It was warm inside the train, in contrast. Some silence followed after Paramanand finished his story on Glenn. A little later, Paramanand decided to break the silence. “Have you ever considered what you think of yourself?”
Sakthi was put off by the abrupt question. After some thought, he said, “No, I never gave it a thought.”
“How would you like to describe yourself?” Paramanand closed his eyes, asking the question and focused on the rhythmic sound of the moving train.
“I don’t think much of myself. I don’t know what to say,” commented Sakthi, after a long deliberation within himself.
Paramanand gave Sakthi the next lesson. “When you consider someone or something as very important, valuable, or special, you hold that someone or something in high esteem. By the same token, when you consider yourself or some part of yourself as special, valuable and important, your self-esteem is said to be very high. You can’t touch it, but it affects you, and how you feel all the time. You can’t see it, but is always there when you look at yourself in the mirror. You can’t hear it, but you talk about yourself when you think about yourself.
Self-esteem is when you feel you have something worthy of you, even when you accept that you are not perfect. It is a realistic acceptance of yourself as a person worthy, with all your positive and negative traits, with all your pluses and minuses. You may be good at drawing and weak in mathematics, yet, you may still have a high self-esteem.
When self-esteem is very low, you tend to cover up your deficiencies by either bragging about what you think you possess with you, complain about or blame other people, become jealous, and angry.
When you have positive self-esteem, you feel proud of yourself, of what you possess, of what you do, even when you make mistakes, or even when things don’t go well, you get courage to try out things, admit mistakes, you make healthy choices, respect and accept others as they are, and do not mind standing apart from the other general crowd of conformists.”
Sakthi intervened to tell, “Thinking about your explanation on self-esteem, I am reminded of people who had a very high self-esteem: Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji, and Subramania Bharathi. I have even seen some movies on them too. Very impressive.”
“You are really quite smart, and you seem to be learning things easily. You are quite right about the people you mentioned. They all had a very high self-esteem. There was one more interesting person. His name was Veerapandia Kattabomman.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot. I had heard about him too. Wasn’t there a movie in Tamil about Veerapandia Kattabomman?”
“Yes, you are right. It was a brilliant movie acted by the legendary actor, Sivaji Ganesan. Kattabomman never allowed himself to be cowed down by the threats and self-assumed superiority of the British.
“Can you tell me the story of Kattabomman? I had heard that he was a brave warrior.”
“Yes, he was.”
“There was one Jagaveera Pandian, who ruled Azhagia Veerapandipuram (Ottapidaram of today), He died intestate and one of his ministers, Bommu, also known as Gettibommulu in Telugu, to denote his warrior qualities, who had migrated from Andhra Pradesh during the Vijayanagar empire times, ascended the throne. His name had become Kattabomman in Tamil over time and was the first of the Kattabomman clan to rule. A subsequent Kattabomman built a fort in Panchalankurichi and made it his capital.
Veerapandia Kattabomman was born in 1760 as one of the descendants of the Kattabomman clan. He was fondly called ‘Karuthiah’ (the black prince). In 1790, he became the 5th ruler from the Kattabomman family of Panchalankurichi when he was thirty.
Now I need to go back in the history of Tamil Nadu.
When the Vijayanagar dynasty collapsed in the middle of the 16th century, its governors in Tamil region, the Naickers broke away from the empire and established their own independent rule. When the Naickers ruled the southern Tamil region, they divided the region into several smaller divisions for administrative convenience. These divisions were known as Palayams and they entrusted to a Palayakarar, the local chieftain the task to administer the area, maintain a small troop of an army, collect taxes, and enforce justice.
During 1736, Chanda Saheb, the Mughal Empire’s Sepoy and Diwan of Carnatic Region captured Madurai, from the last Naicker queen. He was subsequently killed during the post-Carnatic wars, and the area came under the control of the Nawab of Arcot. However, the Palayakarars of the erstwhile Madurai region refused to accept the supremacy of the Muslim Nawab of Arcot.
The Nawab of Arcot virtually became bankrupt on account of his lavish lifestyle and misrule. He ceded to the British, from whom he had borrowed heavily, the right of collecting taxes and levies from the southern region, in lieu of the money he owed to them. The British East India Company cleverly exploited the situation. One Mohammed Yusuf Khan (otherwise known as Maruthanayagam) received the lease rights of the area. He was a savage administrator and killed several Palayakarars. He was subsequently killed by the combined army of British and the Nawab.
Though most of the Palayakarars submitted themselves to the British dictum, Veerapandia Kattabomman defied them. He was in alliance with the Maruthu brothers of Sivagangai. Veerapandian not only refused to pay his dues to the British but also refused to meet Jackson Durai, the Collector of the East India Company. He finally wilted under pressure and met the collector at the palace of Sethupathy, the ruler of Ramanathapuram. However, the meeting ended in violence. Kattabomman fought with the British forces. During the fight, the Deputy Commandant of the British army was killed. Kattabomman escaped to freedom.
The British removed Jackson Durai as the Collector, believing that he had mishandled the situation and marred an opportunity for a gradual takeover of the region. The new Collector called for a meeting with Veerapandia Kattabomman during March 1799 to discuss the mounting arrears of dues from him. Several of his friends and contacts exerted pressure on him and persuaded him not to create enmity with the British. But, he not only continued to defy the British but also demanded the restoration of his wealth arrogated to themselves by the British. The British tried using the good offices of the ruler of Ramanathapuram to bring Kattabomman in line. Simultaneously, they also instigated the neighboring Palayakarar of Ettayapuram to provoke Kattabomman over some of the disputed territories.
When they failed in their subtle efforts and when their stern warnings didn’t work, the British decided to confront Kattabomman with their mighty force. They sieged his Panchalankurichi fort, and a fierce war broke out between them. Kattabomman fought bravely and killed their commander, Lt. Collins. The British suffered heavily during the war, retreated temporarily, only to return back with heavy artilleries. This time, Kattabomman realized that his fort may not survive the heavy attack and made a tactful escape from the fort during the night.
Not succeeding in their attempt to capture Kattabomman, the British had set a price for his head. Several others were arrested. The head of Thanapathi Pillai, a lieutenant of Kattabomman was displayed on a bamboo pole in the middle of Panchalankurichi, to terrorize the other local rebels. Another local rebellion, Soundara Pandian was brutally killed.
Veerapandia Kattabomman, never wanting to surrender to the British, was forced to run from place to place, like a fugitive, hiding in several places. When he finally took refuge in a forest adjoining Pudukottai, the Ruler of Pudukottai arrested him, under the orders of the British, and he was thus captured in October 1799. The British put him on trial, found him guilty of defying the Queen, and sentenced him to death by hanging. He was hanged from a tamarind tree in Kayattar, near Tirunelveli. Several others of his confidants too were hanged to death.
Legendary tales suggest that Kattabomman remarked at the time of his death that he should have preferred death in a war with the British to death by hanging.
Thus, the name of Veerapandia Kattabomman came to be associated with tales of people with high self-esteem, of one who never wanted to surrender one’s self-respect and dignity to an outsider, one who defied aggression, cherished one’s freedom and preferred death to surrender.”
“Yes, now I recall the story clearly,” said Sakthi. “I had only vaguely known him as yet another chieftain, a freedom fighter, and who defied the British. Now I understand his fight against the British from another perspective - self-esteem.” Then, he continued, “Don’t you think the life story of Bharathiyar is somewhat similar? He too was very proud of himself.”
“Absolutely,” said Paramanand. “The story of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi is very similar. He fought the British with the might of his pen, by writing poems and articles that the British feared would incite the public against them.
Mahatma Gandhi too held his self-dignity in high esteem. An incident in South Africa, where he was forcefully evicted from a train compartment for his travelling along with the Whites, came to sow the seeds of a powerful Freedom Movement when he returned back to India.
Humanity had always remembered and celebrated personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Kattabomman, Bharathi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Subash Chandra Bose and the likes for their high self-esteem.”
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