In May 2012, J Jayalalithaa declared that the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai, built by her rival M Karunanidhi of the DMK and one of the largest in the country, would be turned into a super-specialty hospital. Book lovers were shocked at the then CM’s display of political one-upmanship at the cost of the treasures the library housed. The library survived, but that’s another story.
Now, as the Tamil Nadu government moves to acquire Jayalalithaa’s Veda Nilayam residence, in Chennai’s Poes Garden area, to set up a museum dedicated to the late chief minister, another story is emerging: that of Jayalalithaa as a book lover, a voracious reader and the owner of a collection of 8,376 books, with titles ranging from the Tamil classic Tirukkural to Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India, from biographies to journals.
Officials and insiders who had direct access to Jayalalithaa and her residence recalled how she zealously maintained her books with serial numbers and title stickers. And of the long hours she spent reading on the first floor of Veda Nilayam.
The 8,376 books are part of the 32,721 ‘movable properties’ in Veda Nilayam listed by the state government.
One of the officers who visited her library said English titles made up 75 per cent of her collection. “Her Tamil collection had works of Periyar E V Ramasamy (founder of the Dravidian movement) and former CM C N Annadurai. Translations of Tirukkural, a few titles of Adi Shankaracharya and poet Kannadasan’s Arthamulla Indhu Madham are also in her library,” the official said, adding that The Discovery of India is “prominently placed”.
Jayalalithaa’s collection also included books on law and several doctoral papers published by state universities about the political life of Annadurai, her mentor and AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran (MGR) and about Jayalalithaa herself. Officials also spotted novels of Agatha Christie and works of Khushwant Singh.
“All these books had markings she made, or bookmarks to chapters she had read or marked for references,” said an official.
The official said Jayalalithaa’s library had two portions: one for book shelves and another section with a reading corner and her collection of journals. “The house itself isn’t very extraordinary, except that there is a lift to the first floor since she had knee trouble. There is also an intercom system to communicate with guests and others downstairs,” he said.
For about three decades, Jayalalithaa lived in this house with V K Sasikala and the latter’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi and her children. Sasikala and Ilavarasi are in jail in Bengaluru after being convicted in the disproportionate assets case along with Jayalalithaa.
Jayalalithaa’s bedroom, though big, is “simple”. “Sasikala’s bedroom is much smaller, with lots of stationery, petitions and papers,” said one of the officials.
Karthikeyan, who was Jayalalithaa’s private secretary for over a decade, recalled, “She would look up new book releases and ask me to order them. We used to order three copies of each book, one for each of her libraries — at Poes Garden, at Siruthavur bungalow (near Chennai) and Kodanadu Estate (in Nilgiris). She would ask me to read, I never did.”
Ilavarasi’s daughter J Krishnapriya, who was 10 when she moved to Veda Nilayam with her mother Ilavarasi and brother Vivek Jayaraman after her father’s death in 1991, said the late CM read for at least five hours a day. “The house had English classics, novels and fairy tales, which got me hooked to reading fairly early on. A lot of those books are from her film star days,” she said.
Krishnapriya added that while after 2000, most of Jayalalithaa’s reading was limited to news, her love for books never waned. She said, “The last book I gave her was Wishes Fulfilled by Wayne Dyer, when she was in hospital. Before that, when she was sent to Bangalore jail, she asked me to send her Mahabharata by C Rajagopalachari. That was the last Tamil book she read.”
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