Tamil Scholar K. Meenakshisundaram (1925 - 2015)
- 21 Mar 2017
The famous Tamil scholar K. Meenakshisundaram was popularly known as 'Kami' and his parents were Kaliappa Gounder and Kaliammal of Vellakinaru a village which exists on the outskirts of Coimbatore. His religious minded father was known as 'Muruganandha Swamigal' . Kami did his early education in our region and was a person known to care for people and resources from his childhood. He used to throw the wayside dung into his farm and also strive to keep the path free of obstacles by clearing loose pebbles or stones. Kami had almost decided to take up Maths, but he chose Tamil on the advice of Prof. Govindarajan.
Kami completed his education and returned to Vellakinaru, however his teacher Prof. Poovaragam Pillai had taken ill and he took up his job as a teacher in order to stand in for him. In fact Kami's father insisted that the salary should be given to the ailing teacher but the noble gentleman refused the offer. The best time of his career was at the Annamallai University and later he moved over to the Madras University where he finally did his Ph.D. Kami brought about reforms, changes and discipline through out his career. He was an honest and duty bound administrator who refused to entertain out of turn requests from friends and relatives in a polite manner. This did not come in the way of offering guidance or help to his colleagues and students. Kami served as the Principal who brought in order and academics to the Government Colleges at Coimbatore, Salem, Tirupur and Thanjavur. He was made the Founder Director of the UNESCO supported International Institute of Tamil Studies.
While serving as the Director of Collegiate Education, Kami ensured that Tamil compositions had a just share of atleast 50% in the syllabus of institutions teaching music. He worked hard to ensure that Tamil was given its due importance and respect during his long career. His wife Jaya who happened to be the daughter of Muthammal and S.G. Sengodayan ICS and also grand daughter of Former Minister V.C. Palaniswamy Gounder was a popular author and researcher who had recorded ancient Kongu traditions. Kami received a number of awards which included the Best Principal Award, Tamil Nanneri Chemmal, Raja Sir Virudhu, Perum Tamil Arignar Virudhu, Bharathi Award, Vivekanandar Desiya Virudhu from the Sri Ramakrishna Mission and the prestigious Basha Samman from the Sahitya Academy. Its a fact that the Sahitya Academy broke convention in order to give the award to Kami at Coimbatore in order to address some health issues faced by him due to age. All the other awardees were also made to receive their citations at Coimbatore.
A number of leading Tamil scholars and writers were among the students of Kami - Sivagamasundari, Sirpi, A. Pandurangan, C. Kanakasabapathy, S.V. Shanmugham etc., to name a few. He wrote about 19 books and 16 of them were rendered in Tamil. Some of his famous works are - Thiruvalluvaril Illai Mayakkam, Manonmaniyam Sundaranarin Puratchi thiran, Body marking and Tattooing in Kongunadu, A study of the achievements of Bharathi as a Poet, The Contribution of European Scholars to Tamil, Udalum Marundhum, Silappadikara Paathirangalin Pangum Panbum. His work on Kambar enriched Indian literature. Students, people and scholars alike can get to know about Kami from the book compiled by Dr. Kalyanasundaram and T.C. Ramaswamy. Scholars like Irusu Pillai have contributed towards this compilation.
Prof K. Meenakshisundaram or Kami was a keen teacher who did a lot of research on the cognitive abilities of students. The studies were undertaken directly by Kami and he ensured that the teachers followed him. He was against using permitted holidays in an irresponsible manner and took pains to request teachers to refrain from doing so. As a Principal, Kami left for the day only after the start of the evening college on a regular basis and lived near the college campus. He was a good mentor who served in the Governing bodies of a number of Universities and he lead by example at all times. The favourite past time for this noble teacher was in fact teaching students! It was out of his sheer love for Tamil that he named his daughter Manonmani.
Kami was a keen researcher who delved deep into the subject and was also a forth right critic. A number of interesting points relating to the glories and liberties of the Tamil society of the Sangam era can be understood as a consequence of going through his works. He stated that the 'Panars or 'Bards' did not live in poverty or live by travelling and praising kings in order to eke out a living. They were rather talented and well informed people who were information messengers and negotiators. They promoted talent while entertaining people and took pains to resolve disputes in an amicable manner. The rulers gave them prizes and treated them with respect and the 'Panars' were kind of mobile universities. Kami speaks of the ground rule during Sangam times when personal matters were spoken of in a literary work. The name of the person or clues enabling detection of the name or identity of the concerned person was never revealed. This was centuries before the UN Charter on the Right to Privacy! Kami further talks about the liberties of lone women through his work on the two thousand year old Silappadikaram wherein Kannagi could get to see the errant ruler and seek justice in a new place. However in the five hundred year old western literary classic 'Merchant of Venice', we get to learn that Portia had to disguise herself as a man in order to seek justice at the Court of the Duke at a time when European society was touted to be modern and progressive!
The ethical scholar who was a vegetarian all his life in fact received all his awards post retirement and he gave away all the prize money for good causes. He kept himself free of rituals and superstitions all his life. In short KAMI was like a noble character from the Sangam literature who was reborn to serve TAMIL.