Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the octogenarian Karunanidhi, popularly known as Kalaignar in Tamil Nadu, underlines a message of the Thirukural – greatness is measured by humility and the absence of pettiness.
As one couplet in the Thirukural reads:
வெள்ளத்தனயது மலர் நீட்டம் மாந்தர்க்கு
உள்ள தனயது உயர்வு
(The stalks of water-flowers are proportionate to the depth of water; so is men's greatness proportionate to their minds.)
Karunanidhi does not appreciate the BJP's ideology, and neither does the Prime Minister Modi have any soft corner for the DMK's party line. Yet, both represent India and work for the welfare of the people in their own way. It is for the people to accept or reject them.
But should differences in perceptions and ideologies result in an animosity that becomes so bitter and hateful that we even stop meeting each other and asking after the wellness of our fellow travelers in public life?
Kalaignar represents an era in Tamil Nadu politics and his literary contribution (more than a hundred books including poems, letters, screenplays, novels, biographies, stage plays, dialogues and movie songs) tell an incredible story of a person committed to his thoughts.
The construction of a 133-foot-high statue of Thiruvalluvar at Kanyakumari, under the directions and guidance of Kalaignar, is one great milestone in contemporary Tamil Nadu’s cultural history. According to Balakrishnan, Vice President of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Vivekananda Kendra, when Eknath Ranade, the visionary and founder of the rock memorial met Kalaignar, he graciously gave his full support for the construction.
They became good friends, and in one of the conversations, Eknath discussed how wonderful it would be if the adjacent rock had a grand Thiruvalluvar statue. It touched the right chord and soon the world saw a grand Thiruvalluvar statue neighboring Swami Vivekananda.
I remember that when I spoke in Parliament on the greatness of Tamil heritage and the Thirukural, the very first public note of appreciation came from Kalaignar. And later he sent me his signed book Kuruloviyam. That was really bold and it gave me a pleasant surprise.
His daughter Kanimozhi helped me a lot in understanding the Thirukural, and explained to me in detail about the vast spread of Tamil heritage the world over – including some lesser known wonders of Tamil architecture. I owe a lot to her help and warmth.
His son MK Stalin was the first to tweet appreciating my initiative to have a Thiruvalluvar statue installed in Hardwar. Politically we are poles apart – I would work to ensure BJP wins in Tamil Nadu. Still Thiruvalluvar brought us together on the same dias, to speak on the greatness of the Thirukkural in the Parliament House. That is a miracle and a refreshing breeze in our public domain.
When the Thiruvalluvar statue was given its formally send-off from the Marina Beach in Chennai, the veteran intellectual and former Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi commented that in Tamil Nadu, even in a marriage, no two leaders from different parties would like to be seen greeting the newly-wedded couple together.
“But here, for Thiruvalluvar's journey to Hardwar, we see RSS veteran K Surayanarayan Rao, DMK, AIADMK, RSS, BJP, Congress leaders, with Vaiko, Thirumavalavan and scholars like Kavignar Vairamuthu sitting together. It’s a first in Tamil Nadu history,” he said.
Kalaignar has had a life full of achievements, controversies, successes and failures. But one factor has remained permanent, and that is his compete, undiluted devotion to Thiruvalluvar.
The very first felicitation I received at the reputed Music Academy hall of Chennai was through his ardent admirers. And though they had been in the forefront of the anti-Hindi movement, they were so gracious as to speak a few words in Hindi on that day.
Imagine the great national poet Vairamuthu, Justice Basha and other stalwarts showering praise on a person like me with a background in the RSS/BJP, from a Hindi-speaking North Indian state! It needed a lot of courage and a heart above all differences.
That changed my outlook and life forever.
Today the public discourse, especially in politics, has become so impolite, rude and abusive that one wonders if we belong to the same old nation that gave to the world a great civilization and classics like the Upanishads and the Thirukural. Only the weak take recourse to behavior that is rough and hateful.
Prime Minister Modi has touched the hearts of millions of Indians who do not believe in hate and animosity. We are a people quintessentially bound with the one cultural thread of our Indianness. That thread should be strengthened further even as we keep working through our different ideological platforms. A million fragrances with a million colors make the anthem of our Indianness.
As Thiruvalluvar says:
பணிவுடையன் இன்சொலன் ஆதல் ஒருவற்கு
அணியல்ல மற்றுப் பிற. (95)
(Humility and sweetness of speech are the ornaments of virtuous persons; all others are not (are waste).)
That's what makes India, a nation of all colors and the most livable, lovable land on this earth. Let this be a fresh beginning to keep our public discourse free from animus and hate.
Tarun Vijay is President, Students and Youth for Thiruvalluvar
The views expressed are the author's own.