I first met Palani G Periasamy (PGP) in September 1985 when I was on a visit to the US under the International Visitors’ Programme. My journalist friend Hasmukh Shah fixed a dinner meeting at PGP’s house. PGP was then the Professor of Economics at the University of Baltimore. He was a popular figure among NRIs. He headed Tamil Sangams and was also involved with the Tamil Nadu Foundation. A couple of years later, I interviewed him for the All India Radio. In that interview, he expressed an interest to expand his foundation’s activities into India.
Periasamy shot into prominence after he took care of Chief Minister M G Ramachandran (MGR) when the latter underwent treatments for a kidney transplant at New York. MGR expressed his gratitude at a large public function at the Kathipara junction, lavishing praise on his Japanese surgeon, Dr Kanu and PGP.
PGP was involved in the hotel industry in the US and was keen to set up a world-class hotel in Chennai. MGR was impressed with the plan and offered to help him with setting up a hotel with 650 rooms. The sprawling land of 170 acres at My Lady’s Garden was given as part of the state’s equity.
He cancelled PGP’s hotel licence and inaugurated his star hotel!
The hotel project suffered a setback after MGR’s death. With convulsions in the AIADMK and the DMK returning to power, M Karunanidhi reversed several of the AIADMK government’s decisions, one of which was to cancel the licence of PGP’s hotel project.
PGP describes the financial strain he suffered in the process. A decade later the hotel was inaugurated by Karunanidhi!
There were wild rumours about the favours extended to PGP. In this autobiography (in Tamil, Idhaya Oli), PGP has sought to clear such misconceptions.
Born in a humble farm family in a village near Namakkal, PGP describes his experiences, efforts, hard work and the guidance and support of his parents and several others in overcoming the various hurdles in his life. He explains that the purpose of this book was to describe his close association with MGR and their deep mutual friendship.
The untiring zeal and work put in by PGP from his school and college days, especially his brilliant academic record and interest in pursuing higher studies in the US well before a generation of middle class seized such opportunities in the 1990s should be an inspiration to an aspirational generation.
Close ties with MGR
PGP had previously met MGR during the latter’s visit to the US at the invitation of the US government.
The detailed description of this visit prepared him for his moving much closer to MGR when the latter fell seriously ill in 1984. PGP’s efforts in sending a team of four renowned doctors to Chennai to examine MGR, their advice to shift him to the US, registering a special ward for MGR at the Brooklyn Hospitals, advancing money without waiting for the transfer of funds from India, provide new insights.
Periasamy’s familiarity with the American systems helped in communicating with the specialists and conveying their decisions to the doctors that accompanied MGR.
In this autobiography, PGP describes the care and attention he bestowed on MGR and his entourage. Those were indeed weighty days with a lot of rumours about MGR’s state of health. With the announcement of elections after Indira Gandhi’s death in 1984, the political climate in India was in a turmoil. The AIADMK leadership was in flux with Jayalalithaa sidelined. The rumour mills were also active, pointing to the uncertainty of MGR’s recovery.
PGP took a video showing MGR was back to health in New York and getting ready to return to India and resume office. This video was widely shown and helped the AIADMK return to power.
Heartbeats is a welcome narration of the political course of Tamil Nadu during a crucial period of MGR’s reign and the dramatic changes after his demise.