By V. Suryanarayan
The unexpected and tragic demise of Shri Sukumar Nambiar on Sunday, January 8, 2012 cast a spell of gloom among his numerous friends and followers. It was all the more shocking because Sukumar was a fitness freak, was regular in habits and was also a Karate specialist. His demise will be felt by his many friends spread across the world.
Sukumar’s demise was a matter of personal tragedy for me because we were closely associated with the functioning of the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies, a leading think tank in Chennai, which has already made mark in the intellectual life of the city. What made the incident more poignant was the fact that I was hospitalised at that time and my friends and relatives did not want to convey the news, lest it disturb my physical condition. As I was tossing in the bed, spending sleepless hours, I thought that the news may not be true. The famous lines of Robert Green Ingersoll, the 19th century poet, came to my mind, “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead, there comes no word, but in the night of death hope sees a star and the listening love can hear the rustle of the wind”.
Sukumar belonged to an illustrious family, which originally hailed from Manjeri in the Malabar region of Kerala. His father Manjeri Narayanan Nambiar entered the world of theatre and cinema very early in life. MN Nambiar was immensely popular as a villain in Tamil cinema, though in later life he also performed excellent character roles. MN Nambiar’s real character was very different from the roles that he played in the cinema. In the murky world of Kollywood, characterised by black money, mud slinging and character assassination, Nambiar was an exception. Not even once was a brickbat thrown at him. What endeared MN Nambiar still further was his abiding faith in God; he made his annual pilgrimage to Sabari Malai, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, till the end of his life. His followers used to call him Guruswamy signifying respect and love that he evoked among his followers.
MN Nambiar did not want his children to follow his footsteps and, therefore, laid great emphasis on their education. Sukumar’s initial education was in some of the prestigious institutions like the Madras Christian College. He went for higher studies to the United States and acquired his MBA and also MS in International Relations from San Jose State University, California. After returning to India he began to take active interest in current affairs. It was during this period that Sukumar came under the magnetic spell of LK Advani which led to his joining the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP). His talents and merits were rewarded; he became a member of the National Executive Committee and at the time of his demise was in charge of the Foreign Policy Cell of the Party.
Despite his strong political convictions, what endeared Sukumar to others was his genial and friendly temperament. He had friends in every political party and maintained his equations with them despite political differences. According to informed sources what brought the BJP and the AIADMK together few years ago was the excellent spade work done by Sukumar. He once contested unsuccessfully for a parliamentary seat from the Tiruchy constituency. His style of political campaigning was in sharp contrast to that of other candidates. In the State of Tamil Nadu, where rival Dravidian parties compete with one another in character assassination, Sukumar did not even once make a derogatory reference to his political opponent. I am tempted to quote from Robert Ingersoll again:
Justice is the only worship
Love is the only priest
Ignorance is the only slavery
Happiness is the only good
The time to be happy is now
The place to be happy is here
The way be happy is to make others so.
I came into intimate contact with Sukumar only four years ago when the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies was floated. With the active support, guidance and encouragement from two colleagues based in New Delhi, Shri Shyam Parande and Shri Sushil Pandit, we organized large number of lecture-discussions and seminars. It is a matter of pride that we brought out an edited volume entitled Ethnic Reconciliation and Nation Building in Sri Lanka: Indian Perspectives. The book has been received with critical acclaim by the scholarly community in South Asia. The eighteen contributors to the book include some of the most brilliant minds – diplomats, senior government officials, service officers, academicians and journalists. When he took charge of the Foreign Policy Cell of the Party, Sukumar wanted me to chalk out a detailed programme of academic and research activities to be undertaken by the Centre.
While expressing my heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved family and perhaps taking consolation from the saying that “those whom Gods love, they die young”, I believe that we must carry forwards Sukumar’s vision and try to create a vibrant intellectual community in South India. The best way to accomplish this objective is to strengthen the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies. I believe, and so did Sukumar, that in a large country like India which borders on several countries, the federal units must make their benign and constructive inputs into the making of foreign and strategic policies. This pre-supposes the functioning of vibrant think tanks. I am sure Sukumar’s wide circle of friends, spread across the world, will give serious consideration to this suggestion.
For knowledge is power and those who control the levers of knowledge, will rule the world.
(Prof. V. Suryanarayan was closely associated with Shri Sukumar Nambiar in the functioning of the Indian Centre for South Asian Studies. His e mail address: [email protected].com)