SOME TELUGU FRIENDS OF BHARATI

 

R. A. PADMANABHAN

 

            C. Subramania Bharati (1882-1921), whose Birth Centenary coming off this December (Dec. 1982), was an active camp follower of Lokmanya Tilak.

 

Bharati got interested in national politics soon after he came to Madras as a young man of 22 to work as a sub-editor in “Swadesamitran” daily, the editor of which was the illustrious G. Subramania Iyer.

 

G. Subramania Iyer, who was keen on educating his country-men in politics of self-administration, encouraged his youthful assistant to attend the annual sessions of the Indian National Congress. Bharati attended the Benares Session in 1905, the Calcutta Session in 1906 and the historic Surat Session in 1907.

 

In less than two years, Bharati had parted company with G. Subramania Iyer. Subramania Iyer, whose heart was with the Tilak camp of “Extremists” or the new party, did not, however, wish to break away totally from the opposing Moderates. Bharati, the young war horse, could not agree.

 

India” Weekly

 

Leaving “Swadesamitran”, Bharati became the de facto editor of a brilliant new Tamil weekly called “India.” It was started by some young men of Triplicane whose central source of inspiration was M. C. Alasingaperumal, a one-man public institution, a poor schoolmaster who was the first to take the initiative to send Swami Vivekananda (then still Swami Sachchitananda) to America to take part in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. At the Swami’s behest, Alasingaperumal had started the two journals, “Brahmavadin” and “Prabuddha Bharata.”

 

The “India” weekly, started by S. N. Tirumalachari and his cousins, with Bharati as its mainspring, created a new era in political awakening in Tamil Nadu.

 

It was published every Saturday, in Demy Folio size (that is one-fourth the size of newspapers), 16 pages to the issue, four of which were totally devoted to advertisements. A large size political cartoon occupied the entire front page. The cartoons mercilessly attacked and lampooned the British and their supporters in India. Bharati was the first in all South India to publish cartoons in any paper, in any language. He was a powerful propagandist for the national cause, educating people in the fundamentals while swaying them with current passions.

 

Surat Congress and after

 

Bharati met his idol, the Lokmanya, face to face at Surat. He took active interest in the deliberations of the new party, particularly when they discussed future plans and actions. He was the most active worker of the Tilak school in South India. As the editor of a highly popular weekly, he was an important participant in the conference of editors of the new party which met in Surat. It was then decided that in order to create impact, editors of the party throughout India should write on a chosen topic each week simultaneously. Bharati was given the job of co-ordinating the activity in South India.

 

Bharati started the Bala Bharata Sangam to gather together young men round the party. He also had a paper started, called “Bala Bharata,” for the same purpose. Branches or affiliated associations were formed everywhere, in Andhradesa particularly. As such he made many new friends in the Telugu land.

 

Not much research has been done about Bharati’s friends and admirers in Andhradesa. Nor about their relationship. Old diaries, if any, correspondence and contemporary papers and books might provide us a more intimate picture of the integrated manner our forbears built up the national cause.

 

Veeresalingam pantulu

 

Bharati strongly believed in social reform, and therefore he had great admiration for Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu (1848-1919). Veeresalingam was 34 years senior to Bharati, and he was a close friend and co-worker of Bharati’s first editor, G. Subramania Iyer Veeresalingam was a great social reformer of the times, and Bharati has brought in both Veeresalingam and G. Subramania Iyer as real life characters in his social novel (incomplete) titled “Chandrikaiyin Kathai” (The Story of Chandrika).

 

The nove1 starts with the widowing of Visalakshi, paternal aunt of Chandrika, left helpless. Visalakshi goes to Madras with the orphaned Chandrika, to seek the help of G. Subramania Iyer to get her a husband. Iyer sends her to Veeresalingam with a letter.

 

Visalakshi goes to Rajahmundry to be disappointed. She learns that Veeresalingam has gone to Madras and is staying at a house in Egmore. She comes to Madras and meets Pantulu, says Bharati:

 

            “... Inside, he was alone, seated in a deck chair and writing a book.

 

            Visalakshi saluted him and gave him the letter from G. Subramania Iyer. Veeresalingam asked her to sit in the chair opposite him. She sat there with Chandrika in her lap, Veeresalingam Pantulu read the letter in full, and then asked her in Tamil, ‘What day is today?’ She replied in Telugu, ‘It is Budhavaaramu.’

 

            Meeku Telugu vachchunaa?’ (Do you know Te1ugu?) Pantulu asked.

 

            Avunu, chaala baaga vachchunu’ (Yes, I know it very well.) said Visahkshi.”

 

Husband-Wife Team

 

            Bharati then goes on to narrate how Pantulu’s wife came in while he was querying Visalakshi about her attainments. All this is portrayed very naturally and the picture is effective.

 

            When Mrs. Pantulu learns of the reason for Visalakshi’s visit, she recalls that Gopala Iyengar, Deputy Collector in Tanjore, who had expressed an interest in marrying a widow, had called, and she thought this girl would suit him. There is a discussion between husband and wife on the matter. Visalakshi assures Veeresalingam Pantulu that she is willing to wed Gopala Iyengar, although he drinks, hoping to reform him after marriage.

 

            At this juncture Gopala Iyengar himself comes form downstairs. As he is fond of a good dinner, Pantulu asks his wife and Visalakshi to go down and prepare a sumptuous feast. After the feast, Pantulu broaches the subject with Iyengar and he readily agrees under the impression that the servant-maid, who was having the child Chandrika while Mrs. Pantulu and Visalakshi were inside the kitchen, was the prospective girl mentioned by Pantulu. Later when he sees Visalakshi, he says no and insists on his original choice. Despite, difficulties, Pantulu is able to arrange the inter-caste marriage of Gopala Iyengar and the Naidu servant-maid.

 

            As for Visalakshi, requesting Pantulu to arrange a husband for her somewhere else, she goes to stay with some relatives of hers. After some painful incidents she meets a youthful Sannyasi. They fall in love mutually. The young man renounces Sannyasa and marries the widow according to Brahmo rites, with the blessings of Veeresalingam Pantulu.

 

            Veeresalingam Pantulu’s appearance in the novel seems to cease at this stage. I say “seems” because Bharati didn’t live to complete the novel. He was quite capable of giving unexpected twists and turns and bringing in Veeresalingam once again.

 

The novel was written by Bharati soon after Veeresalingam’s death in 1919, and some three years after G. Subramania Iyer’s demise in 1916. By that time Bharati was famous enough. He probably wanted to place on record in his own fashion his high regard for the two reformers. It is worth-knowing if Veeresalingam has expressed any opinion about Bharati, in his writings, diaries or letters.

 

Bharati’s pen-pictures of Veeresalingam and his wife and the other real personalities are solid; his discussions of the problems attendant on social reform are realistic.

 

Such links as this between Andhra and Tamil Nadu are well worth wider publicity, study and research.

 

Surendranath Arya

 

A second Andhra friend of Bharati was Surendranath Arya, enfante terrible of Madras oratory in the Swadeshi days.

 

Arya had a colourful life. Born a Balija, he was named Yatiraj Naidu. Travelling in the Punjab, he was so impressed by the good work done there by the Arya Samaj, that he joined the Samaj and called himself Yatiraj Arya. He was a short man; thickset. Very bold. He wore a dress which looked like a military uniform–baggy pant, coat and turban of the Punjabi type, with tail and tall frill on top front. This compensated for his shortness. His manner of talking was crisp and bold, straight-forward and manly. Addressing a public meeting in Madras, he once said sarcastically, “Do you call yourselves men? Because you have moustaches? Why, even the harmless eel fish has whiskers.”

 

At a later time Arya toured Bengal, and he was so impressed by the Brahmo Samaj there, that he added the name of the Brahmo Samaj leader Surendranath Banerjee to his own name, and called himself Yatiraj Surendranath Arya.

 

In 1908 March, when the whole of India celebrated Swaraj Day, Bharati was in charge in Madras, and Arya was his lieutenant in all arrangements. He went to jail for one of his speeches sharply criticising Government for meting out harsh punishments to V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Subramania Sivam, who had tried to celebrate Swaraj Day in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin.

 

In prison, he had a hard time. He was teased and tormented, and tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. He was further punished for this and had a worse time. Just then he was befriended by some Christian missionaries and after release he was sent to the United States for theological study. He had become a Christian. After Christian theological study in America, he returned to India with an American Swedish wife in whose honour he added the word Voegeli to his name which now became Yatiraj Surendranath Voegeli Arya.

 

On return, he became a missionary of the Danish Mission Church and lived with his Swedish American wife in a huge bungalow in Purasawalkam. At the time of Bharati’s death in 1921, he was one of those who spoke at the cremation ground. Arya spoke in Telugu.

 

In later years, Arya separated from his Swedish American wife, became a Hindu once again, joining the Brahmo Samaj. For sometime he was a supporter of the Justice Party and later even supported the Self-respect Movement of E. V. Ramaswami (Periar). He passed away in the early ‘Thirties.

 

On his return from the States, Arya went to Pondicherry to meet his old friend Bharati. Bharati and himself spent a whole day together happily. Bharati, however, was quite distressed to hear that Arya had left the Hindu fold to become a Christian.

 

G. Harisarvottama Rao

 

One of Bharati’s dearest friends was G. Harisarvottama Rao. I wish I had enough details about his life. All that I have been able to collect about him is that he was a student martyr of the Swadeshi Movement. Details about this are available in the pages of Bharati’s “India” weekly of 1907.

 

In May 1907, Bepin Chandra Pal, the Swadeshi leader, came on a visit to Madras, where he addressed a series of meetings. This visit of Bepin Pal to Madras was a turning point in the political life of South India. From that date, South India became a stronghold of Tilak and Swadeshi.

 

The Madras visit of Pal was arranged by the Bala Bharata Sangam founded by Bharati and other young men in Madras. Bharati went all the way to Bezwada (now Vijayawada) to escort Bepin Pal to the city. His “India” Tamil weekly reported Bepin Pal’s triumphant lecture tour, giving details of meetings all the way from Calcutta. Bepin Pal spoke at Cuttack, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, Cocanada, Rajahmundry and Bezwada before he arrived in Madras.

 

The main result of Bepin Pal’s visit to Cocanada and Rajahmundry was that the student population in the two towns became virulently Swadeshi. They started wearing badges with the word “Vande Mataram” inscribed, a word that was anathema to the ruling white men.

 

In Cocanada, a student who shouted Vande Matararam within the hearing of District Surgeon Major Kemp was harshly beaten by the Major. The boy swooned. When he recovered he was taken to the police station and kept under custody, medical aid being denied under orders of the surgeon! At ten o’clock in the night people interested in the boy gathered together and marched to the local English Club which they attacked. A church and a number of European houses were also attacked. The District Magistrate was rebuffed when he came with a posse of policemen. Sixty Reserve policemen from Rajahmundry then arrived to initiate a reign of terror. Several arrests were made.

 

Rusticated and Barred

 

While Cocanada was aflame like this, in Rajahmundry, the students, led by G. Harisarvottama Rao, a graduate who was undergoing teacher training in Rajahmundry Training College, started wearing badges with the word “Vande Mataram” inscribed on them. As a result Harisarvottama Rao and other student leaders were rusticated from the college by Principal Mark Hunter. Angered by this action, 171 students voluntarily left the institution.

 

The Madras Government, appraised of the situation, came out on the side of the Principal and added their own punishment for Harisarvottama Rao and another student leader. Harisarvottama Rao was permanently barred from appearing for the M. A. degree or teacher training. Ramachandra Rao, the other leader, was barred from appearing for the B. A. degree for which he was studying. Two other students were barred from study for two years. All the other students who stayed away from college were barred from joining any other college anywhere.

 

Giving these details, Bharati said in his “India” (July 22, 1907) that such harsh punishment by Government should only strengthen the resolve of the people of Rajahmundry to establish a “Swadeshi College” which would not care for Government recognition.

 

G. Harisarvottama Rao had been Bharati’s co-worker even before Bepin Pal came to Rajahmundry. This is also learnt from news published in Bharati’s “India.” According to the paper, when Bharati and friends started a Bala Bharata Sangam (and a monthly in English “Bala Bharata” later on), the Bala Bharata Samiti was established in Rajahmundry by Harisarvottama Rao. As early as February 1907, the Samiti took out a Swadeshi procession with banners proclaiming “Vande Mataram” and “Allaho-Akbar.” The 80-strong processionists went to Kotilinga Kshetra, and Harisarvottama Rao and another student leader, Veerabhadra Rao, addressed a 10,000 strong public meeting on Swadeshi, boycott of foreign goods, etc. Printed leaflets were also distributed.

 

I have a vague memory that Harisarvottama Rao started a paper called “Swaraj” in 1908 which was highly critical of the Government and was suppressed therefor. Harisarvottama Rao remained a close friend of Bharati till the poet passed away!

 

When Bharati poems were banned

 

In 1927 and 1928 when Bharati’s national songs were prohibited or proscribed, several Telugu admirers of Bharati participated discussions in public bodies like the Corporation of Madras and old Madras Legislative Council expressing their support to Bharati.

 

In 1927, Gadde Rangiah Naidu, in the Madras Corporation, staunchly supported a move to teach Bharati’s song “Vande Mataram” to all students of corporation schools.

 

In 1928, following a ban order by the provincial Government of Burma, the provincial Government in Madras proscribed Bharati’s books “Swadesa Geethangal” Parts I and II. The Madras order came, with a vengeance, on Bharati Day, September 11, 1928. In the Legislative Council, S. Satyamurti brought an adjournment motion on the seizure of copies of the banned books. It was a historic debate, when the poems from the banned volumes were sung in the House, by Satyamurti and a number of other speakers much to the chagrin of Government. Ultimately the Government lost the vote on the adjournment motion.

 

Among those who supported Satyamurti’s adjournment motion was G. Harisarvottama Rao, who was then a Member of the Legislative Council.

 

Most Enchanting Songs

 

“Mr. President, Sir”, said Harisarvottama Rao, “this is one of the matters which shows the soulless nature of the Government machinery. The order is made by the Burma Government; this Government reproduces the order in the Fort St. George Gazette and the police forthwith ask for a warrant. The magistrate issues the warrant and the books are seized. Not a moment’s consideration is given to the matter by anybody responsible for the administration of this department of work, either the Hon. Law Member or the Home Member. They must have had time enough before this motion came up for discussion here to see that justice was done to these involved. These songs have been in existence for thirty years and they have been sung all over the country. I am acquainted with some of these songs and being an Andhra I cannot claim an erudite knowledge of them. As one who has had something to do with Tamil while I was in the city of Madras, I feel bound to say that the most enchanting songs I have heard are found in these volumes.”

 

Continuing, Harisarvottama Rao said, “There is nothing that a Government can do which will offend the self-respect of a nation more than proscribing its literature. This is literature of the first-rate and it has been claimed to be the literature of the highest order and has been introduced in schools and colleges. Under the circumstances, the authorities should have deeply considered the matter before they took such action. The whole of the Bengal Partition agitation and the Vande Mataram agitation arose out of the fact that an order regarding the vernacular of Bengal had offended the population. Similarly, I am certain that if the Government go on at this rate and confiscate Bharati’s songs, the whole of Tamil land must be in revolt. Government will have to thank themselves if the whole of Tamil Nadu to a man stands up and says, ‘Here are the songs which have been proscribed and we shall sing them; we shall insist upon singing them; we shall see what the Government does.’ I shall not be surprised if such a movement should be set on foot if this motion should get defeated in this House by the efforts of the Hon, Law Member in charge of police. I am certain that the members of the House are alive to their responsibilities and that this motion will not be lost ... To proscribe poetry of the highest order which has been in existence for so many years is worse than sedition itself. It is sedition against the whole spirit of the nation, against the very soul of the nation...I hope, Sir, that this motion will bring the Government to its senses and that we shall have a speedy remedy in this matter and that the nation will be spared the great humiliation of witnessing one of its brightest jewels being attempted to be sent to oblivion by a bureaucratic Government.”

 

The ban on Bharati’s national songs created all-India stir when Gandhiji took up the issue and wrote an editorial note in his weekly “Young India” condemning the ban order as “Justice Run Mad.” At the same time, “Young India” started publishing translations of some ten poems by Bharati, rendered into English by Rajaji.

 

The Madras Government not only ordered return of all confiscated copies, but also persuaded the Government of Burma, the original sinners, to cancel their ban order.

 

C. R. Reddi’s Tribute

 

In 1937, when the English works of Bharati were edited and brought forth in two volumes (“Agni and Other Poems and Translations” and “Essays and Other Prose Fragments”), C. R. Reddi, who was then Vice-Chancellor of the Andhra University, gave a foreword to the Volumes, in collaboration with K. S. Venkataramani.

 

The six-para foreword is worth-quoting in full. It read:

 

“For the last one hundred years the Tamil genius has not expressed itself at its real best in any department of life, much less on the creative side, in song and literature. The reasons are many, both political and sociological. This is worth-exploring, if only to liberate the stream of creative fancy from the sands of a decorous but false tradition in education and approach to life. Creative artists like B. R. Rajamier and Subramania Bharati are like oases in the desert–as if the endless waste of sand gets wearied of itself and produces a spot of green for the sheer joy of creation.

 

“The Tamil genius rejoices in scholarship, in clearness and purity and in the incisive analysis of its own precious accumulations. Where it is creative it becomes metaphysical, laden with a rapture whose significance and pleasure are only to the chosen few who have transcended the mind-consciousness. Our songs even in their lost lyrical moments have always the mystic touch. The quest after the Eternal gives our melodies a stellar gleam.

 

“Subramania Bharati’s poetical genius is the happy result of a cross fertilisation, the clash and contact between two great cultures. They say the oyster breeds the pearl in a moment of irritation. Subramania Bharati poured forth his patriotic songs in a like moment of conflict, suffering and struggle, when his sensitive and vigorous nature keenly felt the slavery of his country and man’s inhumanity to man. His warm emotional temperament and aesthetic nature quickly responded in song to the immense joys of freedom and sunshine, like a lotus bud to the stimulating rays of the dawn.

 

Shakespearean Touch

 

“Subramania Bharati’s songs in Tamil have almost a Shakespearean touch in the freshness, spontaneity and suggestive power of the lyrical outbursts. They herald a new epoch in our lives. Bharati is not a summer cloud, but the first expression and descent of the monsoon itself, scattering its pearls of plenty over land and river, over hill and dale.

 

“The authentic Bharati quality, racy and indigenous, persists even in this collection of poems and essays in a foreign language to which we are given the privilege of writing a foreword. When a poetic soul like Bharati’s, happy beyond dream in his own mother-tongue, turns to an alien language for the aching joy of self-expression, it is no surprise to find that the art becomes laden with a more serious thought. For the highest aim of self-expression even in art is after all self-realisation. This intense longing for the Divine is visible in every song and every page of this collection. We shall not analyse the qualities of each. Analysis is a kill-joy though the Tamil mind rejoices in it.

 

“We offer this precious book to the reader with the same ecstasy with which a guide greets a caravan marching on desert sand and offers to his friends the pure spring water in the oases.”

 

Two Translators

 

Although Tamil and Telugu are next door to one another, mutual translations of literary works are negligible in number. Greater mutual translations would help promote greater understanding and integration.

 

However, during Bharati’s time, there seem to have been a better climate of such translations. Two Telugu friends are reported to have translated some of Bharati’s national songs into Telugu. It must have been only on a limited scale, since no book seems to have come out as a result of their efforts.

 

The first person to translate Bharati into Telugu is said to be Duggirala Gopalakrishnayya. I have heard this stated by reliable persons. But have not been able to trace the translations. We must try and trace them.

 

The other translator of Bharati into Telugu was one K. Parthasarathy Iyengar of Nellore, who sent me some samples of his translations in the ‘Fifties. He had perhaps translated about a dozen poems, but had not been able to bring them out in print.

 

Of coure, the Sahitya Akademi has done a translation of selections from Bharati. This book must be out of print now, as it came twenty-five years ago. Whether the Akademi has any plans to bring a fresh edition of this old book or issue a fresh book to mark Bharati’s Centenary, I have no knowledge.

 

All in all, Bharati had many Telugu friends, some of whom I have mentioned, and he was as much at home with them as with his Tamil compatriots. For him, no barriers existed; he was a universal spirit at home everywhere and with everyone, and was likewise welcomed everywhere.

 

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