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August 16, 2000
Veerappan's daughter studies in English
Our Correspondent in Salem
Forest brigand Veerappan's eight-year-old daughter is studying in an English medium school in Mettur. Interestingly, one of Veerappan's 14 demands for releasing Kannada film icon Dr Rajakumar is to make Tamil the medium of instruction up to 10th standard in all Tamil Nadu schools.
While the forest brigand may have become a 'Tamil extremist', as government emissary and Nakkeeran editor R R Gopal has described him, it has not dawned on his illiterate wife, Muthulakshmi, or his forgotten daughter Vidyarani. The eight-year-old daughter is a boarding student in second standard at St Mary's School.
"I am studying in an English medium school now," said the young girl in a letter to her father. "Earlier, I used to study in Neruppur, from grandfather's house."
She has a word of advice for her father: "Do not smuggle sandalwood. Do not shoot elephants. Instead, surrender to the police. Then, I can get to see you."
Vidyarani is believed to have written the letter to her father, which was reportedly taken to him by Gopal the last time round.
In the climax scene in the Tamil film Nayakan and its Hindi remake Dayavan, a takeoff on the real-life don Varadarajan Mudaliar, a child asks the dying hero, "Are you a good or bad man?" Vidyarani likewise asks her father the same question.
"Other children brought their parents for school day, and they all live as happy families," she stated in the letter. "Then, how is it that I am left alone. It hurt me somewhere," Vidyarani wrote, recalling her teacher telling her mother how she has stopped being playful and was sulking and silent.
"I get to see you only on television and in newspapers. I am told you are a murderer, a dacoit... Some people also say that you have helped poor people and so you are a good man. I am unable to comprehend all that and am confused, but this much I know: I want to see you. That's my secret wish and I share it only with Amma."
Vidyarani wrote that the policemen visiting her seem good and nice, "but I am told, they are after you. The very idea frightens me."
The child in Vidyarani comes throughout the letter. She wants to become a doctor, as advised by "sisters (nuns) in the school", who have also asked her to "advice your father, if you meet him''.
''But how and when can I meet you, I do not know".
Among the students, only Asmitha and Jeevitha "talk freely to me. The others too know I am Veerappan's daughter, and if at all, taunt me, saying that my father was rich. Otherwise, they all stay away from me. There was a time when I used to frighten my friends, saying that I was Veerappan's daughter. That was when I was less knowledgeable".
Vidyarani also has a little confidence to share -- the kind of confidence you can share only with parents. She said that she had been accused of stealing pencils and pens. " Mani anna told Amma this, and she beat me. But I never did anything like that, dad," she wrote, adding how, overcome by hurt, she ate some poisonous leaves. "Do you know all that?" asked the girl, half in hurt and half in desperation.
In the same vein, Vidyarani recalled her days in Neruppur, her grandfather's place, when the media wrongly claimed that she was threatening local shopkeepers for sweets and chocolates, using her father's name. "I never did anything like that," swears the child, adding that the shopkeepers would give her anything without asking. And she did not know what it meant.
Vidyarani also narrated an incident when on a school picnic, she visited Chengampadi village. "Ilakkiya akka's [sister] told everyone that I was there and the entire village gathered. But the nuns did not like it. They scolded me for going around and telling everyone who I was."
''I never said anything to anyone, Appa, only Ilakkiya akka told the villagers who I was. And she knew who I was," the child told her father.
"Lord Venkatachalapathy is my favourite god and I pray to him everyday that we all should unite. You give up violence and surrender to the police. After that, all of us can live happily together," said the child, obviously not knowing the seriousness of crimes committed by her father.
"People say that you are rich, but Amma is suffering without money. I want to do my MBBS, but for that too, we do not have money. They say that Veerappan is a killer, but I want to become a doctor and save lives. I want to see you and our family united. I shall maintain the composure and confidence until I get to see you. Come soon.''
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