Kanimozhi, the sweet one: Her father’s daughter

‘He has never made me feel alienated,’ says Kanimozhi about her father Karunanidhi. ‘He has never given me any reason for him to explain anything. He has never let my mother down either’

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Sandhya Ravishankar

It was 1968 and Transport Minister Karunanidhi had set all tongues wagging. The DMK had romped home to power under its leader CN Annadurai and a wounded Congress party had to have its revenge.

Meanwhile, a scandal awaited and it arrived in the form of Rajathi Ammal, who had given birth to a baby girl. When asked for the name of the father by the hospital, she told the truth – M. Karunanidhi. Congressmen found out and pounced on this information with glee. Karunanidhi was already married to Dayalu Ammal. The state assembly was the stage on which the attack took place.

‘Who is Rajathi?’ asked a Congress MLA dramatically at the session. A chorus began. Karunanidhi, in a quandary, was taken aside by Anna, who advised him to spill the beans. ‘En magal Kanimozhiyin thaayaar,’ he said upon his return, according to the state assembly records. She is the mother of my daughter Kanimozhi. There was no further scandal or shaming left to be done after his utterance.

At least not in public. But Kanimozhi – meaning honeyed language in Tamil – bore the brunt of her father’s secret marriage to Rajathi Ammal. Today, Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP of the DMK, has managed to rise out of a situation of stigma and pain to become the Delhi face of the party.

‘Yes, it was not easy. A lot of people use it to hurt you. It is used as a weapon also often. But one thing it has taught me is to never stand in judgement of anybody. And I am very grateful to both my parents for that,’ says Kanimozhi.

Kanimozhi was always the awkward child in the Karunanidhi family. Although close to her step-brother Alagiri, there was never any love lost between her and M.K. Stalin. As for the non-political heirs of Karunanidhi – daughter Selvi and son Tamilarasu – their relationship is, at best, an uneasy one.

Karunanidhi, even as chief minister, would spend his evenings at CIT Colony, Rajathi Ammal’s and Kanimozhi’s home, and his mornings at Gopalapuram, where his wife Dayalu Ammal lives. While the Gopalapuram home is an old-world-style house with open gates and doors, the CIT Colony mansion was a fortress. The father went out of his way to ensure that his daughter was protected to the best of his ability.

‘He has never made me feel alienated,’ says Kanimozhi. ‘He has never made me feel anything that way. He has never given me any reason for him to explain anything. He has never let my mother down either. There are many politicians who make mistakes or do things. And they try to hide it under the carpet or they even hurt the person. Their children are neglected. I know children who do not have the courage to say who the father is because they may not live for another day if they did. So, if you look at all of that, my father was a very, very good man that way. I am not justifying it or saying that what he did was right or wrong. But I am grateful for what I learnt from it – never to judge.

Kanimozhi – meaning honeyed language in Tamil – bore the brunt of her father’s secret marriage to Rajathi Ammal. Today, Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP of the DMK, has managed to rise out of a situation of stigma and pain to become the Delhi face of the party

It was Karunanidhi who introduced her to Periyar’s writings. And his love for the written word was passed on to his daughter, a poet herself who is equally fluent in Tamil and English. Kanimozhi was also the only one amongst his children who called a spade a spade to the larger-than-life leader.

‘When he was in jail, somebody gave him a set of books by a writer,’ laughs Kanimozhi as she reminisces. ‘I am not going to name the author. He sent that whole set to me to read. And especially because he was in jail, I felt obligated to read it. When he came out he asked me – How did you like it? I said I had read all of them but I did not like them. He was quite taken aback. He said – Why? I said I cannot agree with the way the person has portrayed women. At that he started laughing and said there you go again.’

Kanimozhi says there are several things about her father she admires and would like to emulate. ‘one thing I have always admired about him – whenever there is a cherished thought or idea of his, and then someone completely shreds it apart, he gets very upset. But invariably he will come back to it and start pondering about what the other person said and whether that view was right. That is something I really admire about him. Even if he has made up his mind, I have seen him ask for opinions from everyone. It is not like he will ask only politicians. He will pick the brains of anyone he comes across. I think that is what made him grow also,’ she says.

Extract from Sandhya Ravishankar’s book, ‘Karunanidhi: A life in politics’

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