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Karunanidhi: The Revolutionary Poet Who Always Had his Finger on the Pulse of his People

As the 95-year-old frail Karunanidhi fought yet another battle on the hospital bed, crowds thronged outside and across the state to temples and shrines, praying that their atheist leader will live. Women and men wept openly outside Kauvery Hospital where the five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu lay in the Intensive Care Unit.

Sandhya Ravishankar | News18.com

Updated:August 12, 2018, 11:11 AM IST
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When I first heard the song I cringed. “Aasai, aasai, Kalaignar meedhu aasai,” sang a burly man, as the audience rapt, whistled and stamped, and five hundred rupee notes made their way into the sweaty hands of the singer from the enthralled crowd.

This is Tamil Nadu. We are all used to larger than life. Nothing small will do. Our film stars are demi gods, our politicians are saviours and we ourselves live in a world unknown to the rest of India.

The word ‘aasai’ in Tamil is a difficult one to translate. It could mean anything from a wish to affection to desire. And to use that word in a song describing the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – Muthuvel Karunanidhi – seemed to me at the time, just another symptom of the hyperbole that we in Tamil Nadu call life.

Over the years while covering Tamil Nadu politics, I learnt aasai in the song is not simply a hyperbole in praise of the beloved leader. It is an expression of raw emotion coming from the core of the heart.

As the 95-year-old frail Karunanidhi fought yet another battle on the hospital bed, crowds thronged outside and across the state to temples and shrines, praying that their atheist leader will live. Women and men wept openly outside Kauvery Hospital where the five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu lay in the Intensive Care Unit.

Even in his last fortnight on this planet, Karunanidhi did not give up easily. ‘Poraali’ (revolutionary) fought right back like he did after every setback in his political career. Poet Vairamuthu, who visited his friend and mentor summed it up just right – “Rebellion is in his every cell,” said the poet. “He is continuing to fight off death.”

Karunanidhi has been hailed, trashed, vilified and adored for over six decades in politics. As a teenager, he joined the Dravidian movement and learnt to write with utter beauty and wit. As a young man, he toiled under the sun and rain with other bright young men his age to build an army of grassroots cadre for the DMK.

His love for the people of Tamil Nadu has been evident for all to see. His brilliant mind has crafted visionary schemes that took Tamil Nadu out of the grip of poverty to become one of the best performing states in all indicators. Whether nationalising transport in the late 1960s or building key infrastructure, expanding crucial healthcare schemes and providing jobs and loan waivers to farmers, Karunanidhi had his finger on the pulse of his people. He has been friend, mentor, guide, leader to lakhs of Tamils across the world.

When he arrived on stage for function in a wheelchair in 2015, the crowds roared. When he said his famous words – “En uyirilum melaana udanpirappugaley” (my siblings who are greater to me than life itself) – the frenzy only increased.

The journey of a quick witted, energetic and intelligent young boy from Tirukuvalai village, now in Tiruvarur district, has ended in Chennai.

His people stood guard outside the hospital where he fought one last battle. They loved him dearly. We all have a little bit of Tamil Nadu in us. And it is perhaps that which moved my pen to write these words two years ago, unbeknownst that it would suit a legendary politician who I would also write a book on.

“And I wrinkle

Fade faster

Burn brighter

As the last embers

Of a dying sun

That wishes instead

To live. To love.”


Go in peace Kalaignar. Tamil Nadu has always been yours.

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