Posted in Political History

Gandhi Kanakku

(Repost of original blog entry of same title of date March 28, 2016 with due edits)…

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‘Gandhi Kanakku’ in colloquial Thamizh translates to ‘Gandhi’s Account(ing)’ or ‘Gandhi’s calculation’ literally.

The origin of the dubious phrase remained vague. In Tamil Nadu, it was figure of speech widely in usage wherever accounts would not tally proper or when there was something fishy preventing closure (of matters). Bad debts/losses that could not be made good or ‘write-offs’ were referred to as ‘Gandhi Kanakku.’ A loan never returned. A hope lost. That was Gandhi Kanakku.

Why Gandhi. This kept playing at the back of my mind. Where was the connection and what was the logic. How could one attribute something as ominous as ‘Gandhi Kanakku’ to the Father of our nation who led us through the independence struggle with his non-violent Satyagraha.

This intriguing post cleared the air for me with respect to Gandhi Kanakku.  How much of this is irrefutable fact is debatable. What follows is my good guess work with little evidence (sort of):

V O Chidambaram Pillai  (aka VOC) was the first Indian to float a Swadeshi shipping corporation contesting the British which earned him the title ‘Kappottiya Thamizhan’ (the Tamil who floated a shipping vessel) in the year 1908. A lawyer by profession from Tuticorin (Thoothukudi, Tamil Nad), he was sentenced to hard labour in prison for a whopping 40 years during India’s freedom struggle movement. He was with Indian National Congress but was influenced by Bala Gangadhar Tilak and others (who Gandhi could have termed extremists) and fell out with the party on his release (granted early in 1912 before Gandhi’s return to India for good from South Africa).

When Pillai was behind the bars, his law practice licence was suspended by the British government. In the prison he was yoked to work the oil mills manually in the place of a pair of oxen, which made the Tamil poet-patriot Subramanya Bharathi shed tears of blood by way of verses,

‘Thanneer vitto valarthom sarvesa! Ippayirai kanneeral kaathom, karuga tiruvulamo?’

(Did we raise this crop with water? No, Oh Lord, we nurtured it with tears! Can you let it wither?)

VOC ‘s  health suffered, and family with it, which could have made him enter a plea bargain with the British (guess). Pillai’s legal licence was restored but he was barred from practising in Tuticorin. The shipping company had been liquidated in his absence from the scene, incurring huge losses.

V O Chidambaram Pillai and Subramanya Bharathi, the stalwarts of India’s Independence struggle in Tamil Nadu, hardly find a respectable mention in Indian history text books.

South Africa had a sizable Tamil presence, with Tamils having migrated to the continent as labourers chiefly who progressed to one of leading and successful (Indian) communities with whom Gandhi was well acquainted during his lengthy and remarkable residence there, when he represented Indians as legal counsel. The South African Tamil contribution is significant in the African nation’s struggle against Apartheid after Gandhi left for India.

Gandhi could not have made (personal) use of the donations given by South African Tamils meant for VOC’s family who were direly in need of help (the financial assistance amounting to some 5,000 INR, a fortune in 1914), but it is possible he could have held the funds and used the same for Cngress after (V O) Chidambaram Pillai withdrew from the (Congress) party. A chief reason could have been that Pillai was a Swadeshi like Tilak, Bharathi and Bhagat Singh.

Thus the account that must have been settled by Gandhi on his return to India from South Africa with V O Chidambaram Pillai was allegedly never settled. Hence the colloquial phrase that audaciously persists from the 1910s to 2010s – for over a century. Over course of time, the common man lost track of the origin of the word-phrase. No explicable rhyme or reason persisted. Nevertheless the idiom survived in the parlance of spoken language.

Let us take the case of  Vijay Mallya We can say his bank loan repayment is now, Gandhi Kanakku.  An other global Gandhi Kanakku: Lehman Brothers. What say Gandhi-bhakts?! ‘Gandhi Kanakku’ is like a local legend in Tamil Nad.

If indeed Gandhi had denied the legitimate and timely help to Pillai, then it must be viewed a grave crime. Pillai braved what no other Indian could dream at the dawn of the twentieth century. He spearheaded a bold and trendsetting Swadeshi movement in the south, sailing the first ever Indian merchant vessel, challenging the British. But Gandhi’s supposed treatment of Pillai is hardly surprising given his stern views on Bhagat Singh.

Did Gandhi dare to call the British ‘terrorists’ after the Jallianwalah Bagh? This is the flip side of Gandhi just like he remained indifferent to the interests of the South African natives who were ‘kafirs’ to him for a very long period of time (up until a little while before he set sailing for India).

Having read of his South African sojourn (‘Gandhi before India’ by Ramachandra Guha) I still hold Gandhi largely responsible for the state of affairs India is in today. Indecisiveness. Dilly-dallying. Complacency. That sums up Gandhi for some of us. Doubtlessly Gandhi was Mahatma, the Great Soul, with his endless patience, perseverance and his non-violent preaching all of which have more relevance in today’s world than ever before. At the same time, it might have been highly arrogant on his part discounting others’ ways and means of spirit and honest-sincere-selfless efforts as ‘extremist,’ overestimating his own false and fake ‘decorum’ with the British that was neither necessary nor helpful. An uprising could have easily dislodged the British from India, long before 1947.

Could Gandhi-Nehru have bet Subhash Chandra Bose to gaining independence for India by sheer strategy? The duo legitimized the British colonization-occupation thence. They gave the Angrez a face-saving honorable exit that Bose would not have. Win-win for both Gandhi-Nehru and the British.

Meanwhile we continue to refer to unaccounted money as ‘Gandhi kanakku’ in Tamil Nadu. Lately the 2G scam (starting with Bofors ) and others have joined the list. Remarkably all the involved parties are Gandhis (sic) (originally Ghandys these) !

Should Gandhi’s philosophy be applicable today, then the Indian State must be disbanding our armed forces and surrendering without terms to Pakistan and China to wait for them to relent in their own sweet time.  In other words, Gandhi’s ideology should make us ‘sitting ducks’ direct in the line of fire. This is the ground reality Mr. Guha. Is Gandhi beyond reproach???

Posted in History-Culture

Kudavolai (Kuda Olai) : the oldest Democratic Process of Chola’s Tamil Nadu

celebrating New Year the same day APRIL 14 every year: the Chola and Dharma imprint in South East Asia
celebrating New Year the same day APRIL 14 every year: the Chola and Dharma imprint in South East Asia

The Unabashed Pride Of A Thamizh Hindu…

Something kindled up my memory about our long lost ‘Kudavolai’ (Kuda Olai) system of voting process, precursor to today’s Constitutional Democracy, dating back to Chola period (900 CE) in ancient Tamil Nadu. Democracy was put into practice in certain Hindu kingdoms with King as the chief ruler and his elected senate exercising powers of governance. Most importantly neither Christianity nor Islam had touched Tamil Nadu at this point of time.

Tamil text books introduced Kudavolai to me but without taking ample pride in it. Otherwise there seems to have been no mention of it in any national text book prescribed for school children.

Tamils never went on to perfect the system for two reasons: (northern) India came under Islamic reign before the British took over (there is a void in Tamil Nad history after the Chera-Chola-Pandya-Pallava era that lasted for over a millennium up until the 13th century CE.) As for Tamil Nadu, the Chola (Chozha) dynasty, the most renowned and resourceful one with lineage extending for over a thousand years, finally floundered followed by the Pallavas.

But not before Rajendra Chola became the only sea-faring king in Indian/Tamil history to conquer Kedah of today’s Malaysia (hence known as Kadaram Kondan).

This is proof to how developed and sophisticated the maritime trade-activities and armed forces and naval fleets were in ancient Tamil Nadu. Hinduism spread to Cambodia (Angkorwat) and Indonesia (Bali the reminder to this date) in this period. 

Not surprising that Rajendra’s distant ancestor Karikal Chola had erected probably the world’s first stone dam on river Cauvery, the Grand Anicut (Kallanai) in 1st century CE which continues to irrigate the Cauvery delta in this 21st century.

The engineering, architectural and literary prowess of the great Tamil empires hardly find a mention in Indian history that celebrates and promotes Afghan (Taliban?) invaders like Babur who went on to demolish native Hindu temple, the birth place of our Lord Ram, whose barbaric action is defended today by converted Hindus (to Islam) sadly. Successful Congress governments managed to paint a rosy picture of Akbar to Shahjahan and Aurangzeb to Tipu Sultan who converted by the sword and by bloody wars, at the cost of underplaying Krishna Deva Raya of Hampi, Vijayanagar empire and Shivaji, the brave Maratha lion for instance. Not even the Gupta-Mauryas merit as much coverage in Indian history textbooks as these psychotic Moghul emperors who were none but Afghan descendants.

Unlike the north, the fag end of the Indian peninsula flourished with fertility and peace in every fold from lifestyle to culture and art and trade making south India a thriving and competitive center in the entire subcontinent, winning us a  cherished place of honour in history. Cotton and silk weaving and paddy cultivation were customary occupations apart from stone masonry and even ship building. There was never a serious war in millennia. Only trivial battles between mostly peacefully co-existing neighbours. Quite like Bharat, considered one enigmatic entity of a mass of petty Hindu kingdoms,  what comprises of today’s Thamizh Nad-Kerala was home to the famed Chera-Chola-Pandya dynasties and later to the Pallavas (coastal Tamil Nad) (Kerala was the Chera Nadu). (The Cholas ruled the Cauvery basin and the Pandya’s throne was Madurai, synonymous with the Meenakshi temple, a contestant for World Wonder).

Dating back to the 5th century BCE , the structured Tamil Grammar ‘Tolkappiyam’ surviving in tact for over 2000 years from Sangam Era of Tamil literary history could be more ancient than any other developed language of the west. Tamil language is the oldest world language on record and enjoys the Classical status.

Tamil Nadu has suffered the worst and partial treatment at the hands of NCERT text book drafters for decades. Hindu Tamil kings who held a powerful reign over the southern most region of India for over 1200 years never found an honourable mention in our national curriculum.

The Brihadeeshwara Temple (Big Temple) which is over 1000 years old that stands tall until today is one of the hundreds of thousands of architectural marvels that dot the south Indian terrain that never got its deserving due as against mausoleums like the Taj Mahal (originally Tejo Mahalaya, a Shiva temple as some contend).  (Qutb Minar retained the pillars of the demolished Hindu temple so not even the ‘sickularist’ Indian media can deny that it is raised on the ruins of a razed Hindu temple.)

As someone from Tamil Nadu who can never identify with the Taj Mahal as our national symbol, it is painful for me to see that Tamil history has been purposely brushed under the carpet denying my fellow Indians a chance to know about our glorious past.

Tamil Nadu was fortunate to escape the tyranny of the Islamists even if conversions by bribe and threat and brainwashing, to both Islam and Christianity have become rampant in the years since independence. Whatever I may criticize our Prime Minister Modi for, I have to give it to him for cracking down on unregulated NGOs flush with funds pumping millions of dollars into the nation for the purpose of conversion. Conversions might have gone down ever since the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) took over at the center, even if incidences like Kasargod surface now and then.

Why Tamil Hindu culture is important: for the preserving of ancient traditions of the classical dance, music and art and literary forms such as Bharatnatyam, Carnatic music, classical instruments like Veena and Mridangam and finally Dravidian temple and other architecture (such as Chettinad houses, etc.,) over anything.

There is no Tamil language or literature without Kamba Ramayanam and Siva Puranam. You cannot call yourself a Tamil scholar without singing the Thirupughazh and Thevaram and Thirumurugattrupadai and Naalaayira Divya Prabandham or celebrating the 64 Nayanmars and the 12 Alwars who find a pride of place in ancient Tamil Hindu temples.

Conversions extinguish everything native and original. What you may find or seek in lieu of pedigree heritage and cultural inheritance could be substandard import of foreign ideology that goes against the very grain of our motherland. No nation that eschews its native civilization can prosper as we are seeing from the fates of Afghanistan to African countries that strayed from their original cultures to embrace alien values on their own volition or by coercion.

Upholding of Thamizh Hindu culture is the way forward. Conversions are a bane for this reason.

The stone edicts of Tamil Nadu temples throw light on a parallel culture that prevailed in the south, far advanced and civilized than anything anytime comparable to Moghul India of the north.

The inscriptions unearthed at Uthiramerur in Tamil Nad reveal how superior ancient Tamil civilization was as far back as in 900 AD. The Kudavolai system where one had to inscribe in a parched leaf  (dried leaf is ‘olai’ in Tamil) to be deposited in a pot (‘kudam’ in Tamil), the name of the committee/ward/council member to be elected for governance reflects how literate the Tamil society was.

I leave the rest to the reader’s inference. So the next time someone says, Democracy is a western concept handed over by the British to the rest of the world or is an invention of the Greek-Romans, throw the facts flying in his/her face.

I wish I had paid more attention to Kudavolai in my school days. Neither my teachers nor those around me inspired to learn more about it or take pride in Kudavolai.

I peeved for long that India lacked one qualifying factor even through its bloody history given our ancient heritage and cultured civilization spanning 4000 years – which was Democracy. The Kudavolai completely escaped my mind. Someone/something, contesting that India thought long and hard after independence to decide on adopting whether the American or British style of democracy reminded me of Kudavolai. I retrieved the word with a great difficulty from the back burners of my mind finally. Its long forgotten. It is like it never existed. Not even the so-called chest-thumping Dravidian dynastic parties have taken pride in the one truly Thamizh democratic process that predated the modern parliamentary system of governance both in the east and west. I understand, a few Hindu kingdoms in the north practised an equivalent version of voting process for election of senate/governing council/committee members.

With this post, I have managed to touch only the tip of the iceberg. Tamil Nadu is a virtual mine for researchers who may evince any interest in the multi-dimensional historic culture of the state. One visit to Kanchipuram temples and silk centers will suffice to convince anyone why native Thamizh culture is relevant and significant more than ever in today’s socio-political-economic context.


PS: Not ‘Tamil’ but ‘Thamizh’

Similarly, not ‘Chola’ but ‘Chozha’ … 🙂