Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dr. T K Ramachandran: Adieu to a Friend

IT WAS C K Vijayan of India Vision TV who rang me up around midnight yesterday to inform me that Dr. T K Ramachandran is no more. Around 11 p.m, he breathed his last at a hospital in Ernakulam, he told me.

Vijayan was trying to control his sobs as he spoke to me. It was natural. He was staying with TK, as we all used to call him, in those last years he was here in Kozhikode. It was only a few weeks ago that TK had sold out his flat at Mavoor Road in the heart of the city and left for Ernakulam, his home town, to stay with a friend.

Perhaps he knew it was his last journey. Because he knew how bad or how critical had been his condition, he knew it for many years but he did not much care about it. He continued his life in the same way he conducted it all these years, since his teen ages perhaps; addicted to smoking, drinking, reading, talking…

He was a complex person, a genius in many ways, extremely talented, vigorous in his intellectual life, impatient with those who disagreed with his convictions, exceptionally generous and friendly, always open to the others; and at the same time deeply flawed, even bigoted and uncompromising at times…

It was in the late seventies that I saw him first, in Kozhikode, where he had arrived to continue his doctoral studies on William Blake and his poetry. Those were the days after the Emergency, a time when he had to face immense difficulties and even torture. He was associated with the extremist left groups who violently opposed the Emergency and he had left for Calcutta to escape police torture those days.

As I went to the Calicut University in 1980 to do my MA in English, he was there in the same hostel doing his Ph D work. His room was a place where all aspiring young intellectuals converged; reading, writing, arguing, quarreling, smoking, dreaming. We were dreaming about a Socialist world, and we were arguing passionately about this new world where all men will be equal and all will enjoy others’ words like music, but we knew we still have to handle our own petty Stalins, our own Zhadanovs and our own renegades of all hues.

Most of us stopped worrying about comrades Stalin, Zhadanov, Lysenko and others as we grew up. But TK and those around him continued to dream and continued to quarrel about them. A few years ago, just before their divorce, Geetha, his wife, told me how they used to keep arguing till the wee hours of the morning; she trying to catch some sleep in the other room.

Geetha was my friend and colleague in Indian Express and when she decided to marry him some time in 1987, I was not very enthusiastic. I knew he was not a man for family life; his life was that of a gypsy, a vagabond; an eternal rebel. She knew this too, but she was confident she would be able to live her life in those chaotic conditions. However, after almost thirteen years with him, she realized that it was a wrong assessment. So they parted on friendly terms. I was a silent witness to those days of parting, as I was editing a journal called Media Focus with Geetha those days and TK was always very helpful and he even wrote a long article for our journal.

During those days he was experiencing serious health problems and he was admitted to the National Hospital in Kozhikode. I visited him there and Geetha showed me what the doctor had written on his papers: QUIT SMOKING NOW, it said in bold capital letters, as if the doctor was screaming at his patient.

But TK continued to smoke his favorite cigarette in the bath-room, buying as much as half a dozen packets every time. And he did it often twice a day.

But he was much more than a friend or the husband of a colleague to me. He was the philosopher and guide to our generation, the only Marxist among us with a thorough grounding and knowledge in the theory and practice of its world view, a wonderful teacher, a great writer and public speaker, an indefatigable fighter against the forces fascism and fundamentalism looming large in our times, a person who is absolutely and uncompromisingly secular, and much more.

Now I am thinking about how TK will be remembered?

I think ultimately he will be remembered as a Marxist who took left thinking in Kerala to new heights, introducing us to the in-depth and nuanced theoretical debates elsewhere in the world when our mainstream communist parties were reading nothing more than Stalin's books bought from the Russian stores, which are no more around. It was he who taught us Marxism was something more than what Stalin said it was and what those cheap books in those Soviet stores peddled it to be.



As u said, me too is keen on how the way malayalis are going to remember tk. Had he a leader, a bronze statue wuld have been enough.Had he a mere teacher, a chair in the department could have been served the purpose.But he is beyond all the titles.He was a real rebel and as Albert Camus said, he always said NO.


rajan said...

Dear TK
You have left us when we needed you most
we needed your unidiluted commitment to the cause of the marginalised... the hunted... the helpless and the trivialised .. in Gujarat. in Muthanga ..in many other places
you left us when we needed your ideological leadership and guidance most ..to defend ourselves
against the creeping facist forces...
the demons of fundamentalism, communalism..the polluting media

we needed your powerful voice to speak for the ones who are silenced forcefully
Your demise is the most despairing news for all of us in this desperate time in our history

when our struggle for a dignified existence get smothered in innumerable ways.

When the left is attacked from all corners

TK you were an immence source of strenghth and inspiration for many in our discouraging times.

'Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lives of others or strikes out agianst injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope'..
And you have been sending constant ripples on to the still surface of our stuperous conscience

We are living in a desperate time when many believe there is nothing we can do against the innumerable array of the worlds ills . yet your relentless pursuits against the evils of facist idealogies and atrocities did prove that some thing could be done always even at the hight of adversities.

Observing the happenings around ,the cruelties and insanities of this swiftly changing 'globalised' world and the shocking indifference of the mass,

this weird world of discrimination, slavery slaughter and starvation. corporate sprirituality and instant salvation, strarvation deaths and beauty peagants santhosh madhavan and amruthananda mayir ..

Watching this surrealistic stew of obscenities, anyone with little insight will realise that present day political actions will not yeild to obsolete dogmas or outworn slogans

We needed visionaries like you to give us ideological clarity and leadership.

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stand up for an ideal or dare to oppose injustice around he inspires at least few other fellow beings. and you did inspire a lot from all walks of life your strong voce did cause disturbing echoes in many corners of our state

Most of the educated neoleft of seventies were tempted to follow the easy and safer paths of personal and career ambition and financial success and were eager to grab the lucrative opportunities the globalised world grandly spread before them. But this was not the road history had marked out for you. Like it or not we live times of ingenuiity and opportunism. History has judged many idols we worshiped in the past as fake and unreal. But you have stood the test of time.. you lived your life as the uncorrupted uncompromising and unyeilding rebel born to discent and born to resist conformity of any sort.. even that of orthodox left . All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass, we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world and socity that is little more just and humanne. We realise the extent to which your ideals and goals have shaped that effort . You have showed us that the future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward the evils around, timid and fearful in the face of new challenges and struggles. It will belong to those like you who could blend vision aknowledge and courage and the personal commitment to the ideals.

TK you saw wrong and always tried to point it out

Saw suffering and tried to protest

Saw injustice and tried to stop it

You fought your relentless fight

with your tongue

your pen

your life

You had the integrity and moral courage to keep up your stand even against the disapproval of the 'disciplined comrades '

against the censure of the institutionalised left

against the wrath of the fundamenatlist right

You kept your old dreams with same vigor

You kept your struggle alive

Fighting communalism

Defending minorities

Protecting human rights ...

Hats off to you TK

Dr. Rajan Iyyalol

Perth Australia

rajan said...
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Unknown said...

Damodar Prasad writes in an email:

TK will also be remembered as a good teacher; for the ideas he brought to the class, which made his students explore further... The insights he provided to students in personal conversations and also for his aggressiveness against non-Marxist positions. But TK took on non-Marxist thinking with a conviction because he was least desirous of benefits accrued from it. His understanding of communal politics and the importance of secular challenges also have had a significant impact on his students.

His depth of scholarship in Marxist literature is greatly admirable.

I also like him for the lectures in beautiful English. Just listening to him in class was itself exciting...

Unknown said...

K Satchidanandan writes:

I was deeply pained and shocked to hear the news from Balan (Chullikkad); then others called, E V Ramakrishnan and Namboodiri, his classmates; E P Unny,the cartoonist, a friend. N S Madhavan was another great friend.I had a sleepless night, literally as I kept remembering the long association I had with TK who was like a brother and had something of the child in him to the very end. He was incapable of calumny and gossip, was not 'pragmatic' enough to obtain positions in any party that would have come easily to him had he been just prepared. We were together in the Students' Federation before the split while in the Maharaja's; he was junior to me by three years. He had a poet in him and actually wrote a few poems; he was sensitive to poetry and art, the notices he wrote for the Federation were real literary pieces though another local organization the 'Democratic Front' always won the elections as they had a lot of local support. (I was defeated too in the college elections by DF, the KSU, I think it was NSU then, was not a big force either).I have spent days and nights at his home in Ernakulam near the transport bus station (now disposed off), and his was one of the first homes I visited after my marriage; Bindu still recalls the great affection that his mother showed her: I was like her son too. The parents treated TK like a child; may be that helped him retain his innocence and also hurt him that he could never become self-reliant - even crossing a road was difficult for him. He was well-versed in Marxist theory even at that time as an undergraduate; later he really matured as a theoretician though he had problems with writing - even while he spoke very well.( Look at his essay in Kalavimarsam: Marxist Manadhandam to see what I mean: it has two lines of text and 28 lines of footnotes on each page.) But he got over that much later though and began to write seminar papers and structured articles and now he was writing even a column for the Malayalam weekly. He was generous beyond imagination, a great friend, and his home was a shelter for everyone (as mine too became in the 70s.)He called himself a classical Marxist, had no patience for anti-Marxists, his range of reading was immense, had a special liking for Adorno, esp, Negative Dialectics and Minima Moralia as also for Walter Benjamin, especially Illuminations,though he also had read Habermas and Horkheimer carefully, not to speak of Althuser, Perry Anderson, Poulantzas and the post-Structuralists; Lukacs, Bloch, Brecht and all, the Marxist aestheticians.I am sure he had read the whole of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao,besides the later theorists. He invited me once to deliver a talk on post-Structuralism to the research students at the Calicut University (my doctoral dissertation is on the Marxist- post-Structuralist Interface)and again to speak on Globalization and Communalism in his Secular Collective- which was chaired by R Viswanathan, his teacher and colleague,my research guide, a great soul, now no more. He was sympathetic to Janakeeya Samskarika Vedi, but not like the media say, he was hardly a part of it; he had reservations, even stronger than mine.He edited a journal Vichintanam- I think only one issue came out; he was then an admirer of Enver Hoxha of Abania, so were we, now I cannot imagine that though. Before that he ran 'Nila,' a publishing house that published the book I referred to earlier, besides a collection of World Socialist Short stories and N S Madhavan's first book, Choolaimettile Savangal. He was always with the Marxist party, but always had disagreements with it; so he did not dare enter it as he had seen the fate of dissenters in the party. He came to my home also in Delhi once. He was deeply lonely within, with the demise of his doting parents, his brother and finally parting ways with Geeta (I continued to be friends with both even after the parting) the loneliness deepened. He was associated with the Adhinivesa Pratirodha Samiti; but having known him long I am sure he was not entirely comfortable with that group either.

TK is history now, we will cherish his fond memories.

PS: I forgot to speak of his vast and deep understanding of William Blake, his thought, art and poetry; his formal research was on that. And also his interventions in Gujarat where he personally went and found out the facts. I remember taking part in a public protest at Calicut prompted by that, but generally on the right-wing politics in India, in which Dr.K N Panikker also spoke.

K Satchidanandan

Unknown said...

Sanil V writes:

I have admired T.K. Ramachandran’s classicism. Urgency of political engagement did not prevent from undertaking rigorous reading of original works in philosophy and literature. He wasn’t applying abstract theoretical concepts to instances of politics and art. He combined meticulous attention to literary works with imaginative creation of conceptual constellations. In the poetry of William Blake he saw a grid to trace the meeting points of art, politics and, to an extent, science.

TK did not seem to have a taste for the Althusserian turn Marxist theory took in the 80s. This, perhaps, did not allow him to engage with recent trends and fashions in contemporary theory. But TK made a productive use of this 'limitation'. Through him the philosophical motivations of Frankfurt school continued to find relevance for our cultural criticism. This also allowed TK to maintain a distance from postmodern frivolities.

Many of our intellectuals, even the Marxist ones, were groomed in the
M Govindan school with a rigorous dose of admirable liberalism. I do not know about TK’s personal contact with Govindan. But his thought was free of Govindanian liberalism. This allowed TK to remain close to his Marxist theoretical motivations without liberal pretensions. His adherence to Marxism was not dogmatic nor arrogant. His thought found its freedom by staying close to great literature, art and creative events of politics.

Perhaps this untimely death is an occasion for us to take stock of the kerala’s contribution to Marxist thought. We have produced a couple of unique and novel engagements with Marxism. EMS was a pioneer in rethinking Marxism around the issue of parliamentary politics. K Venu’s Prapanchavum Manushyanum posed the question of Marxism and science. Satchidanandan opened up new frontiers along the axis of poetics. B Rajeevan has rigorously explored the philosophical moment of Marxism in relation to our cultural history. M.P. Parmeswaran rethinks Marxism in the context of new social movements. There could be others beyond my limited reading.

I did not know TK personally, but met him a couple of times during academic events– at workshops in MG University School of Social Sciences, etc. He was one of the few Malayalee intellectuals who talked to you without demanding your loyalty card. I can’t wind up this mail without remembering a common friend who was present during our meetings – Dr. Murali, a brilliant historian who died young. Murali’s book on the historical geography of Upanishads is a remarkable contribution to history and philosophy. Do kerala historians give him the attention he deserves?

It is remarkable that these scholars made their contributions within (or by the side of) a decaying and uncaring academic environment. Do we care?

Sanil V

Unknown said...

B Rajeevan writes:

It is nice that you take this grief stricken moment of the sad demise of our friend TK to open up a new relevant realm for discussion. It is indeed apt an act of paying homage which TK, the complex intellectual and amazing scholar of our time, deserves. The contribution of Kerala to Marxist thought and practice is a significant political theme and field of knowledge to be generated beyond 'opinions' in the present day global context of biopolitics.

It sure is a novel initiative.

Unknown said...

Joseph Satyadas writes in an email:

Read your poignant piece on TK's passing away. I have met him only a few times, but I retain this image of a gentle human being crafted in the mould of John Abraham. If you are in contact with Geetha, do tell her my thoughts are with her.


Unknown said...

Sadanand Menon writes in a column:

The passing away of TK, in Kochi last Monday, needs to be seen not as the death of an individual but as the death of the cult of the 'public intellectual' in Kerala. In a quintessential way, TK embodied the best and worst of that culture – all its positives like an unrelenting, uncompromising engagement with ideas, with strategies for public intervention, with the tireless production of an incessant chain of non-bureaucratic collectives which enriched the public sphere and, all its negatives like a self-destructive hedonism, unable to interrogate its own excesses of consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. As a common friend commented on TK, once again we lose one of our best to the curse of Kerala.

I was in the middle of concluding my column when I was informed of T.K. Ramachandran having transformed himself into a glimmering star in the sky. My first reaction was not of sorrow or grief. It was of a sense of paralysis. The mind froze and for the next 24 hours there was nothing particular I could think or speak or do. The column stayed unfinished. I realized the only talisman that could release me from this mental lock was, perhaps, if wrote on him.

Those who knew and loved TK, of course, knew he had been nursing a debilitating and fatal cancer for some time. The imminence of his departure became even more proximate when he disposed off his flat in Kozhikode to come and live with friends in Kochi, where he would be looked after. Till the last, he continued to be friend, philosopher and guide to a fascinating range of people who populated his life – from students to scholars, activists, media persons and sheer layabouts.

This was the power of the public intellectual. He was no ivory tower scholar, despite a doctorate on the poet William Blake and having a tight schedule of teaching as a professor in Calicut University. TK was essentially the company he was surrounded by. His flat on Mavoor Road continued to remain an open-house, an 'adda', long after such conviviality had been declared unfashionable by the mid-1990s. At any given time of the day or night you could go there for shelter, smoke, drink or food. When you woke up in the morning, you invariably stumbled over half-a-dozen bodies scattered about on the floor.

At no moment of the day or night could you walk into anything that was remotely tranquil or complacent. What defined TK and the well read, intellectual circle he attracted around himself was the high volatility and extreme animation of the raging polemic. No quarters were given and none sought. TK himself was perhaps among the best read 'Marxists' I have come across, with deep interest in poetry, cinema, theatre, media, feminism and the practice of a sophisticated 'cultural politics'. While he had little patience with the narrowness of ideas that the 'Left' discourse (particularly of the Party variety) had been reduced to in Kerala and expressed a visceral distaste for any vestiges of the repugnant Stalinism, he himself could take pretty dogmatic positions on many issues and would fiercely guard his position, even if those who critiqued him the most were his own friends and comrades.

Over the past decade, TK had grown increasingly disturbed with the deep communalisation of Indian politics and what, he perceived, as creeping fascism. Along with many like-minded people who felt an acute need for collectivising around a new understanding of radical cultural politics, TK was among the convenors of the series of meetings organised in different cities under the aegis of the Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai. This grew into a series of workshops called 'Culture and Everyday Life', which brought together a galaxy of scholars like Romila Thapar, K.N.Panikkar, Rajan Gurukkal, Rustom Bharucha, Gopal Guru, Chandralekha, Ram Bapat, Mihir Bhattacharya and others.

Many of TK's personal interventions at these sessions were crucial to a reframing of the terms of the debate. I remember the prolonged tussle we had over the use of the term 'fascist' in a blanket manner to apply to Hindutva politics. My point was that just as capitalism and communism, as specific ideas, have changed over time, so too fascism has changed in the past seventy years and that we need to understand it in a more nuanced way if we have to engage more directly with it. TK was vehement that the term fascism was a good enough political expression to explain what was plaguing current Indian political practice. Every time we met, some residue of this debate would play between us. But it also led to a deeper connection at the personal level.

Later, when along with friends, TK set up the 'Secular Collective' in Kozhikode, he invited me over on several occasions to speak on issues relating to the spread of 'cultural nationalism' as one of most pernicious ideologies of our times. On such occasions, TK often performed the role of translating my speech and, without exaggeration I can vouch that the translation would turn out to be ever so much illuminated than the speech.

While always reticent to define his political position in any hard way, it was not difficult to figure out that, at core, he was an anti-authoritarian – an anarchist. He defied intellectual and political hegemonies and obviously had no sympathy with the centralising traditions of the Left parties. He told me once how deeply he had been affected by the Emergency of 1975 and how it shaped his subsequent political analysis and practice. For me, what was significant in being with and around TK was the tremendous sense of freedom and democracy his ambience carried. Creative argument and quarrel was the staple of his approach to an idea. And whenever he knew he had made a unique point, he would flick the ash off his cigarette and take the liberty of a screechy laughter, which sounded like a cloth being torn. On other occasion, I have seen an entire cigarette burn down to ash between his yellow-stained fingers, without a single puff, as he forgot all about it in the heat of an argument.

On hindsight, one wishes several such cigarettes had been left to burn to ash without being puffed. For TK was someone necessary to his time and place. Like Antonio Gramsci said: "The struggle of ideas has replaced the struggle of material forces. It is no less fiery... But it is more profound because it goes back to the cause of all existing institutions." In order to defy these hegemonic institutions we need the creative, subversive resistance of the public intellectual, a role TK performed unequivocally.

We will miss you, TK.

വര്‍ക്കേഴ്സ് ഫോറം said...

Dear Sir,

We have published a post "ടി കെ രാമചന്ദ്രനെ വീണ്ടും വായിക്കുമ്പോള്‍" in the Workers' Forum blog. A reproduction of an article written by TK in 1987. We have added a link to this post also.

when time permits, please visit our blog

Sandeep 4 U all!!! said...

To write about T.K needs exceptional knowledge, not of superflous life but of revolution. He is the perfect teacher i have ever seen in my life.One who loved to burn in the forests of the night.

Unknown said...
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