From father to thalaivar: Kanimozhi

Print edition : August 31, 2018

Kanimozhi with her father and Chief Minister at the inauguration of Chennai Sangamam in 2010. Photo: M.Vedhan

BY the time I was born, he had settled in politics. I had a more of a father-daughter relationship with him, since he had time for me. As I grew up, we developed a relationship based on our own wavelengths and such.

When I was in school, once in a while he used to ask me how much I had scored in exams. He was more concerned about what I was reading than how much I had scored. He used to keep enquiring as to what I was reading. If he had not heard of the writer or the book that I was reading, he would ask about that person; and if he thought that there was a particular writer that I had to be introduced to, he used to tell me. Sometimes, when I suggested books for him to read, he would come back after reading and share his thoughts about the book.

Dad knew that I wrote poems and that I did not publish them. I did not show him what I wrote. Once I had participated in an inter-college essay writing contest when I was in Ethiraj College. I got the first prize. Finally it was he who turned up to give away the prize. It was funny. Both of us started laughing on stage. I knew that he was coming but did not inform him that I had won the prize. He did not know either, until my name was announced.

He insisted that I write more. He used to get upset when he read a work of mine published somewhere without him reading it first. He wanted to be the first one to read it. He kept complaining that I was not sharing the poems with him but when my first book, Karuvarai Vasanai, was published, he kept inquiring about the progress of the book. He was the one who proofread it. After quite a few of us had literally pored through it, he still found mistakes. I do not remember how many, exactly, but he did find a few. It was a kind of standing joke: everybody would have gone through an article or an invite. We would think it was perfect. Once it went to him, he would spot a mistake that very second. All of us were resigned to it.

One more thing. Wherever I went, he kept track. He got tense if I took a night flight. Sometimes he would wait up until very late into the night to hear from me. Once he waited till 2 a.m. I had gone for a public meeting and was driving back home. After I entered politics, obviously, I was addressing meetings in the evenings in the districts. He would wait for me to reach home, regardless of where he was. His duty PSO used to keep calling me every few minutes to convey to him how far I was from home.

After becoming a member of the Rajya Sabha, I used to stay back in Chennai to complete all pending work in one shot, and take the flight back to Delhi as late as possible. He would keep asking me to take earlier flights, because he did not want me to take late-night flights. Once, after a particularly late flight to Delhi, he was on the phone soon after I landed and asked me why I was doing this. At one point, I, too, fought with him asking why he was doing this to me. This past year and a half has been different. Now I look back and think: who is going to call you with that kind of concern for you.

Once I had gone to Kodaikanal for a college excursion. We started late, and some in the group fell sick because of the winding roads and all, and it was very late by the time we reached. I got down and called him from a telephone booth. By the time we reached, there were three vehicles coming in search of us. When I reached Madurai and went to Hotel Pandiyan, there were people out in the lobby waiting for all of us to turn up. And he was sitting on his bed, and had not eaten his dinner. All the party leaders were standing around him trying to tell him that I would be fine.

I loved listening to his speeches and have gone for election campaigns with him. It was a very enriching experience and, of course, my heart was with what the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam stood for. I did not want to be in direct politics.

The only thing that changed after I entered politics was that finally I had to listen to him because he was my party leader. I do not think anything changed much, though. You look at him from outside until such time that you are not in politics. Once you enter, then you are an insider and you understand it much better. After this, my respect for him really grew—his hard work, his emphasis on the small things, his eye for detail and the way he used to think ahead about things.

When it came to things that he believed in, such as those involving social justice or social issues, it had a deep emotional connect for him. Political calculations did not come in these issues. Once he was aware of an issue, he would take it from there. Talking about abolishing capital punishment is not really an election issue. Likewise, transgender people or the differently abled are not vote banks. He put in so much of effort to try and figure out how best governments could help. The same was the case with folk artistes.

He had respect even for people who criticised him or his party. [Writer] Jayakanthan has always been a big critic of the Dravidian movement and the DMK. But you should see the respect they had for each other. It was such a beautiful relationship. He and [writer] Sujatha had such a wonderful relationship based on mutual respect. As a leader, it was not just hard work; he never gave up on things that he believed in. He was a rationalist, but he was also a very fair person. Just because he was a rationalist, he did not do things against any religion. He treated all religious heads with great respect. The only thing he tried to do was express his views. He wanted to engage in a dialogue. He never stood in the way of a temple consecration. In fact, he encouraged it, and has done so much for it.

As told to R.K. Radhakrishnan