Every time Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa would visit the capital, busloads of Tamils from the Madrasi Camp at Jal Vihar would reach the airport to welcome her by playing drums. Although paid to do it, they said they would have done it for free — given the love they had for Amma, whose work for women and the poor remains “unparalleled”.
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With her death, the camp, comprising lower caste and lower class Tamils, said a huge political vacuum will be left in their home state. As soon as news of her death broke on Monday night, residents of the camp — glued to the TV for the last three days — broke down and decided to skip work the next day, aware that it would mean losing a day’s wage since most of them are blue-collar workers.
On Tuesday, photographs of Jayalalithaa were placed on a bench in two places at the colony as people wailed and hugged each other on losing their “mother”.
“What she has done for us, the poor, nobody can. She gave our people free mixer-grinders, laptops, and even helped get girls married. Water and food has been made affordable — all because of Amma. We always made sure to go home and vote for her. She’s gone now, and I’m wondering who will replace her? There is no match,” said Sonu Arumugam, a native of Viluppuram who works as a domestic help.
The mixer-grinder, she said, saved women the trouble of grinding things by hand, which took up several hours. Almost every home at the Madrasi Camp boasted of at least one mixer-grinder, she said.
One of the men at the colony, Subramaniam, had started drinking in the morning. “Amma is dead, what more is left in my life now? Everything is over,” he said.
The grief in other Tamil localities was equally palpable, though a little subdued. At the Madrasi Gali at Madangir, P Raju, a retired driver, kept staring at his TV in disbelief. Although he shifted to the capital in 1955, he says he keenly followed the politics of Tamil Nadu.
In fact, he remembers his age only as “11 years older than Jayalalithaa”. “Long ago, my brother told me I was 11 years older than Jayalalithaa. That’s all I know of my age; I never really calculated. She was a poor man’s leader, just like MGR, and she worked twice as hard as him for her people,” he said.
Krishna Devi, originally from Coimbatore but living in Madangir, said, “We hope a strong leader replaces her, who can take the party forward.” Her extended family, she said, left for Chennai on Tuesday to pay their respects.
A condolence meeting was also organised by the sizeable Tamil population in Munirka, with Jayalalithaa’s photo kept at a park near Rama Market. “For a single woman to govern the way she did, it requires courage,” said K Muthuswamy, a native of Namakkal.
Meanwhile, at Tamil Nadu House in Chanakyapuri, officials gathered around a garlanded photograph of Jayalalithaa, placing wreaths next to it and penning down their sentiments in a condolence register. From senior government officials to advocates, from drivers to doctors — nearly 50 messages in the notebook expressed “shock and loss” at her death.
As the heap of rose petals in front of her photograph rose, a wreath of white daises from Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu was placed under the frame. “People from different walks of life, different religions and classes have come to mourn her death. This is the kind of following she had,” said a senior government official at Tamil Nadu House.