Now, decades later, K Thennan, who turned 89 on Monday, is waiting for Tiruvarurs most famous son to come return to his roots, score a spectacular victory and become chief minister again.
It was 76 years ago when Thennan met a boy a year younger to him. Muthuvel Karunanidhi, then 12, had just moved from neighbouring Thirukuvalai. Soon they became close enough for Karunanidhi to stay at Thennans home and share meals.
Around that time Tamil Nadu Tamil Manavar Mandram was formed and we worked together. He was special but always underplayed it when we told him he was destined for bigger roles, says Thennan, the present municipal chairman of Tiruvarur.
When the handwritten Manavar Nesan became Murasoli, the writer went by the name Cheran, a pseudonym that Karunanidhi used, while Thennan was the secretary. There was no periodicity during those times. It was published whenever we could arrange the money. Those were days of struggle, but also days of excitement.
Sundarambal, Thennans wife, still remembers the day she saw Karunanidhi first in 1953, when she was 15. He accompanied my husband, came to see me first and then oversaw our wedding. Then they were both branded good-for-nothing by conservative elders who were opposed to their politics. Kalaignar used to joke that it takes one useless person to help another, she said.
As they matured in politics, Thennan remained rooted at home, becoming town secretary for the DMK, president of some cooperative banks and municipal chairman, while Karunanidhi contested from the neighbouring Assembly constituency Kulithalai in 1957, then from Thanjavur, again in the neighbourhood, before moving to the constituencies in Chennai city limits.
Karunanidhi went on to contest and win elections to the Assembly 11 times and became chief minister five times. But as he himself admitted, something was missing: he had never become the MLA of his native place, which shaped him and his politics.
Now he is contesting from Tiruvarur. After all these years, I am back in your lap. Lend me your hands when I walk back to the Assembly. I want to be your MLA, Karunanidhi said while launching the UPA campaign from this agrarian district on March 23.
Tiruvarur was reserved till delimitation made it a general seat. When it was made a general seat, I broached the idea when I met him in early March. We all wanted him to be our MLA in the House and this was the best chance. He considered it and soon agreed, Thennan said, denying the 2G spectrum sale scam had anything to do with the decision as is widely speculated.
Thennan is aware of the irony that befell late Congress stalwart K Kamaraj, former chief minister, who was defeated by a student in 1967 when he contested from his hometown Virudhunagar, but is certain that his friend is different.
Most politicians forget their roots as they grow through the ranks, but not him. Tiruvarur was a sub-taluk of Nagapattinam years ago. When Karunanidhi became chief minister for the first time, it was made into a taluk. Then in 1997, when he was the CM for the fourth time, a separate district was formed after carving out areas from Nagapattinam and Thanjavur districts. Colleges, a medical college, a central university, a polytechnic institute, roads and most other public facilities including even a marriage hall have been built with his support, he said.
The relationship extends to later generations as well. As the DMK president went around the state to campaign, his daughter Selvi and Thennans son K T Muthu went door to door seeking votes. Thennan, a former MISA detainee during the Emergency, does not attend many public functions these days. But he has marked in his diary few important dates: April 13, when he finally gets a chance to vote for his friend; May 13, the day results would be announced. And then the big day when hopes to see his friend take oath as Chief Minister yet another time.