Dharavi in Mumbai is more than a thousand kilometres from Chennai. But just opposite Kamaraj High School in Dharavi on Tuesday morning, the distance appeared to have melted. Over a hundred people, most of them from Tamil Nadu, gathered outside the Maharashtra wing of the AIADMK office to pay homage to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, while her funeral procession was moving in Chennai.
“I have lost track of the number of times she has helped Tamil people living in Maharashtra. Just last year, I wrote to her requesting for some Tamil books to be sent for students here. Within a week, she sent a lorry full of books that were distributed freely to all,” said Somasundaram, president of the Maharashtra wing of the party, wiping away tears. Taking a photograph of ‘Amma,’ as he refers to the late chief minister, out of his pocket, Somasundaram said he will always regret not making an effort to meet Jayalalithaa in the last six months.
A framed and garlanded photograph of Jayalalithaa is kept on a table, and around thirty women sit beside the table sobbing uncontrollably.
“Most of us went back home in May to cast our votes for her. She has always been there for us. People in cities here mostly take their concerns to Delhi. But we would always approach Amma. We cannot imagine home without her,” said P Vasantha, who shifted to Dharavi after marriage.
Karthiga R, who is from Thirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, is still in shock and denial about Jayalalithaa’s demise. “While she had no family of her own, she considered her people as her family. There have always been ups and downs, but she has given women like me the will to live,” said Karthiga, adding that she has still not come to terms with her death.
A few salons, provision stores, and hotels in the lane had suspended business for the day, and were watching the proceedings in Chennai on their television sets. “I wish we could go to Chennai. There will be nothing better than seeing her one last time. But poor people like us cannot afford it. I really wish that no riots break out in the state. She wouldn’t have wanted that,” said Vimal Kadiresan, who owns a general provision store in the area. According to Somasundaram, the AIADMK has 4,000 members in the state.