My father, Vishwanathapuri Nagappan Chokkalingam, (affectionately called VNC), passed away on 20th of July 1999, of a brain hemorrhage. Born in 1931, he was the only son of the Mirasdar of Vishwanathapuri, a village at the outskirts of the textile town of Karur. He was the Chairman of the VNC group, the most important industrial house in Karur. One may wonder how he could be my father when I was born in Kashmir and he was born in Vishwanathapuri.
In the year 1975, I was posted as the Sub-collector of Karur. Just before that I had a caesarean section and given birth to my daughter Priya. At the age of twenty-six, I arrived in Karur, carrying a two month old baby. Today, I will not advise young lady officers to do so. They should take leave for a year and take care of their baby before they think of joining a tough posting. (Those days, suffering from extreme idealism, I wanted to go to the work of 'nation Building' without losing a second).
I met VNC and his wife Vairam (diamond) in these circumstances. They lived just at the back of Sub-Collectors bungalow at No. 11, West Madavalingham Street. He was the President of the Rotary Club and the long standing Secretary of the Basket-ball Association. He was greatly involved in the activities of Narada Gana Sabha (local cultural organisation) along with his friend Shri Vedantachari. He was a friend of all the local educational institutions both government and private and was specially involved in the welfare of the St. Theresa's School in Karur, where the nuns adored him. He also gave constant help to Leo Provo, the Belgian Gandhian worker and founder of Sevapur.
He made his living by being a small time bus operator and also cultivated his family's land in Vishwanathapuri, (which had come down to a meagre 45 acres after thousands of acres were distributed to the cultivating tenants and landless poor, for which he had no regrets). Notwithstanding all that he looked after the inhabitants of Vishwanathapuri as his own kith and kin and extended to them all support material and moral.
He was a one man court and his decisions were binding on the villagers. He was a benevolent feudal lord, without having the benefit of income from his fiefdom. A man standing between the twilight zone of past and present. He conducted weddings, educated their children, built their houses and financially supported them through sickness and death. He did not care at all that all his land had been taken away by the government after his father's death, and distributed to the very same people, when he was a child.
He was a born leader and had a booming voice and a hearty laughter. He was always happy and wanted to see everybody else also happy. He was straight forward and even blunt and always called a spade a spade. No one who sought his help ever was turned away.
He saw me almost everyday on some matter or other of public importance but he would never seek a favour for himself from liking and deep respect for the man who could be called upon to help in the event of any public exigency, who was totally reliable and dependable and whom the whole town trusted.
Karur Division was a part of Tiruchi District and consisted of hundreds of villages. Today it is a district headquarters and only half of what it used to be as a division. A part of it (Viralimalai) has gone to Puddukottai District and another part (Manaparai) has gone to Tiruchi District. I used to be running around from one end of the Division to another chasing all kinds of work. Due to the irregular nature of my work I was not able to feed baby on a regular basis and early on she had to be put on supplementary powder milk. For some reason she took ill and developed diarrhoea. For months her stomach refused to settle down. Medical facilities were meagre in Karur and we did not even have a paediatrician. She was losing weight and we were very scared. Those days diarrhoea used to cause 40% of all infant deaths.
VNC and his wife decided that supplementary powder milk should be replaced by cow's milk. They had a cow. Every morning husband and wife would come with a small gindy (pot) full of cow's milk and feed the baby. Whenever I had to go on long journeys to Tiruchi or Manaparai for meetings they moved the baby to their house. They felt she was their first grandchild and treated her with great care and love. They had three sons but no daughters and suddenly they felt that they had a daughter in me and a granddaughter in Priya.
For the last twenty four years they have treated me as their daughter and Priya as their grand daughter. We have been part of all family functions, weddings and celebrations and have received gifts and presents as a daughter and granddaughter would. We have shared all the moments of joy and sorrow. After my transfer from Karur I could always go back and stay with my adopted parents in 'my home away from home'. When my own parents were away in Delhi VNC and Vairam often came to Madras to see us.
We also travelled together to different temples in different parts of Tamil Nadu. He always encouraged me in my work and acted as a source of inspiration. If anything was reported about my work in any paper I was sure to get a paper cutting from him. If there was any problem in Karur he rushed to my office. When there were floods in the river 'Amaravati' I asked him to coordinate the aid coming from Madras NGOs. He helped in building houses for flood victims in Kulithalai. He kept the love for Karur alive in my heart.
In these twenty four years he also became the biggest industrialist in Karur. God compensated him and gave him more to spend on charity. After SIDCO (Small Industries Development Corporation of Tamil Nadu) established an industrial estate in Karur, he set-up his first factory under the guidance of his lifetime industrialist friend LG Vardharaj of 'LGB group'. Now the number of factories has gone up to nine, due to his goodwill and fair play. His sons Vijaykumar and Bhaskar are managing them very well. His eldest son Nagappan is a district Judge with a brilliant academic and judicial record and should, eventually, make it to Supreme Court with his father's blessings.
Priya revisited the family at Karur, at the age of twenty, as a young artist. She loved it and VNC inspired her to do water colours of my favourite places in Karur including the Sub-Collector's bungalow. Around that time she also did a portrait of my Karur parents.
Father came to see me during the year 1993 when I was the Commissioner of Hindu Religious Endowments to discuss the renovation of Palamalai Muruga temple. The ancient temple located in natural surroundings in Poutram village was in a state of ruin and no worship was taking place for years. He had lately come to know that his ancestor and namesake Nagappan had renovated the temple 100 years ago. He felt that God now wanted him to do the job and restore glory to the Lord of Palamalai. As Commissioner of Religious Endowments I requested him to head the renovation committee and start the work. Even though he was recovering from an earlier stroke, he completed the work of rebuilding the temple and finalising the accounts for nearly Rs. 50 lakhs, just before he passed away. Today, it is a popular temple and many marriages are taking place there.
It is no wonder that his funeral procession was followed by tens of thousands of people who thronged from the neighbouring towns and villages. He had so much of following that had he joined politics he could easily have become a minister or a governor but he chose to remain a small town man and a true lover of humanity.
by C.K.Gariyali I.A.S