In her Preface to the Biography of Bharati, his daughter, Thangammal, writes:
“Bharatiar’s Biography needs no introduction. He is known as the Mahakavi throughout our country. But, just as he was not understood when he was alive, people continue to be uninformed about his life, even after his death. Imaginary stories and mistaken notions about Bharati are often published in the newspapers and books. People believe that these stories or notions are actually true. . . . Whenever my mother (Chellamma Bharati) read such anecdotes, she was distressed and asked, ‘How am I going to communicate the truth about the Mahakavi’s life to the Tamils?’ ”
(The first Biography of Bharati, Bharatiar Charithiram , was dictated by Chellamma Bharati, the poet’s wife, to her daughter, Thangammal.)
No wonder my grandmother was distressed. Her experiences with the poet were extraordinary, unique. When such experiences were distorted and brought to a mundane level by others, she became naturally upset, and was concerned about the untrue image that was inadvertantly perpetuated by the people.
Leave alone some of the extraordinary experiences that Chellamma had with the poet; even the apparently “ordinary” incidents that occurred in the poet’s “everyday” life were far from ordinary. In fact, the “every day” incidents of Bharati’s life were precious and deeply significant experiences that both reflected and shaped the history of the nation and the culture.
Fortunately, the somewhat inaccurate picture drawn by the people of their Mahakavi is balanced by his powerful poetry, which overcomes any false image of the poet. But, as time goes by, I am afraid that the imaginary stories may grow so large that we become unable to see the poet’s true self!
In my own life, I have come across untrue stories which are actually harmful to the poet’s memory and image. A friend of mine, a colleague, described to me Bharati’s visit to her house to see her grandfather and have dinner with him. Her grandfather was a friend of Bharati and an eminent scholar.
She recounted, “Bharati ate dinner in our house, and he enjoyed the meat served there.” I was simply shocked! Bharati was, of course, a vegetarian. Yet my friend told this tale with no hesitation, even to me, the granddaughter of the poet, who would be thoroughly familiar with the poet’s food habits and his belief in vegetarianism.
When Bharati scholarship was in its infancy, biographers of Bharati carried out extensive research: they visited the places where Bharati lived, took photographs of Bharati’s friends and acquaintances, conducted interviews with them, and wrote down the stories that they narrated. Such research was essential, as there was simply no better way to collect information about Bharati.
However, the trouble with this kind of research is that its reliability is not beyond question. Human memory fails, or, for any one of a myriad reasons, a story may be embellished in the re-telling. A researcher must carefully sort through material that is gathered in this way, and consider its significance. One cannot simply report everything that is said without some attempt at verification or corroboration. There is no doubt that the stories of eyewitnesses – their experiences with the poet, what they saw and heard – are valuable. But not all of them are actually true. A few of the stories are told from memories which may have faded in due course; a few are purely imaginary.One has to undertake further research, to examine the integrity of the information that is collected in this pursuit. And, indeed, as Bharati is greatly respected and loved by people, there is a tendency to build imaginary stories about the poet. People would like to associate themselves with him, and talk about him in familiar terms, out of affection.
When biographers write an account of Bharati based on interview research, they should be aware of these facts and take them into consideration. One simply cannot report such material verbatim. The biographer should use his or her scholarly judgement and discretion..
In order to clarify the main events of Bharati’s life, remove misconceptions, and shed light on curious incidents such as the manner of the poet’s death, I have prepared an Annotated Biography of Bharati: please click here for the PDF file. This type of analysis has never before been applied to Bharati’s life. The existing biographies generally offer a casual listing of the main events of Bharati’s life, in chronological order. This Annotated Biography is based on extensive research on Bharati’s life that I have conducted over the past decade, in particular. The sources are Bharati’s autobiographical articles and poems, and other reliable resources. The biography situates Bharati’s life in the context of each historical event that occurred in Bharati’s times, each incident in the national Freedom Movement, and his meeting and association with political leaders and great personalities.