all towns are one, all men our kin.
|Trans State Nation
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
M.K.Eelaventhan - A Man with a Mission
13 December 2000
[see also M.K.Eelaventhan - One Hundred Tamils of 20th Century]
When it comes to painting the peculiarities of the minds of Indian Poo-Bahs, none can do better than R.K.Narayan. In one of his essays entitled, 'When India was a Colony', written to the New York Times magazine, Narayan reminisced as follows:
"I had a close relative in the I.C.S.[Indian Civil Service] who could not be seen or spoken to even by members of his family living under the same roof, except by appointment.....
The I.C.S. manual was his Bible that warned him against being twoo familiar with anyone. He was advised how many mangoes he could accept out of a basket that a favor-seeker proffered; how far away he should hold himself when a garland was brought to be slipped over his neck. It was a matter of propriety for an average visitor to leave his vehicle at the gate and walk down the drive; only men of certain status could come in their cars and alight at the portico.... it dehumanized the man, especially during the national struggle for independence. These men proved ruthless in dealing with agitators, and may well be said to have out-Heroded Herod. Under such circumstances, they were viewed as a monstrous creation of the British. An elder statesman once defined the I.C.S. as being neither Indian nor civil nor service....
The British managed to create a solid core of Anglophiles who were so brainwashed that they would harangue and argue that India would be in chaos if the British left, and called Mahatma Gandhi a demagogue and mischief maker, and would congratulate Churchill on his calling Mahatma Gandhi 'half-naked fakir'...." (A Writer's Nightmare - Selected Essays 1958-1988, Penguin Books, 1988, p.222-232)
Well, Gandhi and Churchill have passed into eternity. But the I.C.S. mentality portrayed by Narayan still lingers on in the successors who followed the steps of Narayan's I.C.S. relative. This is how I reconciled myself to the recent news of M.K.Eelaventhan's deportation from India.
Eelaventhan became a recognizable personality for me around 1963, when I was a 10-year old kid at the Colombo Hindu College. Since then, until mid 1970s, he was a familiar face for me and to other Tamil school children and university undergrads in Colombo, since he frequently delivered lectures and actively participated in the Saraswathi Poosai celebrations and annual art and dance programs held in school premises and in public halls like Saraswathi Hall, Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam Hall, Ramakrishna Hall, Vivekananda Hall and New Kathiresan Hall.
What impressed me most about him was his dimunitive physical stature, penetrating and enthusiastic eyes, infective smile and quick strides. He was always a man in a hurry, like Mahatma Gandhi. Even in the 1960s, long before the Eelam campaign began in earnest, he became an active one-man propagandist for Eelam - by adopting the name 'Eelaventhan', by which he became well known.
Like a sponge, by watching his activities, I also imbibed his passion for Tamil culture and his bi-lingual (Tamil and English) talent in expressing his views to an audience - even to those who disagreed with him stridently. He could quote extemporaneously verses from Saint Manickavasagar and speeches from Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhamad Ali Jinnah, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam and S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike to buttress his point.
A couple of his oft-quoted proverbs still ring in my ear. He used to say, 'Aar kutthianaalum arisiyaanaal sari' [Whoever mills, what we need is the rice], and 'Engallukku Silusiluppu Vendaam, Palahaaram thaan thevai'[What we need is the sweets and not the rattling noise].
In the mid 1970s (between 1975 and 1979), I was in close orbit with Eelaventhan in Colombo. While serving as the President of the Colombo branch of TULF, Eelaventhan canvassed actively among the Tamils and non-Tamils for the cause of Eelam liberation.
I was one of the nearly 30-odd regulars to the weekly discussion sessions he organized and conducted at a location near Bambalapitiya (Colombo 4) junction. He held court at the front porch of a house belonging to the businessman S.Thirunavukarasu (who became the M.P. for Vaddukoddai in 1977). For his weekly sessions, Eelaventhan invited a number of public figures regularly to exchange information and convey the ideas of Tamil youth. Some of these personalities whom I listened to in these meetings include, the noted journalist Mervyn de Silva (editor of Lanka Guardian), Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and Muslim leader M. Ashraff (who was then a neophyte to the Sri Lankan politics).
Because of his propaganda activities related to Eelam campaign, Eelaventhan became a marked person in Colombo, and suffered during the 1977 ethnic riots. He was physically assaulted and his valuable collection of Tamiliana literature kept in Nugegoda was destroyed by the Sinhala thugs. It pained us (those lucky ones who narrowly escaped from such savagery) much to see Eelaventhan suffering like Gandhi at the hands of arrogant, unruly elements. But, the Gandhian 'never-give-up' spirit in him gave Eelaventhan the strength to continue his mission.
In August 1978, an year after the 1977 ethnic riots, when I organized a cultural event to celebrate the release of my first Tamil book, Thamil Isai Theepam (a text book on theory of Carnatic Music, which subsequently received the Sri Lanka Sahitya Award for research literature in Tamil for 1977) at the New Kathiresan Hall, Colombo, I honored Eelaventhan by inviting him to preside that function, which he graciously accepted. Memories of those days are still fresh in my mind. The last I met Eelaventhan personally was in January 1981, at the 5th International Tamil Research Conference held in Madurai. It will be twenty years next month. I have grown now and I have no doubt that Eelaventhan's words of nurture played a significant role in my intellectual growth and I'll ever be thankful for his mentoring.
I'm sure that, being a honest Gandhian, Eelaventhan possesses the courage and conviction to overcome the current intimidation and insult perpetrated on him by the Indian Poo-Bahs. I pray for his health and safety. His worthy mission deserves due recognition. Thus, for his role as an unconventional teacher (and mentor) to hundreds of young Tamils in Eelam and Tamil Nadu for the past 40 years, I nominate Eelavanthan's name for inclusion in the list of 100 Tamils of the 20th century.