At 14, when his contemporaries lived their age, M Karunanidhi was mesmerised by the compelling arguments in Periyar’s speeches, the bravery and courage in Pattukottai Azhagirisamy’s (of the Self Respect Movement) sentences and CN Annadurai’s beautiful Tamil. It was only natural that he became one of the most powerful orators in the country
It’s perhaps an understatement to say that M Karunanidhi had a way with words. Right from addressing his party comrades as ‘anbulla udanpirappey’ [dear siblings] to rallying the Dravidian movement – “Let’s go to war if needed, to chase away this Hindi ghost; Let’s remind this Hindi witch that this is not a land of cowards” – his language was sharp and impressionable; his speeches a crafty mind-wrap of sorts for the masses that looked to him as their leader. But like any great orator, he also made sure that his words didn’t come across as empty rhetoric. Even if he called his party men siblings, he still supplemented it with logic; his argument was that the DMK members were brothers from different mothers as it would’ve been impossible for a single womb to carry so many children. This meant that his supporters, without even the slightest apprehension, bought into his closing note when he said “my siblings who are dearer to me than life.”
His flair for language spilled over to cinema too.
He was a legend of metaphors, similes and comparisons. “I am the child who didn’t consume the mother’s milk called grammar, but drank from the bottled milk called modern poetry whenever I was hungry,” he said during a session on poetry held in 1997.
Though MGR was his political opponent, he didn’t fail to pay tribute to their friendship after MGR’s demise. “Despite our different political ideology, our friendship runs deep. He is deeply respected for taking the AIADMK to great heights in a short span of time and for ruling the State for a decade despite health issues,” he said.
During an interview with Pudhiya Thalaimurai, when asked about electoral challenges from emerging political parties, he said: “If they say that their parties would be a challenge for the DMK, they are speaking without knowledge. We have the ability to establish governance with a majority.”
He was in favour of using Tamizh words as much as possible. During an event, he corrected a verse written by lyricist Pa. Vijay. The original read: ‘Thiramaiyattravan jolithal ippadi ennikkol…adikkira kaatril, paravaiyum parakkum, paper um parakkum.’ [If someone without ability flourishes, both the bird and the paper will fly]. “You could have avoided using ‘paper,’” Kalaignar told him, “instead, you could have said, ‘kaagamum parakkum, kaagidhamum parakkum‘ [the crow and paper would fly]”.
He also insisted on collectiveness. One of his quotes reads thus: “Naan endru sonnal irandu udhadugalum ottuvadhillai. Naam endri solli paarungal, udhadugal ottum which means, “When you use the first person I (naan), your lips don’t touch, but use the collective ‘naam‘ (us) and see the difference. Avoid the egotistic I, and focus on the ‘us,'” he said.
In a rare speech full of fury delivered on September 15, 1986 in Kavivanar Arangam at Chennai, he targeted MGR, using The Ramayana to prove a point. “Even the great poet Kambar hesitated to praise the honorable Ramachandran as a great warrior, when he stealthily attacked and killed the respected Vaali. Does this not mean that, though dead, Vaali is the victor?”