Undergoing regular dialysis for kidney ailments for few years, Gnani was away from his active social life for several months.
Known for his spirited life and daring positions on various issues, Gnani is often recalled by his friends as a firebrand journalist of Madras of early 1980s, besides his many experiments in literature, street plays and theatre.
One of his journalistic works that kicked up a major controversy was an interview of Jayendra Saraswathi in 1981 that put the pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham in trouble for his remarks of conducting prayers to make M Karunanidhi sick. A sub-editor working with Ethiroli magazine, Gnani’s met Saraswathi along with Chinna Kuthoosi, a veteran journalist and Dravidian thinker, who has been a strong critique of the Mutt.
Gnani was seen joining AAP and unsuccessfully contesting from Alandur constituency in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Later he would quit AAP citing health reasons.
Gnani was one of the few public intellectuals who had been demanding Karunanidhi to hand over the party leadership to his son M K Stalin. Often, his demand to handover the baton to Stalin triggered controversy as he would cite the old age of Karunanidhi. One such statement had finally forced a leading Tamil daily to stop his column allegedly under the pressure of DMK leadership.
Gnani has been a Left of the Centre, his friends recall. Whether they were protests on bus fare hike or strike of nurses in Chennai’s leading private hospitals or corruption or authoritarian politics of Dravidian majors or anti-nuclear protests, Gnani’s was one such voice that everyone waited for, and he was vocal about social issues through his television programmes and number of columns he wrote in popular Tamil publications.
At the peak of corruption allegations and chaos in academics in Tamil Nadu state universities where Dravidian majors took turns to sell the posts of Vice Chancellors in the last two decades, Gnani once told this reporter: “Universities have become like a cemetery, where departments are like coffins and the department heads are sitting like corpses. They have lost their minimum sense of shame, and they have learned to work under people who purchased their posts for several crores.”
His clarity on political developments and strong disagreements with dictatorial party leaderships were evident in his political comments. At a time when Jayalalithaa was imprisoned in disproportionate asset case and her intervention was lacking in the long-pending Cauvery issue, Gnani would say that “Jayalalithaa was the only leader in AIADMK who could handle Cauvery issue.”
“It is a fact that there is nobody better or worse than O Panneerselvam (who was the CM in absence of Jayalalithaa) because everyone else in the party, other than Jayalalithaa, resembles Panneerselvam. Criteria set for an AIADMK leader is not his leadership quality,” Gnani would say. And about Madras cadre and bureaucracy, he said: “If they are efficient, they are equally corrupt too. They may not get accused in corruption charges, but they are hand in glove with corruption and benefits from corrupt regimes,” he said.
His body has been kept at his residence in KK Nagar, and will be donated to a hospital. He is survived by his wife and a son.