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11 Heartfelt Stories Of South Indian Women About Living In A World With Amma

"Amma was a complicated woman and I never liked her. But I already miss her."

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1. Sharada Annamaraju, writer.

Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP / Getty Images

"There's a deep pit in my stomach hailing loss for someone I never knew and all the conflicting things she stood for. From an icon for powerful women to dark underpinnings of corruption. But, Tamil Nadu politics has changed forever from this moment on. Dare I say, even the winds of change for south India. In the cow belt meanwhile, the amused discussions at the grief in half the country for us "madrasis" will not be tangible or heard, or understood."

2. Sanjana M Vijayashankar, copywriter.

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"I remember visiting my cousins in Chennai, when I was about 10 years old. That was a smelly Chennai. One which was home to an open river of sewage. Then I moved to Chennai to study and subsequently work. That as a different Chennai altogether. It was a Chennai under Amma, known to non-Chennaiites as Jayalalithaa. I’m not sure how she’d done it, but when I entered Chennai as an adult, it was a lot cleaner and a lot less smelly. Also, I can’t explain how safe I felt travelling in Chennai, in the wee hours of dawn and during the dark hours of night. She made it a crime-free place for women. And the frenzy around her persona was unparalleled. Still numbed by it, to be honest. I have serious doubt if Tamil Nadu will ever see a woman as charismatic as her, in that position."

3. Aakanksha Srinivasan, journalist.

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"Amma passed away yesterday and my heart has been heavy ever since. Hers is a story most Indian women will identify with — being thrust into becoming a cinema star when she'd have rather studied and then constantly making the best of a situation. A lot of her life had been reactionary and yet, she made the best of it. You see what she has done for women and children in the state and you will understand the breast-beating. Amma was a feminist before it was cool to be one. There never was and never will there ever be another like her."

4. Ashwini Narayan, student.

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"She was so graceful, even when she was arrested. She was quite majestic on TV. I found her very dignified in almost all situations. She didn't pander needlessly to people. She demanded respect and attention with the way she carried herself. Having grown up knowing her as a leading politician never made me doubt what women can do. But, I think the saddest part is that I feel it's never weird for me to have a female leader. The narrative in other countries is that women are hormonal. I have never felt it weird to have women in power."


5. Apoorva Sripathi, journalist.

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"We (a classmate and I) accompanied reporters on the campaigning trail and were in the bandobast jeep waiting to pick her up from the helipad at Coast Guard tarmac. A gust of wind followed the helicopter's arrival and we looked up to see a solitary regal figure standing tall, peering at us.

I'll never forget the hint of a smile on her lips, the casually haughty nod she gave us and the delicate waving of her hand that seemed to dismiss us, to reduce us into distant beings.
Most of all, I'll always remember a pale — almost frightfully white — but rosy-cheeked Jayalalithaa; unblemished and perfect as she sat in the car before us and hurried away, leaving just dust in her wake.

RIP, Jayalalithaa. I'll take your lead and always remember to fuck the patriarchy."

6. Sriranjani Santhanagopalan, musician.

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"I have never been knee-deep in politics but I have always admired Selvi Jayalalithaa for how brave, intelligent, well-spoken, poised she was whenever I came across her on TV and newspapers and such. Now that she's gone, my admiration for her has come to the fore and intensified along with my sorrow of her passing away. She is a legend and an inspiration to men and especially women all over the world."

7. Anita R. Ratnam, dancer.

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"My high school idol. Gold medallist in every subject she studied. Worshipped. Scorned. Admired. Despised. Adulated. Incarcerated. Celebrated. A Bharatanatyam and Kuchupidi dancer. A superstar in cinema. Publicly humiliated by enraged men. Adopted and adored as Amma by her citizens. What a life.

All she yearned for was a life in education. What life served up was a tumultous and chaotic canvas of enormous swells of highs and lows. Till the very end she scripted the unusual and unlikely narrative of her life by playing the sole female protagonist in a highly-charged mono play. Truly, the last of the charismatic leaders."

8. Aparna Desikan, journalist.

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"I did not know she was one of the most important women in Tamil Nadu until I was a teenager. In a saree, speaking with great composure, her fighting spirit was not evident at all.

Then came the 2011 elections. I spoke to my dad and learnt about the alleged episode with the DMK leader Durai Murugan and how she vowed to return as a CM. As a leader, I don’t quite agree with her populist measures or her corruption and the bad management during the floods last year. But Amma canteens were a big hit (incidentally, some of them were open yesterday, even as other eateries were shut) and the state was relatively crime-free and power cuts reduced.

She is my inspiration, as a woman who proved to the world that she can take on challenges life throws at her. She lost her dad at the age of three and her mum when she entered adulthood. She was thrust into a career she did not want to pursue twice and yet came out in flying colours like a boss. She was a queen in her own way, standing tall in the murky, male-dominated world of TN politics."


9. Vidhya Vijayaraghavan, student.

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"For most of the people, especially us in our 20s, the party people wailing, crying, shouting, hitting themselves in distress in front of the hospital seemed fake.

Towards the end of yesterday, however, we all started praying. We were all thinking how marana mass it would be if she actually gets well and comes back. No hero in any movie with any gethu background music would ever be able to pull it off. Not with as much charisma and elegance as her. It would have been a historic re-entry if she had come back. But she didn't.

Most of us didn't know we liked her, until we realized that she is no more.

We are going to tell our kids and grandchildren about her. We are going to say what a great leader she was, and how she emerged as the reigning leader of one of the biggest Dravidian parties despite the insults she faced in a male-dominated political scene."

10. Aishwarya Subramanian, writer.

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"For long as I can remember, my late grandmother, who was born well before the Indian independence, was a huge fan of Jayalalithaa. Unlike my grandmother, I couldn’t bring myself to love or even like Amma, despite having voted for her.

I remember shaking my head at the afternoon news when the police seized over 10,000 sarees, footwear, watches and jewellery. I remember furiously hissing at my own mother about how during the floods in Chennai last year, supplies being sent to the city to help victims were forcibly branded with ‘Amma stickers’.

But as the news of her death started to sink in, much to my own surprise, I was enveloped by sadness. To grasp the enormity of the life she led, one must acknowledge that Amma was a complicated woman. She was defiantly ambitious, unapologetic, vengeful and enjoyed power and didn’t bother hiding any of it. Every time they wrote her off, she somehow bounced right back. She had grit. She had strength. And she was one of us.

Amma was a complicated woman and I never liked her. But I already miss her.

11. Viji Shivaram, teacher.

Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP / Getty Images

"A shield is encased in a glass case and displayed near the auditorium at my alma mater, Church Park. It was awarded to students who excelled in both sports and academics. After her, the name plates are empty. Legend has it that they never found a student who excelled in both. Being weak in academics, I've stood before this shield often and wondered how it would be, to be her. Ironically, I became a teacher and I wondered how it would be to teach someone like her. Today, I mourn the death of a brilliant mind. I mourn the fact that I never got the opportunity to teach someone like her."