By Zaiceka Ahmed
(Some of Jayalalitha’s supporters shaving off their head as a sign of respect to their deceased political leader)
5th December, 2016 plunged Tamil Nadu into what seemed like an abysmal black of grief when their indomitable leader of fourteen years, late honourable chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Puratchi Thalavi Amma – commonly known as Jayalalitha – was declared dead at 11:30pm.
How wrong it would be to see this event as the demise of just a politician! For Madame J was a personality too majestic to be categorized by simply one term– she was an ambitious but academically inclined young girl who stepped into the world of show business at the age of fifteen, went on to star in over 140 films including many blockbusters of which just 60 were in Tamil (proving her proficiency in other languages) and after a prolonged period of drama in her personal life, made an entry into politics in the eighties that would make her the poster girl of women empowerment in south India. A precedent of little significance compared to the stature of a demigoddess she would earn by the final years of her life.
(One of the most iconic photographs of Jayalalitha playing Cleopatra)
Here was a woman who had the charisma, and the balls, to wrest the position of power in AIADMK after MGR’s death from his wife (relevant because of her controversial closeness to the chief minister) and over the years become an undisputed leader who had no second in charge in her party. If you’ve ever been to Tamil Nadu you would know how inescapable and all prevailing her presence was – her face with its signature subtle smile and trademark bindi would stare at you from every corner, from lamp posts to billboards to packets of salt and even pharmacies. Amma was everywhere. It still baffles me how a person despite being charged for corruption, serving jail time for the same, openly displaying the immense wealth she had amassed during her tenure (in the 1990s she had organised a wedding so expensive for her foster son that it was covered by BBC making it world news) had such an unshakable stronghold over the hearts of common people.
One would say she played popular politics, but winning at that game takes the flair of an extraordinary character.
(Amma Canteen – a subsidized food programme – that serves thousands of inexpensive meals a day)
Being Jayalalitha was not easy. Her life was a tornado of controversies and ironies – who could have imagined a fair skinned Brahmin woman to become the head of a political party built on Dravidian anti-class ideology? Or that a woman once scandalized for an alleged affair with the married MG Ramachandran, her mentor, would transform to a revered figure in spite of India’s openly hostile attitude towards the “other woman”? The iconoclast in her cemented itself when during her time as the first female leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly in an incident worthy of extreme disgust she was nearly disrobed by members of the ruling party for holding opposing views, but emerged from the episode as their Chief Minister who would be elected into office for three consecutive terms. If there ever was a human version of a phoenix, it was she.
It made complete sense that her demise became the top trending topic on social media.
What didn’t make sense was the issue that replaced it in a matter of a few hours.
It was the updates on a Bollywood star-studded birthday party for Manish Malhotra, a high street fashion designer. You see, 5th December also marked the 50th year of his life – an event we were all anticipating for 50 years. Did you know Katrina Kaif and Aishwarya Rai Bachhan (is it double “C” or double “H”? I always get confused) bonded at the bash? Did you know Urvashi Rautela gate-crashed the gala? Or that Karan Johar hosted that carnival?
Of course you do. It was the top trending topic.
(Urvashi Rautela (extreme right) wasn’t invited!)
Kudos to our fleeting interests.