Piriya Vidai, Amma!

Tuesday, 6th December 2016. I remember waking up in the morning and switching on the Television with bated breath. Jayalalitha was battling for her life and I had slept hoping for a miracle. I was still hoping for one when I pressed the button on the remote but there she was; wrapped in the National Flag. She was no more. I had to rush to office so I took my towel and moved towards the bathroom but I stopped. Instead, I went to my room, switched off the light, hid my face in the towel and started crying. Wife came and consoled but I wanted to cry. I was quite surprised about me breaking down because I am someone who had mocked my cousin years ago when he had dropped tears when Bala Saheb Thackeray had passed away. But the death of Jayalalithaa felt like personal loss.

J Jayalalithaa's funeral procession

Since I come from the Northern part of India, a lot of people have (shockingly) asked me about my fascination with the Southern leader. More so, when I don’t even understand the language of politics in Tamil Nadu. I was 11 when I first read (rather saw) about Jayalalitha as she was all over the place after withdrawing support from the Vajpayee government in 1999 but I was probably not big enough to take interest and mature enough to understand politics.  Cut to 2006, the 18 year old me had started taking an interest in politics and much of this was because I could now vote.

I remember watching one of the episodes of the show ‘Follow the Leader’ with Jayalalitha on Star News in 2006. It was an intriguing show where a journalist covered a political leader and his/her election rallies for 24 hours giving us great insights into their daily lifestyle and routine. As Jayalalithaa’s van moved on the streets, I saw women standing in long queues with coconut, deepak and kumkum adorned on the thali and welcoming ‘Amma’. There were images of men wearing ugly huge rings with Amma’s face, Amma tattoos on their arms and their hair cut in the symbol of two leaves which is the election symbol of her party AIADMK. Not to miss, the huge cut outs of hers, some of them were quite literally taller than the buildings surrounding them.

I was of course amused but at the same time surprised to see the sheer hysteria and devotion among the people because I had never seen this in North. I couldn’t help but notice her impeccable English, panache, sophistication and style. Or as people say it was probably her ‘charisma’ that left me mighty impressed. I was intrigued by this lady who had men falling on her feet so I decided to read her story and the more I read, the more I started loving her.  10 years now that I have been following the leader. I seldom miss an article, news or a video on Jayalalitha. I often go to You Tube and see her old interviews (everyone should) and my admiration for the woman keeps increasing.

Amma’s life has been a battle, full of struggles and hardships but like a warrior she fought with dexterity and won. Her story inspires, motivates and uplifts. Every time she was written off, she rose from the ashes just like the Phoenix would. In fact, hers is a story which seems straight out of a film and there are moments in her life when you just want to stand and applaud her for the sheer grit, determination and bravery shown by her.

The Fighter

She has fought and won many elections in her life but that is what every politician does and she was no different. However, I call her a fighter because these were different fights; fights with a society that was deeply patriarchal & misogynistic – Jayalalitha was not allowed to enter her mentor MGR’s house when he passed away. Women pinched her, dug their nails into her skin and stomped on her feet while the men (who were jealous of her rise in the party) attacked her and called her a Prostitute when she rushed to see his body. But she didn’t move. She stood there for two continuous days without shedding a tear. She was portrayed as the ‘other woman’ by the workers of AIADMK but she fought hard and after 2 years was elected as the leader of AIADMK and the same men who attacked her were now reporting to her. This was her first of the many wins in her life. In the same year (1989), in an infamous incident, her saree was pulled in the TN assembly by DMK leaders. This was an incident which shook the entire state as it was the first time when the Police had entered the Assembly. A teary eyed Jayalalitha with unkempt hair came out of the assembly & in a dramatic move, compared herself to Draupadi and took a vow to defeat Karunanidhi. She did and became the Chief Minister of the state in 1991. These two incidents made a strong impact on me and I couldn’t help but admire the sheer courage and fighting spirit of this woman;


A teary eyed Jayalalitha coming out of the Assembly where her saree was pulled

fight against the party ideals and beliefs. Dravidian movement in the state was essentially anti Brahmin and believed in rationality i.e. atheism. But here we had a god fearing Brahmin woman who went on to take hold of the party and did that unopposed for 27 years. An Iyengar Brahmin, Jayalalitha has often thanked God post her wins in elections and whether it was sending the party manifesto in a temple first, performing special Pujas or her belief in numerology. She has proudly flaunted her beliefs in public. In spite of this, she headed a party which was in principal against this. Sadly, her beliefs were ignored and she was buried on her death;


At Tirumala Devsthanam

fight against oneself. As a child she wanted to become a lawyer but she was pushed into the film world because of the worrying financial conditions of her home. May be her inner self would have asked her to pursue her dreams instead of sacrificing her desires. Like any other girl, she fell in love and wanted to settle down but that love was never reciprocated and she remained single forever. When she was humiliated or when she was sent to jail for the innumerable cases of corruption, somewhere a voice inside her would have asked her to quit because she never wanted to be in politics anyway. But her will power over powered everything else.

The Able Administrator

In spite of the controversies of corruption surrounding her, there is one thing on which even her critics would agree i.e. she was an able administrator who governed the state with an iron fist. When she took over as CM in 1991, LTTE had spread its wings in TN and the previous government of Karunanidhi was seen as supporter. She went after them relentlessly and drove them out of the state. In 2001, under the POTA she got many pro LTTE leaders in the state detained.  While Gujarat was always known as one of the best governed states because of the excellent marketing, Tamil Nadu wasn’t far either. The industrial growth, crime rate, education and other social indicators of Tamil Nadu are one of the best in the country. Tamil Nadu has the maximum number of women police stations; an initiative started by Jayalalitha when she became CM for the first time. Though people have criticized the schemes for creating a financial burden on the state, her welfare politics has won many hearts. Amma canteens offering food at a nominal price were a runaway hit. Amma Baby Kit, Amma Cement, Amma Seeds and Amma pharmacies also served as an icing on the cake. A lot of these schemes were targeted at the women who constitute about 2.1 crore of the population.

The Proud but Sensible Hindu

In a country where religion is intertwined with politics, Jayalalitha was like a breath of fresh air. She was neither a champion of Hindutva (like the BJP) nor was she a minority appeaser (like the Congress, Left and other parties). I admire her for some of the stance she took as a politician. When the unfortunate 2002 riots hit Gujarat, she was one of the few politicians to speak for the violence in Godhra and said that minorities alone don’t enjoy rights under the constitution and when majority community is attacked no one speaks up. In 2002, amid protests by DMK & Congres, she passed the anti-conversion law in the state which has seen a lot of conversions to Christianity. When told that Pope has raised concerns over the law, she said he has ‘no businesses in the affairs of the state. Likewise, when her opponent questioned the existence of Lord Rama, she called for declaring the ‘Ram Sethu’ as a national monument.


A lot of you might wonder why I don’t speak about the corruption allegations against her. She was acquitted in most of the cases which were filed against her as most of them were political vendetta. The disproportionate case was pending and had she lived we would have known the result. But as they say, innocent till proven guilty and I rest my case.

As she makes her final journey towards heaven, I hope she finds peace, love and companionship up there; something which she could never get when she was alive. It would have been great if we could have met but it was not destined. I would probably come to Marina Beach some time and see you there.

How I met THE Shabana Azmi

I am an unabashed and insane fan of Shabana Azmi. The first film of hers that I saw was Vishal Bhardwaj’s Makdee and the 14 year old me had loved the film; especially her character of witch. However, it was her movie Arth that made me notice the brilliance of ‘actor’ Shabana Azmi and since then there has been no looking back. I have revisited almost all her films right from her debut film Ankur (which till date remains one of my favorite Shabana Azmi films) and I can safely say that she is one of the finest actors that Indian cinema has seen.

So while I was exploring twitter sometime in 2010, one fine day, I saw Shabana Azmi’s handle (@AzmiShabana) on my timeline. Back then it was not verified and I have had my fair share of instances where I had got myself into some intense discussions with people (Democracy with Arundhati Roy) only to realize later that they were imposters or parody accounts. So, my first tweet to her was actually a question asking ‘Hello, Is that really you?’ I managed to get a reply from her and since quite a few celebrities were following her I was assured about the authenticity part. Icing on the cake was that she started following me (I have no idea even now why she did so because I was just one of the many fans she has). Initially, I used to think she pressed the follow button by mistake and I used to visit her twitter page regularly for months to ‘check’ if she is still following me (Back then there was no ‘Follows You’ feature). And that was the beginning of my beautiful virtual relationship with one of the finest actors of the Indian cinema.


Pehli Mulaqat:

My first meeting with her was quite filmy actually. In 2011, I got a Direct Message from Shabana Ma’am that she was coming to Bangalore with her play ‘Broken Images’ for Standard Chartered Bank at ITC Gardenia and asked if I would like to come. I nearly jumped out of my bed and I of course said yes. The super excited me was about 1 hour before schedule and I was supposed to meet ‘Richa’ with whom she had left a message. When I enquired, the folks said they don’t know anyone by the name Richa. My heart sank. I ran from pillar to post but nothing came out of it. I did not have the contact details so I was writing tweets continuously in the hope she will read it but I got no reply. I had lost all hopes and I thought may be she forgot to leave a message.  I kept praying to God. Thankfully, she hadn’t forgotten. Richa came just before the show and made sure I got a seat in the front. After the play (which was fantastic), I waited to meet her. I touched her feet and she said ‘Jeete Raho’ and she introduced me as her ‘Twitter Friend’ to the people standing out there. She said I was an ‘Encyclopedia’ and whatever information she needs, I tweet about it immediately. I was literally shivering, when I took out the CD of her film Mandi (My favorite Shabana Azmi film) and asked for her autograph. I was a college student back then and with whatever pocket money I used to get, I managed to get a Photo-frame and few chocolates for her as a gift. Those 5 minutes were one of the most special moments and in all this I forgot to even take a photograph! Sigh!


Autographed CD of Mandi

Dusri Mulaqat aur Photograph:

I had to wait for 4 years to get that photograph. In 2015, she came to Hyderabad where I was working now for an event organized by COVA. There was a discussion on ‘Role of Women in Films’ and I was seated in the front. After the session, when the Q&A session started, Shabana Ma’am announced that ‘Rahul Sharma will ask the first question’. Everyone in the auditorium turned to me and I quite felt like a celebrity.  After the session, I met her and gifted her two books (One was by Amartya Sen whom she greatly admires). I took a photograph and I was planning to leave but she said ‘Jao, plate le kar aao’ and have dinner with me. I was on cloud nine. I rushed and came back but I was little interested in the food. She introduced me to some of her family members also.  We discussed a lot of things from politics to society. She asked me my views on GST Bill, MNREGA etc. Once we were done, I realized that I don’t really look good in the picture I had taken. I requested Ma’am for another photograph and she happily obliged.

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The books I gifted

Tohfa Tohfa, Aaya Aaya

I have often tweeted about my love for Shah Rukh Khan and except the man, the whole world knows that I am his ‘Jabra’ fan. One fine day, I got a Direct Message from Shabana Ma’am asking me to share my address so that she can send a gift. It took me some time to believe and I read it twice but here it was – A five time National Award winner and a Padma Bhushan asking the address of a fan so that she can send across a gift. I shared the address and what I got touched me. I got a special edition of the book ‘Aditya Chopra relives DDLJ’ which was released when the film had completed 1000 weeks of running. The book was sent by Aditya Chopra to her and knowing that I am a fan of the actor and this film in particular, she sent me the book. The SMS (By now she had shared her number) which she sent made me feel on top of the world.



Recently, Shabana Ma’am sent me another book on Veer Zaara with a hand written message. I need not mention that this makes me feel very special.


Agree to Disagree

What’s interesting is that we both don’t really agree on politics and share the same ideology. She is an Amartya Sen fan, I am not. She is not really a Narendra Modi fan, I am. She believes in socialism, I don’t. I am a rightist while she leans towards the left. We often share articles/WhatsApp messages on these. But this has never affected our interactions and we agree to disagree on these.

I have often wondered why anyone of her stature would do all this for someone like me who is just a fan of hers? Why does she take so much efforts to send me gifts? Why did she invite me to have dinner with her when she could have just said a Good Bye post the event in Hyderabad? Why does she make it a point to write a Happy Birthday tweet to me which is just 4 days before hers (though I sometimes remind her a couple of days before)? Why did she share her personal mobile number with a stranger like me? And most importantly, why did she follow me on twitter? Guess, some of us are just born lucky!

And twitter, you beauty! If you were not there, all this wouldn’t have been possible!