Translated by Vamanan
I may forget anybody in this wide world but I cannot forget my great friend E. V. Ramasamy Periyar. I had associated very closely with him for about ten years. Even though in the past twenty years and more that closeness is no more there, my memories are so vivid that I feel that I met him yesterday or today.!
On the second day of this month (April 1957), I met him on the peak of Yercaud. I cannot say that it was a chance meeting. I had gone there to meet him. He was in a storeyed house in the market street of Yercaud. In front of the house, his motor van was parked on the side of the street. A man had mounted himself on top of the van and was painting the gate of the house. Maniammai and her brother Thyagarajan were standing on the pyol of the house. Saying, ‘Why use a motor van as a ladder’’, I too got up on the pyol. I gave Maniammai the garland of champaka flowers I had brought along.
I had first seen her about twelve years back. I will narrate the unusual circumstances of that first meeting later. The Maniammai I had seen then was in the bloom of youth. Her face was radiant; there was mischief in her eyes ; her body was vibrant with the energy and vitality of youth. The Maniammai who confronted me this day was different — her face bespoke tiredness, the light in her eyes was gone, her body seemed worn out. I might be mistaken in this estimation. Maniammai was wearing a black saree. Her hair hadn’t been oiled and groomed. There was not a grain of gold on her body. No flowers adorned her hair. Her forehead bore no saffron mark. She wore no bangles. As these elements common to our women folk were missing, Maniammai looked like a widow to me.
I climbed the narrow steps to go to the upper storey. Periyar welcomed me, even as he cleaned his moustache and beard off the stains of grape juice that he had hastily downed after having extracted the stuff himself. Nevertheless, one could see grape juice stains on his dhoti.
In public life, I have gone hammer on tongs at Periyar. Perhaps nobody else would have subjected him to as much criticism as I had done. But even then, I had undying feelings of friendship for him. He too had great affection for me. How can I describe the relationship between us!
I would never visit Periyar bare-handed. I would take something, at least come cashew nuts. I opened the parcel of jalebis that I had purchased for him and spread it in front of him. He happily partook of the sweets and spoke to me affectionately.
Soon, Maniammai walked in. Periyar began to tell her about me in his characteristic style. ‘‘Do you know him? We two are old friend. I should say that this man here laid the foundation for Khadi and the Congress in Tamil Nadu. How many places haven’t we gone around together in those days! See, he has brought soft jalebis so that a toothless man like me can munch them. He has brought hard and crispy savouries for you. Come on, take some of this.’’
We chatted about many things. Congress, Kamaraj and Kakkan figured in our talk.
‘‘I don’t meet Kamaraj at all. I don’t write to him too. He is a Tamil. Because of that I feel some satisfaction that he annihilated Achariyaar who lorded it over for a long time. That’s why I campaigned for him. There is nothing more to it,’’ said Periyar.
‘‘It was I who got rid of Rajaji, not Kamaraj. And but for me, there would be no Kamaraj,’’said I.
‘‘How is that? I don’t know that secret,’’ answered Periyar