A life long disagreement. A lump. A void

I cant remember the last time I had a lump in my throat when a politician died. I do today. I surprise myself because I have never voted for the person, hated her brand of leadership and rarely agreed with her for the most part of her career. But her career also panned my entire adult life and I realize today that the battles we fought together and against – me as a citizen and she as my representative, have defined a large part of my life. A part that ended today. So it is difficult to differentiate the personal from the political, when it comes to emotions on this day.


The Misfit

I felt for her as a ten year old boy watching the live telecast of MGR’s funeral, when she was man-handled out of the gun carriage carrying his body. Amidst hardened coterie men, she was an odd one out in that picture. I couldn’t help thinking that she somehow just did not fit in. If you had told me that day that the same cadre will fall on her feet willingly and worship her only a decade later, I would have been very happy with the World’s justice mechanism.

I had to take 25 C to my school and every time it crossed church park, there will invariably be someone whispering “that is Jayalalitha’s school”. I was proud of her. There is no country man outside my state who had / has a Chief Minister who topped the state in the Matriculation exams. She just seemed to never fit in! Years later, I would Love to show off her interview with Simi Garewal (1999) to my friends from elsewhere. I even bought a collection of short stories by Somerset Maugham, because she mentioned it as her favourite book in that interview.

I did not root for her in the first election that ensued. It was also the first that I actively followed in my life – a time when the term “Amma” referred to someone else in TN politics. An election that fascinated me as a boy because at barber shops and family functions – my biggest source of political discourse at the time, it was pitched as the battle of the wife Vs the lover. And marriages have always won in this part of the World. As she would point out in an interview many years later, almost all of the female leaders in Asia have been related by blood or marriage to a male leader. Though on this occasion, both lost.

The walking tragedy

What happened in the TN assembly in 1989 shocked me even as a boy. Probably the first of many incidents that would disillusion dravidian politics as a concept for me.


When I read about her in those years, her loneliness drew me to her. The child who lived away from family, the girl who was forced into an acting career she did not like, the man who took her entire youth as hostage, a lover and a political successor who was just left to fend for herself…her melancholy was not just sad. It was mythical, somehow. And magnetic.

The Hatred

I protested against her and got lathi charged during the 1996 elections. That campaign involved morphing of her images onto photos of goddesses and religious icons. It had outraged all of Loyola College at the time for some strange reason and we walked down Sterling road in protest. In that phase of my life, my political views were being shaped more by anger than by inspiration. And those were not her finest years. That made it easier.

My Mom spent her entire career in the state government and when their union strike in the late 90s was met with an unprecedented iron fist, my anger against her found a new high. I was still too young to fathom the concept of decisive governance. But that notwithstanding, she was at that point more a despot more than a democratic leader.

I hated her for the hours I spent at traffic signals on my bike, under a scorching sun, so that her never ending entourage could cross. They usually stopped traffic about 30 mts before it crossed a spot.

It was around this time that the corruption allegations surfaced as well. But the TN polity has always been comfortably numb with the concept of corruption. The hero worship which is the base of politics in this state, almost justifies it to a certain extent. But nothing justified THAT wedding!   The obscenity of wealth on showcase during that week was probably what alienated her forever in the minds of families like mine.

The resurrection. Of sorts.

In 2001 when she won, I was heartbroken. But something had changed. There was a pronounced objectivity in her actions and even a cynic like me started to believe in her intent. It was as though she suddenly realized that time was short. Most importantly, she started fitting in. Or may be we just reconciled to her norm. Either way, my views also matured from the personal to the objective. It was becoming less about the entourage and more about the economy. We profited from the real estate boom around the IT highway, but I could also see a vision of some sort taking shape. What happened from an industrial perspective in that term was unprecedented for the state. It is also the reason why I later found humour in the so called Gujarat story, which was a much lesser product (on most indices) compared to Jaya’s, except it was marketed better.

I admired her when she banned religious conversions in the state in 2002. I cannot think of a more decisive and rational move at the confluence of religion and politics, made by an Indian leader.

I admired her for being the ONLY politician in the south to have a consistent view on Sri Lanka throughout (pro Eelam but anti LTTE). This, while I disagreed with her vehemently on the subject.

I always felt secure with her representing my state’s interests with the central government. Whether it was Kaveri or GST – no one could mess with her. No one did, until the end.

I am not a fan of welfare politics but I could see that behind the megalomania of self branding across the canteen, pharmacy, salt and water, there was an agenda. I don’t buy into that agenda but I respected the plan. I have eaten at Amma canteen and the food was great! It is an administrative gold standard that she was able to maintain the food and the premises at such high levels of quality, even after many years. In a country of ‘great ideas’ and ‘bad executions’, she was miles ahead as an administrator.

In many ways, that is the real void she has left behind. We have so few of such managers left.

Her legacy. My lump.

I hate her brand of leadership. I loathe her for creating a party and a government with no second line. Not even a spine. I find it insulting to the intelligence of the entire state. But that is also the tragedy of Jayalalitha. This is evidently not her chosen career. But one she stuck on because of her bullheadedness – one that she handcrafted for survival. In many ironical ways, hers is the antithesis of a tamil cinema script – A leading lady, a hero who is also her villain and an ending where she has her revenge but somehow still manages to eke out a tragedy.

I hated how she treated my city’s icons. She converted a 450 Cr structure meant for the legislative assembly into a hospital and was threatening to shut down my favourite city library as well. Why? because she could. Because they were created by her rival. I hate her for making my city’s street corners into filthy wine shops.

I hated her party men for what they did during the Chennai floods when hundreds of relief volunteers were forced to stamp her stickers on supplies. I hate her for never speaking about it.

I am scared by the leadership void she has created in my state. I fear for the future of my city. But as I see her last procession to the burial ground, it is a strange love that rises up to my throat. Because I know that person. I know her story. We were in this together. I know her mistakes but I also know her injuries. I know what she had to endure. All I want to do is to hug that 15 year old girl from church park, before she was pushed into the tumultuous world of fame that will eventually consume her and tell her that it will be all be OK. We will all be OK.


112 thoughts on “A life long disagreement. A lump. A void

  1. Pingback: A life long disagreement. A lump. A void | Filter Coffee

  2. One of rare articles when you can feel the emotions to like of your own. Nothing can be permanent – life, love and hatred. Great article K!

  3. I agree with this almost line by line. Those lines i don’t agree are because i was in Andhra and not Tamilnadu during most of the events in her life and so there is no direct attachment and involvement.
    She was hungry to accumulate money and yet had a heart to help the needy. Brilliant but not practical enough to sorround herself with economic advisors and so it resulted in welfare politics. Powerful and yet afraid enough to use autocratic style, afraid to keep a second in line ready, afraid to see everyone has to go someday.

  4. Tears welled reading this. God bless ylou, whoever has written this. Keep up the good work

  5. excellent write-up I couldn’t hold back my tears when it was confirmed. When she was laid to the ground Thanti TV played her famous “makalaal naan makkalukgave naan” I wept inconsolably.The end of an era. Only Tamils –regardless of their political allegiance– could feel this.

  6. Perfect write up about Jaya!! It would be a lie if I don’t say I had the same feeling. Some people are better understood and perceived only after their demise. I respect her for the person she is and the way she led her more than the politics. RIP jayalalithaa.

  7. Honest writeup! The same kind of emotions felt by most of us. Still I salute her for that courage and fighting kill!

  8. Excellent article presented with clear & crisp expression of facts,well thought which will co-relate to many educated lot who wanted to express,but can feel that they have expressed….

    Appreciations on pointig out the difficulties caused which would stand as an evidence for other leaders to go beyond it.

    On the whole heartiest appreciations to the person who had written this article.


  9. Beautifully penned…and all i wanted was someone to tell me..yes there was someone to caress her forehead when she was ill, some one she could draw warmth from amodst all that agone and someone to hold her hand in the icu and tell her it was okay to let go for once..

  10. Good one! Had known her for years but not a follower and neither a critic as well. Now i couldn’t more than agree with you that she has created a void in TN politics! A leader to be remembered!
    Well said!

  11. Nails it so succinctly. Brought a lump to my throat and at the same time gooseflesh; most of us her contemporaries have mixed feelings for late JJ because it is difficult to love her unconditionally. We urban folks are discerning enough to tell the differences between right and wrong where they do exist. But her life from Amnu to Amma is indeed glorious but full of personal struggles.

  12. Agreed to the whole article. But an important final point is missed which costed her life. Due to her loneliness she made the biggest mistake of her life – Trusting friend and her coterie which has cost her dear life..to a point of no return. Her death is perfect planned murder.which hopefully shd come out in the open soon and culprits punished!!

  13. It was a love-hate relationship all through–her brilliance and her arrogance, her concern for the poor and her greed for money, her political acumen and her inability to choose good personal friends, her boldness to oppose even the Centre on issues she thinks she is right and her meek surrender to vote bank politics. A great soul whose life will be a source of inspiration and a lesson to every woman.

  14. Well said.this has put some light into what she has endured ,her intentions and how it made felt to the whole mass of a state who are really going to feel that ‘void’ she has left…

  15. Wonderfully written… I was waiting to express my feelings about Amma……I never voted for her and never followed her, but her death brought me close to her as a woman who has been able survive and rise to the power in the male-dominated political field…..when we see deeper into her life….it’s a sad story wrapped in golden cover!!

  16. I am happy to have read this article which has summer up my feelings about Jayalalitha and her personal life .A brilliant!y written article which has left a lump in my throat again

  17. Great article. My emotions and journey are very similar to yours (i think i am the same age as you !) My respect for her started when she implemented the rainwater saving scheme and made the govt employees work hard! On the disappointment side, you should have added the metro phase 2 which was shut down for mono rail, something which never happened !

  18. Your review is a great recall of the person vs politics. Yes, it is true how we see the drama,only to find that we too were on that stage,Yes ,we also are all players, and not surprising that the dancer , the bold and the brave gets the attention , spins at the top and nails it in place, and then it stops!. Your thoughts so well knit together the’ struggles’ of politics and charms of governance, now left without a spine. Yet , courage was JL Amma’s admired qualities .Yes, as you say, we’ll be okay , perhaps, more representatives together can have the courage to ‘build’ the spine.

  19. Amazing Write-Up. Can’t agree with you more.I was born in 1960 so in a way grew-up watching her from being a Movie Star (And she was) to completely disappearing from the eyes of the world and Magically re-appearing when MGR stands for elections. Love Her or Hate Her a part of us dies along with her. May she find Happiness in Death as it definitely eluded her when she was alive. Thank You Sir for your amazing words on her. Keep writing you have a way with words.

  20. I feel it is a wasted opportunity by her and late MGR. They could have turned TN as Singapore !

    • Please travel around the country and then you may realize what we have achieved is indeed astronomical. Expectations has no limit. It is not just political corruption but corruption at every level that we couldnt meet your expectations. For your kind information in the year 2001 she curbed corruption to a great extend. But people supported TV in place of laptop during the next election. Also the party members supported dmk to win as she didnt leave even the party members to earn money. It wasnt her choice but the peoples choice to push her towards welfare politics.

  21. honest writeup from the heart. I cud relate to every single line as i grew up in chennai
    Late 90 s i ve got irritated many times waiting to cross the road near SIET while her entourage passed by and most of the time got delayed for my exams.
    But theres something endearing about her
    We ll miss u madam CM

  22. Brilliant!Am sure most people feel the same way but could never express it this well!!Moved me to tears….oh!one of those times when you’d fantasise about becoming a superhero,turn back time and give it a happy ending!!

  23. If anybody notes that she was taken hostage by a man who was 30 years older than her and was dumped 7 years later and her life between 1972-1981 was not only dark but most cruel .For a girl who aspired for a intellectual carrier falling in middle age into a socially indignified life, life could not have been more sorrow. Again even after leading her party to opposition status after it lost its symbol ,the co leaders viewing ,,/ vying to make her as their ……cannot be more cruel. I think her major mistake is her failure to see the conpiracy of karunanithi in govt servant strike in 2004 and fell in his trap inspite of sane advice by senior officers .

  24. She is an enigma .The multi facets brought out brilliantly . Very balanced view . Will feel the lump in the throat for many more years when ever we think of her .

  25. She is one person who has been an inspiration not only to the woman folk but to any humanbeing. I am humbled by the fact I never could see the leader and genius in this iconic person till her death . I echo the same thoughts like you especially after she toppled Vajpayee Government . I always thought she was an arrogant feminist , but now i realise what pushed her to that extent , thanks to the animals who have prowled in the political arena . She is the GLADIATOR who fought off the lions , the warriors to take the throne and remain the UNDISPUTED QUEEN of the RING . Hats Off to her . Boss the way you have expressed it only doubled my respect for her . great work

  26. Many of the agreements and disagreements struck a chord with my feelings for the late CM. Extremely well articulated. Glad to read a piece that is balanced.

  27. Many of the agreements and disagreements struck a chord with my feelings for the late CM. Extremely well articulated. Glad to read a piece that is balanced.

  28. This is what I actually had in my mind, when she passed away. I kinda hated her but now, I feel sad that she is no more. Considering the same facts that you gave. Good one!

  29. I had that lump in the throat too and I have it now. And all I had wanted to do was to give her that hug. Still want to.

  30. Well written elegy.
    Jayalalithaa was an enigmatic person, in her own words. Perhaps this is the reason why those who hated her have now began to love her and, perhaps those who loved her or worshipped her may change colors and turn haters!

    One can now hope that Parties in Tamil Nadu may slowly get liberated from its present form of cult culture for the simple reason that it will take a very long time for some one of Jayalaithaa’s stature to appear!

  31. Beautifully written. Echoed my own thoughts but expressed so much better than I could ever have. This author should definitely be considered for writing the script for a film on Jayalalitha. Hope some producer/director is reading this. No, I don’t know the author from Adam!

  32. A great write-up that exactly reflects my thoughts. Especially every line of last paragraph seems to be written from my heart!👍 Wish our x-CM rest in piece.

  33. Excellent write up Karthik. The last paragraph brought tears into my eyes. I never have voted for her just because she has been focussed as not simple but now i wish I should have.Her sudden demise has reminded me her tenure from 2011 from when i have been moving slowly towards her leadership and I am yearning now for the same for the welfare of TN

  34. Excellent write up Karthik. The last paragraph brought tears into my eyes. I never have voted for her just because she has been focussed as not simple but now i wish I should have.Her sudden demise has reminded me her tenure from 2011 from when i have been moving slowly towards her leadership and I am yearning now for the same for the welfare of TN

  35. She was more sinned against and we all know it…feels good to know that a lot more feel the same…thanks.

  36. Wonderful article.

    Great loss to Tamizh Nadu. Hope she finds peace in her afterlife.


  37. Wonderfully penned tribute to AmmA. She is an enigma who was let down by her men but not by the masses for whom she lived. Hope somebody does not hijack her wealth and agenda….

  38. Beautifully written. You missed a pivotal act of corruption – the arrogant and illegal arrest of the Kanchi Acharyas without even a shred of evidence to even suggest guilt. For me, that was a defining moment that turned me completely against her – that I am actually happy she’s gone.

  39. Your write up brought tears! This piece has a soul! A soul of the young lady who always kept emotions to herself! May your soul rest in peace Amma! We miss you!

  40. Each and every line is very true ….I agree to the description… All emotions and thoughts very well expressed ….thanks for sharing

  41. I bet the writer of this article would never have visited to the state of Gujarat and on the name of liking someone’s administrative skills, disliking others is not a good idea. On the side note, Amma was a great administrator and no one is 100% perfect and people evolve. JJ in 1999 when she toppled Vajpayee ji’s government was a different person all together in 2016. Overall Tamil Nadu is the state which is always in the news for good things and worst scams of Indian history colluding with corrupt Congress party.

  42. One of the best blog I have read on the life of an individual. It was unbiased and critical wherever it was necessary. I also had a lump in my throat after reading the article.

  43. Thumbs up for your ability to put your heart out so beautifully. I am not from tamilnadu, never followed jayalalitha’s life or career but always heard negative things about her. After her hospitalization, I saw her interview with Simi garewal. That one interview completely changed my perspective. She was so humane. Like one of us. Struggling tonsurvive. Just that she was on a,different spot, placed by destiny. I felt bad for her in a way. We judge people based on media or other sources but we can be so wrong about it. Her truth went with her, no one will ever know..

  44. Many of us have this same feeling. I am still thinking as to what is making me feel so bad for a woman I never liked….

  45. Very nicely written!!! An echo of my thoughts and feelings. In many ways, society let her down and definitely in some ways, she let it down too. Nevertheless, feels like a beautiful and brilliant person has been wasted.

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