THE BHARATI SONG
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 `