THE worst damage to India’s sense of unity was wrought by European scholars when they propounded the Aryan invasion theory. This was in years to come almost to divide India along racial lines and set up one body of people in South India against the rest of India. That was bad enough. But in South India, especially in what we know as Tamil Nadu, matters turned from bad to worse when local brahmins, reportedly related to “Aryan brahmins” set themselves apart form the so-called sudras, “the others”, inviting understandable anger and resentment. As R Kannan, author of the Life and Times of CN Annadurai notes, there brahmins, settling in agraharas, the exclusive brahmin colonies with their rigid notions of purity and superiority, habitual exclusion of food from others and hesitant association with other groups, their distinguished brahminical marks such as the sacred thread, their Tamil dialect, devotion to Sanskrit and ambivalence to Tamil, all evoked both jealousy and admiration among the non-brahmins, but mostly jealousy. Kannan makes the point that the “Aryanisation of the South appears to have had royal patrons in the Pallavas (4th to 9th century CE). Perhaps. But the brahmins, instead of getting along well with non-brahmins, kept them apart. Inevitably quiet anti-brahmin sentiment begun to grow among the large majority of Tamilians among whom animism, ancestral worship and local deities ruled the roost. Things might still have gone well if the brahmins access to the study of the Vedas etc which were denied to the so-called sudras. Inevitably, there were reactions. Before the British arrived on the scene, more non-brahmin children used to attend local pata-shalas, but following the establishment of British rule, this was reversed. Brahmins in large numbers sent their children to the new schools and in due course came to occupy a majority of jobs in government administration because of their knowledge of English. This only added to the discomfiture of the non-brahmins. This was to lead to the formation of an anti-brahmin movement, the setting up of a Self Respect Movement in 1925 and later to the establishment of the Justice Party spawned by the non-brahmin elite, caste-ist and unabashedly anglo-phile. It is at this point that Erode Venkatappa Ramaswamy (EVR) arrived on the scene, who took the anti-brahmin movement to the streets, challenged ‘Hinduism’ as practiced by brahmins, shattered images of Ganesha, consigned Manusmirti to the flames and advocated a Tamil Nadu for Tamilians. He was an odd mixture of progressiveness, atheism, pride in Tamil and caught the attention of a young man, the subject of this biography, Conjeevaram (Kanchipuram) Natarajan Annadurai or CN Annadurai, popularly known as ‘Anna’ or ‘elder brother’. Anna was to become in no time a devotee of EVR. EVR was anti-brahmin, anti-Hindi and led an agitation against the ‘imposition’ of Hindi in then Madras Presidency and was to be jailed. He succeeded in transforming the moribund Justice Party into a vibrant Dravida Kazhagam (Dravidian Federation) in 1944.
What makes this book fascinating reading is Anna’s reaction to them. After the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation Anna was the cynosure of all eyes. He had become iconic among Tamils around the world. In the 1966 elections, the DMK swept the polls defeating even the saintly Kamaraj in his own home turf. But by 1968, Anna had given up the party’s separatist demand. When he told the Rajya Sabha so, his fellow members praised him to the skies. They told Anna: ‘From now on we will live together in Unity”. Reading this book-written in such great detail-is to get an understanding of an entirely different mentality which grew out of the so-called Aryan-Dravidian clash, the hurt pride of Tamilians who had always felt that Tamil is older than Sanskrit and deserved acknowledgement. The northerners in the Hindi-speaking world had no idea of Tamil culture and though the desire to make Hindi the national language was well-meant, it had its adverse consequences. As a multi-lingual, multi-ethic people we have still to learn a great deal but the important thing is: we are learning. To the end, Anna was popular. When he died in 1969 the funeral, according to press reports, was attended by 150 million people. History is a continuous story of ‘thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis’. Kannan has his critics, but let it be said that his biography is not hagiography, as he proclaims, but a conscious effort to pictorialise a period in India when the Aryan-Dravidan, brahmin anti-brahmin percepts were finally buried. EVR had his part, so had Anna. They are part of a process of cultural synthesis in a live laboratory called India. That is something all of us Indian can truly be proud of. We needed both EVR as well as Anna to make progress, which now we are doing. And isn’t that something to be thankful for?