Love for Tamil brought Ma Po Si, Karunanidhi together

By Naomi N Published on Aug 11, 2018 09:48 AM IST

Madhavi with her father's banner in the background.

Chennai: A different era of politics ended with the demise of M Karunanidhi.

But similar to him was a freedom fighter, the poster boy of Tamil State autonomy and a lover of Tamil language - M P Sivagnanam, popularly known as Ma Po Si.

Though the duo never came together on the grand stage of politics, nevertheless, their ideals and values were similar.

Speaking to 'News Today', Ma Po Si’s daughter, Ma Po Si Madhavi Baskeran,(61), who is now with the BJP, says, "Tamizh and 'Silapathikaram' were the binding factors between my father and Karunanidhi."

The duo, Madhavi says, were gifted people. "They both have a background with the press and loved literature. Both wrote books and were public speakers who gave huge importance to education and Tamil culture. A political era ended with Karunanidhi. My father always spoke highly of him," said Madhavi.

Madhavi, who is named after one of the lead characters in the Tamil epic 'Silapathikaram' says, ‘My father was deeply satisfied when the movie 'Poompuhar', based on the Sangam epic 'Silapathikaram', was made. Karunanidhi wrote the screenplay and dialogues for the movie.

Karunanidhi with Ma Po Si

But what kept them away was differing political parties. "Ma Po Si was a nationalist and a freedom fighter, while Karunanidhi belonged to the Dravidian movement," points out Madhavi.

But more than the Congress, it was Dravidian parties which gave Ma Po Si his due. "In fact, in 2011 Karunanidhi inaugurated a my father's statue in the city. When I met him after that he asked me if I was happy. That shows the kind of rapport they shared. He was willing to cancel his engagements in Delhi to attend my wedding when my father invited him. I have known him from the age of 10," recalls Madhavi.

About the passing of Karunanidhi, Madhavi said, "He was a great leader, the last of his kind. It was only right to bury him at Marina beach along with other great Dravidian leaders like Anna and MGR. It is his rightful place."

Being a freedom fighter's daughter, Madhavi feels people need to be more aware of the contributions of such families.

"As a father, my father Ma Po SI loved his family. But he loved Tamilnadu more. That does not mean he did no care for us," she says, adding, "He is someone who burnt foreign products. So, naturally, such values were imbibed by us at a young age."

As a result, Madhavi and her older sister Kannagi - who  was also named after the heroine of 'Silapathikaram' - wore khadi and never complained about it. "He taught us Gandhian values, most importantly, he could not stand lies," she says.

Being a freedom fighter, Ma Po Si has had several stints in prison. "People would think that it was a mannerism of his to rest his hand on his back while giving public speeches and blink one of his eyes many times. That was because of the injuries he suffered in jail. He was beaten up by the British. He lived in extreme conditions in central jail, Amaravathi, which was either too hot or too cold. They had to eat in the same room and use the toilet in the same room. He did not have warm woollen clothes and Congress leader K Kamaraj had brought it for him," she recalled.

Ma Po Si has written over 150 books and is the one who fought for the State of Madras. His agitations made Kanyakumari, Tiruttani and Nagercoil to remain a part of the State's geography, she informed.


A resident of Neelankarai, Madhavi says they naturally imbibed his Gandhian values at a young age. "He told us about the three monkeys - Speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil."

They felt sad only when their father devoted too much time on his work. "When we were young and would sit down to play carrom as a family, he would have to leave when visitors came calling, which was often."

So, how did Ma Po Si, who had formal education only till class 3, go on to become a selfless freedom fighter, champion of Tamil language?

"Our family has battled many things. My father was so poor that his mother could not afford to buy him books. His teacher asked him to leave if he did not have books. But he worked at a printing press and read as much as he could. He has done odd jobs to earn even Rs 10," she says.

"My father knew all languages are important, but Tamil was most important for him," she said.  Despite his wife Rajeswari Ammal's objections, he named his daughters after the famous characters of 'Silapathikaram'.

"On every Independence Day, I feel immensely proud of the role my father had in it. My father used to hoist the flag at home. It was proud moment. Now, it has become a mere celebration to distribute sweets and laddu," says Madhavi.

"I have just three requests for the government:  that his birthday must be celebrated as a government function; a memorial must be built for him in the city and the house he last lived in the city must be made into a memorial," says his daughter with emotion.