Natarajan Annadurai was a lovable personality so full of gentleness
and kindliness that his DMK party men took great pride and pleasure
in calling him the South Indian Gandhi.
There was indeed very much in common between the Mahatma and Anna,
who both championed the cause of the poor and the downtrodden.
But there was one great difference between the two: Gandhiji defined
public service through his actions; Anna did so through the power
of the spoken word.
Anna once said that public service is not “eating jack-fruit
dipped in honey”. When he became Chief Minister, he was
faced with the responsibility of translating his words into action.
It was only when he attempted this that Anna realized the wide
gulf which existed between speech and action. He was amazed to
discover the many hurdles in the way of transforming his ideals
into administrative reality. Yet he strove to implement whatever
he considered good for the people.
In Periyar’s Dravida Kazhagam, Anna was known as Dalapathy
(Commander). Young men flocked to hear him. Eloquent, earnest
and convincing, he was a master in the use of innuendo, alliteration
and topical allusion. Invariably, he spiced his speeches with
a couple of love stories to make them more appealing to his youthful
audience, who derived as much pleasure from listening to him as
from seeing a movie or a drama.
Anna was supremely confident of his own capacity to overcome any
situation. His appearance and his actions often misled his opponents.
When he broke away from the DK and started the DMK, he appeared
to be diffident and wanting in ideas to strengthen misled into
dismissing the DMK as a party of no consequence – with unhappy
consequences to themselves. Anna had this inborn talent to put
his opponents off the track.
When the DMK gave up its secessionist demand – which formed
the corner – stone of its ideology – Anna declared
that, though the party’s foundation had been shaken, its
superstructure, instead of crumbling, had actually gained in strength.
“I have nothing but pity for those who do not understand
me or my leadership,” he said.
Anna was not a mere leader. He was a real elder brother to everyone
in the party, whether a leader or a humble worker. He believed
in carrying his critics with him. If he did not express a decisive
opinion on any issue, it was because he felt it wise to leave
some room for flexibility and maneuverability. To the end of his
life, this was Anna’s approach to any problem.
Soft – hearted as he was, both in his public and private
life, Anna’s heart bled for the victims of police firing,
especially during his Chief Ministership. He was seriously ill
with a recurrence of cancer when the report of the Kilvenmani
tragedy, in which more that forty persons were burnt alive, reached
him. But against medical advice, he sat up for days and nights,
giving his officers on-the-spot instructions on organization relief
to the bereaved families and on bringing the culprits to book.
His kindliness and simplicity, two of his greatest characteristics,
sprang from the training and attention he received from his devoted
aunt, Thotha, who brought him up from infancy, and to whom he
was greatly attached all his life. He would discuss even politics
with her and never went against her wishes. She insisted that
he stayed at home on Pongal Day – the one day in the year
Anna kept away from public engagements.
His simplicity was reflected even in his sartorial tastes. During
the days of his association with the Justice party, he appeared
in spotless natty suits. When eventually he discarded the western
garb – much to the chagrin of the snobs in the Justice Party
– he took to the simple kurta and dhoti, with cement gray
and pink as his favourite colours.
Liberal to a fault, Anna presented gold rings to many of his party
colleagues in recognition of their meritorious service, though
he never wore one himself. When he traveled for party work, he
handed over his purse to the person accompanying him; and, when
it was returned to him on the conclusion of the journey, he never
bothered to find out how much was left in it.
Anna was keenly interested in the welfare of his colleagues’
families, and never concealed his contempt for those who worked
for the party at the const of their family obligations. He punished
such an, erring colleague by refusing to talk to him. So devoted
to him were his colleagues that a few days’ silence on the
part of Anna was enough to make them see the light of reason.
Whenever he wanted to forget the cares of politics, Anna would
take a day or two off and go to his home town of Kanchipuram with
a select few of his close friends. They would assemble on the
banks of the Kanchipuram lake, and would either have a game of
cards (never for stakes) or engage themselves in a discussion
of every subject under the sun except politics.
If a trip to Kanchipuram was not possible, Anna spent his off-days
reading or writing. Like all great writers, he was a night-bird.
He would work late into the night and sleep during the day. Whether
writing an, article for his paper, or a play or poem, or discussing
Government business, the dark house of the night were for him
the working hours.
Sweet-tempered Anna never liked sweets! He preferred spiced dishes
like lime rice and mango pickle. Although a non vegetarian, he
did not care so much for the meat as the masala part of the dish.
Tea was his favourite drink. He linked nothing better than tea,
pan and a pinch of snuff.
On all his travels, he was to it that his baggage contained a
good stock of peanuts and puffed rice (Kurmura), which he kept
munching on the way. A packet of pakoda was always welcome. Not
a man for apples or oranges, Anna always took great delight in
going through a big bunch of Anab-e-Shahi grapes. He could go
without his tea and pan, but not without his box of snuff