How Stalin got named after a Russian dictator & other stories from TN CM’s youth

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has been in the public eye for more than 50 years, yet very little is known about him outside his home state. — IANS

M.K. Stalin

New Delhi, Aug 27 (IANS) Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has been in the public eye for more than 50 years, yet very little is known about him outside his home state, apart from the fact that he is the late CM Kalaignar Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s son and successor in the DMK.

In the first volume of his autobiography, ‘One Among You’ (Penguin Viking), translated from the original Tamil (‘Ungalil Oruvan’) by A.S. Paneerselvan, Stalin narrates in conversational prose the story of his first 23 years of his life, from his birth on March 1, 1953, to his arrest under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act on February 1, 1976, when the Emergency was in force across the country.

The volume is studded with stories from his life in those early years, including how he got his name and how because of it, he did not get admission into the school his family wanted him to get into, apart from insights into the cinema and politics of Karunanidhi as well as his relationship with best friend-turned-political rival M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). Excerpts:

On 1 March 1953, I was born at Marudanayagam Hospital on Giri Road in Thyagaraya Nagar in Chennai. Thalaivar [M.K. Karunanidhi] named his eldest son, Muthu, after my grandfather Muthuvelar. He named his second son, Alagiri. This was his way to celebrate the memory of fiery orator Alagiri, a fearless campaigner for the [Dravidian] movement. I was his third child, followed by my sister Selvi and my youngest brother, Tamizharasu.

Thalaivar wanted to name me Ayyadurai. He wanted my name to have ‘Ayya’ from Ayya Thanthai Periyar and ‘Durai’  from Perarignar Annadurai. It was, however, also the time Joseph Stalin, the Iron Man who gave shape to the modern Soviet Union, and who successfully led the war against the Nazi regime, died.

There was a condolence meeting for Joseph Stalin on Marina Beach in Chennai. At that meeting, Kalaignar declared that he was naming his son Stalin. I was named in a public meeting in which thousands of people participated.

When I was a young boy, the poet Karunanandam told me that the word Stalin actually meant ‘man of steel’. Karunanandam was an evocative poet who served as Periyar’s secretary and became the deputy director of information when the party came to power.

As a child, I swallowed a hook. It was sharp and open-ended. The entire family was scared. Through a combination of medicine and fruits, they managed to get it out of my system. At that time, Karunanandam remarked that like Stalin, I too was an iron man. …

Thalaivar married Amma at Thiruvarur. There was a pandal in front of our Thiruvarur home to conduct the wedding ceremonies. It was the day on which the second stage of the anti-Hindi agitation peaked. An anti-Hindi protest procession passed in front of our home.

Thalaivar, who was the groom, chose to become the leader of the protest procession. The groom had suddenly vanished! He was leading the anti-Hindi protest procession that ended up with a picketing in front of the Thiruvarur High School.

While auspicious music was playing at home, Thalaivar was at the protest site raising slogans such as ‘long live Tamil’, ‘long live Periyar’ and ‘down with Hindi’.

The bride’s family was anxious and went looking for the groom. After an hour, Thalaivar returned. He presided over his own wedding. In his address he invoked Sangam literature: “We have read about ‘thalaivan and thalaivi’ (the lover and the beloved) in Sangam literature. Today, my wife and I are ‘thalaivi’ and ‘thalaivan’. And we exchange garlands to mark our matrimony.”

… In those days, the ‘Murasoli’ [the newspaper run by Karunanidhi] office was on the arterial Anna Salai in Chennai. The Church Park School was opposite. Thalaivar wanted my sister Selvi and me to join that school. Annan ‘Murasoli’ Maran took us to the school with the intention of getting admission. There, my name became a stumbling block.

The headmaster asked, “What is the name of the boy?”

Maran replied, “Stalin.”

The headmaster’s face turned ashen. As I mentioned earlier, I was named after Soviet leader Stalin, who died in 1953. His rule is a defining one in Soviet history.

Though Lenin led the revolution, he ruled for a very short period. It was Stalin who took up the task of implementing the idea of communism and consolidating the socialist government.

Socialism, communism and the rights of the working class were central to his rule.

It also kept religion outside the ambit of governance. Probably this angered religious zealots. Hence, the name Stalin was not desirable for those who were religious. Perhaps that’s what the headmaster hinted at through his interaction with Annan Maran.

He informed Annan that the school could not give admission to someone named Stalin and asked for a name change.

Maran brought us back home. Thalaivar was livid when he heard about the exchanges. He made it clear when he declared: “I may change the school, but I will not change the name Stalin. Stalin was a revolutionary, a relentless agitationist and a man of steel. I want my son to bear his name.”

Hence, the idea of joining Church Park School did not materialise. My sister Selvi’s admission was also affected because of my name. Both of us were enrolled in a Montessori school in

Gopalapuram. I studied there till Class V. I needed to go elsewhere for higher education.

Church Park was the closest school, but the fact that my name was an issue there forced us to not even consider it as an option. After searching for other options, Annan Maran suggested Madras Christian College School in Chetpet, to which Thalaivar agreed immediately.

In those days, it was difficult to get a seat in the Christian College School. Kuselar was the then mayor of Chennai. Thalaivar suggested that we seek his help to get the admission.

Kuselar said that he would come to the school himself and speak to the headmaster.

In those days, mayors used to attend public functions in ceremonial robes. Kuselar came to the school in a Chevrolet sedan in his mayoral cloak. The practice in the school was to park the cars outside the compound and walk in. But the mayor’s car was given permission to come up to the main building. Mayor Kuselar, Annan Maran and I went inside. As I was accompanied by the mayor, I got admission in the school immediately.

The headmaster at Christian College School had a different interpretation. He admitted me to the school saying, “What is there in a name, after all he is a Tamil boy.” I used to walk from our Gopalapuram home to Stella Maris College. I then took a bus to Sterling Road, and walked from there to the school.

When Thalaivar became a minister, on behalf of the students of the school, we came up with a plea. We asked that the public bus 29C detour once in the morning and once in the evening and for it to come in front of our school. The government responded to our plea and the bus began arriving up to the gate of the school. …


The person who helped me to roll my drums was Adiyar, who was then working at ‘Murasoli’ [the DMK newspaper]. The play he wrote for me was called ‘Murase Muzhangu’ (Let The Drums Roll). I reached across the state through that play. …

Puratchi Nadigar MGR contested from St Thomas Mount. When we staged the play in his constituency, it was R.M. Veerappan who gave me the remuneration for the performance.

MGR sat on the floor and watched the play.

When we offered him a chair, he refused it saying that it would obstruct the view of those sitting behind him. He watched the entire play sitting on the floor. …

While I was elated over the appreciation we got for our play, I was displeased with Thalaivar’s directive to put a full stop to my theatre activities so that I could concentrate on my studies. In his appreciation, MGR echoed Thalaivar. He advised me to end my engagement with theatre and start focusing on my studies. He said:

“I would like to say a few things to Kalaignar’s son, Stalin. Your name is Stalin. The genesis of revolution is from there. To uphold that name, the son should follow the footsteps of his illustrious father and come up in the path of victory.

“Kalaignar said that he could not have the benefit of college education and that Stalin should not miss out on it. Stalin should realise the poignancy of Kalaignar’s speech. In one line, he informed Stalin what fathers tend to write to their sons in hundred pages.

“I would like Stalin to follow the sage advice of [Tamil saint] Thiruvalluvar and his ‘Kural’:

‘Makanthandhthaikku aatrrum uthavi ivanthandhthai yennotrraan kolyenum sol’ (He makes his father proud to whom men say, ‘Well done! Blessed is the man to have you for a son.’)


[MGR] would visit our Gopalapuram residence often, and he was very affectionate and warm towards me. His interactions with me generally revolved around cinema, and particularly about the films in which he had starred. He used to ask in detail my opinion of the storyline and his performance. He was very insistent on knowing. I shared my views without any hesitation or reservations.

I liked his films and his acting, so I was his fan. As he made it a habit to seek my opinion about his films and his acting, I became a critic.

I would go for the first day first show of his films as I knew he would ask for my opinion. He, knowing fully well that I would have seen the film, would call me on the phone to ask about my reaction. Once, when talking to him, I called him ‘sir’. He came to Gopalapuram after a few days. When he was about to leave after a chat with Thalaivar, he saw me. He turned towards Thalaivar and said: “Your son is calling me sir.”

I learned that he thought the word ‘sir’ creates an emotional distance in relationships. I told him that I would not address him in that manner again. He gave me an appreciative pat on my shoulders.


Thalaivar used to travel often, and it was Annan Maran [late DMK leader Murasoli Maran], who would take us to films and to restaurants. We often went to Buhari restaurant [iconic eatery reputed to be the birthplace of Chicken 65].

Whenever there was a cricket match at Chepauk, Annan Amirtham used to take us to the stadium. We used to carry packed lunch with us for our outing to the stadium. We were attracted to and fascinated by cricket from a young age.

We played street cricket in front of our home at Gopalapuram. Initially, apart from me, our team comprised my elder brother Alagiri and my younger brother Tamizharasu. A late entrant to our team was Shanmuganathan. He joined the chief minister’s office as the personal assistant in 1969 and since then, he was a part of our cricket team.

Shanmuganathan has, in his written notes, mentioned: “Alagiri is a good batsman, and Stalin is a good spinner.”

… After completing the year-long pre-university course at Vivekananda College, I joined the Chennai Presidency College for my graduation in political science. The total strength of my class was just six.

After class, I used to spend time at the Buhari restaurant located near our college. The jukebox in that restaurant drew youngsters in droves. Many students opted to play Hindi songs in this coin-operated machine, I preferred to listen to Tamil songs. …


Though I was enrolled in a college for higher education, I was fully immersed in the world of politics. Even as I was sitting in my college classroom, my focus used to be on party affairs. Because of this, I failed in a few papers. Though I left the college in 1974, there was no hurry on my part to clear the pending papers.

I was immersed in varied activities such as strengthening party platforms and propaganda meetings, theatre and film production. Annan Maran used to urge me to clear the pending papers at the earliest. Though I would agree to his directives, my mind would move away soon.

When I was incarcerated under the MISA [Maintenance of Internal Security Act], I thought of clearing the pending papers. Not only did the arrest provide me with time to study, the impetus to come out of prison and see the outer world, it also propelled me to take up the exams once again. I was brought by the jail authorities to Presidency College on April 23. 1976, to write my exams. I wrote my exams under the watch of the police.

(Excerpted with the permission of the publishers, Penguin Random House India)

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