A Valiant Expatriate

by Vinod Narayanan

“I travelled miles, for many year,

I spent a lot in the land afar,

I’ve gone to see the mountains, the oceans, I’ve been yo view

But I haven’t seen with these eyes

just two steps from my home lies on a sheaf of paddy grain a glistening drop of dew”


these words of Rabindranath Tagore has much relevance when we look into our National Movement history to admire. Everyone unanimously says that the fruit of freedom is reaped due to the spirit and labour of many unknown heroines and heroes.

In this 74th Independence Day anniversary let us remember such an unsung hero from Thiruvananthapuram. Ayyapan Raman Pillai or A.R Pillai was born on 26th December 1879 as the only son of a School teacher at the then Travancore.

A.R Pillai started his Socio-cultural activities from his young years. He collaborated with literary luminaries like C.V Raman Pillai and became the member of Royal Asiatic Society. Pillai went to Edinburgh to pursue Bachelor Degree course in Forestry at Edinburgh University. For the academic purpose, he went to Göttingen, Germany. Unfortunately during that time, First World war broke out with Germany attacking Britain, France etc. in 1914 he got stranded in Göttingen.

Pillai had already established close contacts with few Indians in Germany including ‘Virendranath Chattopadhyaya immediate younger brother of Sarojini Naidu, Bhupendranath Datta, Raja Mahendra Pratap who became the President of the exile Government of India in Afghanistan during First World War of 1914-1918 and the renowned expatriate from Trivandrum Chempakaraman Pillai.

 Virendranath Chattopadhyaya formed India Independence Committee with the help of German authorities and A.R Pillai became a member to start literary activities for the committee.

One among the letters of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya states as, ” I assure you I have a great regard for you and a sincere feeling of comradeship especially since we are in the same boat. Please keep us informed of your literary activities…. we must carry out the idea of a book on the National Movement on the lines I suggested.”

A.R Pillai regularly wrote and published articles condemning British and campaigning support for India’s struggle for freedom. He has also corresponded with veteran freedom fighters of other countries like ‘Sir Roger Casement of Ireland, then under British rule, trying to make common cause for India’s freedom struggle abroad. Sir Roger in his letter to A.R Pillai said: “I can do more than thank you warmly for your letter and express my sincere and deep respect for all like you who set their country’s cause above self-interest”

One among the popular article was titled “Indien Und Die Europäische Krisis” (India and the European crisis) published in Westermanns Monat Shafts of December 1914. He wrote a book called “Deutschland Indiens Hoffnung” (Germany a hope to India), which inscribes how Germany and Patriotic Indians can join hands against their common enemy. Scholars cited some exerpts from this boom while Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose sought assistance from Axis powers mainly Nazi-Germany at later chronological period. The book is still available in the Author’s catalogue of Göttingen University. He was a preacher of anti-imperialism and gathered support against the British Crown. His role is expanding and strengthening the India Independence Committee was significant. Raja Mahendra Pratap mentioned him as “the most colourful Indian personality then in Germany”.

The British blocked letters and money to and from Pillai as he is considered as an enemy of the crown, so he was morally isolated from the information of his family.

After the war is over and Germany lost with giving reparation to Allied powers the Nation went into recession thus authorities stopped the financial aid to India Independence Committee. Even though the committee continued its activities they were unable to support its members including A.R Pillai to sustain. So he had to find a means to survive.

Pillai started publishing house with his German friends but luck stands with that of the opposite. After some failed attempts in the publishing business, he planned to return to India (the then Travancore). He tackled enormous and agonizing problems in giving up his business and getting a renewed passport from the British.

A.R Pillai had to give an undertaking to not to involve in local politics in India and not to correspond with Germany. He returned to Thiruvananthapuram on October 1926 but he was still under the intelligence surveillance of British authorities. Pillai resumed socio-cultural activities and became the executive member of All India Exhibition in 1934 and the Annual Sree Chitra Exhibition.

Ayyapan Raman Pillai died on 7th September 1938, eight months past the age of 58 years. Survived by his wife Gouri Amma and five children, Thankamma, Kesavan Nair, Rosscote Krishna Pillai, Suseela Jai and Padmanabhan Nair.

Scenic beauty of morning is not only Sun rays and sky but the reflection of dewdrops in green, likewise, freedom as a right would be meaningful if we understand the suffering and sacrifice of each and every person whose actions lead to the same.

About the Author:

Vinod Narayanan is a Civil Service Aspirant, a former IT Professional, and a law graduate who conducts freelance research in the subject ‘National Movements’. He has recieved Gujarat Sahithya Academy award ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ for his works.

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