Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.
S – Srirangam -1967
While the Gandhian movement in north India culminated in the British leaving India to pave way for Indian independence in 1947, an equally powerful movement was gaining momentum in the south of India under the radical thought leadership of E V R Periyar in the early 1930’s.
It was not the British exploitation they were revolting against.
It was the revolt of the have nots against the haves.
It was revolt of the radicals and non-believers against the conservatives and believers.
It was a revolt of the Fair skinned against the dark skinned.
Well, truth be spoken, they were neither fair nor dark if we went by today’s global standards. There were many shades of brown, but increasingly the battle lines had now been drawn between the lighter shades of brown and the darker ones.
It was the revolt of the non-Brahmins against the Brahmins.
It was a movement thrust forward by the radicalism of EVR Periyar and his political prodigee C N Annadurai. The Anti - Brahmin movement that had gained tremendous political momentum now saw the political power shift dramatically in what was a Brahmin dominated social and cultural fabric of the Delta. As in every political movement there was much at stake apart from the fight centered around a particular ideology. Land, wealth and political power was at the core of the Anti-brahmin social uprising.
As the Panchayat President of Agaramangudi and a politically active member among the landlords in the Thanjavur – Kumbakonam delta, Subbu was in today world, what we would call ‘socially well networked’. In the early 1960’s Subbu along with a delegation of other landlords of the Cauvery delta were hosting Kamaraj and Jayaprakash Narayan in Kumbakonam. Kamaraj was the chief minister of the Madras Presidency when the Congress party was in power and Jayaprakash Narayan was a Gandhian, a politically active figure in the North of India who rose to prominence before and during the emergency of 1975. They hosted them at Srirangam when they had come visiting .
The congress party was looking to strengthen its grass roots presence. With the steady uprising of Dravidian movement, it was losing its stronghold in the Madras presidency. Its earlier Chief Ministers of the State M Bhaktavatchalam and K Kamaraj were well aware of the vote banks in the Cauvery Delta. They were now fragmented on the lines of caste. In 1967, the Congress Party was looking for politically active men with a decent clout to contest the assembly elections for the party to counter the threat of its dwindling vote banks that were now the stronghold of the Dravidian parties.
Subbu’s name was proposed for the Papanasam representative at the state legislature on behalf of the Congress party. Indian National congress with its secular ideology did not have the grassroots pull that Dravidar Kazhagam and its offshoot Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam enjoyed in the Cauvery Delta. Congress party had been losing his foothold owing to its secular ideology, since the Tamil votes were essentially split between local parties. It was not very long ago that Kamaraj, the Congress party chief was elected the chief minister of Madras State. Kamaraj’s political opponent, Annadurai groomed under the wings of E V R Periyar’s Anti-Brahmin movement was steadily gaining ground with the support from the Dravidar Kazhagam and their supporters.
As far as Subbu was concerned, as a Brahmin, Indian National Congress was possibly the only party that would field him as the other major party of the region, built on Atheist and anti-Brahmin political ideologies would never field a Brahmin as its party representative at the Legislative assembly. In a matured democracy it was demographics that mattered the most. For thousands of labourers from the lower caste, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with its radical ideology offered the hope of revolution. The hope of usurping the power structures and a control over land and wealth across the Cauvery Delta.
The state elections of 1967 were fought between these two divided factions.
Subbu filed his papers for the election in his constituency, despite having a fair inkling of losing to the rising Dravidian power under C N Annadurai all over the state. His work in bringing electricity to many villages across the constituency, in ushering irrigation for marginal farmers and ensuring construction of roads and connection through increased bus services to the cities had gained him a fair reputation to be elected to the legislative assembly. He believed that his good work could swing the votes that would otherwise be divided on caste lines.
The election campaign was in full swing and Subbu spent many days away from home campaigning for his candidature. Subbu was in Srirangam to meet the political bigwigs for discussions on the election campaign that afternoon when he received the message from Agaramangudi to rush back home. The bus service for the four hour journey had already left for the day and the next one was not until the morning after. Subbu decided to spend the night at Srirangam before taking the bus the next day to Agaramangudi.
It would have been around midnight. Subbu had retired in the first floor guest room of his friend’s house in Srirangam after a long and hard day of election campaign. He was awakened from his sleep when he heard a group of women scream downstairs. As he got himself quickly dressed up to check on the happenings downstairs, the door of his room was slammed open.
A group of men surrounded him and stared him in his eyes. Two of them held him tight, while the third one shaved off his Kudumi, the thick tuft of his hair at the back of his head and cut off his poonul ( sacred thread worn around the body). It was the Kudumi, the Poonul and the horizontal ash smeared on his forehead that signified his caste and his sub-caste respectively. Subbu was too overpowered to resist. They did not touch the gold finger ring, the gold chain that he was wearing or the money in his wallet that they could easily have taken away. An assault on his Kudumi was a direct assault on his caste and the political dissent towards a potential of Brahmin control of political power in the region.
He regretted not having rushed back home the previous afternoon when he had received the message. Shaken from the happenings of the previous day, and worried about what could have happened in Agaramangudi, he took the morning bus service to Agaramangudi, without his kudumi and Poonul for the first time ever. He alighted from the bus onto the main road and where a bullock cart awaited to take him home to Agaramangudi.
The Agraharam wore a desolate look. An awkward and frightened Subbu, entered Sri Lakshmi Nivas without his Kudumi for the first time. There was no sense of shock or agitation in anyone’s face which was baffling. He settled down on the Oonjal (swing) in the living room when Susee came around with a glass of buttermilk and started sobbing. He still did not understand the magnitude of the situation, till a bunch of boys from the Veda Pathashala, who lived there as boarders came along to see him.
They were all without their ‘Kudumi’. A fresh ‘Poonul’ hung around their bodies.
These were boys being trained to become Vedic scholars to take on the Priestly jobs for temples and to chant Vedic hymns in Brahmin households, whenever there was a birth, marriage, house warming, baby shower, a death or a death anniversary. It was a profession of the Brahmins.
Being trained to chant Vedic Hymns required great discipline, memory power and years of practice. The Veda Pathashala of Agaramangudi of which Subbu was a trustee trained Brahmin boys, especially the ones without means or formal schooling to live there and study the Vedas. It was a professional vocation offered free of cost as a service to uphold the Vedic tradition that was transmitted from one generation to the next for many centuries. The wealth generated from the Temple lands was used to run the Veda Pathashala and other social activities . An attack on that institution and its students, signified an attack on the culture, values and ethos of the Vedic tradition, that was regarded as a Brahmin preserve in that era.
On the very same day that they were attacked, Brahmins who sported the Kudumi were attacked all over the Madras Presidency. In Srirangam, Tiruchy, Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, and even in Triplicane and Mylaope in Madras. In Madras, a group of Brahmin college boys at the predominantly Brahmin Vivekananda college in Mylapore, had their Kudumi cut off in a mass mob attack. The news spread like wildfire. In the next couple of days, Brahmin families ensured that their men who sported the Kudumi voluntarily shaved if off, and hid their Poonul inside their shirts fearing similar attacks.
The election campaign was in full swing. The constituency got ready for the polling day. Subbu, shell shocked by the sequence of events that happened all over the state, felt terribly embittered towards caste based politics and began to realize the foolhardiness of his decision as a Brahmin taking on the might of the rising Dravidian power.
However he was too proud to retreat. He was determined to fight it till the very end. He believed that his good work over the years would eclipse all the caste based card game that democracy was turning into.
The Woman’s instinct in Susee had seen it coming. She knew that the attack on the ‘Kudumi’ was just the beginning. She feared that her husband’s male ego would not listen to her reasoning and he would easily dismiss her pleading as womanly cowardice. She summoned Sivachami the next day and asked him to convince her husband to withdraw from contesting the elections.
After a long drawn conversation, Subbu on reasoning with Sivachami withdrew his nominations for the elections for the legislative assembly.
P.S :Kudumi, that signified the hairstyle of a pious Brahmin almost went out of style since that incident.
Many Brahmin boys across India do grow a ‘kudumi’ even to this day and era. But more often than not, it is deftly camouflaged along with the rest of the hair style inorder to adapt with the changing times. A similar incident would later happen to the Sikhs in North India in the aftermath of the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984. History has a strange way of repeating itself.