CHENNAI: The unexpected passing away of MSS Pandian in Delhi about a month ago has left a void in the various realms that he stirred with his thoughts, recalled the friends, students and peers who had gathered as a mark of respect to the noted historian, academic, writer, social commentator, and one of the authorities on the Dravidian movement. “For him, personal is political; he always used to say that there is not much difference between personal and political,” said his friend and colleague Arun Patnaik, during the remembrance function organised by Katchippizhai magazine.
“He was very popular among students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), particularly among those from Kashmir, Dalit, North East and backward classes. He was known as an anti-brahmin thinker, but that is reductionism, he opposed caste in any form,” added Arun.
Furious as a critic, Pandian still loved people as much as he criticised them. According to him, criticism was also an act of love, and that’s why he criticised even the Dalit organisations and women movements, said his student and scholar Vanasa. While at JNU, she added, he was developing a perspective on Kashmir nationalism.
Opining that none present at the venue could perhaps understand MSS Pandian fully, retired judge of Madras High Court Justice K Chandru said that the late academic was a sharp and critical thinker. “He was a modern thinker. When everyone opposed caste organisations turning into political parties, he said that such parties would dilute their caste agenda when they needed to create vote bank. Such a critical thinker he was,” he said.
Chandru recalled how he had given the much-needed impetus to preserve the court records. “Once he asked me whether it was possible to get all judgments so far on caste-based cases delivered by the Madras High Court. I said we can get them from the law journals that are available in the High Court library. But when I searched for the old journals, they were sold to old paper stores by the High Court library. It was then that I insisted on digitalisation of records,” he said.
His unexpected death at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, on November 11, might have robbed a work on Dravidian movement, noted veteran journalist Sam Rajappa, Pandian’s uncle. “I remember him saying his next project was to throw light on the concept called Dravidian. He had said that ‘Dravidian’ was coined by the British as part of divide and rule policy,” he said.
Pandian’s move to Delhi from Chennai was a loss to the city, added Rajappa, recalling the day when he resigned from the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS). “When he was overlooked for promotion for some reason, he didn’t protest, he resigned. That evening, Pandian came to me and was in tears. He didn’t want to leave Chennai.”
Pandian’s sister shared her childhood memories about Pandian. “When my father asked him what gift he wanted on his ninth birthday, he asked for an encyclopaedia Britannica,” she said. No weapon, he believed, could stand against the might of the justly used pen, she added.
Pandian had an ability to explain even the most complicated matters in the simplest way, reminisced S Anandhi, his wife and associate professor at MIDS. “Once I saw him explaining to our daughter about B R Ambedkar in a language so simple that a class eight student could have grasped it easily,” she said.