In 1966, MK Stalin embarked on his political career by founding the Gopalapuram Youth Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Over the next five decades, his political journey would see remarkable milestones, including his tenure as Chennai’s Mayor in 1996, President of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2018, and his ultimate ascension to Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 2021.

One Among You is the translated version of Stalin’s autobiography in Tamil, Ungalil Oruvan. The book is translated by senior journalist AS Panneerselvan. It narrates the first 23 years of his life, from 1953 to 1976 when he was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) during the Emergency.

This volume talks about Stalin’s formative years, his experiences in school and college, and his early engagement with the DMK. Stalin’s narrative extends beyond the realm of politics. It delves into his deep connection with the worlds of theatre and cinema, where his passion for the arts converged with his commitment to initiating social change and his pivotal involvement in the party’s publication Murasoli.

The book takes us on a chronological journey, from Stalin’s formative years in a politically charged household to his eventual rise as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Through candid storytelling, Stalin delves into his family’s legacy and its profound influence on his political outlook.

Triumphs, challenges

The book captures Stalin’s first-hand accounts of his political career, his triumphs, and his challenges. He elucidates his experiences of navigating a complex web of alliances, rivalries, and electoral battles, making it clear that the path to political leadership is fraught with obstacles and uncertainties.

He says, “I was guided by two principles when I began my political journey. One, in politics one has to be prepared to encounter anything. Two, one has to personally negotiate these hurdles and cannot delegate them to others.”

Stalin’s anecdotes are one of the book’s highlights. He was denied school admission because his name was Stalin. He also shares stories of his interactions with common people who played a key role in shaping his political actions.

Politics and cinema

Stalin also discusses critical issues like language politics, Dravidian ideology, and regional identity with depth and nuance. He talks about the role of cinema in Tamil Nadu politics and the symbiotic relationship between the two.

He says, “The DMK and the film industry are inseparable. So is the relationship between cinema and my family. Starting from my father Kalaignar to my son Udhayanidhi...”

It is interesting to note that a lot of metaphors that Stalin uses in his narrative resemble that of his father Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi. In fact, the book itself might make one think that it’s more about Karunanidhi. To which Stalin answers, “One may wonder why he is more visible in this book than me. To that, my reply would be that both of us are here. I cannot be here without him.”

The book contains speeches by various prominent political figures like Periyar, Kamarajar, Annadurai, Rajaji, Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran, Shivaji and more. A lot of Karunanidhi’s speeches to youth feel like they are addressed to Stalin.

Commendable translation

Panneerselvan’s translation deserves commendation for maintaining the authenticity and emotional resonance of Stalin’s narrative. The language is lucid and captures the essence of Stalin’s experiences, making the book accessible to a readership beyond Tamil-speaking audiences.

However, the book isn’t without its limitations. Some readers may find the narrative to be somewhat one-sided, as it primarily represents Stalin’s perspective and experiences. Also, one may find it repetitive at times. 

Some of the Tamil-to-English translations didn’t quite capture the essence. For example, though Maran, Selvam, and Amirtham are Stalin’s cousins, the book calls them ‘uncles’ at an instance.

Despite advocating for a casteless society throughout the book, addressing their Gopalapuram house-owner by his caste seems contradictory.

In conclusion, whether you are interested in Indian politics, social justice, or personal development, this autobiography is a worthwhile read that provides stories about the life and principles of a prominent political leader. So, now let’s wait for the second volume that will talk about his Prison experience, as Stalin says, “Here I am waiting outside it. I request you, too, to wait.”

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About the book
Title: One Among you Vol. 1
Author: MK Stalin
Translated by: AS Pannerselvan
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Pages: 205
Price: ₹599