‘I never fasted but I starved,’ CPI leader D Raja on growing up in poverty
The first graduate from his village Chithathoor in Tamil Nadu, D Raja was often pressed into service to calculate the weekly earnings of villagers from the coconuts that they had peeled.Updated: Dec 16, 2018 07:29 IST
Doraisamy Raja took to books because his sports teacher packed him off to the library every afternoon. It was not a punishment but compassion. His teacher felt that physical activity could be gruelling for D Raja on an empty stomach.
Till he was in the primary school, Raja survived on a mid-day meal and could withstand the pressure. But in high school he often went hungry because there were no free meals.
Getting food from home was not an option because there was never enough. “I never fasted but I have often starved,” recalls D Raja, MP and National Secretary of the CPI.
“My father peeled a thousand coconuts for a few annas and we lived in a hut,” he says.
The first graduate from his village Chithathoor in Tamil Nadu, D Raja was often pressed into service to calculate the weekly earnings of villagers from the coconuts that they had peeled.
As a child, Raja literally slept with his books. “There were no shelves so I would put a few books under my head and sleep.”
The only time he was caned was when he did not attend a Grammar class because he had resolved not to, till the school provided text books.
For someone always ready with the right answer in class, Raja’s “ultimate humiliation” was when he drew a blank on Karl Marx. “I had not heard of him till my teacher mentioned him,” he reminisces.
The next time he went to the library, he read up whatever he could on Karl Marx. But it was in college that he was initiated into the Leftist movement. “I would see red flags and pictures of Lenin and Karl Marx everywhere. Around the same time, I read books on the Russian revolution and the works of Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. I was greatly influenced,” says Raja.
This was also the time when the Dravidian movement was at its peak. Raja’s father had named his children after DMK leaders. “I was named Raja because there was an aspiration that I should be king.” Raja finds no contradiction in this with the philosophy of the Left because he believes that in a classless society “all are kings”.
When he read Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth, Raja says that he was compelled to ask himself what made the Mahatma extraordinary. On a scale of ten Raja figured that except for being a non vegetarian, which he was and Gandhi was not, they were kind of comparable. To match up, Raja turned vegetarian for a few years.
D. Raja was in the eye of a storm when his daughter Aparajitha, a JNU student, was named among those raising slogans during a protest on the campus.
Thick into student politics, Aparajitha has carved a niche for herself and is quite likely to follow her father’s footsteps. Even as the controversy has put the spotlight on Raja, Aparajitha laments: “The only sad part is that now people know who my father is.”