The jail doors clanged open.
A free Krishnamurthy had gone in as India’s highest paid magazine editor but walked out as an unemployed writer.
His joining the individual sathyagraha call of Gandhi had irked his boss at Ananda Vikatan- SS Vasan who had with embarrassing firmness stressed that Krishnamurthy was not welcome back. Patience ceases to exist for men in trying circumstances. And both of them were impatient. So two eminent men had been torn apart by history and went on to chart their own great paths.
A void loomed large on Krishnamurthy’s horizon as he went to his village. “Would he be able to endure with fortitude the loss of a position and its emoluments?” He also had an overpowering feeling that a fitting rejoinder ought to be given to Vasan in a matching language as the original jibe.
Though Krishnamurthy was out on the streets, around the corner was somebody who would chart his life thereafter. It was Sadasivam who was one not satisfied with producing a couple of films or having a famous wife. He wanted something colossal in life and for an occasion just as Krishnamurthy was looking for an opening. They joined hands.
And so while Krishnamurthy stayed behind bars as the Britisher’s guest, his partner Sadasivam worked overtime. So too did his actress wife MS Subbulakshmi who even acted the role of a male sage – Narada. The couple used the fee from this movie to give an upward shove to the capital of a new magazine.
Krishnamurthy had thought of ‘Kaliyugam’, ‘Jivabhoomi’ or ‘Vellivilakku’ for the title of the new magazine, but was overruled. Krishnamurthy had 10 pseudonyms till then but of them all, Sadasivam felt Kalki sounded crisp.
The first issue with 55 pages of the Kalki magazine practically amounted to a miracle. It was a world full of war and a pocket devoid of resources. Second hand machinery was surprisingly procured by a competitor. Paper magically appeared in the ration era. And the biggest wonder was that a third of the first issue was crammed with advertisements.
Starting in a building opposite the Egmore railway station, Kalki’s first cover had the station with a tricolour flag atop. Krishnamurthy joked in the first editorial “to those who in Madras want to know the location of Egmore railway station, they have a landmark now”.
People reading the first issue saw some similarities with Ananda Vikadan but loved it.The first issue of 12000 copies was sold in minutes. Some changed hands at rate of 4 annas (double the marked price.) Even Kalki’s mentor Rajaji, who had opposed the business venture tooth and nail, changed his mind. Rajaji within a jail could not see his photo on the cover of the second issue and wryly joked “it seems the Kalki magazine has immunity from coming into jails.”
When Rajaji was released he found his face on the Kalki cover again with a classic statement. “Rajaji gets released from a small jail into a bigger jail (British India)”
Within 12 years of its inception, its circulation shot up from 20,000 copies to 70,000 copies. That was because Krishnamurthy now called as Kalki had started the epitome of his career – historical fiction.
Krishnamurthy had an ability to note down the wayside happenings of life and incorporate them into his characters. Post infusion, the prince of the largest empire south of tropic of cancer seemed to be a boy next door. Serial episodes with cunningly wrought last lines meant Kalki always had his readers queue outside the book shops.
Which brings us to the Krishnamurthy – Vasan relationship thereafter? To SS Vasan, Krishnamurthy was just another writer he had turned to an editor with a swish of his wand. But nobody he had discarded or even encouraged had risen to such greatness. Vasan took it with equanimity. When Krishnamurthy died 14 years after the sacking, his ex-boss would abandon the already printed wrapper of 50000 copies of Ananda Vikatan and reprinted it with his former editor Krishnamurthy’s face.
But had Krishnamurthy ever paid tribute to his one time mentor? Some observant readers of his magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan note that the name of the arch villain Ravidasan strangely rhymes with Vasan.