DR. B.G.L. SWAMY, THE EMINENT SON of the preeminent legend D.V. Gundappa, largely trod on the path sanctified by his father. He primarily distinguished himself as a world-renowned scholar and scientist of botany. But like his father, he was also multifaceted and a polyglot. His interests spanned literature, language, history, archaeology, travel, culture and politics.
Apart from his original and substantial contributions to botany, Dr. Swamy was one of the early and trenchant critics of the corrosive toxin called Dravidianism. His contributions in this vital area have largely been overlooked. Four key elements characterise these contributions.
A deep, first-hand, and multidisciplinary original research into the primary sources.
Uncompromising intellectual integrity.
Absolute fearlessness given the fact that he headbutted Dravidian ideologues at the height of their political and institutional power.
A daredevil attitude without any fear of consequences: Dr. Swamy was the Principal of Presidency College, Madras from 1953 till his retirement. And his greatest “disqualification”: he was a Kannadiga and a Brahmana.
These apart, what brings special authority to his nuking of both Dravidianism and Dravidianists are his personal experiences of how the fatal ideology systematically annihilated the original Tamil culture in a cold-blooded fashion. As the Principal of a respected institution, he was witness to scores of government decisions that directly enabled this annihilation. We cannot thank him enough for documenting these sickening experiences in four invaluable books:
1. Collegeu Ranga – The Theatre of College
2. Collegeu Taranga – Tidings from College
3. Tamilu Talegala Naduve – Among the Tamil (i.e., Dravidian) Heads
4. Pradhyapakana Peethadalli – In the Professorial Chair
Each chapter in the four books is a real-life anecdote of his life and career in Presidency College. Dr. Swamy’s gift for irony and satire is truly unmatched and perhaps it was only fitting that he employed dark humour to convey the stark truths of Dravidian theory in practice. It is only his satire that rescues us from lapsing into Dravidian-engendered depression. From a serious perspective, the four books constitute a primary source of research into the fall and fall of Tamil culture and society engineered by the Dravidian ideology.
Like their Marxist twin brother, the Dravidianists too, captured and weaponised history to disfigure the future by distorting the past. Over the course of twenty-plus anecdotes, Dr. Swamy recounts how this was done using taxpayer money.
I have selected only one representative anecdote for the purposes of this essay due to its far-reaching consequences. It should suffice to understand the real roots of what is today bandied about as “Dravidian stock” (sic).
An Advisory Committee was formed by the Tamil Nadu Government to document and publish “The Official History of the Tamils” in ten volumes. Needless, the Government exercised utmost care in selecting the members. Dr. Swamy recalls that Tamil writers like Cheeni Venkataswami, Pandit Natesan and others were part of the committee. The history lecturer of the Presidency college and two or three lecturers teaching other subjects had also adorned that committee as members. Other members were Government employees and businessmen. He describes these folks as follows: "All these eminences had been born in Tamil Nadu. They had inherited pure Tamil genes, breathed the pure Tamil air, drank the pure Tamil water, and displayed chaste Tamilhood."
There was a vacancy for a person who had to supervise this work so that it adhered to the schedule. The qualifications required for this position, says Dr. Swamy, included the following:
1. The position was reserved for people from the Backward Classes. This was Government policy.
2. It was preferable that the candidate had an M.A. in History.
3. The applicant must already have a permanent job in any Government department.
4. The applicant must have expert knowledge in the Tamil language. He must have the ability to carry out letter correspondence.
Three lecturers possessed all of the four qualifications. But then, none of them wanted to opt for this higher position at their existing salary structure. Actually, their present job as college lecturers was pretty enticing because it was extremely comfortable.
THE PRIMARY SOURCE of comfort was an abundance of leaves and holidays.
Saturday was a holiday.
Sunday was a holiday.
It was a holiday if a student or a teaching or an administrative staff died. A bonus was added to this arrangement. If the death occurred on a Saturday or Sunday or an official holiday, the mourning holiday was postponed to the following Monday or working day.
If the students of the lecturer’s college won against their counterparts in another college in some tournament, holiday was declared.
Heavy rains = holiday.
If students declared a strike, the entire period until they called it off, was counted as a holiday. A day. Two days. Three. A week…
Duly sanctioned leaves were counted as…leaves. Whimsical disappearances from work were also counted as leaves.
If the aforementioned disappearances coincided with the academic vacation period, they were counted as…vacations.
Why would any lecturer voluntarily agree to abandon this paradise and join a job which required him to actually work throughout the year?
If you stayed back in the college as a lecturer, you could make substantial extra money as an examiner in the University examinations conducted each year at different intervals.
You could also earn abundant sums by teaching “private” lessons to students at home.
None of these opportunities were available in the aforementioned new post as supervisor of the Tamil history project.
Dr. Swamy noted that no lecturer from any college came forward to take up this job.
Finding no other alternative, the Government dangled another carrot: an extra four hundred rupees over and above the existing salary. A princely sum in the 1950s.
Instantly, the three aforementioned eminences in Dr Swamy’s college fought with one another, now vying for the position. Ultimately, the Government selected the lecturer who belonged to the “most” Backward Class. Besides, he also wore the crown of being the senior most.
In the first meeting of the Committee, the discussion began on a preliminary topic: who should be assigned what topic by whom. This spilled over to the second day as well.
Ultimately, the Committee evolved new guidelines, which tells a separate story.
Eventually, the truth began to emerge in a hazy fashion.
THE COMMITTEE UNILATERALLY – that is, on the strength of the magical guidelines – accepted the (dis)qualifications of the new Supervisor. But to avoid discrimination among the disqualified, the guidelines were made applicable even to the authors of the Tamil history project.
1. The qualification of an author need not be judged by a University degree. All that was needed was a strict exercise of Government control over him in some form or the other.
2. He must “not eat the Government’s salt and backstab it.”
3. More than a command over the subject, the author “must be an expert at using the Tamil language powerfully and creatively.”
4. He must never have any sort of contact with the impure Aryans.
Dr Swamy then narrates how he had no idea about how the Committee classified the subjects into ten volumes.
The First Volume was reserved for the “Pre-history of the Tamils,” which was eventually published in 1975 as Tamizh Nadu Varalaru: The Pre-Historical Age.
Dr Swamy was also unaware of the title of the second volume. He deduces that it contained such topics as the flora and fauna, minerals, and other natural resources of Tamil Nadu.
In this context, Dr Swamy narrates a rather delightful anecdote. It has all the ingredients of a farce but it was real.
One day, the aforementioned Supervisor came to meet him. Here is how the meeting transpired.
“I was stunned for a while. His demeanour reeked of newly-acquired authority, complete with his Terylene suit, his imported shirt and tie, and the deliberately-shaped moustache and beard. The picture was complete with his cultivated haughtiness towards the poor assistant who followed him everywhere.
“After baring his teeth four times and saluting me with “vanakkam” [Namaste], he sat down. He said: ‘Shaar [Sir], you must please write a scholarly essay on Tamil Nadu’s flora.’
“Now a different variety of shock hit me. I asked: ‘Apparently you follow some guidelines before choosing an author, right? I don’t fit any of those guidelines! You can find another author who’s more suitable for your purposes, right?’
“He replied: ‘there’s nobody else, Shaar. We wrote to the Government that only you are suitable for this. They have granted permission.’
“ ‘See, I speak purely from the perspective of Science. So kindly listen to me carefully and please don’t mistake me. Do not indulge in propaganda… it is not correct to classify plants as Tamil plants, Telugu plants, Kannada plants, etc. The vegetation of all these regions more or less belong to the same environment. This statement applies in varying degrees almost to the entire South India…’
“He said: ‘In which case do you mean to say that just as how the Tamils are unique in the whole world, there’s nothing like a unique Tamil flora?’
“ ‘As far as I know, no.’
“He got up and left without a word.”
Later, Dr Swamy learned that this supervisory eminence had approached another author with the same proposal. This author agreed to write a chapter about “unique Tamil flora.”
Then, the triumphant Supervisor deliberately conveyed the news to Dr Swamy who said, “let him write it. I wish him all the best.”
The new author’s knowledge of botany was restricted to having studied it some twenty years ago as part of his graduation syllabus. He later took up a job in some Government department totally unrelated to botany. Dr Swamy signs off his admiring conclusion: “I deeply appreciated the author’s guts.”
He also narrates the story of how that essay shaped up.
The author listed the names of all the plants, trees, and creepers mentioned in ancient Tamil literature. And lo and behold! That antiquarian mention bestowed them with the distinctive Tamil uniqueness! But then they were mere names, which had no details of genus, species, physical and other characteristics, etc. There was no taxonomy to identify which plant belonged to which family.
In any case, the author randomly married a “Tamil plant” name with a corresponding Latin name.
The essay was ready to embellish the pages of the official volume of Tamil History. Conceived by the Dravidian ideology and funded by taxpayer money. But there was a penultimate stage before the volume could be published.
What happened next is best read in Dr. Swamy’s own words.
“To my misfortune, a draft of this essay landed on my table for giving an expert opinion. The author clearly doesn’t know which plants are native to India and which came to India from abroad and were subsequently cultivated here.
“In his world of flora, Sapota [Chikoo], Nagalinga [Canonball Tree or Flower], Sweet Potato, Tapioca, and other imported plants were “uniquely Tamil.”
“I sent a report concluding that this was completely inaccurate from the perspective of Science.
“I don’t know whether anyone actually read my report.
“But some time later, the editor of a Weekly paper sent me a copy of this author’s volume—which had now been published—for review.
“I recoiled in fear after reading it. The author hadn’t corrected even a single error that I had pointed out. Neither had he made any modifications. The original handwritten manuscript had been printed as is—in toto. But at the end of the article lay a line of acknowledgement expressing his gratitude to me.
“I wrote a strong rebuttal. According to the prevailing laws of that period, I was prohibited from sending book reviews directly to journalists and editors. I had to obtain prior permission from the Government. And so, I sent my review to the appropriate Government officials.
“Here’s the reply I promptly received: ‘Those who are in Government Service must not review Government publications.’
Still wondering where the "Dravidian stock" narrative comes from?
The Dharma Dispatch is now available on Telegram! For original and insightful narratives on Indian Culture and History, subscribe to us on Telegram.