Dharmapalan Viswanathan of Nurani - Palakkad

My father's cousin V. Ravindranath was married to his other cousin Geetha of Palakkad in 1967. The relatives of Ravi uncle and Geetha aunty were our regular visitors at home. Geetha aunty's mother Susheela happened to be the first cousin of my paternal grandmother K.Lalitha Bai. Father Balaraman was a businessman those days. Dharmapalan Viswanathan happened to be a cousin of Balaraman. Their grandfathers had been brothers. My paternal grandmother's mother Parvathavardhini Thayar hailed from Karur and her fair complexioned mother Thayar was from Palakkad. She was the sister to the grandfathers of Dharmapalan and Balaraman. This made Geetha aunty an extremely important family elder for me and my brother Suresh.

Geetha aunty would often talk about financial investments with me. This kind of created an additional interest to dabble in the stock market. Her uncle Dharmapalan was a keen stock market investor. I learnt much about investing in shares because of my interactions with both of them. Dharmapalan was known as Dharma thatha to my cousins Vinod and Vishnu ( sons of Geetha Ravindranath ). He lived in Nurani Agraharam along with his family. The household consisted of his wife Devi Ammal, son Venkatesh , daughter in law Geetha, granddaughter Ramya ( she got married to my cousin Vishnu ) and grandson Rajiv.

Dharma thatha ( Dharmapalan ) was a very knowledgeable person. He used to speak about the prices of precious stones often. His knowledge about several companies listed in the stock market was exemplary. If I am not mistaken, he knew information connected with over 1000 companies which were listed in the stock exchanges of those days. Imagine living in Palakkad and doing all this ! He used to be forever busy reading balance sheets, disseminating information, responding to corporate mail etc., Dividend warrants had to be deposited, share certificates had to be safeguarded. Share transfers would have to be attended to and records connected with taxes would have to be maintained.

We must remember that he operated at a time when there was a high rate of personal taxation, wealth tax issues were prevalent and communications would take time. Dharma thatha ensured that his work was done promptly. He kept track of all his investments and he also ensured that his son Venkatesh was aware of the stock market. The bald and fair complexioned Dharma thatha would discuss management decisions and performances of several companies. He was an expert with regard to the companies that were promoted by Coimbatoreans. It is a well known fact that the people of Coimbatore were keen entrepreneurs.

Dharmapalan was well informed about all the blue chips in India. Interestingly he knew a lot about the companies that had failed too.I used to be amazed at his ability to retain and analyze. He was a wonder and was ahead of his time. Of course, he was a successful investor. Dharmapalan was extremely literate financially at a time when everyone was just learning the ropes. He lived long and led a satisfied life. Dharma Thatha loved to live in Nurani Agraharam at Palakkad and did not want to move out of the village all his life. His house was located at the entrance of Nurani Agraharam. This Agraharam happens to be one of the 42 Agraharams in Palakkad District. A number of Tamil Brahmins had migrated to Palakkad those days and they had been patronized by the rulers and people alike.

The people of Nurani got together and published a book about the village. I had been to Nurani recently along with my friend Balu Anna ( Balasubramaniam ) and this trip helped me to get this well presented book. It gave me the opportunity to visit Venkatesh Dharmapalan and I got to learn some interesting facts connected to Dharmapalan. The name Dharmapalan sounds a bit Buddhist ! I learnt that a small Buddhist settlement had existed near the ancestral residence of Dharmapalan. This was long ago and Venkatesh shared some fascinating details connected with his father.

Visalakshi Viswanathan Chettiar had been expecting a child and this was around the first quarter of the twentieth century. She had seen a monk in her dreams and one day a real monk arrived at her place. This person asked for Visalakshi and met her. Visalakshi had been worried about the well being and life span of her unborn child. The monk told her that she would give birth to a healthy boy and that he would live a long and happy life. Additionally, he advised her to name the boy as Dharmapalan. Scanning facilities were absent those days and she had known about the gender of the to be born child. The family members had not lived long but Dharmapalan lived for more than 90 years. This had been prophesied by the monk even before he was born !

Dharmapalan was born and he began to grow up by the day. He went to school in Nurani Agraharam. Those days a Sankara Madam existed near his school and he used to go to the water fountain located at its entrance and have water regularly. One day the Swamiji in the madam ( mutt ) saw Dharmapalan taking a complete look at the establishment. He asked the young Dharmapalan if he was planning to own the place. The bold and forthright boy had stated that it could happen if had to. That is if one was destined to get it. Time passed by and the Swamiji became older and also a bit infirm.

The Swamiji sentward to Viswanathan Chettiar through a person. Viswanathan Chettiar was quite surprised and he went along with the young Dharmapalan. He did not understand as to why the Swamiji had wanted to meet Dharmapalan. The Swamiji stated that he was going away to Kasi and that he wanted to sell the house to them. Viswanatha Chettiar was surprised and he stated that he did not have the requisite money to buy it at one shot. Palakkad was a small place those days. The Swamiji asked him to give whatever money was present with him. Viswanatha Chettiar had about Rs.1000 and he gave it to Swamiji. Swamiji received the money and stated that he would move over to Kasi and spend his remaining days in the oldest city on earth.

Viswanthan Chettiar was told by the Swami that no sooner he hears about the passing away of the Swamiji, he should give whatever money was in the cash box and register the place in his name. The Swamiji moved over to Kasi and passed away later. Viswanathan Chettiar was informed about this development and he gave away the amount which was with him and the house was made over to him.The family did not feel welcome in the orthodox atmosphere that was prevalent then. However, they moved over to the Sankara Madam at Nurani after some time and this place continues to be their home even today.

Balu Anna and myself were taken over by the story connected with the life and times of Dharmapalan Viswanathan. His son Venkatesh is ever eager to talk about the story connected with the name of his father and the tale connected with the acquiring of the family residence due to the actions and words of his father Dharmapalan. The stock market investor Dharmapalan Viswanathan had been a unique person. Everything connected with his life, right from his birth to his naming had been unique. Here was a man who had forthrightness and ambition. He had the fire in the belly to move into hitherto unknown areas. Dharmapalan and his portfolio are equally rare.

The life and interests of Dharmapalan Viswanathan continue to amuse and inspire me.

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of The Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.