Tribute to MGR – Sachi Sri Kantha

This is the extract from Sangam.org an article about MGR by Sachi Sri Kantha.

Tribute to MGR
by Sachi Sri Kantha; published January 18, 2004

Man from Maruthur and Malai Naadu (Mountain State): a Birthday Tribute to legendary MGR
[Front Note: This is a revised and extended version of my tribute, which first appeared in the Tamil Nation (London), January 15, 1992, under my pen name C.P.Goliard. I have a reason to present this. In the internet literature, the multi-faceted life of M.G.Ramachandran (1917-1987) appears prominently as a caricature, contributed by the swarms of literate coolies from India who have a penchant for peddling their half-baked views. These include Sashi Tharoors, M.S.S.Pandians and Cho Ramaswamys. My tribute to MGR, who helped Eelam Tamils at their darkest hour and when assistance was badly needed, is an anti-dote to these contributions.]
Eighty six years ago, a baby boy was born to a migrant couple, Gopala Menon and Sathyabama, in a ‘line room’ of a tea estate in Kandy. Later, this baby boy would grow into a leader with the name Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran (popularly adored by Tamils all over the world with the initials MGR).

Though as a two-year old toddler, he was taken to Kumbakonam by his mother (who had been widowed after the birth of her fifth and last child MGR), the destiny would make it that in his last five years of life, MGR would again have close links with the Tamils in the land of his birth. After landing in Tamil Nadu, MGR would wise in his professional ranks with perseverance, hardwork and the smile of Lady Luck. He reached the ‘top’, step by step; 10 years as a vaudeville child actor, 10 years as an apprentice actor with secondary roles in then emerging Tamil movies, and nearly 30 years as an ‘uncrowned king’ in the Tamil movie land. He capped his life in his final 10 years as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu state.

Having experienced gripping poverty personally during his growth phase and forfeiting the opportunity to have a formal school education, MGR would see to it that at least one song in his movie had some educational value to the commoner. He would take a keen interest in the theme of the song, its musical composition and its exact appearance in the movie. Not surprisingly, it would turn out to be a hit song among the ‘illiterate’ Tamil masses in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. I can recollect a dozen of these songs here.
1. Achcham enpathu madamaiyada – Anjaamai Dravidar udamaiyada (on Dravidian glory and heroism)
2. Thoongaathe Thambi Thoongaathe – Nee somberi enra peyar Vaankaathe (on the consequences of idling and procrastination)
3. Chinna payale Chinna payale Chethi keladah (on character building and self confidence)
4. Thirudathe – Paapaa Thirudathe (on prevention of bad habits, especially stealing when young)
5. Moonrezhuthil En Moochirukkum – Athu Mudinthapin thaane Pechchirukkum (on the dignity of one’s duty)
6. Onru Engal Jaathiye – Onru Engal Neethiye (on the unity of human kind)
7. Unnai Arinthaal Nee Unnai Arinthaal Ulagathil Poraadalaam (on developing self confidence)
8. Buddhan Jesu Gandhi pirandathu Bhoomiyil Etharkaaha (on the dignity of labor)
9. Atho Antha Paravai Pola Vaazhavendum (on freedom and liberty)
10. Thaayillamal Naanillai Thaane Evarum Piranthathillai (on motherly love)
11. Chirithu Vazhavendum – Nee chirikka Vaazhnthidathe (on the dignity of labor)
12. Poomazhai thoovi Vasanthangal Vaaztha Oorvalam Nadakkirathu (on sibling love)

MGR also made sure that he would teach good etiquette and discipline to the masses through the movies. Therefore, in the characters he played in 130-odd movies, he would never smoke or use alcoholic drinks. On top of that, he would never physically and mentally abuse women. This self-imposed rigidity restricted the character range he could play and snobbish movie critics – who were mostly feasting on the Holywood movies – ridiculed MGR for the artificial treatment of his characters. But MGR would have the last word and the Tamil masses wouldn’t care less about the criticism of the elitist snobs. Ultimately, he claimed the adoring honorific ‘Vaathiyaar’ (teacher) in its original sense of the word.

Call it a mere coincidence or the destiny of Eelam Tamils, when the liberation struggle began earnestly in 1977, MGR would become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state. Though his interest on the problems of Eelam Tamils remained passive or indifferent until 1982, the anti-Tamil riots of 1983 in the island kindled his support for the Eelam cause. 1983 also saw the change in guard among the political leaders of the Eelam Tamils. MGR had never felt comfortable with the then TULF leadership, since he had perceived them as emotionally more closer to the DMK leadership of M.Karunanidhi.

When the leadership mantle in the Eelam struggle needed a change and a boost, MGR became the godfather of LTTE and made sure that the then ‘toddler’ would not suffer a premature death in the hands of wily J.R.Jayewardene, the central government of India and the Intelligence agencies of India. Even to his political allies, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the links MGR developed with LTTE was somewhat embarassing. But they simply had to ignore it for their own political survival in South India. For all this moral support to the Tamil Eelam cause, MGR became the arch enemy of the Sinhalese power brokers in Colombo, from 1983 until his death in December 1987.

That the admiration Tamil masses had on MGR was not purely a ‘cinema craze’ had been proved in India, when movie stars of equal stature such as Sivaji Ganesan, N.T.Rama Rao and Amitabh Bachchan could not transfer their popularity in movies to the political world. The political careers of Sivaji Ganesan and Amitabh Bachchan never took off from the ground. Only N.T.Rama Rao was able to become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and he lost that position subsequently too. In that, MGR was a ‘three-in-one’. He had the movie magic of John Wayne, the political success of Ronald Reagan and the messianic appeal of Martin Luther King Jr.

How could one explain the extraordinary career of MGR, which began in Kandy and ended in Madras? Though not considered a native in the place of his birth or in Tamil Nadu where he grew up and called it home, he became the adored leader, who would be envied by any local politician. At least poet laureate Kannadasan (who had been an intimate friend and some times harshest critic of MGR) had an answer. In 1980, Kannadasan noted that MGR was blessed with an ‘asura jaathakam’ (literally meaning, devil’s horoscope). Not everyone would agree with that assessment. But, considering the unfavorable odds he faced in his life and the ‘fights’ he won, definitely there should have been some blessing from the devil (if not an angel!) which protected MGR in his numerous trials.

Like other great leaders and revolutionaries, MGR was not without human weaknesses. He was afterall a human, though viewed and venerated as a ‘living God’. M.S.S.Pandian, in his critical tract, The Image Trap: M.G.Ramachandran in film and politics (1992), makes an issue out of this. Who is without sin? Holywood movie legends Marlon Brando and Katharine Hepburn have lived in sin. But does their life styles take away anything from their stature and ‘class’? Noted scientists Thomas Edison and Marie Curie had personal flaws. Do those flaws dim their greatness and contributions to humanity? Even the saintly Mother Teresa cozied with political despots in power and took their money for her charity. Does that make her a sinner?

MGR’s weaknesses do not detract the good deeds he did to the down-trodden in Tamil Nadu and to the Eelam Tamils who landed in India as refugees after 1983. MGR was neither an intellectual nor a philosopher. But his life-time teaching is short, simple and straight-forward; Fight for your Rights. That’s what he preached in his 130-odd movies. Considering the abuse Eelam Tamils underwent in Tamil Nadu in the post-MGR period, from the minions who claim to be proteges of MGR, one can only say by dipping our head ‘We miss you, Vaathiyaar’.

Recent election of Holywood muscle-man Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor of California, enticed Shashi Tharoor (one of the currently prominent literate coolies of India) to contribute a feature to the New York Times (Aug.15, 2003). In this nearly 850-word feature entitled, ‘A Land Governed by Film Stars’, more than 350 words were used to provide a caricature of MGR, whom he introduced as “India’s first major actor-politician”. In it, he had stated the following, devoid of any context and any comparison:

“…So great and so enduring was MGR’s popularity as chief minister that when he suffered a debilitating stroke, his party could not afford to let him relinguish office. At rallies that drew millions, the speechless and nearby immobile movie star would be propped up on a high stage in his trademark wool cap and dark glasses, while recordings of old speeches would be played to fool the distant crowds.”

Shashi Tharoor, if he had really studied the 20th century history of America properly, should know that there is a precedence for this in America. How about the unchallenged political success of polio-paralysed Franklin Roosevelt, from 1932 to 1944 (until his death), who was badly needed by his Democratic Party for four times to contest the presidency and win it for the party? His speeches in radio was also used to comfort the distant crowds in America struggling from the Great Depression. If it is acceptable for Americans to accept Roosevelt, why it should be different for the Tamils in Tamil Nadu?

Sure, MGR was debilitated by a stroke in 1984 and became physically handicapped. But he was mentally agile. Compared with the performances of pygmies who thrive in India’s political stage who are physically agile but mentally handicapped, MGR’s performance during the last three years (1984-87) was nothing to be ridiculed. I provide excerpts from a Time magazine feature, which appeared barely seven months before his death. Edward Desmond, after interviewing J.R.Jayewardene, the then Sri Lankan president who was nothing but an undemocrat-autocrat in deeds, had written as follows:

“ [He, i.e., J.R.Jayewardene] did contend that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most potent rebel group, were ‘the private army of Mr.M.G.Ramachandran, the present chief minister of Madras (Tamil Nadu).”

MGR’s apt and timely retort and response to Jayewardene’s choice words about him and LTTE was reported by Desmond as follows:

“Even as the central government in New Delhi tried to maintain a civil, though somewhat cool, stance toward its neighbor to the south, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ramachandran seemed intent on fueling the fires on the island. He announced a grant of $3.3 million to Sri Lankan Tamils last week for food, clothes, medicine and, ominously, ‘other help’. In an address to the state assembly in Madras, the chief minister was even more scalding than Jayewardene. Said he: ‘Tamil groups are spearheading the war against the dictatorial and fascist actions of the Jayewardene regime, and they should be congratulated and helped.’ With supporters like that, the Tamil guerrillas are not likely to lay down their arms anytime soon.” [Time-International edition, May 11, 1987, p.6]

These are the extract the actual article can be read by clicking this link http://www.sangam.org/articles/view/?id=172

Thanks for the link provided by MGR dasan.

Note: Shashi Thoor’s remark about MGR condition is totally wrong MGR did not visit single constitutency in 1984, which every Tamilian will know. His video image were telecasted by R.M.Veerappan in several places.

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