Subramania Bharati wrote his way into people’s hearts. On the occasion of his birth anniversary – December 11, CHITRA BALASUBRAMANIUM throws light on Bharati, the journalist and the writer.
by Chitra Balasubramanium
BHARATI’S GREATNESS was multi-faceted. Though renowned as a gifted poet, he had also achieved great heights in the field of journalism. Whether as Ettayapuram poet, or as Tamil teacher in Madurai Sethupathy School, Bharati’s genius had always had strong leanings towards writing and journalism. He lived his life with the motto “Writing is my mission”.
Bharati’s life has a special significance to the people of Chennai, for the revolutionary poet’s Chennai stay has been unique in many respects.
Even today, the house in Triplicane, where he lived is a memorial to this poet who has been gifted with immortal fame and name.
Whenever Sri Parthasarathy Perumal was taken around the temple, Bharati would not merely join the group of devotees but would also sing songs in his loud and clear voice and move with the crowd, sometimes offering to carry the deity along with others.
Bharati’s initiation into journalism was in the year 1904 via the magazine Swadesamitran. In the initial stages, he was engaged in translating and publishing Vivekanada’s speeches, Aurobindo’s expositions and the proceedings of the Congress meetings, in this magazine.
In 1905, Bharati became the editor of a woman’s magazine by name Chakravarthini. It followed the women’s magazine of the western world in tone and spirit. Bharati wrote passionately about women’s empowerment in this magazine. The question frequently asked today, “Can man be free if woman be a slave”, had been asked by Bharathi as early as the first decade of the 20th Century.
But Bharati’s fire of knowledge was not to be satiated by the ideals of this magazine. Nor did this magazine give room to Bharathi to express his views on nationalism that was ever burning in his every living moment. This magazine survived for only 13 months.
In 1906, Bharati became the editor of India. Even 90 years ago, this magazine boasted of a reputation of having sold 4,000 copies. In South India, the magazine also has the pride of claim to have published cartoons in every issue. And the credit for all these well-crafted cartoons goes solely to Bharati. It was through the English dailies that Bharati’s flair and felicity of expression and his astute political acumen, became known to all. In 1907, Bharati took the responsibility of being the editor of the magazine called Young India started by M. C. Nanjunda Rao.
When Bharati shifted his dwelling to Pondicherry, the press of India was also shifted there. After a break of one year, the magazine hit the stands with renewed looks from Pondicherry. Bharati had created some innovations in this magazine. It was decided to give some kind of return to the contributors who wrote about the happenings in the city and its suburbs in simple and easy Tamil. This was something novel at that time.
Gandhiji was not that well known to Indians at that time in 1909. That same year Bharati had drawn a cartoon of Gandhiji in India. This reflected the poet’s farsighted vision of this great personality.
In 1909, in the month of August, Bharati took charge of the daily Vijaya. But in 1910, due to various reasons, both India and Vijaya had to be pulled out of circulation. Bharati then began a Tamil monthly titled Karmayogi, on lines similar to Aravind Ghosh’s English magazine Karmayogin. The articles reflected and publicised issues on Hindu Dharma, culture, arts, epics, sastras, other works of art, and even political viewpoints.
In 1910, it is believed that Bharati was keen to bring out a fully illustrated magazine called Chitraavali. If it had really taken off, then it would have stolen the fame of being India’s first cartoon magazine. After 1910, Bharati’s life became chequered with too many setbacks. He had to withdraw from the publishing field. In 1918, with a lot of foresight he had written an article called “Coming Age”, based on the ideology of the Bhoodhan movement.
After facing a series of setbacks, Bharati returned to Chennai in 1920. First, he stayed in Thambu Chetty Street, and then moved to a house in Thulaisingaperumal Koil street, Triplicane.
In 1920, after nearly 14 years, he joined Swadesamitran. Until his death on September 11, 1921, Bharati continued to render total and committed service to the magazine. In June 1921, Bharathi had been attacked by an elephant. Though he seemed to have recovered from it, and had been attending to his work in office in July and August, his health had started to deteriorate. But his spirit remained undefeated, and he continued to organise national bhajan singing and other such activities. He had even taken his wife and daughter Sakunthalai to the Madhar Sangam building in Govindappan Naickan Street.
On December 11 his birth anniversary, the city rises in myriad ways to remember the great poet. Vaanavil Panpaattu Maiyam is organising a three-day festival in honour of the poet, which is culminating today. There will be a procession of Bharati’s portrait from Parthasarathy Temple to Bharati’s house. About 300 poets will be engaged in a day-long poetry session. The student community, and other lovers of poetry, human rights activists and women’s organisations have always celebrated Bharati day, as it gives them inspiration to remember this visionary.
We tread the streets where Bharathi had once walked tirelessly. His poems and works are capable of creating a sense of upliftment and values whenever they are recalled. (Courtesy: The Hindu: Dec, 11, 2000)