Colour of India

Colour of India

Wednesday, August 10, 2011



13th August 2011 happens to be the 78th SMRITIDIN of the firebrand revolutionary Madam Bhikaji Cama. She was an unsurpassed patriot who first unfurled India's flag at an international assembly. 


From the early years of the 20th century, groups of Indians established centres for revolutionary activities in Europe, America and Asia. They carried on propaganda for India's independence among Indians living abroad and mobilized them for revolutionary activities. Aglow with the lamp of liberty and aflame with the fire of freedom, they maintained contacts with revolutionary groups in India and supplied them with revolutionary literature and even firearms. During 1907 and 1914, Paris became the most important centre of Indian revolutionaries in Europe. One of the greatest revolutionaries of this period in Europe from India was Madame Bhikaji Cama. She brought out the Journal BANDE MATARAM. She and colleague S R Rana, another great freedom fighter, were in touch with other great revolutionaries like Shyamaji Krishnavarma, Veer Savarkar, V V S Iyer, Bhai Paramanand, Ajith Singh, Chambakaraman Pillai and others.

Madame Cama was born on September 24, 1861 in a well-to-do Parsi family in Bombay. Her father was Framji Sorabji Patel, a businessman of Bombay. She studied at the Alexandra Parsee Girl's school in Bombay and was married to Shri K. R. Cama, a leading solicitor. From an early age she took keen interest in social and political work. One of Madame Cama's first great opportunities for doing public work was during Bombay's great plague in 1897. Without any concern for her life, Madame Cama tirelessly nursed the people stricken with deathly bubonic plague back to health, and gained the esteem and appreciation of the common people. Under the inspiration of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, she succeeded in converting many common people to fight for the cause of Indian independence. Her tireless exertions in plague relief work resulted in her falling sick herself. Taking note of her rapidly declining health, her friends and family sent her to London in 1902 for recuperation. 

Madame Cama's brief but meteoric political career started in London in 1902. There, she became Dadabhai Naoroji's private secretary. He was an important Indian dignitary at that time, having been the first Indian to get elected to the British House of Commons. Through his influence, Madame Cama allied herself with many fiery patriots like Shyamaji Krishnavarma, and Veer Savarkar and began her revolutionary political career by speaking against the atrocities of British Rule in India.

Madame Cama became so famous and influential, that the British Government concocted an assassination or murder plot against her! When Madame Cama caught wind of this plot, she secretly escaped across the English Channel to France! She turned her French home into a secret hideaway for revolutionaries worldwide. She made friends by sending pistols disguised as Christmas gifts to Irish and Russian nationalists. As the British saw her influence abroad increase, they begged France to send her back to India. When the French government refused, the English exiled her from her motherland and seized her inheritance.

The portrait was donated by the Parsi Pragati Mandal, Surat.
The portrait of Madame Cama was unveiled by the then Vice-President of India, Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma on 2 August 1989.

An outstanding lady of great courage, fearlessness, integrity and passion for freedom, Madame Bhikhaji Cama was a pioneer amongst those who worked for the freedom of the country from abroad.  Madame Cama's intense love for the nation made her sacrifice her family life and work tirelessly for the cause of liberty, equality and fraternity.  Right from her early years, she cultivated a well-defined social outlook and clear political vision.  It was her motto to serve humanity with utmost love and affection and to raise her voice against any exploitation of fellow beings.

India 1907 National Flag
designed by Madame Gama.


Madame Cama and other freedom fighters in Europe also established contacts with socialists in France, Germany, England and America. Madame Cama participated in the CONGRESS OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL at Stuttgart in 1907. At this international socialist conference, Madame Cama unfurled the tricolor National Flag of India which she and her friends had designed in 1905 bearing the immortal words of Bankim Chandra Chaterjee, BANDE MATARAM. It was thus no mean achievement of Madam Cama, when she unfurled the first National Flag at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907. A thousand representatives from several countries were attending. An Indian lady in a colourful sari was arare phenomena in those days and Madame Cama's majestic appearance and brave and clear words made everybody think that she was a Maharani or at least a princess from a native state. There, she held up the flag and declared in a bold voice, “This flag is of Indian Independence. Behold, it is born!...I call upon you, gentle men, to rise.. .I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to cooperate with this flag. Hail Bande Mataram !. Hail Bande Mataram!!”
Front page of the first issue (October 1, 1876) of Vorwärts

Madame Cama’s passionate speech made against the British tyranny in India at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907 was published at the end of August in the German Socialist paper Vorwärts.

Front page of the first issue (October 1, 1876) of Vorwärts

Madame Cama’s passionate speech made against the British tyranny in India at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907 was published at the end of August in the German Socialist paper Vorwärts.

Madan Lal Dhingra (1887 - 1909), a 22 year old engineering student studying in England, assassinated Sir Curzan Wyllie, political Aide-de-Camp to the Secretary of State for India, Lord Morley in London in 1909. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison, London, on 17 August, 1909. Before going to the gallows on that day, Madan Lal Dhingra, spoke the following inspiring words: 'I believe that a nation held down by foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise. Since guns were denied to me I drew forth my pistol and fired. Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing else to offer to the mother but his own blood. And so I have sacrificed the same on her altar. The only lesson required in India at present is to learn how to die, and the only way to teach it is by dying ourselves. My only prayer to God is that I may be re-born of the same mother and I may re-die in the same sacred cause till the cause is successful. Hail Bande Matram! Hail Bande Matram!' Madan lal Dingra was greatly inspired by the indomitable courage and saga of self sacrifice of Madame Cama.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Madame Cama and S R Rana were interned in France, Indian revolutionaries like Cama, Rana and Shyamaji Krishnavarma tired to secure the help of Turkey and Germany, Britain's enemies in that war, for overthrowing the British rule from India. Berlin became their most important centre in Europe. After 1909 Madame Cama started 2 journals in Geneva, namely VANDE MATARAM and MADAN’S TELWAR. Both these journals were edited by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya.

Madame Cama had borrowed the name, Vande Mataram, from Bengal, where a magazine by the same name started by Aurobindo Ghosh was suppressed by the Government. Look at the irony. What was permissible in England was suppressed by the British rulers in their own colony. Freedom of expression was a reality in England. To prove it further, she was allowed to publish another magazine with impunity. It was called Madan's Talwar to commemorate the name of the first Indian martyr Madan Lal Dhingra on British soil. Her two magazines found their way even to India through Mandayam Sriniwas Chari, Editor of The India Magazine in Pondicherry, which was a French possession and, therefore, safer than British India.

These two journals were smuggled into India through Pondicherry. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, who was editing MADAN’S TALWAR, was joined by Bhupendranath Dutt, Barkatulla, Champakaraman Pillai and others. They formed what is called the BERLIN COMMITTEE. Simultaneously, across the Atlantic, a powerful organization of Indian revolutionaries called the Ghadar Party had come into existence in North America. The Ghadar Movement in America was started by Lala Hardayal, another great Punjabi leader. This Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee, taking advantage of the I World War, organized anti-British uprisings in India during the First World War. All these revolutionaries were proud of singing the song of BANDE MATARAM, quite unlike the mean, petty, sordid, treacherous and politically anti-national men in the disgraceful UPA Government today.

According to the History Sheet of the Criminal Intelligence Office of the Home Department (Political) of the Government of India in 1913, 'Madame Cama was at that time one of the recognised leaders of the revolutionary movement in Paris, and was said to be regarded by the Hindus as a reincarnation of some deity, presumably Kali'. The truth of this assertion aside, she was sympathetic to the most radical expressions of the Indian national movement.

In 1910 the British Government requested France for Madam Cama’s extradition. When this was refused, her property in India was confiscated. Several Parsi women came under her influence and were kept under political surveillance. With the outbreak of World War I, she was interred in a camp in France, and her political activities came to an end. Madame Cama's battle cry on her heroic march to freedom was: 'MARCH FORWARD! WE ARE FOR INDIA. INDIA IS FOR INDIANS! HAIL AND SING BANDE MATARAM!!'

Madame Cama was a powerful orator who travelled all over the world, including the US, speaking on behalf of India's freedom under the flag and banner of Bande Mataram. She rallied foreign support for the cause of our freedom from many nations. In my view, another great achievement was that she taught Indians to make bombs, and also sent weapons secretly to India for being deployed against the alien rulers. Whatever might be thought of her extremism it had the effect of putting across the Indian message with a force and clarity it had never had before. Conviction, courage, and integrity were her foremost characteristics which won for her the respect and admiration of a widening circle of people and beyond this the attention the Indian cause so desperately needed at that time. All who came into contact with her felt the impact of her unquenchable spirit of Independence from British rule.

Madame Cama returned to Bombay in 1931 when she was 70. She passed away in Bombay on August 13, 1936, eleven years before the birth of our freedom. A lifetime of unparalleled adventure and influence for a woman, Madame Cama demonstrated a woman's true place in a man's world. As she, herself, declared, 'Do not forget the role of women which is also important in building a nation.'

Government of India issued a Postage Stamp in her honour on Republic Day in 1962 (26-1-1962). I am presenting below the copy of the First Day Cover and Postage Stamp below.

Sunday, August 7, 2011



Recently I met Shri.B.Kannan, son of Late Shri V.Balakrishnan a Great Documentary Film Producer and photographer who passed away at Chennai on 20th July 2007. He was my very dear friend for more than three decades. Shri V.Balakrishnan was a staunch devotee of Paramacharya, the sage of Kanchi for a life time.


Beginning from August 1976 at Kutralam in the then unbifurcated Tirunelveli District where I was serving as District Collector, my friendship with Balakrishnan grew steadily and ripened over the years. I can say with nostalgia and affection that I basked in the sunshine of his warm friendship. By friendship I mean the greatest love, the greatest usefulness, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the severest truth, the heartiest counsel of which the greatest union of minds brave men and women are capable. As a friend he was one in whose understanding and virtue I could easily confide and whose opinion I valued at once for its justness and sincerity. I have always viewed my long and true friendship with Balakrishnan as the gift of God, believing that HE —HE only and HE alone --who made hearts can unite them.

Meenakshi Subrahmanyam and K.Subrahmanyam

Balakrishnan was the eldest son of the eminent and pioneering film director K Subrahmanyam (1904-1971) and Meenakshi Subrahmanyam, both of whom hailed from Thanjavur District—a centre of great culture and civilization — from times immemorial. After graduating from the Law College in Madras, Balakrishnan started assisting his father in the film industry. He was fortunate to receive his exceptional training in film production and direction from his father who was a creative genius. It will not be too much to say that K Subrahmanyam was to film industry in South India in the first half of the 20th century, what Columbus was to the discovery of America in the 15th century. From his distinguished father, Balakrishnan inherited the conviction that, in a developing country like India, film has a very vital and responsible role to play as a powerful and constructive medium of mass communication. This working philosophy drew him into the documentary film movement which had just started in South India in the early fifties.

When I assumed charge as the First Chairman of Tuticorin Port after duly completing all the works relating to the Tuticorin harbour Project on 1st April 1979, I had invited his sister, the distinguished dancer of international repute, Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam, to give a dance performance at Tuticorin. In those days, Smt Shyamala Balakrishnan, wife of Balakrishnan, used to provide splendid musical support to Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. Shyamala Balakrishnan was a very fine singer with a very melodious voice. Dr Padma Subrahmanyam's perfor­mance at Tuticorin was indeed outstanding. Both Dr Padma Subrahmanyam and Shyamala Balakrishnan, rose to supreme heights during the course of that performance which had been organised by me to commemorate the inauguration of Tuticorin Port Trust on 1 April, 1979.

Padma Subrahmanyam's dancing and Shyamala Balakrishnan's singing on the stage were always like warp and woof of a splendid Dacca Muslin fabric. I can still recall the tribute that Kausalya Santhanam paid to the musical versatility of Shyamala Balakrishnan when she passed away in January 1997: Achyuta   ...   Achyuta   ...'   As Shyamala Balakrishnan softly enunciated Rukmini's address to Lord Krishna, Padma Subrahmanyam's face mirrored the expressions of Bhakti, love and surren­der. Or was it the other way around - of the singer re­flecting the emotions of the dancer?

It was difficult to tell as the song and dance each appeared to flow from the other, enveloping the au­dience in a total, felt expe­rience. The syllables and the steps, the words and the gestures, the lyrics and the movements were in perfect unison. The un­derstanding between the dancer and singer was intuitive and total--a rapport that made Shyamala and Padma such a winning combination.


Just as Padma and Shyamala were made for each other for the dance stage, Shyamala and Balakrishnan were made for each other for the wider and larger Stage and Arena of Life. Both Shyamala and Balakrishnan were great devotees of Paramacharya of Kanchi. Their’s was a unique form of companionship founded on mutual trust and bound­less love for each other. They were indivisibly united in their common search for the truth, the good and the beautiful. Both Shyamala and Balakrishnan were our great friends and I can say with conviction that their’s was a beautiful association where the independence was equal, the dependence mutual and obliga­tion reciprocal.



As a splendid couple, they led a life of creative fulfilment, a life of unique service through-the medium of music and art, guided by knowledge and wisdom.

V Balakrishnan was a versatile cinematographer. He learnt the art of cinematography at the feet of his Guru T K Venkat who was an avant garde and veteran cinematographer dating back to the days of silent mov­ies. In the late forties and early fifties, Balakrishnan rendered honorary service, under his father's supervi­sion, for many projects such as Newsreel coverage of the first Inde­pendence Day Celebrations at Ma­dras and periodic tours of Prime Min­ister Jawaharlal Nehru in South In­dia; Tamil dubbing of the Hindi pro­ductions of the newly formed Children's Film Society etc; audio recordings of some great classical musicians of South India for the newly formed Tamilnadu Sangeeta Nataka Academy for their archives.

Later Balakrishnan worked as Assis­tant Director to his father in the fea­ture films Geetha Gandhi (1948-Tamil), Stree Ratna (1954-Kannada), Pandithevan (1958-Tamil) and Kotha Dhari (I960–Telegu).Under his father’s personal supervision, he directed the film, Kacha Devayani in Kannada (in 1955) which was a remake of the Tamil hit of 1942. But from 1956 his attention was only towards short and documentary films.

For over five decades, Balakrishnan photographed and directed scores of short films on a variety of subjects, including History, Architecture and Sculpture, Culture and Religion, Biography, Dance, Education, Agriculture and Forests, Family Planning, Irrigation, Industries, Power Generation, Rural development etc. involving intensive study extensive travel and getting in touch with a broad galaxy of eminent per­sonalities. Volume of or quantity in work was never his focus or attraction, nor mere monetary considerations.

It was an article of Balakrishnan's faith that a documentary film and all who participate in it are jointly ac­countable to the Indian public for re­spect for the special needs of children, for community responsibility, for the advancement of education and culture, for decency and decorum in production, and for ethical propriety in advertising.

As a documentary film producer and cinematographer, Art for Art's sake was his vital consideration and noth­ing else mattered to him. Perhaps the great poet had Balakrishnan in view when he wrote:

That man is great
And he alone,
Who serves a greatness not his own.
Neither for pelf
Nor for fame,
Content to know
And be unknown.
Single in integrity
And whole in himself.

Balakrishnan's classic documen­tary film titled 'TEMPLES OF TAMILNADU' (Colour - 60 minutes) which he produced in two parts for the Government of Tamilnadu was hailed as a landmark historic thesis on celluloid. It covered over forty five temples in Tamilnadu which are of historic, architectural, sculptural, cul­tural and festive importance. As early as late fifties, he was the peerless pioneer in introducing the dramatic element in documentary films, termed as docudrama.

Following his great father's foot steps who founded the Nrithyodaya in 1942, Balakrishnan took a special interest in the study of Bharatha Natyam. In-more senses than one I can say that his vital role in relation to the evolution, growth and devel­opment of Dr Padma Subrahmanyam as an outstanding dancer was like that of Kalki Sadasivam in relation to the flower­ing of the musical genius of M S Subhaiakshmi.

All the time-defying photographs depicting the KARANAS of Bharatha's Natyashasthra in Dr Padma Subrahmanyam's magnum opus, were creatively taken and produced by Baiakrishnan with spiritual faith and devotion that marched along­side that of his great sister Dr Padma Subrahmanyam. Later Balakrishnan also directed a Documentary film serial (13 segments) titled BHARATIYA NATYA SASTRA' (En­glish), produced by Nrithyodaya for Doordarshan's National Network, based on Dr Padma Subrahmanyam's script. Considered as a 'Magnum Opus' by large sec­tions of people in India and abroad, the core of this film is the underlying cultural unity of our Bharat dating back to the dawn of history.

The crowning moment of Balakrishnan's life was reached in 2002 when he directed the much acclaimed biographical documen­tary film, 'SAGE OF KANCHI' (70 min­utes), depicting the life of the great Centenarian Saint. Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal, the 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. What is poignantly significant is the fact that his wife Shyamala Balakrishnan (Singer and Research Scholar) played a very key role in writing the script for this film which made and continues to make millions of view­ers around the world go into ecstatic raptures.

Both Balakrishnan and his wife Shyamala were great devotees of Kanchi Paramacharya for a life time. They were united in their daily prayer to Paramacharya in these words:

You are the life of our life
O Paramacharya, the heart of my heart,
There is none in ail the three worlds
Whom I call my own but you
You are the peace of my mind
You are the joy of my heart
You are my beauty and my wealth
You  are  my  wisdom  and  my strength; I call you my home, my friend, my king.
My present and future are in your hands;
My scriptures and commands come from you.
Supreme teacher, fountain of wisdom,
You are the path and the goal,
Tender mother and stern father too. You are the creator and protector,
And the pilot who takes me across
The stormy ocean of life.

Shyamala joined Paramacharya in the OCEAN OF ETERNITY in 1997.
Balakrishnan joined them both on 20 July 2007. I offer my humble, affec­tionate and reverential salutations to their sacred memory.