Not many may know that the first book on the life and works of firebrand poet Subramania Bharati as we know it today, 100 years since his death, was by his close associate Va Ramaswami Aiyangar. Va Raa, as he was known, was the first biographer of Bharati. The two met at a time of turmoil and new awakening in Puducherry.
Born in 1889, V Ramaswami Ayyangar was a bright student but had to abandon his studies due to financial constraints. It was at this time that he was drawn towards the national movement. He attended the Congress convention in Madras in 1908, and having heard that Surendra Nath Banerji had started a national college in Calcutta went there to join it. He could neither meet Banerji nor join the college but during the stay there, he started learning Bengali. He wanted to meet Aurobindo Ghose, but couldn’t as he had moved to Puducherry in April of 1910.
By then Bharati was wellknown in Puducherry. Va Raa met Bharati to get an introduction to Aurobindo and was drawn to Bharati’s positive approach towards life. While his meeting his Aurobindo did happen latter, his friendship with Bharati began to grow.
A B Purani Aurobondo’s biographer records that Va Raa, used to visit Aurobindo daily. Va Raa, liked Bengali literature and started translating some of them into Tamil and when he was translating ‘Twin Rings’ (1874) of Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Bharati happened to visit. Shy of showing his writing to the famous poet, Va Raa pushed his papers under the bed. Bharati insited on looking at the writing and told Aurobindo, “Babuji, his prose is better than mine. From now onwards I shall not deal in prose and do only poetry. Ayyangar is there for prose.”
After their return to Madras, Bharati and Va Raa were engaged in various nationalistic activities. Va Raa was jailed during the Salt Satyagraha and sent to Alipore prison for six months. When he was there in 1930, he was prolific in Tamil and English. For writing in English a piece titled ‘What is Poetry?’ The jail warden helped him with the books he need and so Va Raa dedicated the essay to David Abernathy Greenwood, the English official and wrote “by V. Ramaswamy Ayyangar, convict no. 1557” This was written between October 6 and 11 in 1930.
The writing showed his knowledge of the English language and poetry: “One of Moliere’s characters asks what is poetry, that which is not prose, answers the other. And pray what is prose queries the first. That which you are talking replies the second. So I am talking prose all my life without knowing it, the first character soliloquises rather loudly.” In this piece, Va Raa deals with most English poets and ends it with a tribute to Bharati. He says, “Bharati simply worked a miracle in Tamil life and literature.”
In the 1930s, Va Raa, edited Manikkodi an avant garde journal in Tamil, through which he encouraged forward thinking writers like N Pichamurthy, Pudumaippithan, Ku Pa Rajagoplan and Chitti. On May 8, 1935, Va Raa proceeded to Colombo and took over as the editor of Veera Kesari a Tamil journal, dedicating his life to literature.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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