The Presentation sisters wanted the pupil’s name changed from Stalin if he was to be admitted to their renowned Church Park Convent, then a co-ed school. The Catholic sisters’ aversion to the Soviet dictator was understandable. The father made it clear that the name of the boy, born four days prior to the Soviet leader’s death, was non-negotiable. “We should be ourselves,” he told his son, who was found another school. The father, M. Karunanidhi, was later to be the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and the president of the DMK.
This steadfast integrity was typical Karunanidhi, and as a contrarian he swam upstream for the cause of Tamils and Tamil Nadu in a public career spanning nearly eight decades. Almost till the end, a wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi pushed the limits of human endeavour much like his early mentor, E.V. Ramasamy Periyar (EVR). From very modest beginnings, he rose by sheer dint of industry, competence and acumen to shape Tamil Nadu’s destiny. To his detractors, however, he was parochial, an unabashed political opportunist and a man who put his family first.