Octogenarian in Chennai recalls memories of her freedom fighter dad

Rathinavel

Chennai: At 80, Gangabai’s memories of her father are still as fresh as new. A resident of Annai Indira Nagar, Velacheri, she speaks highly of her father Rathinavel, a freedom fighter who was active in his native Thanjavur.

At the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947, Rathinavel, along with a friend, hoisted the national flag at Thilagar Stadium, with hundreds of people gathered around him.

Gangabai says, “I was born in Thanjavur. My father was a drawing teacher at a government school. He used to make stage backdrops for dramas that were mostly based on freedom struggles of Nehru, Rajaji and Gandhi. The idea behind the plays was to propagate India’s Independence. Back then, drama settings and backdrops were painted, whereas nowadays they can be easily printed.”

Her father was greatly involved in the Salt Satyagraha and was even imprisoned. She remembers that Rathinavel only wore Khadi.

“I used to spin yarn in bundles and get it exchanged for cloth. All of us at home used to weave so that one person could wear khadi,” she fondly recalls.

Gangabai

But the proudest moment of her father was when Rathinavel hoisted the national flag – the first ever in Thanjavur. Gangabai was eight years old then.

“At midnight, along with Chokkalinga Pattar, his friend and a freedom fighter, he hoisted the flag at Thilagar stadium. It was a moment of immense pride, and hundreds of people had gathered to witness the historic event,” she says.

Rathinavel had given many public speeches during the freedom struggle. He was a farmer, teacher and social worker. “He admired Kamaraj and Rajaji and had met both of them. He would also say that several other national leaders like Gandhi would come and visit Thilagar stadium.”

He made selfless contributions even post-Independence, says Gangabai. “I remember accompanying him to meet Kamaraj when he started the mid-day meal scheme. My father donated Rs 2,000.
When Thyagigal pension was announced, my father was one among many freedom fighters who declined it saying they did not do it for the two acres of land and the monthly pension amount. He went to great lengths to ensure that the help went to his friend who needed it more than him,” she says.

“He was happy and contented with his life. We are proud of him. When we siblings and relatives gather at our house in Thanjavur, we speak about him and his work,” says Gangabai with pride.

Naomi N