Editor's Note: This is a first-person account of Chitra Ravi, a Chennai resident.
A more fitting tribute could not have been given by her party-men, people of her state and citizens of the city she lived in and worked, most of her life. Sentiments were high, strong emotions made people throng the hospital, queue up the Rajaji hall where her body was kept for public viewing, as well as in the procession to join her film and political mentor MGR in his memorial.
Yet, the city did not see any unruly mob-behaviour, violence nor any damage of property or loss of lives. A great tribute to an over-powering leader, a woman at that.
Madam Jayalalitha, three-time Chief Minister of the state. My memories about her gush.
Jaya or Amma as she was fondly known to the people in her state was a special personality, admired, loved, even hated, but could never be ignored. And this was even before she entered political life in the 80s, after quitting movies. In the late 60s and 70s she was the undisputed queen of South Indian cinema. When I think of her then, she comes to my mind as the super star, in what was a very man’s world in moviedom.
I recall watching one of her film shootings, when I was as young as 6 or 7 years old. What struck me even then was that this gorgeous actor was unique and different. She would sit quietly by herself with a book in her hand, until called for the shot – and there, in front of the camera transform into this abundantly talented dancer and actor. Impeccable dialogue delivery, expressions, an on-screen charisma which turned into an off-screen enigma. It remained so until now, when her soul departed!
As an average Indian woman, I have evolved from being unconscious of my own competence, to ‘becoming aware’ but quite clueless of what next, to finding one’s niche and then climbing the tough ladder with various societal obstacles to perhaps a feeling of “getting there”.
All along, I have related to Jayalalitha, a near-home inspiration.
In 1987, when MGR died, she was just another person in the party. I vividly remember how she was shrugged off, even treated badly when she tried to get near his body in the final procession. Ironically, today her own procession found millions of her fans and followers quietly moving on to bid the final good bye. Perhaps, Amma commands that respect even when lifeless. I couldn’t help secretly (‘secretly’, because I wasn’t quite sure of whether I approved of her or not at that point) cheer her for what she did that day and what she got to in her political career.
I also remember the dark day in the State Assembly in 1989, when her womanhood was breached and she was physically assaulted by opposition party members. She vowed to come back into the assembly only as a CM- and she did! In 1991, she became the Chief Minister with a thumping majority.
Every woman in the state must have smiled that day. I did, too.
She was that woman that all women like to see in themselves- full of grit, courage and determination. She was too intelligent to be just that woman to go round trees in a hero-dominated movie world. And she never ever let herself be reduced to that. This is something I noticed even when I was a school girl myself. In fact, when I had movie offers in hand after a modelling stint, the many things I had read and heard about Jayalalitha and how an ‘intelligent girl’ like her never fit into the filmdom made me say an emphatic NO!
As an entrepreneur and a woman at that, I had several moments of uncertainty. I did buckle, several times to the societal trap that every woman is put through – and many fall into, too. She has, in such moments, been a motivation to bring in me the grit to fight. Her very famous interview with Simi Garewal is one of my favourites. I couldn’t help admiring this woman who, in her own words, did not have that rosy life that all the name, fame, glamour and tons of money one thinks should bring along. For me, it was a thought triggering interview that made me feel more grateful for my life and more determined to set and achieve my goals as well.
Watch the interview here:
Indeed, she was too intelligent to be just a political leader following an ideology that she perhaps never related to completely. So, here she was heading a Dravidian party and ruled, governed by her own style and persona.
She may have lost elections due to corruption charges, entangled in court cases over disproportionate assets, had a mysterious friend coterie that was charged as ruling the state through her etc. But what people remember her for is defying the man-supremacy in the political male bastion in Tamil Nadu. And in style!
I can’t deny that I did have periods of time when I was absolutely angry with her. Why would she, with such command & self-assurance, like the sycophancy around her? To me, sycophancy was for the weak. And clearly, she wasn’t weak. Did she have two sides of herself, I wondered. Why wasn’t she wiping out corruption. She didn’t have a big family unlike other politicians who were hoarding wealth for their own. She clearly loved the people. Why wasn’t she using her terms at the office for the larger good and long term prosperity of the state? If she did, she even had her bright chances in the national politics.
These questions in my mind, were never answered until her death, indeed.
To me her biggest victory was in the fact that she rose to great heights despite the fact that she belonged to no political dynasty. She fought her way through and in the majority of years in rule, she was known for her administrative capabilities, put the state strongly in the sports and education map, reportedly made the state rise to become the lowest in crime, among the best in law and order.
Her last few years had blobs of accusation of inconsistent governance, red-tapism etc – but welfare measures for the common man made up for it - Amma canteen, Amma water, Amma pharmacies – yes, “Amma” labelled welfare initiatives that made her dear to the masses. I confess, the “Amma’ label overwhelmed me too!
From “ammu’ (to all in theater and filmdom) to “Amma”, this woman’s journey was spectacular. When MGR died, people suspected a political vacuum in the state. In few months, she rose to become, eventually, perhaps a more popular leader than the man himself. And today, we see a political vacuum that this “iron-lady” has left behind! Well, no one dares to even question that she ran the party and the state as a one-woman show. Perhaps, all the women (including me, who’s writing this) feel satisfied that someone gave the men a real run for their money!
The people of the state have shown their love and respect for her – despite all her flaws that has been reported, perceived in her film and political life – through a send off that one has not witnessed like we saw today. A calm, quiet love for the fighter in her. In a woman.
For a woman like, me who lived alongside her life & career, close home, she has consciously and unconsciously been a big influence. Positive, negative is for own’s one reflection and good!
(The author, Chitra Ravi, is Founder and CEO of a premier education organization, Chrysalis. Passionate about education, self discovery and the child. Interested in societal issues & the human psyche. She tweets as @chitraravi)