April 1930, DhanushKodi, Tamil Nadu
Hi, I am Dhanush.
My father serves, The East India Company.
Avinash, Neeraj, Ravi Kumar are my best friends. Their dad also serve The East India Company. We all study in the same school, Cotton Macbel School. Neeraj and I study in class four. Neeraj has two elder sisters Sindhu and Hima. The lucky girls, no school, no study, no homework only play.
I still wonder when Alexa, Nutmeg, Helen can come to school why not Sindhu and Hima?
We were farmers until two years ago. Famine struck, leaving us in debts. To add fuel to the fire, the land tax was high and we were literally starving.
My uncle said: ” It is better to starve to death, then seek refuge with them. They came to our country to do business, now they are showing their physical strength and inhuman attitude.”
“Abathukku Pavamillai, nothing is wrong, at times of adversity”. So saying my dad joined the British service. He gained a lot of respect in his office but not from his family members.
It wasn’t easy to be studying with the fair, heavy boys and girls. They were a big lot of tyrants. I was a puny, clever mouse and always managed to escape. But my other friends would get caught and beaten.
It hurt even more when our teachers did not take action, over our repeated complaints.
I complained to my parents as well.
“School la, Valasuritindu ukkaru, you go there only to study. Just learn and come back. No need to have any conversation with those English boys and girls.” That was my father.
All fathers had the same reply.
“There goes the Gaddar, backstabber, non-patriotic,” Neighbors would whisper aloud, whenever they saw us.
The atrocities of The East India Company increased on a daily basis. You know what, we had to pay tax for salt. As if they owned the ocean. Even my father, a supervisor in The East India Company, felt bad about this decision.
There was sometimes loud and sometimes hush-hush discussion about the salt tax. All I could infer was that our people were furious.
“Salt is a basic requisite, which we get from the sea. Useless fellows demanding Salt Tax. Something needs to be done. We need to come together and object this. I will let you know. We will sit and discuss”. That was our village Chief.
I saw him approach all the villagers personally, with the above dialogue.
I followed him until I memorized the dialogue.
He met my father too. I was annoyed. Has he come to complain about me following him? I tried to read my father’s face. It was reactionless. He was calm even during supper.
“I will just be back, Danamma” so saying he went out.
I have felt an immense joy every time dad called mom, by this name.
My mother’s actual name is Ponnammal. But dad calls her Danamma, since I was born, meaning mother of Dhanush.
During school lunch time, Allen and Bishop snatched my box, saying, ”You people have not paid the taxes. So this food is ours”. It was the same cold idli-chutney. But Allen and Bishop seem to relish the same.
Allen dipping his index finger into the chutney, and then putting the whole finger into his mouth, almost sucking it, made me giggle. I wondered, was the idli sooooo good.
Every time idli is prepared at home, my breakfast and lunch remain the same. It is hot idli with hot sambar for breakfast, cold idli and chutney for lunch.
I would always finish my box, out of fear of being beaten up. Today I thought it was a blessing in disguise. I was saved from those cold contents. An hour and half later, there were butterflies in my stomach. I could hear the flap of their wings. One more hour to go before the final bell rang for the day. As soon as I reached home, I hugged my mom. On the plate was my favorite stuffed chili bajji.
My father moving in and out of the house almost every night, without informing where he was going, made me suspicious. I decided to find out. I told my mom:” I am going to Neeraj’s house. Will come back late”.
Hiding myself at a convenient distance, I was waiting for my dad. He came out in ten minutes. I tiptoed behind. He whisked as fast as he could. I had to run to keep up with his speed. He met the village chief, gave him some paper, and walked back home.
I too returned home. I had a sleepless night. What paper was that? Why did he have to give it to the Chief at night? What information did it contain?
Morning, as I lazily opened my eyes, I heard my father say.” There was an error in the house tax receipt. I have returned the same to the Chief for correction. Remind me in the evening. I shall collect it after supper”.
I had wasted my whole night, over those papers, without sleep. That was too annoying.
Mother reminded dad of the receipt.” Thanks Danamma “, he said and left. I followed him.
“Thank you for the information”,” I am sorry we treat you like a tyrant. That was crucial information indeed. Very good job”! The village chief praised him.
My father grinned: ” Thank you”.
I ran back home. I had not informed my mom that I was going out. I did not get it. Was it not just the house receipt paper? Why did the chief compliment dad?
Dad returned home very late that night.
Two days later again dad said: “Danamma, remind me today also, this work, we need to successfully complete it.”
“They seem to have got a hold of the date”, he was murmuring to himself.
I came back promptly from school. Sneaked into dad’s room.
I found some important papers.
After the Dandi March protest, we need to become more alert and vigilant. We are expecting some kind of a protest in Vedaranyam Tamil Nadu. It is more likely after the Tamil new year eve. This is to be headed by C.Rajagopalachari. Ensure we are well prepared with sufficient staff, to take control of the situation. We have permission to use lathi charge to disperse the crowd, arrest, and imprison the stubborn.
Today, I decided to accompany dad. ”I am also coming with you. Can you get me some candy?” I insisted.
Dad put his hand around my shoulder and we walked. He said: “Once I get you the candy, you get back home. I shall be a little late”.
To my luck, we met the village chief and a bunch of men, on our way itself. They wished each other, you know what, ”Vande Matharam”.
Dad gave me some change and said: ” Go get your candy and get out of sight, quick.”
The words Vande Matharam, echoed in my ears. I forgot the candy and rushed back home.
Aweee! Whoooa! My dad was an Indian spy serving, The East India Company. Did my uncle know about this? I am the son of a spy. I should not leak this information. Not even to Neeraj. “Dhanush keep your excitement in control”, I told myself.
The village chief was back in action, he was appealing to each individual again: ” Interested only in volunteers, Date 13 April onwards, Vedaranyam. Yes, salt satyagraha under the leadership of Sir. C.Rajagopalachari. Worst case we can be beaten up, arrested, and kept behind bars for over a year. I overhear and memorize.
At school, even my friend’s lunch was not spared. Snatching our boxes had become a routine.
I hatched a plan. I told my friends,” We will complain of a stomach ache and loose motions today. For sure our lunch will be, moore sadam. We will add more water to our lunch, so that it becomes tasteless.”.All agreed.
The next day as usual, our greedy tyrants grabbed our boxes, only to find some tasteless watery stuff. We continued this for a few more days. The boys at last gave up. HaHaHa!
How to prepare salt from salt water? This was explained in our science class. The experiment did sound simple.
I spoke aloud, Neeraj, this sounds so simple, can we try this experiment sometime next week.
Alexa wanted to join us.
Winking at Neeraj: “You are invited Alexa, I shall confirm the date and time”, I said. The other bullies too wanted to join us in trying the practical method of salt making. Our science teacher was immensely pleased.
I started sneaking into dad’s paper at every opportunity, I realized Sarojini Naidu also participated in the salt satyagraha event. I encouraged Sindhu and Hima to join us, convincing them that it was going to be fun at the beach. Other kids followed.
On 13th April, when C.Rajagopalachary led Salt satyagraha at Vedaranyam, I managed to get the younger generation of East India Company to help me prepare salt. No one could read through the lines.
This was an unnoticed, nonviolent civil disobedience movement from students of class four, Cotton Macbel School, Danushkodi, led by Dhanush. The village kids joined us in our experiment.
It was a great beginning to Tamizvarshapirappu!
DhanushKodi, Tamil Nadu : A small town in Tamilnadu, located at the south east tip of Pamban Island (abandoned after 1964 cyclone, source-Wikipedia)
Abathukku Pavamillai: acceptable act, keeping adversity in mind
Valasuritindu ukkaru : coil your tail and sit
Gaddar : Traitor
idle-chutney: rice pancake, and spicy coconut side dish, South Indian food.
moore sadam: butter milk rice or curd rice with water and salt added, easy to digest
Tamizvarshapirappu: Tamil New Year
Note: A fiction story using the historical event of Salt Satyagraha as a theme
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