The story below is written by my uncle Late J Rajgopalachari, based on the chronicle from my father's records.
It happened in a village in the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu in the third decade of the twentieth century. In those halcyon days, Tanjore District was famous for its prosperity, with well-irrigated lands, thanks to the bounty of the Cauvery River, the flow of water was plentiful as the population of the upper riparian areas, in common with the rest of India , was just about a third of what it is today. The flow to the lower riparian fields and irrigation canals was in the region of 400 to 500 thousand million cubic feet, well over the double the flow these days. With affluence, came the leisure for other pursuits including debates
The incident narrated in this story happened in a small village , Therazhundur , well known as the birth place of the great Tamil poet, Kamban, renowned for his Tamil version of the great epic Ramayana. While he was born in a potter’s colony, it is a matter of pride to me that I was born two hundred yards of where he was born , though in the Brahmin Agraharam a few centuries later. The village, though small is rich in its heritage, and its title to fame in history is rooted in the many stories of legendary characters associated with this village. It was here that Tamil sage Agasthya , fell in love with Cauvery. Cauvery, however refused to marry him and, in consequence, the jilted sage pronounced a curse. Legend has it that Cauvery did her penance in the village to appease the enraged sage and save the people from Agasthya’s curse.
But this story is not about the village or the legendary figures associated with it, but about a humble unsung hero figuring in a chronicle of his life and times recorded by the chronicler Sh. R.K.Chari. In his trip down memory lane, he has recounted the celebration in the village of the birthday of the king Emperor, King George the Fifth. Two hand picked students were to carry the garlanded portraits of king George and Queen Mary in procession down the streets of the village, the students singing, “Long Live the King and Queen” in Tamil. The President of the Tanjore District Board, a Dewan Bahadur, was present. The procession was all set to start, when someone went to the Headmaster asking for the portraits and the Union Jack Flags to be carried by the students. There was sudden excitement as the teacher entrusted with the custody of flags and portraits was not to be seen. A search of his table drew a blank. The Headmaster was on the point of fainting with the entire school staring at him in a state of shocked disbelief. The teacher in charge turned up but had no clue as to the disappearance of the precious objects. He had no solution to the mystery. The occasion produced the man. The Assistant Headmaster briskly walked towards the school well with the air of a Sherlock Holmes. The well had two pillars, one at either end a cross bar at the top with a roller at the centre. A large bucket and a thick long rope were requisitioned. He climbed into the bucket, had himself lowered into the well. After some search, he was able to salvage the portraits and flags without much damage. As the teacher dried them in the hot sun, the high dignitaries and invitees were whisked away by the school trustee , the staff were in a fix and the students escorted home by their parents. In the words of the chronicler, ‘the two portraits were left leaning on the wall of the well, their Majesties regretting that the sun never set in the British Empire”.
An inquisition ensued. The mystery remained unresolved. The Headmaster, held morally responsible for the insult to the Empire was transferred to a smaller school in a more remote village. That it was a very well run school with an excellent academic record could not save him from the wrath of the authorities, who considered the affront to HIS Majesty unpardonable. The Assistant Headmaster was rewarded for his gallant service to the Empire and promoted as Headmaster. But, the angry, silent patriot who had the fire in his belly and guts to dump the flags and royal portraits into the well in the heyday of the Empire, will forever, remain anonymous. In a small village nothing remains secret for too long. But to their eternal credit, the villagers refused to betray their hero for punitive action by the agents of the empire.