KAMARAJ MADE ME FEEL LIKE A HEROHINE!
What a memory!
Anusuya Devi, a friend of mine, was running an association called Young Women’s Harijan Welfare Association. I used to accompany her whenever she met celebrities for seeking their help in running it.
One such memorable meeting happened in 1963. It was with the late Perunthalaivar – the great leader – Kamaraj. Many personages of our country have written about Kamaraj, but commoners like this writer have also had unique personal experiences worthy of narration. I had the golden opportunity of meeting him once at his residence in Thirumalai Pillai Road in T. Nagar when he was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Many people were already waiting to see him. We were the only ladies. But, within two minutes, his helper, Vairavan, materialised before us and asked us in.
There were no chairs in the room. Only some mattresses were spread on the floor. Kamaraj too was sitting on a mattress, his back resting on a pillow. He greeted us smiling and gestured to us to sit. We sat after greeting him. His sharp eyes fell on me with curiosity and my friend introduced me as a writer for children. (At that time I was writing only for children.) When she said I used to write in Kalkandu, he asked, “Tamilvanan’s magazine, isn’t it? But who has the time to read Kalkandu?” and smiled broadly.
Just then Vairavan came there and asked if the vakil’s clerk could come for reading out an urgent affidavit and Kamaraj nodded. The next moment the clerk came in and he asked him to read it. He started to read it which was in English and he listened intently tapping with his fingers on top of his head. Suddenly, he interrupted him in Tamil and said, “Why are you beating around the bush? Instead, you could have used the simple legal term habeas corpus, isn’t it?” The clerk scratched his head guiltily as well as sheepishly and altered the affidavit. My friend nudged me secretly, which meant, “Didn’t I tell you, he understands English very well and speaks it too?” Yes. Before coming there, she’d told me that though he didn’t study in school beyond the 7th or so standard, because of his close association with the great Congress leader, Satyamurthi, for long, he’d gathered a lot of English knowledge.
Then, after he finished reading, he sent him away and turned to us:
“Tell me. What is the next film you’re planning to screen for collecting funds for your association?” She said she had the idea of screening Ezhai Pangaalan and she’d come to him only to seek his help for it. Gemini Ganesan had acted in it and the title which meant “Friend of the poor” painted obviously to Kamaraj. He promised to do the needful and asked her to ring him up after two days. Then he smilingly reminisced about his having seen the film Malaikkallan with MGR as the hero when she screened it for collecting funds and said MGR was at his best and he also liked the acting of comedian Durairaj as constable 441 in it. He remembered even the constable’s staff number!
That was my only meeting with him. After a long gap, elections for Madras Corporation Councilors was announced and Kamaraj came round the city standing in a bullockdriven cart greeting the public with joined palms and smiling, silently canvassing as was his wont. Spotting his cart at the street-end, all the residents thronged at the entrances to glance at the beloved leader. It was a narrow street. To avoid a bump, the cart swerved and came very near our house and the gap between him and us was just three feet. He spotted me, nodded, and gestured too waving his hand, smiling. The neighbours around easily guessed his gesticulations were all for me alone! I was too pleasantly shocked to greet him in turn, but just smiled back. My neighbours asked me, “You know him?” I proudly said (rather lied), “Yes!” (as one cannot say so having met the person only once!) I marvelled at his memory. Everyone around me was amazed and I felt like a heroine!
Men are more often bribed by their loyalties and ambitions than by money.