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He is old, hungry and poor, but believes spring cannot be far behind

In a small room near a congested bylane of Madras, lives C S Chellappa -- a freedom fighter and well known writer. In spite of ailing health and grim poverty, this 86-year-old Gandhian has kept his creativity aglow.

The author of two novels, 109 short stories and 50 odd articles, Chellappa continues to weave tales of hope and freedom. The octogenarian has just completed The thirst for freedom, a three volume epic novel and plans to dedicate his work to the nation on the occasion of the golden jubilee of Indian Independence.

"While national poet Subramania Bharati failed to publish his 300 odd poems, I have managed to publish The thirst for freedom which is penned on a bigger scale than Tolstoy's War and Peace," says Chellappa.

Chellappa's literary mission, running into 1,650 pages could only materialise after he sold his wife's jewellery. Of the total cost of Rs 120,000, he has raised Rs 40,000 for the first volume and is struggling to arrange for the rest.

The novel, with Tamil Nadu, particularly Madurai as the backdrop, traces the freedom struggle. The leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Salt Satyagraha and the seven-year Civil Disobedience Movement form the main focus of the book.

Chellappa has been associated with the world of literature, for the past 62 years. Drawn towards the movement by the fiery speeches on Sarojini Devi, T Prakasam, Rajaji and Perivar E V Ramasamy, he started dreaming about Indian's freedom even as a school student in Tuticorin.

Chellappa's thirst for freedom drew inspiration from Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose, who advocated armed struggle to secure freedom. He was an admirer of S M Somayajulu, a freedom fighter who was a disciple of firebrand Subramania Siva.

The nationalist freedom was strengthened by the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh.When Bhagat Singh was hanged, a young Chellappa seething with anger, told his father that Gandhiji had betrayed Bhagat Singh.

"My father said do you want swaraj or the life of Bhagat Singh? If it is swaraj, then many more have to die," remembers Chellappa. The incident left a strong effect on Chellappa and he became a firm believer in the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence.

Chellappa could not join the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1932 as Gandhiji had decreed that students should not participate in the movement without their parents's consent.

However, when the second World War broke out, Gandhiji launched individual satyagraha. "This war is not ours and we should not support it with men and materials," was his message.

So Chellappa participated in the satyagraha at Batlagundu, courted arrest and was jailed for six months on January 10, 1941. Though he could not participate in the Quit India Movement, he was arrested. After his release, he set up a cottage industry for handmade paper.

Chellappa's father, Subramania Iyer, was a government servant. An overseer in the public works department he was also a nationalist, who spun khadi on a charkha and attended meetings of national leaders.Young Chellappa grew up in this environment, wearing khadi, singing, patriotic songs at street corner gatherings and attending meetings with his father.

He completed his BA degree in Economics but was unable to get his degree because he failed four times in English literature. "Milton and Shakespeare wrought vengeance on me," he says.

Chellappa's first story, Markazhi Malar, was published in 1934 in Swatantra Sanku. His first earning from a published work came four years later -- a sum of Rs 5 for a short story. He also worked in dailies, like Jayabharati, Tamil Nadu and the weekly section of Dinamani.

Later, Chellappa turned to literary criticism and brought out a magazine Ezhuthutu.With a will that was stronger than his body he carried his books from one town to another to sell them and make a living.

"Before swaraj, there were values. Morality in public life. But all was lost afterwards," laments Chellappa, "Gandhian values have been forgotten. What one sees now is criminalisation of politics instead of spiritualised politics advocated by the Mahatma."

"They talk of restoring Kamaraj and MGR rule. Why not the Ram Rajya dreamt by Gandhiji? Revive nationalism, morality, spiritualism and proper governance based on truth and nonviolence. Make India self reliant and self sufficient by going to the villagers," he continues.

But Chellappa is still hopeful that one day India will come on course. "I am a spent force, yet optimistic. Can spring be far behind?" he asks, with sparks of hope brightening his face.