India Today - - LEISURE - —Latha Anan­thara­man

For the Tamil peo­ple, the po­ems of Subra­ma­nia Bharati are in­sep­a­ra­ble from the In­dian free­dom strug­gle. His work nour­ished love for the Tamil land and lan­guage with­out the taint of parochial­ism. Even to­day, no po­lit­i­cal meet­ing, school gath­er­ing or mu­si­cal per­for­mance is com­plete with­out a pa­tri­otic Bharati­yar song. His Kr­ishna songs stand un­matched in Tamil hearts. And what woman can re­sist a man who threw Tam­brahm ret­i­cence to the winds and wrote love po­ems to his wife?

He be­longed to the masses, as many In­dian po­ets did. But in Bharati’s case, his copy­right also be­longed to the masses. Left to him­self, A.R. Venkatacha­lapathy ex­plains, he would have writ­ten a pa­per about Bharati’s copy­right and buried it in an aca­demic jour­nal some­where. In­stead, he was talked into writ­ing this lively book about it.

When Subra­ma­nia Bharati died at 39, his im­pov­er­ished widow Chel­lamma sold the rights over his works to his half-brother, C. Vis­vanathan. Vis­vanathan un­earthed news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, es­says, lyrics and po­ems from files and back is­sues, rec­on­ciled dif­fer­ing ver­sions, com­piled them, and pub­lished them in af­ford­able edi­tions. Bharati’s works came to de­fine a modern Tamil syn­tax and sen­si­bil­ity and per­me­ated the flour­ish­ing mag­a­zine trade of the 1930s. When gramo­phone record­ings and cin­ema came into the pic­ture, those rights were ac­quired by in­dus­tri­al­ist A.V. Meiyap­pan, who had branched out into film­mak­ing. Meiyap­pan put Bharati­yar songs in a talkie and struck gold. But when film­maker T.K. Shan­mugam put a Bharati­yar song into his talkie, Meiyap­pan sued and de­manded that Shan­mugam’s film not be re­leased. With the might of Tamil pride, na­tion­al­ism, re­form, pub­lic sen­ti­ment, the new Madras gov­ern­ment, and Chel­lamma be­hind him, Shan­mugam cam­paigned to na­tion­alise the rights to po­etry that ev­ery­one was al­ready singing in the streets. Meiyap­pan could not stand against the wave.

Vis­vanathan turned over the print rights and do­nated the orig­i­nal manuscript­s to the gov­ern­ment. His ef­forts were rightly eval­u­ated prob­a­bly only as the gov­ern­ment strug­gled to pub­lish its promised au­thor­i­ta­tive edi­tion in later years. Vis­vanathan never made much money from his edi­tions, as was of­ten charged against him, but he raises one rea­son­able point on the other side of the ar­gu­ment. Was there such ou­trage about any other poet’s copy­right be­long­ing to a rel­a­tive or buyer? The an­swer is, of course, no. The sin­gu­lar his­tory of Bharati’s copy­right tes­ti­fies to the sin­gu­lar value of his oeu­vre to his peo­ple.

Bharati and wife Chel­lamma

WHO OWNS THAT SONG? The Bat­tle for Subra­ma­nia Bharati’s Copy­right A.R. Venkatacha­lapathy JUG­GER­NAUT 599, 216 pages `

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