Letters to Suchi #69-The Ballad of The South

I wish to share a chapter from My Letters to Suchi (letter #69), titled the Ballad of The South to remember the long forgotten tale of an old family from the South-Pondicherry/Madras on the 101st birthday of my granduncle Tiger Thyagarajan. Tiger was our family’s anchor to the South (India), the eldest son of an old musical family. He was fired with the same passion that flowed through my family that had sacrificed much resisting British colonial rule in India. Upon the outbreak of WWII, he followed on his footsteps, but this time aligning with the British by joining the RAF to crush the forces of bigotry and oppression. His typhoon fighter jet plane was shot down on a field in Normandy the day Paris was liberated.

See below Tiger Thyagarajan on the engine cowl:

My Letters To Suchi #69 – The Ballad of The South

From: Purnima

Date: Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 1:21 AM

Subject: The Ballad of the South and To Forget or Not to Forget

To: Sucharita Shanker

Dear Suchi,

Before I wrap up for this abominable year 2016, I find myself limping to my desk to complete this leaf from my diary: The Ballad of the South – To Forget or Not to Forget.

If you want to skip the legalese covering The Right To Be Forgotten just scroll down to the spicy Ballad of the South sure to excite if you are a military history buff.

The issue on everyones lips in the legal world appears to be around the issue of The Right to be Forgotten. As you may be aware, the Europeans culturally have very stringent privacy standards, an issue they almost define with their identity. The Americans on the other hand ascribe the same stringent standards to the Freedom of Expression, thereby resulting in something that can only be construed as The Clash of Civilizations in its truest sense. This has manifested itself in the now (in)famous Google case in France where the French court has ruled effectively that a persons data is their own, and if it is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive a person can request for links to that search be removed by Google. Re-iterating a person’s Right to be Forgotten.

However, Google’s position which has been supported by a number of US civil rights organisations including the EFF (article below) believes that CNIL, the French regulatory authority position is excessive as it demands that not only should the search results be removed from the European sites like Google.fr and Google.uk and Google.com (which after a struggle Google has recently complied with) but all sites worldwide. However, Google has appealed CNIL’s position to the highest French court challenging its order to remove all the links across the whole wide world. This according to Google would set a dangerous precedent as other not so democratic countries may want unsavoury information about their acts of repression also removed. This would also infringe US laws resulting in stifling speech in the US.

This is such a fascinatingly complex issue, I’m going to try and reduce it to its bare bones with clips and illustrations trying to identify the issues and balance the argument. 

First of all, can you imagine a universe with eternal memory…well that’s where the internet is taking us (I honestly see no escape). Imagine NOT being unable to forget the pain of a parents demise, the pain of a lost child, the pain of childbirth, honestly if each memory lay vivid in our imagination all day everyday, it would be a trauma to live, to awake to a new dawn, to try again, to cross the finish line, to cradle a bundle of joy. And yet, some memories serve a wonderful purpose for we remember to turn off the stove, we remember to wedge the baby with cushions as we prepare its feed, and we remember to look left and right before crossing the street (literally and metaphorically), and we remember to stub out our cigarettes before we dispose of them least we have all of our golden hillsides and Berkeley in flames again.

However there is a medical condition called Hyperthymesia where a person cannot forget, has full memory of all the events that have dotted his/her past. See the brilliant NPR article below and the associated nightmare of not being able to forget. Also see below the Telegraph article about the Channel 4 documentary on the same issue. These are real issues and the Europeans are justifiably passionate about them. Viewing it from an American perspective, we have to recognise the dilemma presented and the cultural basis from which it stems. Remember we creatures on the Galapagos have now forged our own unique culture.

NPR: When Memories Never Fade The Past Can Poison the Present


The Telegraph: The Boy Who Cant Forget


See below the articles by The Guardian and Peter Fleischer (Google):

The Guardian – Google takes the right to be forgotten to the highest court:


Google is appealing to France’s highest court so that it is not compelled to censor search results worldwide. “We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries – perhaps less open and democratic – start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?”

Reflecting on the Right to be Forgotten – Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel


Fletcher outlining his position as defending the right of each country to balance the freedom of expression and privacy it chooses, not what is imposed upon it, ie, what another country chooses for it. Delisted links on all European versions of google search like Google.fr, google.uk and in March 2016 also removed links from Google.com so that persons from countries requesting delisting could NOT access the requested blocked links. CNIL request based on the EU Right to be forgotten is that it be blocked from everywhere, ie, every country on the globe.

Finally, but most significantly, The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation, see article below) has come out in support of Google position stating that it has an issue with France’s unilateral declaration of universal jurisdiction, ie, that France cannot unilaterally decree what a global citizen, not resident in France (or the EU) can view or not view. They cannot dictate the terms of the world’s viewership and access as it is out of their jurisdiction. Specifically by highlighting US law and the US position on the Freedom of Expression:

– US publishers have a right to publish truthful information (acquired legally) pertaining to a matter of public interest even if it conflicts with privacy interests

– US publishers have the right to publish information contained in public court documents

– Accurate republication of statements made during official proceedings

– US law protects internet intermediaries (like Google) based on content provided by 3rd parties 

– The Right to receive information, advertise and be advertised to (would all be compromised by CNIL’s regulations)

EFF – Right to be forgotten 


Rights at Odds: Europes Right to be Forgotten Clashes with US Law https://www.eff.org/files/2016/11/29/rtbf-us_law_legal_background.pdf

In my (first generation immigrant) opinion, there needs to be a balance between right to privacy and freedom of expression as without privacy there can be no freedoms. The court protected publication of a sexual assault victim’s info (Daily Mail Rule as mentioned in the EFF article above) and publication of documents of persons who have been rehabilitated and merged back into society, in my opinion upsets this fine balance as society aims not just to punish but protect, rehabilitate and reincorporate persons into society giving them a second chance, and this goal of society would be stripped if records of misdeeds are always front and centre looming for eternity. No one would be motivated to reform, rehabilitate as they would be no exit from jail time in jail or out in society. We also have to recognise that publication in the online sphere is not mere publication of a document like ink on paper, but like the printing press which served to propagate news across a broad spectrum but still contained it within a certain geographic region, publication in the online sphere is nothing like the printing press or publications that man has known before, for it publishes information exponentially, as there are no boundaries or barriers to the propagation of this information. I would still like to adhere to the basic tenet: To Err is Human, To Forgive Divine. And would hope that laws made by humans for humans would take that into consideration.

My opinion falls more in line with the following comment by Julia Powels (Univ of Cambridge researcher on Law and Technology) taken from her article below: There is a public sphere of memory and truth, and there is a private one. This is fundamental to higher, egalitarian values. Without the freedom to be private, we have precious little freedom at all.

Jimmy Wales is wrong: we do have a personal right to be forgotten

Julia Powles (a law and technology researcher at University of Cambridge)


However, all said and done about privacy, I too don’t believe it is or should be in the jurisdiction of one nation or group to determine the mode, form or fashion of information generated and accessed by all of humanity. Perhaps this dilemma about the Right to be Forgotten, EU customs V US customs, will provide us with the opportunity to define the issue. Very simplistically:

– Who decides, which one makes the call about what is correct and acceptable, the procedure to follow – ie – The Code of the Net

– Can any one country dictate this code based on the customs and code in their territorial space and expect it to be applied universally across this new realm – the Net

– All this boils down to the core issue of what is the Code of the Net, which laws apply and how do the customs culture and laws the nations of the world translate into this cybersphere

– There is a need for consensus in both the territorial and cyberworld. The laws of the territorial world we have already seen cannot be blindly imposed upon the cyberworld and expected to be seamlessly applied. The denizens of the cyberworld might not fall into the neat categories of the territorial nations they physically inhabit or are aligned with, they may each have their own identity and allegiance online. They may be grouped based on a distinct philosophy, they may have acquired value/ status in the cyber realm not based age and education but interaction and presence, contribution to the expansion of the cyberworld thus generating value in this space as opposed to the real world. We already have a host of undefined tax issues relating to the same. 

– However these are humans inhabiting this world so they are bound to fall into philosophically and ideologically distinct groups which will represent the Nations of the Net. Eventually any laws passed by the nations of the real world would also require to have consensus amongst the Nations of the Net which at this point appear to be ruled by Pirates as they attempt to escape the real world and take shelter in this alternate space. Only upon getting the consensus of the Pirate Lords can the codes that originate in the real world have any hope of being applied in the cyber world.

See clip below of my fav movie of all times The Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates of the Caribbean  At World’s End – 

This is a classic tale of the establishment /oppressive powers of the British Colonists, Spanish Empire and The East India Company versus the anti establishment fighting for their right to exist and express represented by the Pirates. 

 In the following clip from the above movie the Pirate lords convene in Shipwreck Cove to elect a pirate leader who would unleash Calypso. Feng, the Singapore pirate lord appoints Elizabeth Swann as his sucessor as Pirate Lord before dying. Thus Elizabeth’s presence at the Brethren Court ( and I am of course Elizabeth Swann in an alternate world being appointed by Feng GIC, the Pirate Lords of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca). Upon identifying themselves and confirming their attendance with their pieces of eight, the Pirate Lords are compelled to vote for a Pirate King upon whose command Calypso would be released. Each pirate of course votes for himself, but here Jack Sparrow votes for Elizabeth Swann and she gets elected as the Pirate King. 

The Pirates of the Caribbean – Pieces of Eight

The Code is the Law:

Now Suchi moving from this tale about the French, British, Americans and our beloved Pirates onto another charming tale about a family from Madras, The French (good guys in my story for a change), The British Colonists (the baddies), the shadow of America with its song of Freedom and liberty and a Pirate ship. A leaf from my diary – 

The Ballad of the South.

The story opens in Madras on February 22nd, 1914, the night my paternal grandmother Kowshiki was born. It was a night etched in Madras history as a sneaky pirate ship, a German light cruiser called the SMS Emden slowly snuck up into the Madras harbour and bombarded it until all the Burmah Shell petroleum reserves had blown up and the harbour was in flames. This theatre of this audacious pirate ship that dodged all in its path unfolded in the first couple of weeks of World War I. The aim of this attack being to blow up the British colonial assets, ie, the petroleum stocked in the harbour by Burmah Shell Company. The SMS Emden was also known as The Swan of the East and was harboured at the port city of Tsingtao (my fav beer) and commanded by the very smart officer Karl Von Muller who managed to unleash a trail of chaos upon the South China seas sabotaging and destroying the Allied ships and resources that came in its path, and yet managing to travel undetected in the high seas. The captain cleverly camouflaged his ship by adding an additional dummy smokestack in order to resemble a British ship, and once near it would hoist its colours like a pirate would and embark on a full fledged attack. Through these tactics and its deft evasion skills it gained great fame/ notoriety and its journey, its story and the story of its crew is memorialised in much of history, film and literature. The story of the Emden is very relevant to us because my great grandfather, S. Duraiswami Iyer, who was a prominent lawyer in the Madras High Court and revolutionary fighting for India’s independence from British rule, seized this opportunity, the blowing up of the British Colonial assets by a pirate ship that had snuck into the harbour on the night of the birth of his first child and named her Emden. So my grandmother was called Kowshiki Emden. As you can see from the image below my grandmother Kowshiki was truly The Swan of the East. This was a name she wore for many years until she was teased to tears (for Emden was known in Tamil to connote someone sly and treacherous like the ship)and forced her father to change it Kowshiki in the birth records.

Image of my grandmother Kowshiki – Swan of the East:

 See below the fabulous clips about the voyage of the SMS Emden and the plague in Madras: 

Military History Now – The Astounding Voyage of the SMS Emden:https://militaryhistorynow.com/2013/05/08/the-kaisers-pirate-ship-the-unbelievable-voyage-of-the-sms-emden/

The Story of the SMS Emden – The Great War

Madras – The Emden Plaque – Memorializing the night of September 22, 1914 and the bombardment by the German Cruiser SMS Emden of Madras Harbor:


Emden – The Pirate Ship – Must read article in The Hindu:


The Bombardment of Madras Harbor:


The Men of Emden – movie (2012)

Palm Grove (see below), S Duraiswami Iyer my great grandfather’s home, where my father and his siblings were born was given up by my great grandfather along with all his assets to the Aurobindo Ashram and to the cause for which he had sacrificed his blood, sweat, tears and family: India’s Freedom from British Colonial rule. My grandmother used to recount that this was a home where great artists, writers, poets, philosophers and freedom fighters were housed and taken care of. The evenings used to resound with dramatic orations from Subramania Bharati and music from the veena that wafted from the balconies while my grandmother Kowshiki sat on the lap of Ramana Maharishi as he recounted to her the meaning of life. This is the story of the Tamil people and one that seems to have slipped from their collective memories as the great revolutionaries from the southern states are all but forgotten within barely a mention in any of our history books. Where are these stories from the south of valour and passion, intrigue and revolution to uphold freedom and liberty which would excite the imaginations of children even today, stories of S Duraiswami in Surat in 1907 or his clandestine helping of the revolutionaries by finding novel means of getting messages across to Subramania Bharati who was sheltered (by the French) in Pondicherry, or even S Duraiswami being sent as an envoy of Aurobindo to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress (the Crips mission) and dissuade them from partitioning the country. I don’t remember reading about these southern revolutionaries, fired and inspired by their tactics and stories to free their Motherland, in my history books in Delhi or Madras or even Calcutta. Suchi, “Vande Mataram” was the cry echoed across India, regardless of the language of the people, this cry formed the core of S Duraiswami Iyer, as he embraced it as his life’s motto. For Madras to forget or not to forget is now irrelevant as this memory is to be rebuilt in the New World:

Image S Duraiswami Iyer:

Crips Mission and S Duraiswami:


Palm Grove – S Duraiswami Iyer’s home




Music to Dust – The House of Tiruvottiyur Tyagier:


Ironically, but very aptly even though my great grandfather was funding and working covertly with the revolutionaries to overthrow British Colonial rule in India, thus celebrating the German light cruiser SMS Eden’s assault on British assets, ie, the oil tanks of the Burmah Shell company that were located in the Madras harbour and naming his first child, my grandmother Kowshiki, Emden, S Duraiswami’s son, and my grandmothers brother Thyagarajan “Tiger” who was studying in England upon the breaking out of WWII joined the RAF and went on to blow up the assets of Nazi Germany. His purpose was completely inspired and in line with his father, S Duraiswami Iyer, for Tiger in his capacity, wished to do his best to help remove the tyranny and injustice of the Nazis like his father had striven to dedicate his life to get rid of the tyranny and injustice imposed upon the people of India by the British Colonial forces. Tall handsome Tiger, my grandmother’s favourite sibling and the one she remembered and missed most with all her heart until the day she passed, and one who was the rightful inheritor of my great grandfathers legacy, sharing his passion for justice, and our base in the South, and was shot down over Normandy ton the 25th August 1944, the day Paris was liberated. His remains were collected and buried in a church in Normandy, the memory being narrated by a child who saw the plane crash into the fields (see below). There was also a memorial service by the French, British and Indian nationals recognising his valour and contribution. Thus ends the story and the links to the south of my family, this long forgotten family of Madras.

A wonderful article and a fitting tribute to Pilot Officer Sayanapuram Duraiswamy Thyagarajan (Tiger) written by David McMahon


Voice of Britain – 1944- One of Our Aircrafts are Missing (video clip):


Images of “Tiger” Thyagarajan:


Field in Normandy where Tiger’s RAF typhoon aircraft crashed

The Soldier – Poem by Rupert Brooke – Quoting the same, my fathers words for his uncle “In that Rich Earth, a Richer Dust Concealed”


“Tiger” Thyagarajan the RAF Pilot – website


Memorial held for Thyagarajan in Normandy by the British, French and Indians with a plaque that commemorates – Here Lies a Hindu Airman:

The Remains of The Tiger

We Shall Not Forget

*The RAF Typhoon Aircraft:

*Hawker Typhoon – incredible sound

*Typhoon aircraft documentary- photo of Tiger sitting on the engine cowl:

Out of Duraiswami’s large family of five children, only Kowshiki (my grandmother) survived and married Viswanathan. I’d like to think that my grandfather Venkat Viswanathan ICS, who was so much a part of the British Raj, (the very people my revolutionary Great grandfather was fighting), was the reason why the story of Duraiswami Iyer continues to this day as I carry forward not only S Duraiswami Iyer’s blood but his fire to the New World!

Hope you enjoyed the ballad from The House of Tiruvottiyur Tyagier, tell me can you hear the music?

Big hugs


PS: See in pic below all the characters of the Grand Theatre of the South. 

(Top row L-R): Mithran Iyer (@Sorbonne) Duraiswami’s son, (?),(?), V.Viswanathan(Palghat- my grandfather), S.Duraiswami Iyer (The Madras lawyer/revolutionary – my great grandfather) holding my aunt Kadambari, Tiger Thyagarajan (RAF) my granduncle Duraiswami’s son, shot over Normandy and buried there.

(Seated L-R) ?, My great-grandmother from Palghat with my father Vijay Viswanathan on her lap, (?), Kowshiki “Emden” Viswanathan (my paternal grandmother), Anu Iyer (grand aunt) daughter of Duraiswami Iyer with my uncle PK Viswanathan resting his arm on her lap, (?)

Dear Suchi,

After prompting you to review all our correspondence to check if it can be published unedited, I found myself doing the same expecting the regular errors of auto correct, missing words, grammatical and punctuation related errors and omissions which can result from uncontrived spontaneous writing and require no editing in my opinion. However, I stumbled upon this inexcusable error, the omission of a negative, the word “not” which renders the entire analysis bankrupt. So, I am compelled in this specific instance to make the correction, insert the missing word “not”, and resend the letter. See below:

Reflecting on the Right to be Forgotten – Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel


Fletcher outlining his position as defending the right of each country to balance the freedom of expression and privacy it chooses, not what is imposed upon it, ie, what another country chooses for it. Delisted links on all european versions of google search like Google.frgoogle.uk and in March 2016 also removed links from Google.com so that persons from countries requesting delisting could NOT access the requested blocked links. 

And since I have ventured to edit and resend this letter, I have taken the liberty of adding an additional hyperlink relating to my grandmother brother Thyagarajan “Tiger”, the RAF pilot shot over Normandy on the day Paris was liberated. This link is absolutely essential as it has his details and his photos capturing the charismatic persona that my grandmother  never stopped talking about. She was well into her 80’s when they announced that they had founds her brothers remains on a field in Normandy. It was a lifetimes wait for her and I am so glad she left knowing that he was found, embraced by the community, carried into a church and buried in their grounds with a plaque that stated “Here lies a Hindu airman”. See link below:

“Tiger” Thyagarajan the RAF Pilot – website


Lots of love,


Sucharita Shanker <sucharita.shanker@gmail.com>

Feb 17pastedGraphic.png

to me pastedGraphic.png

I also noticed that you’ve written Peter Fleischer in one place and Fletcher in another.  We sometimes see with our brains and not with our eyes and many an omission or typo slips through the cracks. 

Purnima Delhi <purnimainnewdelhi@gmail.com>

Feb 17pastedGraphic.png

to Sucharita pastedGraphic.png

Oh that darn autocorrect! But this is a mild error compared to others I have encountered including having my phone hacked (by my kids) and words replaced, where every time I typed baby or darling it would autocorrect to an obscenity. But this I still would not touch as it could be recognized as an autocorrect error. I would like to keep the natural flow as much as possible. 

I’m off to Delhi for a day tomorrow for my cousin 50th. She is my fathers elder brothers daughter, the one who grew up in Bombay. And if my family story couldn’t get more complex, her father, Priya Kumar Viswanathan, my grandmother Kowshiki “Emden’s” eldest son, joined the Burmah Shell Oil Company right out of college, yes the assets of the one that the SMS Emden bombed in Madras harbor the night that my grandmother was born. For Burmah Shell was British Petroleum. He retired relinquishing the chairmanship to join the Dutch (Phillips). So there we have it, circles within circles. All a part of our great boxwalla story!

Big hugs will write when I’m back! Do call when you get back. 

PS: The Dutch are always in our story…



PURNIMA VISWANATHAN (Granddaughter of Kowshiki “Emden” Viswanathan)

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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