A R Venkatachalapathy goes in search of “Ash Durai” who
was the first and, as subsequent history showed, the last British official to be assassinated during the course of the freedom struggle in south India
and his assassin, “Veera Vanchi” who
killed himself after shooting Ashe is a patriotic martyr in Tamil Nadu
and writes about it in the latest issue of EPW (somehow I am not able to get the link for the article — which is a pity):
It has been almost a century since Robert William D’Escourt Ashe, acting collector of Tirunelveli, Madras Presidency, was killed by R Vanchi Aiyar, an ex-forest guard on 17 June 1911. In 1908 Ashe was stationed in Tuticorin where the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company led by V O Chidambaram Pillai was giving its British rival a run for its money. Workers, merchants and the middle class enthusiastically supported the swadeshis. Ashe was seen as playing a leading part in the government’s repression of the swadeshi company and the uprising that followed made national headlines. Vanchi Aiyar who killed himself after shooting Ashe is a patriotic martyr in Tamil Nadu and many radical characters in Tamil fiction and cinema have been named after him.
And, there are some really interesting bits in the piece:
I began rummaging into the papers consisting of hundreds of letters that Mary had written to Ashe and the numerous, possibly even a thousand, condolence messages that Mary received on her husband’s death. Amidst this somewhat humdrum correspondence I was fortunate to spot some real nuggets. As I pored over the manuscripts we talked – I reconstructed the background to the assassination and Robert provided the family information. By the end of my trip he was contemplating a novel based on his family’s fateful course. As the day progressed a genuine friendship formed between us. It is extraordinary how time can erase historical bitterness if only people allow it to. When we opened
a bottle of wine that evening and raised a toast to Ashe’s memory, Robert movingly raised one to Vanchi as well, for had he not died the same day, barely minutes after his grandfather’s killing? (When later I sent Robert a picture of Vanchi, he wrote, “What a lovely young face he has! Have just been reading a novel in our book club – Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – in which the young revolutionaries all seemed to look like that and all got shot by the government soldiers in the end. He, on the other hand, took his own life: to protect his comrades? or to become a martyr?)”
Take a look!
PS: EPW also notes that
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Frontline. The Tamil version was published in Kalachuvadu.