The last time they worked shoulder to shoulder, they were boys, driven by the need for change. They were together during the formation of the first student organisation of the Dravidian kind. Together they broke water pots for segregating students as upper caste and others. Their names figured on either side of the Murasoli masthead.
Now, decades later, K Thennan, who turned 89 on Monday, is waiting for Tiruvarur’s 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 Thennan’s 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, Thennan’s 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