MGR - An eternal superhero!
"People come from as far as South Africa, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to have a glimpse of his house and belongings. I have seen them look lovingly at his clothes, or the plaster cast that was applied when he was shot, with tears" says Mr Swaminathan, Manager of the MGR Memorial house in T.Nagar.
" I joined him in 1972 when he started the party and ever since he has been taking care of me, he mentions fondly as he sits in his office surrounded by pictures of MGR. His role was originally in the party, and after MGR became Chief Minister in 1977 he was moved to his official residence and has remained there since, managing the memorial house since 1990 when it was thrown open to the public by MGR's widow and former Chief Minister, Mrs.V.N.Janaki.
He pauses from time to time, his eyes looking far away, as he thinks of the larger than life persona about whom he is speaking. " Even when he was a struggling actor and was doing small roles in dramas, he would always take care of those who were around him. My brother's salary is enough for the family, mine can help those who need it, was what he used to say. He never compromised on his policies in order to help others."
"When he decided to make Nadodi Mannan, (on the lines of If I were King), it was with a clear objective of letting people know what he as a good ruler was capable of providing to his subjects and he produced the film at a stupendous budget putting everything he had into it. The name was symbolic, if the film wins I am a mannan (King) else I will become a Nadodi again (wanderer) is what he said at the time of the film going into floors".
"After he became chief minister, he did not purchase even one cent of land. Not just that, he only willed his movable property to his next of kin, all immovable property was left for public use. He wanted this house to become a memorial that people could come into freely. He felt if it was maintained by the Government it may not sustain due to changes and time and so willed that the rent from his fish market at Alandur would pay for its upkeep and maintanence. However, the vendors went to Janaki Amma after MGR's death and sought to hold the shops free of cost, and she magnanimously agreed. So the memorial is now being funded through the MGR Janaki Educational Trust" he continues. "Apart from three cleaning staff, four security guards, there is a man who takes care of the chappal stand, another sells MGR CDs and coffee. There is an official photographer attached to the memorial and I provide overall supervision. For us, he is everything. We take care of this house, as we did while he was among us" he says.
There are a number of people admiring the huge display of shields placed in racks around his car TMX 4777. " He was an avid cricket fan. He even had a mini tv with antenna set inside the car and used to watch the match all the way from his garden at Ramapuram to the Secretariat. Many people think some VIP has come in to visit, when they see the car. We maintain it so gleamingly, just as he preferred", he continues.
The ground floor also contains a foyer with stills from various films he acted in. The name of the heroine and production house are also provided for easy recognition. " When Kalaivanar was in hospital, MGR visited him and wanted to give him some money. He knew the former would never accept. So he left the money under his pillow and told his son, your father would want to give this money to the poor ward boys and nurses, so I have left it as change! One man who wanted to help others recognising another!".
The ground floor also contains his medals, caps and glasses, along with the trolley that he purchased during the shooting of Nadodi Mannan. A staircase leads up from here to the first floor. There is one on the outside which was used by visitors. This used to be MGR's private entrance into the house.
The first floor is a huge treasure trove. There are hundreds of artifacts, all handpicked by MGR, to be moved here during his life time. His weights and dumbbells are placed amidst several souvenirs. Noteworthy among them are a huge framed bow and arrow, two life size sengols (staff), and several prototypes of temples.
A noteworthy souvenir is one sent from NASA. There are a number of people lingering around the shelf containing his clothes, shoes, and transistor. He always carried a transistor with him, listening either to the cricket scores or music. There are also a cricket bat given by K Shreekanth, and a Veena gifted by Rajiv Gandhi.
Probably the biggest attraction on the first floor, is his pet lion Raja. Standing majesticly in a glass case, with a picture of MGR fighting him in Adimai Penn, he is a clear favourite among all who visit the house. Palaniandavar, the official photographer of the house, has been with MGR since 1972, and says most people request to be shot along with the lion. Pictures are available either as instant prints or as soft copies transferred to mobile devices, at a cost. Outside photography is strictly prohibited.
"He purchased Raja in 1968 for acting in Adimai Penn. A huge cage was made in Sathya Studios and MGR spent a great deal of time with Raja in getting to know him and making him comfortable before the scenes with him were shot. After the shooting, he was moved to the Zoo in Moore Market, but all his expenses were taken care of, by MGR. After his death, he spent Rs.1 lakh from his personal funds, to get him stuffed and brought him back to the garden. Such was his loyalty and fondness even to pets" says Swaminathan dreamily.
There are three rooms on the first floor apart from a hall and foyer, which have restricted access. One contains MGR's personal collection of newspapers. The second room contains a number of significant artifacts such as the plaster cast when he was shot in the neck by M R Radha, a book containing 500 signatures in blood by his fans when he started his party, his personal weighing machine, photograph of his father Maruthur Gopalan and a huge portrait of his mother Sathyabhama, Visitors peer through the grills in awe and try to stick their faces as close as possible to get a better view.
The other two rooms are a Visitors room and MGR's office room. The old telephone, clock and a television sit in the visitors room and interestingly there are only two single sofas. So probably he only conducted important private conversations here. The office room still has his woollen cap placed exactly where he would keep it. The slide down calendar, his pens and telephone, all intact.
His collection of books spill all over the house. They are on a variety of subjects - Life and times of several world leaders, encyclopedia volumes on world art, copies of the Bhagavad Gita, Holy Bible and Quran, Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, The Cultural Heritage of India, Books on African, Japanese and Egyptian mythology.
" Not many people know about this house", says Palaniandavar, the official photographer in the house, as he comes along, clicking the pictures I wanted. " We are busy only on Sundays, the rest of the days are very quiet. For us, this is not just a house, it is a place where our Thalaivar still lives. He took care of us then, he still takes care of us" he says.
The commitment and loyalty that the staff display are a reminder of the way MGR treated them." During the December 2015 floods, when all the houses in this road were water logged and damaged, this place was almost untouched. His good deeds saved his belongings from getting damaged. He always used to say, All I have is for the people, my wife and I can spend the rest of our life by eating every day at one party worker's house" Swaminathan's words about MGR ring in my ears as I bid farewell to them.
Acknowledgements: My sincere thanks to Mr Palaniandavar for shooting many of the pictures I have used in this blog post. Special thanks to Mr Swaminathan for his kind hospitality and time.
How to get here: The MGR memorial house is in Arcot Road, off Thanikachalam Road.
Opening Hours: 10 am - 5 pm all days, except Tuesdays.
Admission is free. Photography through official photographer is chargeable.
Contact Details : +91 - 98416 87204