A roadside lecture on Thevar and a cup of tea

A garland of plastic rose-coloured flowers adorns the picture of Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar on the wall. If he had lived, Thevar would have been a hundred years old this year. The teashop where the picture hangs is run by a man, who wears a garland himself, but not of flowers. I do not know his name, but as I enter the shop, he is talking of Thevar. The tea master is probably a Thevar too going from his appearance.

The tea master is your typical Chennai character. He yaps non-stop and about everything under the sun. Even at 3 am, he is remarkably fresh and active. The chill of the winter thaws as you listen to him. He is wearing a blue shirt and a lungi and scratches his beard as he pauses while speaking.
Ever since seeing the Thevar statue at Nandanam, I have been hugely impressed by the man. Not aware of either his reputation or politics, I used to gaze at the oversized statue. He was always an object of mystery as he must have been to much of the techie, yuppie generation.
Today, I noticed that the Wikipedia entry on him is quite comprehensive. The picture on the wiki page is same as the one at the teashop.
“Thevar spoke 24 languages. Not one Indian politician today can do it,” the tea master is saying. I notice the hyperbole. “Once, he caught a bus from Central to Alwarpet. Even after becoming MLA and MP he used public transport that just cost 15 paisa,” the tea master continued. “Only later did MGR buy his heirs property in Alwarpet,” he added.
The tea isn’t all that great, but it’s hot. Just like the state’s politics, always overheated. The tea master’s lecture on Muthuramalinga Thevar is addressed to a cripple, who murmurs his agreement as he sips his tea. The physically handicapped man (differently abled, as he might be called) is leaning on a crutch holding the cup to his lip.
Recently, the Thevar was in the news. In the minor incidents of riots that followed the 100th year anniversary celebrations, a man was killed down south. The rioting took place after TNCC president Krishnasamy was stabbed after taking part in the celebrations.
I wonder if the tea master, who probably reads Dina Thanthi religiously every morning, knows all this. Probably he does. What is most significant about him is his lively engagement with life. His ability to retain the attention of a group of six at 3 am with a lecture on a marginal political figure. The tea master symbolises the city in many ways. Hot. Lively. Engaging.

6 Comments so far

  1. Karthik Thirumalai (unregistered) on December 25th, 2007 @ 3:40 am

    Great write up Mr.Sundaram, didn’t know lot of the facts mentioned in the blog.

    I guess our current crop of politicians can learn a thing or two about modesty and serving the public.

  2. Ramesh (unregistered) on December 26th, 2007 @ 9:54 am

    nice write up, this is off topic, what happened to IMAX which suppose to come Chennai ?

  3. nandhu (unregistered) on December 26th, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

    Karthik, thanks!

    ramesh, we dont quite know. we talk about it all the time. but as far as any of us know, there isnt one coming up. will post as soon as we know anything concrete about it.

  4. Ramesh (unregistered) on December 26th, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

    Thanks Nandu

  5. David (unregistered) on December 27th, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

    Nice, informatve post that also touches on ‘who we are’ in this part of India! Thanks for pointing to Wiki on Thevar. really informative.

  6. Non-Thevar (unregistered) on December 28th, 2007 @ 11:51 pm

    Muthuramalinga thevar is a first class racist. What he and his henchmen did to Dalits is well-known. Ask your Tamil journalist friends and they’ll tell you. Read the blog post in the link. The language is strong and is a bit pretentious, but these are facts.


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