MANIKKODI IDHAZH THOGUPPU
P. G. Sundararajan (Chitti), Ashokamitran, P. Muthukumarasamy — Compilers; Kalaignaan Pathippagam, 19, Kannadhasan Salai, Chennai-600017. Rs. 300.
The Hindu - Book Review
HERE IS proof positive how a reproduction of select articles, stories including translations and adaptations, poems and a play from the celebrated little magazine Manikkodi, which had a blazed a trail in modern Tamil, can mellow with age.
It was a formidable task as Mr. P. Muthukumarasamy had to bend over backwards for procuring the basic requirement of the magazine copies which lay scattered. While the veteran writer P. G. Sundararajan (Chitti), nimble in his nineties, could bring to bear on this collection his intimate association with the journal, the value of the work is enhanced by Ashokamitran's touch.
In his exhaustive foreword, "Chitti" pays a glowing tribute to The Hindu as a chronicler of Manikkodi events citing two concrete examples, for its steadfastness in carrying them over again in the "This Day That Age" column. Talking about the patriotic founders Stalin Srinivasan, T.S. Chockalingam and Va. Ra., he tells how these wordsmiths were inspired by Britain's oldest Sunday paper The Observer to furl in Manikkodi like a flag on September, 17, 1933.
A repository of interesting facts, Chitti grips the attention with more details. The metamorphosis of the news weekly into a full-fledged story magazine, the part played by successive editors from Va. Ra. until the journal's closure with the issue of June 1939, revival of the magazine to last for a brief period in 1950 with Mr. B. S. Ramiah as editor once again, Manikkodi as a platform for budding writers; research scholars including Mr. Richard Kennedy of California University who have availed themselves of the fertile area for research and so on. Details of the year of publication at the tail-end of every piece will help researchers.
The poetry section opens with Bharatidasan's burning passion for Tamil. Some from Na. Pichamurthy's (Bikshu) vigorous sweep of free verses which had taken the Tamil literary world by storm and some of Suddhananda Bharathi's memorable narrative poems lend charm to this section.
Va. Ra. has flooded this collection with his charming vignettes on the ordinary folk quite unlike his favourite A. G. Gardiner who wrote on the upper classes. His fervent appeal for the establishment of Bharati Sangam, it is common knowledge, has wrought miracles over the years.
There are ubiquitous stalwarts like Stalin Srinivasan, Pudumaipithan, Na. Pichamurthy, Ku. Pa. Ra, Sangu Subramanian, B. S. Ramiah and Chitti who appear both under `Articles' and `Short Stories'. Among other eminent authors of short fiction who find place are Si. Su. Chellappa, Ka. Naa. Su, La.Sa.Raa, Mowni, T. Janakiraman, M. V. Venkataraman, Saraswathi Ramnath and above all, A. N. Sivaraman and grand old man of Tamil, Dr. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer who effectively handled the theme of mother's heart.
Three dedicated freedom fighters whose innate love of Tamil and extra-ordinary capacity for expression, marked them out as pioneers in the renaissance, were K. Srinivasan, Va. Raa (V. Ramaswamy Iyengar) and T. S. Chokkalingam
. all the three were writing in various journals on topics of current and lasting interest when they promptly gave up their activity to serve the nation on Mahatma Gandhi’s call. It was during the interlude following the suspension of the movement by Gandhi that their attention turned back to writing.
was born in Sirkazhi, on May 30, 1899. The cultural heritage of the soil watered by the Cauvery enriched his outlook when he completed his education in Madras Presidency College as a post-graduate. It was while he was trying to pursue his studies in law, that C. Rajagopalachari invited him to serve in the staff of the National School that had been established in the wake of patriotic resurgence under Mahatma Gandhi. He soon drifted into journalism which remained his forte ever since. His first assignment was in the Daily Express. Later he joined Swarajya founded by T. Prakasam.
He had a spell of service in TAMILNADU before he came under the adventurous influence of the legendary figure Sadanand who started the Free Press News Agency, which true to its name strove always to be free in expression and communication of information. After working as the Central Assembly Correspondent in Delhi for a time, Srinivasan went to London, to cover the proceedings of the Sankaran Nair Committee, which was set up by the Government of India to work in association with the much hated Simon Commission on reforms to India. His work in the capital of the British Empire for more than eighteen months marked him out as stormy petrel where search for truth was concerned. Not only his crisp style of writing but also his capacity to find out things in the face of official resistance and unnecessary curbs soon attracted the attention of the entire journalistic world where he was regarded from then on as a pioneer, in many aspects of news-gathering.
Returning to India at a time when the struggle for freedom was at its height, Srinivasan assumed the editorship of “The Free Press Journal” the powerful mouthpiece of the Congress, which had been declared unlawful. When the publisher Sadanand was punished for an editorial by Srinivasan, the later took the issue to the courts. Srinivasan’s contention that the article was not illegal was upheld by the High Court. The restless spirit which was to possess Srinivasan later, was first glimpsed when, soon after this incident, he left the journal and went to Varnasi to learn Sanskrit on the banks of the Ganga and assimilate the spiritual essence of Hinduism. The call of the country was however, proved persistent and Srinivasan soon returned to throw himself heart and soul in the freedom movement. He was responsible for the continued publication of the underground Congress bulletin. He was rewarded soon when he was arrested and sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment, which he spent in Nasik Jail.
On his release in 1933, Srinivasan felt called upon to usher in the renaissance in modern Tamil letters. He returned to Madras, and founded the “Manikkodi”
. With practically nothing in the form of capital except enthusiasm and inextinguishable desire to revive literary appreciation, Srinivasan ventured upon this task with the help of that unparalleled stylist in Tamil writing Va. Raa. (V. Ramaswamy Iyengar) whom he rediscovered for this purpose.
MANIKKODI and the renaissance of modern Tamil
(Following is an extract from Chitti’s presentation “Trends in Tamil Writing” in Alleppe. All India Writers conference, as reported in Free India, in 1966:
“…. Writers of critical and academic bent like Swaminatha Iyer and Thiru Vi, Kalyanasundara Mudaliar had set things to do in that their activity was restricted to the editing of classics or expounding traditional modes of living. Lone giants like Rajam Iyer and Madhaviah had blazed trails which waited long for followers. The literary fire kindled by Bharathi and V. V. S. Iyer lay smouldering for want of fuel of proper variety. On this horizon . . . Manikkodi came as a cloudburst… – K R A Narasiah
I was intrigued when Krishnamurthi mentioned that that the literary status attached to Manikkodi was due to the writings of its editor Va. Raa. I thought that the writer referred to was some Tamil professor or pandit well versed in the classics. The editor of Anandavikatan Kalki Krishnamurthi had also referred to this Va. Raa. extolling the importance of the forthcoming Deepavali Special number of the magazine because it included the writings of Va. Raa. My curiosity was raised when some other friends also praised the talent of the writer known by the Tamil initials Va. Raa.
I managed to obtain a copy of the Manikkodi from a newspaper vendor and was astounded by the way the Tamil language was handled by the editor and other writers in it. Profound ideas were expounded in simple style which did not need commentary or glossary. I had read many articles by learned Tamil pandits and scholars in magazines like the Kalaimagal wherein I had written a few short stories at that time. In the new periodical Manikkodi I found Tamil used as a vehicle for desalinization of ideas in depth. It was almost like reading pieces in modern English which I was familiar.
I dreamt that it would be wonderful if I could write for Manikkodi but hesitated very much as I thought my writing in Tamil was not of that high standard found in it.
Still in a mood impelled more by vanity than by discretion I wrote an article in lighter vein about the recent visit of Mahatma Gandhi to Chennai and posted it to the journal fully expecting that it would be rejected. I was surprised to receive a letter from K. Srinivasan, the founder of the journal inviting me to its office. I thought perhaps I would be advised not to be rash in trying to gatecrash and handed back the article.
When I went to that office I found one gentleman working at a table and another person lying down on the floor resting. As I announced myself, Srinivasan who was at the table, welcomed me and introduced the other gentleman as Va. Raa. Both appeared very sympathetic which confirmed my suspicion that they were going to offer me both advice and the article. They enquired about my background. When I said that I was writing stray articles in English, Va. Raa. enquired why I did not choose to write in Tamil. I confessed my incapacity in literary expression in Tamil. Va. Raa. replied that I should not be so diffident and Srinivasan handed me the issue that had just come out of the press. I was literally taken aback by finding my article in that issue.
Then followed a lengthy discussion by Va. Raa. which took my breath away for the way he expressed the literary aspects of Tamil. After an hour of spellbinding cascade of words of encouragement from Va. Raa. supported by Srinivasan left them in a dazed manner after promising that I would henceforth write only in Tamil and continued to write for Manikkodi.
(On 18-09-1993, in its column ‘The Hindu Fifty years ago’ The Hindu reproduced the news item of 18-09-1933 informing the arrival of a new magazine in Tamil called Manikkodi, thus honouring the literary effort of Va. Raa – K R A Narasiah
Thanks to Ananda Vikatan
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Thank you Vikatan.
After attempts in Tamil journalism, I found a forum in THE NEW TIMES a daily, which was founded by the Raja of Bobbli the Chief Minister of Madras Province and one of the leaders of the Justice Party. My literary jottings under the pen name SCRIBBLER gained wide recognition. A strange coincidence resulted from a writing of mine on LUIGI PIRANDELLO
the Italian playwright. I had said that such a great writer had not been noticed by the Nobel committee. The following month he was awarded the Nobel Prize! This prompted papers like THE SIND OBSERVER of Karachi and The BENGALEE of Calcutta to enquire whether I would like to join them! I declined knowing that what happened was a coincidence and not a result of my extraordinary critical faculties!
The New Times folded up after a year and The Sunday Chronicle a weekly invited me to continue the literary column in that paper. This adventure lasted for some time. A friend of mine used to joke any periodical which carried my writing would soon fold up and used to urge me to write to the Hindu which he did not like!
Once when my old mentor S. S. Krishnamurthy met me he enquired about my writings. We were discussing the absence of Tamil periodicals of literary standard when he suggested I could try Manikkkodi that he said had created sensation in literary circles. I was surprised not at the magazine but about there being literary circles anywhere in Tamilnadu!
At that time Novels adopted from English thrillers were very popular. There was not much serious writing, but the time was ripe for some such attempt and there appeared on the horizon the harbinger of Tamil renaissance.
After the encouragement given by Mani Thirunaukakarasu Mudaliar in his Tamil Journal, “Thamizharasu” I started writing in the standard Tamil magazine Kalaimagal, which was rather conservative in outlook. Anandavikatan, at that time was growing phenomenally in circulation and entertained its readers with humour and nationalistic pieces. I had been writing humorous articles in English magazines like DOODLE described as Indian PUNCH, MY MAGAZINE, MERRY MAGAZINE of Anandavikatan group and FUNNY MAGAZUNE of the Anandabodhini and Prasanadavikatan group in Madras. I was also contributing to THE SCHOLAR from Palghat edited by the doyen of schoolteachers E. H. Parameswaran. But freelance jouranalism was not a paying proposition and much of the writing was gratis! I had a short stint as asst editor of FUNNY MAGAZINE. In 1932 owing to the lull in the freedom movement many magazines flourished. I was for a short time a sub editor cum reporter of INDIA a Tamil nationalistic daily where the editor, my mentor S. S. Krishnamurthy taught me the elements of journalism. There was an opportunity to edit a Tamil weekly MURASU started by B. N. Gupta who was expelled from the Mysore State for his anti-government attitude in his Kannada paper PRAJAMATA.
When in Pachaiyappa, I had written a poem to the college magazine which was a juvenile outburst at Katherine Mayo, the American writer, whose MOTHER INDIA was a book denigrating Indian culture. Mahatma Gandhi called it ‘A Drain Inspector’s Report’. Satyamurthi thundered, “If there was a free country Mayo would be horsewhipped in the streets”. Such negative approach to India was common those days as India was a subject nation to Western Rule. Beverly Nicholas’ verdict on was one such as Robert Bernay’s ‘Naked Fakir’ on Mahatma Gandhi. The tendency has not completely disappeared as witnessed in Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul’s ‘Area of Darkness’, in which he pictured the habit of the Indians coming to conclusion with their bowels in the open. I had called my poem THE OTHER INDIA wherein I praised Lincoln and Washington and deprecated Mayo’s attempt in contrast.
My active interest in the freedom struggle had begun even when I was in Wesley College. In 1928 the entire country observed hartal on a particular day, protesting against the Simon Commission (named after Sir John Simon), which had no Indian representative. The shouts “Simon Go Back” became the war cry of the people. Our college union also passed a resolution to join the hartal and it was my duty as secretary to communicate this to the Principal. When I met him to hand over the copy of the resolution he was visibly shocked, as he always thought that I was a good student, owing to my responses to the teaching. On the day of the Hartal, there were crowds in the heart of the city, at China Bazaar, where there was a lathi charge, injuring many people. This led to the intensification of the movement as the nation approached the Salt Satyagraha.
One special feature of the Simon Boycott campaign was resolution moved by the Congress party in the Madras Legislative Council. A surprising turn to the incident was a government nominated voting for the resolution against the Government. This member addressing a public meeting later, stated, “I am a creature and not a creator” meaning that he was not an elected member. He later joined the Congress and helped the party by building a newspaper empire. He was Ramnath Goenka,
a dubash in the Bombay Company at that time.
After the agreement between the Viceroy and Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, the latter attended the Round Table Conference in London
but without gaining any political advantage. As he returned to India, he along with other leaders was arrested and the freedom movement was stifled by the Government for the next two years. I had then obtained my B. A., degree and was looking for a job. Rampant unemployment was then a global phenomenon resulting from the economic depression of the 1927.
This was acute in the then Madras Prsidency that was then composed of Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra. To me it was worse as I was a Brahmin and had little opportunity for Government service owing to a communal G. O., which stipulated only 2 Brahmins could be selected for every 10 clerical posts. This was the result of the Non-Brahmin movement, which successfully fought for adequate representation according to the majority of the population.
My first love was education and I wanted to be a teacher following the footsteps of my brother-in-law Ramalingam who was my role model. Next I liked journalism, as I was interested in witting. There was at that time a revival of journalistic writing as after the suspension of the civil dis-obedience movement Mahatma Gandhi took to constructive works. Many leaders turned to join the activities. In between trying for jobs I was contributing to English and Tamil journals. I had picked up courage in writing in Tamil, when Tamil Professor of Pachaiyappa’s College Pandit Mani Thirunavukkarasu encouraged me by publishing a play of mine in a Tamil weekly, which he was editing
Mani Thirunavakkarasu Mudaliar was one of the two Tamil Pandits. He was a cheerful teacher and had pragmatic view of life. He used to cite the example of a soldier in the front who in spite of his awareness of death any moment, did not neglect his routine like writing to his family and hoping to return one day. The other, S. Kandaswami Mudaliar, taught Thirukkural in English as he found it easier to express, as this was the medium of instruction. One of my class-mate
was late C. N Annadurai, who was doing his B. A. (Hons)., I was in the pass course and we had common classes in History. We had taken to each other and used to visit the library together, even missing some classes. Another common friend of us was A. Krishnaswami, son of the Justice Party leader, A. Rmaswami Mudaliar, who was studying in the Christian College. In spite of our difference in political views as those two were sympathizers of Justice Party, and I, a nationalist, we had close knit friendship and discussed various points. On the 26th January 1930, which the Congress declared as Independence Day, there was a hartal observed. Some of our students joined and police entered the campus. Students accused the Principal for not preventing the police entering the college premises and the state of affairs became tense. However Prof Anaanthanarayanana saved the situation by his deft handling.
We had a historical Association for which CNA was the president and I the secretary, in which forum we had discussions on almost all the topics from politics to current affairs. Anna and I used to represent the college in inter-collegiate debates etc.,
It was later after thirty six years, as the senior correspondent to the AIR, when I was covering the polls in the election of 1967, after casting his vote Anna came out and seeing me asked if I was not “P. G.”! Later even as the CM of Tamilnadu he warmly enquired of me whenever we met.
I was particularly lucky in having studied in the college under a galaxy of professors, which included some of the best talents of the day, in University education. The Principal was Mr. K. Chinnathambi Pillai, a sober humane educationist. Prof. P. Subramaniya Aiyah, handling English poetry would transport us to the realms of imagination enriched by the bards. Prof. R. Krishnamurthi, endeared himself to the students, by his efficient interpretation of Shakespearean characters inculcating an innate desire to appreciate English Drama. His sardonic humors notwithstanding, his lectures held the students spell-bound. Prof. Thiruvenkataswami taught English Prose in staid and precise terms.
The department of History was no less brilliant. Prof. T. K. Venkataraman's lectures on European history helped us to traverse the intricate paths of the continent over the centuries worth understanding. While Prof. T. R. Sesha Iyengar led us along the highways of ancient history, the doyen of them all, Prof. C. S. Sreenivasachari popularly known as 'chica' brought to life images of Indian History
in his lectures with his rhythmic voice. Listening to his account of historical happenings was like witnessing a cinema scope film.
We were a little surprised to meet Professor N. G. Ranga who taught politics, when he appeared in tip-top European dress complete with a hat! He was fresh from England after specialising in education. A Chaplain moustache added a touch of gaiety to his personality. His first act in coming to the class was to ask each student why he chose Pachaiyappa's college. When students like me responded by saying that we preferred it to the other colleges, as this as less rigid, he was very much pleased. It was then that I noticed that his dress was of KHADI! He made it a point to instill the spirit of patriotism in us and never missed an opportunity to remind us that we were under foreign rule, from which we must liberate ourselves. His lectures often had reference to current affairs.
The true patriot he was, he soon left the college over an incident in which he had difference of opinion with the management. The issue was lathi-charge on people by the police against which he protested through a letter in the press. He ater became one of the great leaders of the freedom struggle and founded the Kisan Movement. I had occasion later to meet him as a prisoner arrested in connection with the Quit India Movement. He was being transported from Thiruchirappalli to Alipore; knowing that I was working in AIR Tiruchi, he sent for me to meet him at the Railway Station. During the thirty minutes of the meeting we spoke about old days and he was cheerful throughout. While the constable guarding him excused himself for a few minutes, the professor remarked humorously; "We must see that he doesn't run away!" Prof. Ananthanarayanan who taught economics was a disciplinarian who was meticulous in his lectures and strove for clarity so that all could understand him.
The imposing edifice built on the lines of Greek Architecture, a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, with the legend 'PACHAIYAPPAN' in bold Tamil letter, dominating the area known as the China Bazaar Road, always had a great attraction to me. So it was a dream come true when I secured admission for the B. A., degree course in that college in 1929. As I entered the portals of the great Institution, I felt elated with the thought that I was going to have a great experience.
The wish was not belied, as the two years I spent in that college were also part of National History. Those were exciting days as the struggle for freedom spear headed by the Indian National Congress was reaching its climax. The Congress had declared complete independence as the goal and had set a time limit for the British to meet its demands. The Lahore Congress called upon the people to observe 26th of January as Independence Day prior to Mahatma Gandhi launching the salt satyagraha
in April 1930.
The campaign focused at the world attention on the freedom struggle as, many foreign correspondents like Webb Miller an American foreign correspondent of the United Press covered the campaign. Following the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi who picked up salt at Dandi Sea shore after a long march, thousands of people went to the nearby seacoast and indulged in picking salt. Many were lathi-charged and brutally attacked, but with exemplary courage they bore the brunt of the attack with non-violence abiding by the Mahatma Gandhi directive.
Police Roughing-up the Satyagrahis*
A 1930 photograph shows non-violent protesters being beaten up
I myself joined the march led by the Andhra Leader J. Prakasam in Madras who took the people to the beach in Madras. But I was prevailed upon by my father who was a loyal Government servant to go back home, as my participation was likely to affect his service. I had to do this to my eternal regret. I was always feeling guilty afterwards of enjoying the country's freedom without undergoing the travails of the struggle.
1931 witnessed an agreement with the Viceroy, which enabled Mahatma to attend the Round Table Conference in London. As we took our degree examinations Bhagat Singh was hanged by the British Government for his shooting a sergeant of the alien rule. The student community was also affected by the events and there were demonstrations of various kinds.
*Photo courtesy Kamat's Potpourri
The principal Rev. J. S.M. Hooper was well versed in Tamil and had translated the songs of Vaishnavite Alwars.
He belonged to that exceptional tribe of English men who, though their main purpose was to serve the British Empire, took upon themselves the laudable task of spreading Indian culture.
The most important among such scholars was Sir. William Jones, a surveyor – general who translated many Sanskrit classics and also founded the Royal Asiatic Society in which research scholars submitted their findings for approval. Warren Hastings, The Governor General, had arranged for the translation of Bhagavat Gita.
There were many others who spread the vedic knowledge
in the west.
Emboldened by the publication of my first story, I also wrote in the college magazine. My hero at that time was K.S. Venkataramani who was writing novels and short stories of south Indian life in English and had won praise from English writers. To improve my writing I used to read a lot of English magazines obtained direct from London by the chief tenant of the house where I lived with my elder brother Seshachalam who was strong in English and corrected my errors. The gentleman who helped us with English publications had recently been called to the Bar in England and returned to India for practice. He later migrated to Malaysia to become some years later Malaysia’s permanent representative to the United Nations. His help and encouragement put me in touch with the works of great authors of the day like Bernard Shah, Chesterton and P.G.Wodehouse.
After finishing the two-year course in that college, which did not have a degree course and was therefore called a second grade college, I entered Pachaiyappa’s college for my B.A. studies in history and economics
When my first story ALSO RAN
appeared, I was a student in the first college year which was part of the intermediate course of two years before the degree course. The story dealt with the activities of punters who were betting on horse races in Guindy and Ooty.
There were a number of bucket shops in almost every street in Madras city, being run with the grandiose name of Sports clubs where these bets were placed. When the results of the races were published in news papers all the horses which did not come first, second or third were listed under the heading �Also Ran� I chose this title to depict a man losing his bet.
John Wesley (1703-91)
I began to write in English for two reasons. One was I was hesitant to try Tamil as I was very weak in grammer and writing in Tamil was then the prerogative of Pandits. Another reason was my professor and principal of Wesely college where I studied being Englishmen who encouraged expression in English. Methodist missionaries ran the college that was earlier named Training College for teachers. When during the first year, there was an orientation session for the students we were asked by the Principal to choose some religious leader of any faith for a short essay. When others chose Vivekanandha, Ramakrishna etc, I said I would like to write upon John Wesley
the founder of the Methodist church after whom the college was named. This pleased the principal so much that he later used to refer to me humorously as the leading authority on wesely. Due to his encouragement, I also won the first prize in elocution and poetry writing.
CHIITI P. G. Sundararajan
Born on April 20, 1910, on the day the Haley’s Comet appeared, P G S took the name Chitti after his nephew Chitti Bapu (Narasiah’s elder brother) while in Visakhapatnam where he was staying with his elder sister. As a student he had started writing in English and his first story “Also Ran” appeared in STUDENT, an English journal when chitti was just seventeen!
Taking after his brother-in-law Chitti did L.T., after his graduation and had a stint as a teacher in Ponneri School. Later he joined the All India Radio in Tiruchi; this was to be his job till he retired.
His interest in Tamil writing was kindled by Va. Ra. and wrote for Manikkodi, which brought in the renaissance to Tamil literature. All the stalwarts of Tamil writing were then contributing to Manikkodi (the likes of Ku. Pa. Ra., Pudumaippithan, Pichamurthy etc.,) He has, at 93 plus, remarkable health and state of mind! His magnum Opus is the book of research on Tamil novels and short stories both with late Sivapadasundaram.
Kanchi Acharya has recently honoured Chitti in connection with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Acharya’s ascendance to the mutt.