A Circle of Friends, Part II – V.V.S. Iyer

Thangammal, Bharati’s elder daughter, introduces V. V. S. Iyer in an article on Bharati’s family and friends:

“In those days, the name Bharati meant Subramania Bharati, and Iyer meant V.V.S. Iyer.  Although he was born in a Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu, a Rajaputra’s blood was running in his veins.  With a strong physique and unwavering mind, he opposed British rule in India.  He followed in the lineage of the ancient rishis.  He was a hero throughout his life and even in death.”

In many respects, Bharati and Iyer resembled each other. First and foremost, they were both Nationalists; they loved India and were determined to fight for the Freedom of their country from British rule.

In fact, the Indian Congress, fighting against British rule in India, was split into two parties, the “Extremists” and the “Moderates.”  There were great leaders like Dadabai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Firosshaw Mehta on the “Moderate” side, and  Lajpat Roy, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bibin Chandra Pal, Shri Aurobindo on the “Extremist” side. In the South, there was V. Krishnaswamy Iyer, a “Moderate” who printed Bharati’s three first national songs, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Siva, G. Subramania Iyer, and Surendranath Arya, as well as Bharati himself, as “Extremist” members of the Congress party.

The goal of both parties was “Freedom.”

Even within each of these two groups, there were many differences of opinion. For example, both Bharati and Iyer belonged to the Extremist faction of the Indian Congress; but their approaches to securing India’s freedom from the hands of the British were rather different.  Bharati’s personality was fiery. As an “Extremist,” he was impatient to obtain freedom.  He was passionate, not only about achieving national freedom, but also, in the pursuit of his personal goals in life – establishing Kruta Yuga, an era of happiness, free from hunger and inequality.  His approach was that this goal had to be achieved “immediately” and “right now!”

As far as the Nation was concerned,  Iyer’s desire, too, was for immediate freedom; but the method that he espoused was different from Bharati’s, and aggressive. He was prepared to pursue this goal by any means, any means at all, even adopting violence.

Bharati, on the other hand, did not advocate or promote violence.  Ahimsa (non-violence) was his dharma, and “love thine enemy” (“pagaivanuk karulvai”) was his message to the world.

“Think lovingly of the tiger that comes to eat you, O my good heart,

It is the form of Parasakti. Salute Her there!”

As an advaitic philosopher, all beings, living and inanimate, were forms of Parasakti in Bharati’s eyes.  He writes that “the crow and the sparrow” belonged to his “class”; the vast ocean and the mountains were part of his community.

Bharati’s approach to the national struggle was to “educate” the Indian public about the importance of freedom and self-government, and to talk to the British about India, her people and culture, explaining India’s stature and position, and analyzing the current situation under British rule.  Writing was his instrument, which, in his hands, was more powerful and effective than violence.

Iyer studied in London to become a Barrister-at-Law.  While there, he became involved in India’s Freedom Movement.   He was greatly influenced by Savarkar, an Indian Revolutionist.  His association with him  at the “India House” in London, may have contributed to his “militant” attitude towards India’s Freedom.

When Iyer returned to India, he worked with a “terrorist” group, guiding them in an  aggressive fight against British rule.  He was a hero in that sense, and he believed that by adopting this method, India could achieve Freedom in the immediate future.

While Iyer was studying in London, he was a reporter for India magazine, published from Pondicherry and edited by Bharati.  At times, the reports written by Iyer were not agreeable to Bharati, and he would write a comment objecting to the “aggressive” views of the reporter.   For example, Iyer covered a terrible fire accident at a cotton mill in Glasgow, commenting: “This incident occurred to avenge a British act – the hanging of the Revolutionist Madan Lal Dhingra, and the refusal to allow his body to be burnt by Hindu methods (achara). It is the anger of the Fire God, Agni, which has destroyed the cotton mill.”

Although Bharati printed this information in India, he wrote in his own editorial that he “did not agree with the views of the London reporter.”

The British Government issued a warrant for Iyer’s arrest, alleging his involvement in Madan Lal Dhingra’s activities.  Iyer, disguised as a “wanderer” (pakkiri) escaped to Pondicherry, where he met fellow-patriots Bharati and Shri Aurobindo,  and continued his revolutionary activities.

Bharati and Iyer became close friends.  Both were intellectuals, interested in Indian culture, religion, literature, and arts.

Iyer was fascinated by Bharati’s writings.  He wrote an Introduction to the Second Edition of Bharati’s Kannan Pattu,  in which he appreciates Bharati’s poetry as gems, “each word worth a lakh” (akshara laksham).

Bharati visited Iyer quite often. Thangammal writes in her book, “Whenever Bharati wrote something new, he would first read it to his wife, Chellamma (and the children), and then he would read it to his friends, particulalry Iyer; he wouldn’t be satisfied otherwise.” (Thangammal Bharati Padaippugal (Articles), ed. S. Vijaya Bharati.)

Iyer was a writer himself, a literary critic and a pioneer of the short story form in Tamil. He translated the Tirukkural into English and wrote a book on the Kamba Ramayanam.

The families of Bharati and Iyer became friends, as well. Thangammal says, “When my father visited Iyer, he would take the children with him; I had an opportunity to listen to the short stories that Iyer read to Bharati and would become immersed in them.”  Thangammal had a close association with Iyer’s family, and later, Thangammal and Iyer’s son, Dr. V.V.S. Krishanamurti, became good friends. And Thangammal, herself, became a remarkable short story writer. (Thangammal Bharati Padaippugal)

My mother wrote a funny anecdote about Krishnamurti:

“On one occasion, when Bharati visited Iyer, Bharati sang a song he wrote on Shakti (“Shakti Shakti Shakti enru sollu”).  The young boy was listening attentively and was emotionally affected by the words and music of the song. He asked Bharati whether he might be allowed to sing it.  When permitted, he sang, “Katthi Katthi Katthi enru sollu.”

Both Iyer and Bharati laughed, and Bharati said, “The boy is born in a heroic family, and he therefore sings Katthi (sword) instead of Shakti.”

In fact, at that young age, the boy could not pronounce “sha” but instead, pronounced the syllable “ka”!

I attach a beautiful narration of Iyer’s adventurous and tragic journey to the top of the podigai mountain, written by my mother, Thangammal; please click here. Iyer went in search of the source of the river Tamravaruni (Papanasam) with his friends and his young daughter Subatra…