The Original Angry Young Man


Many boys who went to school in Madras must’ve worn this costume for the “fancy-dress” competition at school.

Draw on a mustache, wear your dad’s wedding reception coat, memorize a couple of Tamil verses, and you are all set! Outside of Tamilnadu, this costume cannot work unless your audience is predominantly Tamil for some reason.

Recently, I have been running into a lot of interesting details about the life of the revolutionary Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathi (1882 –1921). There is always the question, why did one man think so differently from all others around him? We may never know the answer to that one.

I  love Bharathi  because he was one of the first Tamil writers to speak of the rights of women. Previously, women’s only job was to raise kids and feed the men who would go out and accomplish things in the world. Let’s stop this folly of enslaving women he said. How did he turn feminist?

In December 1905, Bharathi attended the All India Congress session held in Benaras and on his way back home, he met Sister Nivedita, Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual heir. “Where is your wife,” she asked him. Home, he said, taken aback by the question. Why is she not a participant in the freedom struggle too, she wanted to know. Bharathi, who had never thought along those lines before, became one of the biggest champions of women’s rights. He had two daughters.

I found a website authored by his grand-daughter Vijaya Bharathy. She writes about the friends, fans and others who used to drop in on the poet. It makes the noble revolutionary seem domesticated, like someone in the neighborhood, you can drop in on and talk to.

Vilakkennai Chettiar (Sabapati Chettiar), the owner of the house where Bharati lived was a loving, compassionate man; smooth as castor oil (“vilakkennai”), he would never ask Bharati for payment of the rent. He would drop by with the intention of collecting it, but he was satisfied to listen to Bharati singing a song and invariably left without asking for money. There were “Vellachu” (jaggery piece) Krishnasamy Chettiar, “Elikkunju” (mouse) Arumugam Chettiar, “Valluru” (kite) Naicker, “Brahmaraya Iyer (Professor Subramania Iyer) to mention a few.