congress nor was he ever elected to the Madras Legislative Council.
Subramania Iyer campaigned vehemently for reforms in Hindu society. He supported widow remarriage and desired to abolish untouchability and child marriages. Subramania Iyer arranged for the remarriage of his eldest daughter, Sivapriyammal, who had been widowed at the age of 13, to a boy in Bombay during the 1889 Congress session.
Subramania Iyer wrote in The Hindu that:
the degraded condition” of Dalits was “notorious and the peculiarities of The Hindu social system are such that from this system no hope whatever of their amelioration can be entertained.” It seemed hopeless, he commented, for Dalits “to expect redemption from anything that The Hindu might do” and “no amount of admiration for our religion will bring social salvation to these poor people.
He realised the importance of speaking in the local language and addressed the masses in Tamil in his public lectures. He encouraged Subramaniya Bharathi in his early years and kept him in his house.
In 1898, Subramania Iyer relinquished his claims over ‘The Hindu’ and concentrated his energies on Swadesamitran, the Tamil language newspaper which he had started in 1882. When he left The Hindu in 1898, he made the Swadesamitran, a tri-weekly and, in 1899, a daily, the first in Tamil.
Subramania Aiyar’s pen “dipped in a paste of the extra-pungent thin green chillies” – as Subramania Bharati described his Editor’s writing style – got him in trouble with the British in 1908. He suffered jail terms and persecutions which gradually broke his health.
In his later years, Subramania Iyer was diagnosed with leprosy and succumbed to the disease on April 15, 1916.
While musing on Bharathi we touch upon these characters as VOC, Subramania Siva and G Subramania Aiyer and many more. Bharathi would feel good that we are letting them too to occupy his space.
( Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)