August 17, 2018
It was my fourth day in Canada and I was beginning to get familiar with my surroundings and the Airbnb that we were living in. The morning began on a strange note, with news coming in of an ailing Karunanidhi, declared as critical. I was tracking news on my mobile, but was dying to watch the news on TV. So, I decided to go to the TV room. As I entered the living room, I saw this gentleman engrossed in the news, reflecting a sadness that seemed personal. After some questioning, he opened up about his personal equation with the politician and how deeply saddened he is with the news. Karikalan S. Navaratnam, a retired lawyer, was a political activist since student days. He was held in detention twice. He has served as the Legal Secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF ) and also as a member of the TUF Politburo. He fled Sri Lanka in the wake of the “Black July” anti-Tamil program in July 1983. It was during those troubled years of his life, that he met Karunanidhi and became an admirer for life.
He writes fondly about the man and his charm..Read on…
Going down the memory lane
It is almost one week now since Muthuvel Karunanidhi, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, waved ‘adieu’ to all of us. He left us at the age of 94, after striding the Tamil political stage like a colossus for seven decades and after having lived a productive life.
I have been an admirer of Karunanidhi from my student days. As I got to know more and more about him, I marvelled at his multi-faceted personality – a litterateur, prolific writer, playwright, poet, powerful orator, editor of a Tamil daily (“Murasoli”) and, above all, a dominant political force in India.
Karunanidhi has been a member of the Tamil Nadu legislature for over sixty years, of which he served as the Chief Minister for 19 years. He was a veteran of the hustings who successfully contested the State Assembly Elections on 13 occasions and was never defeated at any election. After the demise of his mentors C.N. Annadurai (1969) and Periyar E.V. Ramasamy (1973), the DMK leader Karunanidhi emerged as the patriarch of the Dravidian movement.
I became enamoured of Karunanidhi’s writings, initially, by watching the films he had scripted. In chaste Tamil, he had introduced a fresh flavour and flourish in cinema dialogues and screenplay. Ever since his box office hits “Parasakthy” (1952)and “Manohara” (1954) were released, “Story & Dialogue by Karunanidhi” had become a brand name in Tamil film industry.
I have read most of his writings – novels, plays, short stories, political commentaries etc. His creative talents and contribution to the arts, literature and cultural revival in Tamil Nadu have earned him the honorific title “Kalaignar”.
I met Kalaignar for the first time at his DMK party Office in Madras in the first week of August 1983. It was a poignant moment. We were grief-stricken and a mood of melancholy had descended on us. It was in the wake of – and within a week of – the 1983 “Black July” killings in Sri Lanka and I had just fled the horrors of the holocaust and arrived at Madras – Meenambakkam airport. From the airport, my friends in Madras had taken me directly to the DMK Office. Kalaignar spent lot of time listening to my harrowing tales, recounting details of the Black July savagery.
Feelings were running high in Tamil Nadu, expressing solidarity with the Tamil victims in Sri Lanka. It was MGR’s ADMK government in power at that time. Nonetheless, DMK chief Kalaignar was calling the shots on the Sri Lankan issue.
Demanding Indian government’s intervention on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils, Kalaignar and DMK Secretary K. Anbazhagan had resigned their respective MLA seats in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. DMK M.P.s Vaiko and L.Ganeshan had begun a protest fast outside Lok Sabha in New Delhi. DMK got ready with a petition, with a million signatures, to be submitted to the UN, seeking international intervention on the Tamil issue.
In the same week, there was a public meeting held on the Tamil issue at Periyar Thidal in Vepery, Madras. There were various political party leaders present on the dais. Kalaignar was the main speaker. I was one of the speakers. I was privileged to share the platform with Kalaignar
Under compelling circumstances I had to seek shelter as a refugee in Tamil Nadu for the next couple of years. During this period, I had been writing a series of articles in popular local journals. I had often met with Kalaignar and kept him abreast of the developments in Sri Lanka. During such meetings he had favourably commented on my writings and I was elated that such an accomplished writer as Kalaignar had cared to read and comment on my writings.
Even after leaving India, I was in touch with Kalaignar by mail and by telephone. I had also called on him on such occasions as I had visited India, thereafter. I consider them fortuitous occasions.and it was my good fortune to have known him. I miss him so much.
Karikalan S. Navaratnam