The history of our epic battle for independence that has been so far written is only about the activities of the political leaders, great and not so great. Stories of those, who were not aligned to any political party, and who were from the diversified fields of art and culture, but yet, involved as they were, with the freedom movement in their own individual ways, have been sadly forgotten or ignored. The subaltern history of such unsung men and women needs to be told in the pan Indian context if one has to have a comprehensive and holistic view of our freedom struggle.
The publication of the diaries diligently maintained by Bhaskaradas (1892-1952), primarily, a theatre activist, besides being many other things, sums up the social history of Tamilnadu from 1917 to 1951.
Anandarangan Pillai (1709-1761), who was a dubash during the French rule in Pondicherry, was, perhaps, the earliest diarist in Tamil. The jottings made by him every day read almost like essays, whereas, Bhaskaradas, totally unaware that in a computer age, the way he wrote would be known as ‘micro-blogging’. He had ‘twittered’ a mixed bag of events and expenses of his everyday life each such noting not exceeding 60 words at the maximum. They were in handwritten manuscripts soiled and withered and only the readable parts of his notebooks have been redeemed and published. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the diarist’s grandson S.Murugaboopathy, a modern theatre activist in his own right.
The names of all India leaders Bhaskaradas had mentioned in his diaries in different contexts, would almost read like a veritable political ‘who’s who’, all those, popular during the early and middle part of the twentieth century. The most interesting part of it is, he had composed songs on almost all of them, and also about the movements with which they were associated, like Khilafat movement(1919-1924), Rowlatt Act protests (1919), Salt Satyagraha (1930), Jallianwalabagh massacre (1919) etc.
Bhaskaradas was so overwhelmed by Gandhiji that he wrote several poems on all the things that Gandhi loved most, like charka, ahimsa, prohibition, untouchability and rural reconstruction. He met Gandhiji once on the train when he travelled in South India and gave him the poem he had written on him. On listening to the first line of the poem, when it was translated to him in Hindi, that began, “Gandhi oru parama eezai sanyasi’, Bapuji smiled and remarked, ‘O! God, he has made me a saint!’ Later, this song was immortalized by K.B.Sundarambal, when she rendered it for a gramophone record. Bhaskaradas was a great hit with the gramophone companies, like His Master’s Voice, Odeon, and others that he had written nearly 500 songs for them that were sung by an illustrious galaxy of musicians like S.G.Kittappa, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, S.D.Subbulakshmi, M.S.Subbhalakshmi, S.V. Subbiah Bhagavatar, M.S.Sivabhagyam, M.S.Viswanathdas, T.P. Khader Patsha and others.
The actor Viswanathdas was once arrested on the stage for singing a song by Bhaskaradas in a puranic play, that was loaded with political meanings. His most well-known song was ‘Vellai Kokkukala’, wherein, Valli, the spouse of Karthikeya, while guarding her family millet farm, demanded the white cranes, to go off their fields never to return, as they had no claim on them. The hundreds of the people, who used to flock to see the play, knew how to read between the lines and understood who ‘the white cranes’ were (British). Bhaskaradas makes subtle, mature and factual references to all these incidents in his diaries without getting emotionally involved.
His was an inclusive art that embraced all the sections of the Tamil society, the rich and the poor, the classical elite and the street-singers, the road vendors, the fisherwomen, the weavers, the gypsies, and beggars. He composed songs for all of them relating to the needs of their profession and heard them sing. In fact, in those days, in the music-oriented Tamil society, no beggar used to ask for alms without singing. As most of the songs that many of the beggars sang were the lyrics written by Bhaskaradas, in the title-crazy Tamil Nadu, he came to be known as ‘Bhaskaradas, the poet for the beggars’. The beggars used to travel in the trains, ticketless, singing these patriotic songs.
One lasting impression after going through this voluminous and well got up book is, how such a nationalistic, refreshingly secular, liberated and open-minded Tamil society that seemed to have existed during the period in which Bhaskaradas lived.
‘Patriotism’ was not thrust on the people by a government gazette notification but was an intrinsic aspect of the people, who lived at that time.