Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Hitler’s son


My father, Rangarathnam, orator - perhaps at a Vivekananda College function.

 This was in June 2010.

“What books are those?” asked my father, Rangarathnam.

“Short stories by Indira Parthasarathy,” I replied. “He autographed them.” I was returning from a function at Tag Center, where Tiruppur Krishnan and three others performed public readings of four of the author’s short stories, from two volumes published by Kizhakku Pathippagam.


“We would sit on the same porch and he would tease me, you know,” said my father. He was suffering from dementia, and which was only diagnosed the previous year. He had some difficulties with new memories, but had excellent recollection of his earlier days. His eyesight and hearing had deteriorated, he rarely went out anymore, but at least he was off the terrible, twice daily, insulin injections, taking tablets instead.

We had not had a good conversation in a while. But something about Indira Parthasarathy triggered memories and he talked of several childhood memories, of school days in Kumbakonam (but almost never college life); of work as a lawyer in the Madras High Court, but rarely of earlier days in Madras.

This was the first time he had talked of childhood days with Indira Parthasarthy.

In October, my father passed away.

I met Indira Parthasarathy at the Tamil Teritage Trust’s Lecture Kacheri in Raga Sudha hall in December 2011, where I introduced myself as Rangarathnam’s son. “How is Rangarathnam?” he asked eagerly. “I’m sorry, he passed away last year,” I said. He was stunned into silence. After a few minutes, he said, “It’s always a shock to hear that one of your colleagues has passed away.”

In July 2012, Mr Narasiah invited me along with four others, to speak at Bharathi Illam, about Krittika’s  (pen name of Mathuram Bhuthalingam) book “Finger on the Lute” - a biography of Subramania Bharathi. You can imagine my numbness – being asked to talk about Bharathi at the house where he stayed! What an honour.

With Artist Gopulu

When I went there, I saw artist Gopulu and Indira Parthasarathi, seated side by side, socialising with admirers. Gopulu whose sketches adorned Krittika’s book, asked my name and delightedly(!!) said that his name was Gopu too! Then he autographed my book.

I turned to Indira Parthasarathi, sure that he would not remember me, and introduced myself, as “Rangarathnam’s son.” Without a beat he responded, “You have an identity of your own.”

That took my breath away. It was a reprimand, fatherly advice and a philosophical opinion, epigrammatically crisp in its phrasing. In every person’s life, there must come such a moment, better early than late. I also realized how sharp and mentally agile Indira Parthasarathi still was, in contrast to my father who had suffered from memory loss.

One of the great heroes of the Indian Republic, and architect of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, Dr MS Swaminathan, was in attendance. He is the son in law of Krittika and her daughter, Smt Mina Swaminathan, who had requested Mr Narasiah to arrange the evening’s program. I really wanted to meet him, but I had been thoroughly tongue-tied with Gopulu, and I knew I would have nothing to say to him either. When I was at Texas A&M university, I resolved many times to visit Norman Borlaug, who was an Emeritus Professor in the campus, but could never muster up the courage or overcome the diffidence to do so. It doesn’t matter, I would tell myself, just go around to his office, say “Thank you” and come back. But I could never do it.

Other celebrities like Rajumar Bharathi, the poet’s descendant, GnanaRajasekharan, the director of a Tamil movie on Bharathi were also present, as was Professor Swaminathan of Tamil Heritage Trust. Mr Narayanaswami, who had come from Palavakkam, was kind enough to take photos.

After our speeches were over, Prof Swaminathan gave me a thumbs up and a smile on his way out, Indira Parthasarathi had a word of praise (Veluthu vaangitteenga “வெளுத்து வாங்கிட்டீங்க”).

Gopulu, Narasiah, Rajkumar Bharathi on the dais
Gopu speaking about "Finger on the Lute"


“Your father and I acted in a college play,” he reminisced. “It was written by KK Pillai, the historian. The Second World War had ended, and the Nuremberg trials conducted. Several Germans and Japanese warriors were tried and convicted for war crimes. Pillai considered this “Victor’s Justice” – no justice at all, just a sham trial.

“Anyway we staged that play. I acted as a Public Prosecutor in that play. Your father also acted in it.

“He played the role of Adolf Hitler.”

Nothing, I thought, could top an evening where I had spoken on Bharathi at his house, to an audience of the poet’s family, and living legends like MSS, Gopulu and Indira Parthasarathy himself. But you can imagine how I must felt about this statement! Talk about a lightning bolts from a blue sky.

My father never told me about this. In fact, he had never spoken of his college days in Kumbakonam, never of having acted in any play, certainly not of dressing up as Der Feuhrer himself.

Me and Indira Parthasarathi at Bharathi Illam, Thiruvallikeni, Madras

This year, Indira Parthasarathi spoke on Silappadhikaram at Tamil Heritage Trust. I gave a brief introduction to our group, then mentioned this incident to the audience. At the end of his speech, I again asked him if he remembered me.

“How could I forget Hitler’s son?” he quipped. 

Mein Feuhrer!
Related Posts
1. Rangarathnam - Lady and Gentlemen
2. Teacher's Day
3. With Narasiah - Tagore and UVesa
4. என் அப்பாவுக்கு பிடித்த கவிதை

2 comments:

  1. Playing the role of Hitler is nothing to be ashamed of. It requires boldness to play in that role. the great Charlie Chaplin has acted in that role in the Great Dictator.the satirical political comedy.
    ramadurai

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree, Mr Ramadorai, there is no shame in playing Hitler in a play - or any other role.

    My father never talked about his college days, though he talked frequently about his childhood and his years as a lawyer in the Madras High Court. And we never asked him about it.

    ReplyDelete