September 2016 was when J Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo due to her ailing health. I can fairly recall the hullaballoo made over that. The days turned into weeks. There was a faint sense that she might be no more and that perhaps the authorities aren’t deliberately announcing fearing the hysteria that may come with it.
Such is the paranoia about stars or leaders in Tamil Nadu. The people worship them. For the common man, the stars are no less than god. Hence, I was quite surprised to see a not-so hysterical farewell given to Amma by the people of Tamil Nadu. Needless to say, the authorities had made prior arrangements to avoid any kind of untoward incident, and the way things were handled goes on to show that they succeeded in their approach.
There are times you can’t figure whether you like a star-like leader or not. Jayalalilthaa was one of those for me. While watching movies at theatres in Chennai, I would always get irked by the advertisements showing her great work for the poor. There were times when I felt what great has she done to deserve such adulation. Whenever an event would take place in Chennai, huge banners and cut-outs of Jayalalithaa would come up on roads. It would seem more like her publicity than the events’. I felt it to be a waste of public exchequer but then who cared? What mattered to Amma loyalists was their devotion to her.
That Tamil Nadu is popular for treating their stars like God is a well-known fact. But, with her, the case was not just about the star power. Like many articles have repeatedly stated, she rose to power in a “male-dominated” environment wherein a woman as a leader could never be admired. Yet, she fought against the odds in her own way. Perhaps, she had learnt the art of doing so with grace. She may have been charged with several corruption charges, so have been the other party leaders. Yet, she knew where to strike the chord. She chose the people, whom most politicians wouldn’t care a damn about. This was evident from the way those very people adored her.
Perhaps that’s why there was a sense of anxiety within me when the news of her death was first announced by a local channel. My entire Facebook timeline was already filled with RIP status. For once, as much as I felt relieved to be away from the hysteria that might have taken over the city, I longed to be there in the moment, in the newsroom because that’s where I would have got the real picture of what was going on. I went home and switched on the TV to get the latest updates. Unfortunately, I called it a day just 10 minutes before the news was officially announced.
My husband broke the news to me early in the morning as soon as I opened my eyes. I was taken aback but somewhere knew that it was coming. As I switched on the TV, I saw her wrapped in tri-colour, eyes closed and not a word spoken. There was this sense of grief within that the state will surely not get a leader as bold and enigmatic as her. She rose to power battling the ugly patriarchy. Her persona was such that people would always bow down before her. With her rising popularity came what people would have not given her otherwise. I spent my entire day reading only about her. And, as much as I read about her personal as well as professional life, I realised what she had earned out of her own fearless self. She may have been in the news for her corruption charges but that did not deter her supporters ever. What they admired in her was her courage, and way to deal with all the adversity around.
The man, who now heads her chair, has a huge void to fill. He has been known to being an Amma loyalist forever. But with her gone, how he will be able to take charge of the state as well as the party will be seen gradually. I can only hope that the party workers, supporters and those who claim to be her nearest ones don’t fail her in her death. They have huge shoes to fill and they cannot just play on the emotional card. Let’s hope Tamil Nadu doesn’t get sidelined because it has lost an uncompromising leader, a Godly figure who happens only once in a lifetime.