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A mirror to history

S. SIVAKUMAR

Ananda Rangam Pillai's diary has interesting entries.

Photos: S. thanthoni &

Collector of sorts: Sa. Kandasamy and (down) Ananda Rangam Pillai.

The recordings of Ananda Rangam Pillai (1709-61) mirrors the milieu of the period. The entries span 25 years (1736-1761). Sa. Kandasamy, who talked on the 5,000-page work, did not wish to dismiss this as a “private diary.”

He lauded it as the first life-history that has been written in an Indian language by an Indian.

In fact, Va.Ve.Su Iyer acknowledged its significance and published portions of this diary in his Balabharathi Magazine, in 1924, in consultation with Suddhananda Bharati. It was an interesting narration of anecdotes and accounts.

For instance, the earliest use of the word ‘coffee' described by Pillai (much earlier than the 19 {+t} {+h} century usage by the British), the demolition of the Vedapuriswarar Temple (sanction obtained after five years), how the demolition of a mosque was halted by timely intervention and protest, how French Governor Dupleix was a man of probity, the conflict between two communities, and also about a cyclone that wreaked havoc.

Corruption too, we find, existed during this era.

Impartial and objective

An entry goes like this:

“In 1743, young and dynamic men were recruited, dumped in a dark room and their heads were tonsured; when a sizeable number had gathered, they were sent away to meet the labour requirements of The Union, Mauritius and French Guyana.” Kandasamy stated this, showing how Pillai had lent an element of impartiality and objectivity in making his entries about labour policy.

It was pertinent here, Kandasamy pointed out, that Pillai, the chronicler, was not a great scholar and all his entries were done in Tamil using the dialect of the day, of the time.


Thus this becomes an authentic version of the way the language was spoken among the people during the period.

Some of the words are very much in vogue today; for example, oppandham, udanpadikkai, vaakkumoolam, kelikkai, vinnappam (used by Manickavachagar) virudhu and pettai.

The name of Robert Clive, whose progress is traced, is mentioned as Kleshu and the word ‘church' has not been used at all; instead it is known by the word Samba Kovil. Pillai's maiden entry was about the reigning debate between two Directors of the French East India Company as to who should sign first.

His concluding letter also has some history to it, as it is said to have been made with Pillai sporting his spectacles going to prove that this visual aid was present in those days.

Ten parts of this diary were published by the Government of Pondicherry in 1948 and the remaining parts also surfaced in 2005, as they were brought out by Mr. Gopalakrishnan.

This lecture was organised by Tamil Heritage and was held at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya in T. Nagar, Chennai.

(sivakumar2004@gmail.com)

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