West Mambalam remembers MC with Love

West Mambalam remembers MC with Love


Partha  Desikan



Addressing a gathering at Chennai on the occasion of the birth centenary celebrations of M C Subrahmanyam, founder of The Public Health Centre at West Mambalam, on Monday the 12th December 2011, Columnist and Chartered Accountant S Gurumurthy described M C Subrahmanyam as an institution. He said the great personality, who dedicated his life entirely to public service, was an outstanding writer in English as well. He quoted the respected elder statesman Rajaji, at the time he was Chief Minister of the undivided Madras State, “Subrahmanyam believed in speaking and writing for the least intelligent audience. He was one of the best writers, who used simple language for communication.”


Recalling his association with Subrahmanyam, Gurumurthy said he came in touch with the nationalist during the Emergency.“Whenever I was depressed over the prevailing situation (in 1975), Subrahmanyam advised me not to take any decision in haste and said the situation will change if the truth about happenings is being spread among the people,” he added. “A majestic personality, Subrahmanyam led a simple life full of achievement and in fact, he is an institution. The ‘institution’ founded by him must grow further” Gurumurthy said.


Earlier, writing in the Tamil periodical Vijayabharatam (28-10-2011), Subrahmanyam’s close, though younger friend during India’s Emergency days, S. Gopalan compared Subrahmanyam’s  services to a prudent person’s regular deposits in a bank, which enable the bank to engage in public benefit activities. He differentiated this person’s behaviour from the activities of most modern householders who use banks only to borrow from them to the hilt to accumulate personal assets.

Subrahmanyam was born in a low income Brahmin family of North Arcot district, lost his father at an early age and had to live very frugally to be able to pursue his education. During his schooling at Muthialpet High School, Chennai, he came under the enlightening and benevolent influence of the Vedic exponent and Aurobindo scholar T. V. Kapali Shastri, who taught there. This instilled a great love of our Sanatanic values in the young man apart from developing his mind in an all round fashion. Shastriji is once believed to have found this youngster joining a group of students who were protesting against the repressive Simon Commission and therefore not attending school. He quietly enquired from the School Office whether the school examination fees had been paid by Subrahmanyam, and learning that they had not, paid them out of his own funds to make sure that his favourite student did not miss out the examination.

Subrahmanyam went to College too at Chennai and obtained a degree in English literature. During his study for the degree he attended without fail all meetings addressed by the freedom fighter Srinivasa Iyengar and got inspired to dedicate his life for the welfare of the people around him. He became a journalist and served in the Sunday Times. He also wrote independently under the pseudonym, “Kumar”.

Following his mentor Kapali Shastri, who surrendered to Ramana Maharishi through guidance from Ganapathi Rishi, MC (that is how Kapali Shastri addressed Subrahmanyam and how all friends in West Mambalam remember him till today) too sought the feet of the Sage of Tiruvannamalai. He cooperated with Shastriji in bringing out a number of books on Ganapathi Rishi. He continued helping Shastriji’s literary efforts in a limited way even when the latter went away to Pondicherry and began carrying out extensive research on the Vedas and on Aurobindo’s thought.

I was sixteen when, in 1952, independent India held its first election. My father Parthasarathy Iyengar was a Reporter in The Hindu and was already in the 28th year of his service, which was to continue till he retired as Acting Chief Reporter twelve years later. We were among the earliest residents of West Mambalam. All Mambalam rejoiced when T T Krishnamachari got elected as MP from Madras that year. MC who had campaigned for him was particularly happy. TTK was foremost among persons whom MC had approached to help improve the civic conditions of low lying West Mambalam, which did not then have even elementary hygienic facilities. Open drains and rain water stagnation facilitated growth of mosquitoes and spread of diseases. Just on the other side of the suburban rail track, T Nagar was urban, modern and nice to live in.

TTK encouraged MC to organize and collect funds for building a Public Health Centre in West Mambalam. MC of course accepted large offers from the well to do, but wanted West Mambalam to participate joyfully in building its own health centre and his band of volunteer friends went from house to house on the funds drive, with proper receipt books and all.

The centre (Number 114, Lake View Road; the new door number is 174) came up pretty fast and could be inaugurated in September 1953. It has grown from strength to strength and now has excellent maternity and child care facilities. The golden jubilee celebrations in 2002-3 coincided nicely with the inauguration of a new block named after MC himself. Many national leaders who have been passing through Madras found some time to visit it either officially or on their own and always had something nice to say about it. The visit of the Union Minister Govind Ballabh Pant in 1957 is remembered by several old timers, because it innocently stirred up a storm in a placid tea cup. Only a few months before Pant’s visit, TTK had resigned his place in Nehru’s cabinet as Finance Minister after a parliamentary probe initiated by a question from Feroze Gandhi had established that a large number of LIC shares had been sold cheap to the industrialist Haridas Mundhra, resulting in a loss of Rs. 1.24 crores to the Corporation.  TTK had resigned on principle as the public sector insurance giant was under his ministry. And when GB Pant spoke at the Public Health Centre he naturally eulogized the founder MC and the vision of TTK who had been behind the great effort. Most papers went to town, unnecessarily referring to the Mundhra affair, hinting that it was not proper for GB Pant to have praised TTK right then. My father had attended the meeting for the Hindu and true to the tradition of the reporters of the paper at the time, had neither added a word nor missed one when reporting the Minister’s speech. The Hindu’s report was used in parliament by the Minister a few days later to clear the air.

But I am digressing. I would like to get back to MC and to more information provided by the Tamil article by his friend S Gopalan.

·         After MC had canvassed energetically for the Congress O (later to be called Congress Kamaraj) candidate against Karunanidhi in Saidapet constituency in 1971, Kamaraj sent an emissary to him with some money acknowledging his services. The offer was politely declined.

·         MC was very close to the Congress party, but that did not prevent him from thinking primarily of the nation’s interest on most issues. It became obvious on a number of occasions when he was in charge of the Department of Information during Kamaraj’s Chief-Ministership.

·         When he retired from the Madras Government, he became the Editor of ‘The Indian Review’ and ran the monthly very ably for several years.

·         Many principled politicians whose vision went above party lines became his friends. When JP raised his voice against the Congress excesses in 1974, senior leader K Santanam wrote to a number of leaders explaining the emergent situation in the country and it is significant that he remembered to send a copy to MC as well.

·         MC visualized India not just as so much real estate. To him the country was Mother, Devi Bharata Mata deserving his loving worship. In 1976-77, MC took enthusiastic part in leading the celebration of the Vande Mataram centenary in Madras city (Chennai)

·         MC chose not to marry, as he found enough to do in the public domain right from the day he stepped out of college

·         MC also chose not to build his own house. Right up to the end he lived in rented accommodation. When friends secretly arranged to build a small residential annexe in his favourite haunt, the PHC in West Mambalam, he refused to move in and arranged instead to find PH use for the space.

I wish to thank my cousin Lalitha Srinivasan for providing the copy of S. Gopalan’s article. Lalitha is an honorary instructor guiding mentally challenged teenagers (both boys and girls) and teaching them simple career oriented vocational skills for several years. Her place of work is an arm of the Public Health centre, called BVSN Murthy Centre and situated very close to the Main PHC building.

I wish to thank the Infinite for having allowed direct view and personal experience for me of some of the great work of this special son of West Mambalam during my formative years.



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