Musings on the Life & Times of Chinnaswamy Subramanian Bharathi Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Musings on the Life & Times of Chinnaswamy Subramanian Bharathi
Upon closure of ‘India’ and “Suryodayam’, it was truly troubling times for Bharathi. Thanks to continued presence of Va.Ra or V Ramasamy Ayyangar, Bharathi’s ‘jeevanam’ was going on. Va.Ra. insisted that Bharathi should continue to write as if the newspapers were alive. He got them published in other publications in pseudonyms as Kalidasan, Sakthidasan. Even Bharathi had to approach newspapers to get his articles ‘fixed’. It was not a given. But it is a given till date the practices have continued and if anything become worse. As a poor man’s journalist, this writer is privy to many a pernicious practice in the field of journalism. Times they are a changing. More they change more they have gotten worse.
Though it did not pay handsomely it kept the kitchen fire burning to some extent. Though the newspapers had folded, the presses were not shut. D Sroinivasachariar got Bharathi to translate Tagore’s short stories and got them sold as small books. (Even V V S Iyer translated some works of Tagore).
And then this anticipated anecdote, our eagerly awaited grist for this musings’ mill. As sun was setting on a day, a toy seller was shouting out for sales of his wares. They were earthen toys, famous, from Kuyavarpalayam. Little Sakunthala heard the seller’s voice and ran out. She was utterly fascinated by what she saw. Both Bharathi and V V S Iyer were seated outside. Bharathi and Iyer sensed the instinct of Sakuntala and asked the salesman, “ Why are you going around at this dark hour. Who could or would buy without having a good look at the toys, in this fading light?”. The effort and implication were obvious. They had no money to buy. But they could not disappoint the little girl. They wanted the toy seller to move on.
The Kuyavan or potter replied, “Swami, what can I do? I come from distant Kuyavarpalayam. I am busy all the day as we make and export these toys to distant France also. So, by the time we wind up the day’s duties, it gets dark. I would be extremely grateful if you could come to Kuyavarpalayam with this little girl. I would be glad to give her a few of her choice.”
Perfect opening for Bharathi to please his Sakunthala, “ Amma, you, me and Iyer shall go to Kuyavarpalayam shortly. And we shall see for ourselves how their nimble fingers work”. And then Bharathi distracted the girl by elaborately explaining to the little one how the toys got made and how they made models and how it was an ancient art and heritage. The little girl had little chance ‘but to get distracted’ as Iyer noted. Yer another poverty stricken day passed without the girl getting what she craved for.
Bharathi, however kept his promise. He and Iyer took Sakunthala to Kuyavarpalayam, one day.Unanounced, they reached the village. The toymaker was overjoyed and took pride introducing them to his fellow villagers. The Bharathi team was hosted with love and little Sakunthala saw for herself how the toys were made, with earth/mud/clay and put together in several shapes and sizes and then the dexterous fingers of the craftsmen turned out brilliant toys, as if real. There was not a leader or topic that escaped their skilled hands. Bharathi said, “ Sakku wanted them all. And I wanted them more. Iyer was lost in his dreams for his little Supraja. But where we could go for so many of them. They cost a packet. We could not think of buying the bigger ones. We bought a couple and quietened Sakku. And to our eternal gratitude, the villagers either took pity on us or took note of out pitiable financial strength and gifted us a few.I was hugely impressed by a lovely piece of a couple of bullocks. How many times I have tried to express the power, strength and beauty of these oxen and failed. Here, this worker had captured it all in just mud, this Mannan a.k.a. King.”.
Bharathi and Iyer joined in the magical realm of little Sakku and were effusive in praise of the villagers and blessed them for their continued reverence to their ‘Kulathozil’- community profession.A hugely controversial term this Kulathozil/Kulakalvi ( community avocation founded education ) turned out to be, in later years, when the elder statesman Rajaji tried to introduce it as part of the educational curriculum. Alas!
Again this author is not missing on the ticklish ‘Kulakalvi Thittam’ of Rajaji. For what? The same digression or pivot. It fits in beautifully here as Rajaji and Kamaraj were both reverential devotees of Bharathi, VOC and Iyer and likes and their ‘values; and they tried to put them in place, as part of the curricular system, when they were at the helm. Read this piece by an author on how Kulakalvi got spiked for all the wrong reasons and it even cost Rajaji his Chief Ministership.
With the tricolour up in the Fort and the Presidency just out of colonialism, education was deemed very important for all classes of society. However in Madras, out of the 1.2 million students who had enrolled in Class one only a third even reached fifth class.
Congress argued that dropout children mostly went on to continue their family professions and proposed reforms to streamline the education system. Rajaji’s idea of the Madras Scheme of Elementary Education in 1953 was dubbed by its critics as Kula Kalvi Thittam (Hereditary Education Policy) and was a controversial education reform which was aborted.
Among the major changes the scheme proposed was the reduction of school hours from five hours to three per day and the introduction of two shifts in elementary schools.
Every school could function in two sessions, catering to two groups of students. Rajaji said that this would better the student-teacher ratio and assured there would be no dilution of the previous syllabus and no reduction in duration for subjects like Language, Elementary Mathematics, History, Geography, Civics, and Moral Instruction.
The scheme proposed that in one session, regular teaching would be done and during the second, students would be sent home to learn the livelihoods of their parents. Boys would learn pottery or leather working or farming and girls would be of assistance to their mothers in the kitchen and housework.
The government constituted a committee of experts for reviewing the scheme under the chairmanship of Prof RV Parulekar, Director of Indian Institute of Education Bombay.
However, all hell broke loose within the political spectrum both outside the congress and within. It was faulted and accused as being a bid to prolong the caste hierarchy as Hindu professions were mostly caste-based.
Periyar denounced the scheme asking — “Is this educational scheme not a reconstruction and fortification of varnashrama?” The argument of the Dravidian leaders was that there were disproportionately too many Brahmins in white-collar jobs in government and education.
In contrast, there were more farmers and low-wage workers among non-Brahmin castes. They reiterated that Rajaji was trying to perpetuate Brahmin supremacy.
The fledgling DMK finding its feet in the political field found an opportunity to serve as an opposition party. C N Annadurai argued that only a full-day education would uplift the lives of the masses and decided to campaign against the new system and assigned EVK Sampath to head the agitations against the caste-based education scheme.
Sampath along with a group of volunteers held demonstrations in front of Chief Minister Rajaji’s house not allowing him to come out. Demonstrations continued for 15 days and on most days, there were lathi-charges and arrests.
In the Madras State legislative assembly, two amendments were brought against the scheme. One wanted an expert committee of members to study it while another wanted the scheme to be scrapped.
When the scrapping amendment was put to vote it surprised Congress that many of its members had also opposed Rajaji. The votes were split as a 138-138 tie. Speaker Siva Shanmugam broke the tie by voting against the amendment to save the government.
The month of June 1953 saw aggressive propaganda efforts by both proponents and opponents of the scheme. Rajaji gave a speech to the washermen at the Adyar riverbank. In it, he referred to kuladharma, the social obligation of each clan or caste. He gave speeches and made broadcasts in All India Radio explaining his position.
The Dravidar Kazhagam organised a conference in Erode protesting the scheme’s introduction. The teachers’ unions also opposed the move as they were not consulted before implementation. They also resented the increase in working hours without any increase in pay. In 15 days, as many as 20 processions were attempted by the DMK in the capital.
Rajaji’s refusal to budge on the education scheme issue divided the ruling party. Forty Congress Legislative Assembly members sent a memorandum to Nehru objecting to Rajaji’s unilateral demeanour. Later that year, Congress lost the by-election for the Kangayam constituency by a narrow margin. This spurred the Congress legislators into open revolt and Rajaji tried a last-minute compromise — he would quit if the scheme was kept.
But the writing on the wall was clear for Rajaji. With mounting opposition to him within the Congress Party itself, he resigned his Chief Minister position, paving way for K Kamaraj to become the Chief Minister.
Kamaraj did some lateral thinking and recognising the role of primary education in building a new nation and in tackling massive illiteracy, scrapped the scheme.
Kamaraj’s government took up large-scale revamping of the educational facilities, which involved opening 12,000 new schools. Efforts were taken to open a school in every village with a population of over 300.
Kamaraj is known as kalvi vallal (loosely translated as a benevolent educator) because he made school education completely free. And he was the precursor to the Midday Meal bonanza to school children, which ensured that drop outs from schools were significantly reduced. And M G Ramachandran expanded on the theme and today it has a Pan India presence. Rajaji never held a post thereafter and in a way, it was curtains for his career.
Bharathi may have been outraged for sure, if he were alive. Let us get back to the Kuyavarpalayam nexus for a fascinating Bharathiya anecdote. Shall we?
( Author is practising advocate in the Madras Higyh Court)