An intimate portrait of Tamil writer Kalki, as told to
Chennaibest.com by his daughter K Anandhi.
Kalki at home
are several things I remember well about my father. His sense of
humour. We always looked forward to his coming back home from office,
because he had so many interesting things to tell us. But when he
used to write, we never used to disturb him. Our mother had trained
us that way; that we should not make a noise, when he was writing.
Even at that early age, we had immense respect for him. He used
to be very affectionate towards us. Whenever one of us was not well,
he would sit next to us, and do his writing. He would never leave
our side. Now-a-days people speak about "quality of life".
We had that in our home. Back then there were no telephones. Whenever
he was late, he would send us a note through his peon, asking us
go to sleep, as he would be late that night. He knew that we would
be waiting for him to come back, tell us a story and put us to sleep,
so he would send those notes.
In spite of all the work that he had, he was a writer, movie-critic,
music critic, he used to write about dance and so many other things;
he would still take care about whats happening at home. I
still wonder, how he knew so many things, because, today there are
lots of opportunities to learn many things, but back then, there
were none, yet he had knowledge of so many things. Probably because
he had a natural ability to grasp and appreciate things. And for
that we had deep respect for him. He did not even pass his SSLC
(Senior School Leaving Certificate).
Kalki - the progressive thinker
He was born and brought up in a small village called Puttamangalam,
10 miles from Mayavaram, and he had long hair at that time. When
he came to Madras, he cut off his hair, and it was talked about
as a serious crime in our village. In spite of being brought up
in such a circumstances, he propagated khadi, prohibition, abolition
of untouchability and womens liberation.
When he was imprisoned, my younger brother, my mother and I used
to stay with our Periappa (fathers elder brother) at Puttamangalam.
At that time he had arranged for a dance teacher, Subramaniam
Pillai from Pandanallur, to teach me dance. Subramaniam Pillai
used to travel seven miles in his bullock cart, teach me for four
days in a week, and on the fifth day, he used to go back to his
village. Since my aunt was very orthodox, my mother had the responsibility
of cooking for my teacher and his bullock cart driver. She also
used to take care of the bullocks, and she used to do that with
a lot of enthusiasm, without making much ado, as those were my fathers
wishes. People in our village were amazed that anybody could go
to the length of arranging firstly a dance teacher, and that too
from a different village to teach dance to a little girl. So these
things were very new in the Agraharams (a Brahmins locality)
of those days, and he was brave enough to do all that.
we did not understand that he had these progressive opinions, we
could understand to some extent that he was doing something great,
involved in Gandhijis movement, serving the country.
He was also a staunch follower of Rajajis principles.
He started a magazine exclusively for the cause of prohibition.
Right from the lead lines to the back cover, it was totally devoted
to prohibition. It was called Vimochanam. It
was run from a Gandhi Ashram in Trichy. He used to write short stories
for this purpose. If you read his book titled, Banker
Vinayakrao, its very interesting. Even those stories
will have a surprise ending.
He was criticised for being a propagandist. Many people did not
accept him as a literary writer. Even for this criticism, he wrote
an essay on the coming of spring, which goes like - "Spring
has come, flowers are blooming and the bees are drunken
so on and so forth. After a description of Spring, he addresses
the reader thus: "For this season, wear Khadi clothes and
learn to spin yarn
" and then he goes on to say, "Oh!
I started this essay with the description of Spring and now I am
finishing with propagation of Khadi. This is not very literary".
And the punch line of the essay is This Spring, everybody
wear Khadi clothes.
But he had the courage of his convictions and he stood by his principles.
He wondered what was the use of writing, if it did not help society
in any way.
So the major issues he dealt with were propagation of Khadi, prohibition,
propagation of the Swadeshi movement, propagation of the
arts and crafts of Tamil Nadu, abolition of untouchability, womens
progress, (they did not use the word 'liberation' in those
days because, back then, women were so backward, they did not have
a right to education. They were not allowed to voice their opinions).
My mother was not educated, and after getting married to my father,
when he found this out, he was shocked. He then said, "Its
not your fault that you did not go to school, so if you do not mind,
I will teach you at home, you can learn to read and write even now".
The same day, he started teaching her. Subsequently she went
to the extent of writing short stories herself. So he was not merely
preaching about womens progress, he started it at home. He
educated his wife, he made me learn Bharatanatyam, the veena, classical
music, and I was anyway going to school.
Kalki wasnt just a patriot and a literary figure. He wanted
everyone, even the common man to know, understand and enjoy Tamil
literature. His magazines did not only carry stories, he also used
to devote space for a critique of some literary work. I think it
was one of his great achievements to reach Tamil literature to people
who would usually not have read them.
Kalki in prison
was imprisoned; the first time for one year, than for six months
and then for three months. He had written a book titled, Moondru
Matha Kadunkaval (3 month's rigorous imprisonment).
Only if you read it, you will know how humorously one can write
about life in prison. He has written about all the people who were
there with him in prison. He was in prison along with people like
Muthuranga Muthaliar, Rajaji and K. Santhanam. Even
water scarcity in the jail is written about humorously. They used
to serve only Radish Sambaar everyday. He says - "One day
we have Radish Sambaar, the next day Radish leaf Sambaar, and the
day after we have Radish Root sambaar
and the last day we have
Radish-fragranced Sambaar". So in every situation he will
see the funny side to it.
Even the difficulties he underwent during imprisonment he has
written about funnily. So one never felt that he was away from his
family, suffering and sacrificing for the country. One more thing
is, they never spoke of their sacrifices as something great, because
that is how they were, they did not know to lead their lives in
any other manner. Their lives were very simple and they had a sense
of fulfilment in their lives. They never felt that they wanted this
or that, and so they were never disappointed. They were contented
being with their friends, talking to them and taking care of them.
The origin of his pen
name - Kalki
reason for his taking Kalki as a pen name was
based on the myth of the Kalki Avataram (the
final incarnation of Lord Vishnu, in the age of Kali).
Through his writings, he wanted to bring about change in this
age. Another reason was, he used to work for Kalyana Sundaram
Mudaliar, who was at that time running the publication called
Navashakthi. He learnt all about how to
run a publication from him. Kalyana Sundaram Mudaliar, was also
a great patriot, he had worked for the cause of workers. As my father
was his great fan, he took 'Kal' from his name and added
the 'Ki ' from his own name (R Krishnamurthy) and
made it Kalki.
In the magazine Kalki, his novel used to be under the name 'Kalki',
Music criticism used to be under the name Karnatakam,
for political writings he used to take the pen Langulan.