As a fifteen-year-old, Karunanidhi’s main assets were his command over Tamil and a passionate involvement in the political ideals that fi red his imagination. His parents were bitterly disappointed when he did poorly in the board exams, failing repeatedly for three years. Karunanidhi writes in his autobiography that he ran away from home out of shame after the third time, but his loving family brought him back and showered him with ‘more love’ that he ‘did not deserve’.
Whereas Karunanidhi’s family wanted him to continue his studies, his burning ambition was to see his writing in print. In 1942, Annadurai, who lived in Kanchipuram, started a magazine called Dravida Nadu. Karunanidhi thought that his writing would reach a wide audience if it was published in the magazine. He did not know the magazine’s address, but wrote a piece and sent it addressed simply to ‘Dravida Nadu, Kanchipuram’.
He was overjoyed when his article titled ‘Ilamaibali’ (Sacrifice of Youth) appeared in the magazine the very next week. He roamed the streets of Thiruvarur for a week with a copy in hand, placing it casually in front of people and not budging till they read his article and praised it.
Two weeks later Annadurai visited Thiruvarur for a function.
‘Who is Karunanidhi in this town?’ Anna asked. ‘Please bring him over, I want to meet him.’ An elated Karunanidhi, who was then eighteen, presented himself before Annadurai, expecting some praise and a request for more articles perhaps. He writes that Annadurai was surprised to see a short and puny youngster in front of him. ‘Are you studying?’ he asked Karunanidhi. In a trembling voice the boy said, ‘Yes, I am.’
Annadurai looked at him and said sharply, ‘Do not send me any articles hereafter. Concentrate on your studies.’
Karunanidhi was devastated. He did not expect such a rude rejection from the man he so admired. But he was in no mood to follow the advice. He could not contain his urge to write. He began to write plays, his first love, and stage them in Thiruvarur. These plays were a vehicle to propagate the ideology of the Dravidian movement. To collect funds for his student association he staged a play titled Palaniappan in Thiruvarur. The collection was a meagre Rs 80 while he had incurred a cost of Rs 200 for staging the play.
He did not know how to repay the debt he owed to people who now harassed him for it.
Desperate to try his luck elsewhere, he left with his friend Thennavan for Nagapattinam. There he met Gopal, a leader in the DK. Gopal heard the lad’s story with sympathy but hesitated to lend him the money. Instead he bought the play for Rs 100.
It was a revelation to Karunanidhi that one could earn by writing plays. Back in Thiruvarur he began churning them out. His parents were worried that their only son was becoming a good-for-nothing vagabond. They urged him to get a job that would guarantee at least Rs 50 a month. Writing plays was a worthless use of his time and energy.
Even as he struggled to earn a rupee, Karunanidhi fell in love. The girl too was enamoured of him, he was sure. When his family approached the girl’s parents, they insisted that if there was to be a wedding it had to be done in the presence of Brahmin priests with Vedic chants.
Karunanidhi refused, as this was against the Self-Respect ideology he so fervently believed in. The love story ended as quickly as it had blossomed, leaving Karunanidhi despondent.
This excerpt from Karunanidhi: The Definitive Biography by Vaasanthi has been published with permission from Juggernaut. The book is now available on the Juggernaut app.