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With the passing of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, whatever your political affiliations may be, we have lost a woman of rare courage and grit.
“She is not married but can she claim to be a virgin?” Opposition party members roared. Her first political campaign was called a ‘Cabaret Campaign’. Even for this highly intelligent woman with charisma and oratory skills that no man could ever match, honour was still considered to reside between the legs.
That did not stop her. In fact, nothing did.
I remember I was barely 14 when I was the chosen ‘student’ to hand over a bouquet to Jayalalithaa. I wore my best clothes and waited for hours just to hand over flowers to her. I barely remember any of it except that she politely asked me with a smile and in her impeccable English, which standard I studied in. I still remember how everyone was in awe of this lady.
My fascination with her however started way before I had seen her up-close.
What differentiates her from you and me? Nothing. She was as much a woman as you or I am. Except, she made the difficult choices and stuck through them despite almost always being in the wrong place or situation as fate would have it.
“My father was a gentleman of leisure,” she said in an interview leaving us to wonder if you can ever phrase a troubled childhood that diplomatically.
Some people are born great and some have greatness thrust upon them – Our chief minister belonged to the second kind. But boy, did she rise up the greatness that was thrust on her – She took it like she was born for it!
From a little girl in an orthodox family who was fondly referred to as Ammu, she went on to be referred to as Amma by an entire state. Well behaved women rarely make history and it wasn’t very different in her case.
Like you and I, she has nursed broken hearts.
Like you and I, she had once decided to end her life.
Like you and I, she has fallen. Many times.
But she gave life a chance. She gave herself and her potential a chance. She excelled as an actress even when she didn’t like the industry and was just the girl who curled up with a book. She excelled as a politician even though she was dragged into politics.
She let herself be like water, taking shape and fitting into her destiny and she let herself be like steel, rigid and firm when she needed to be.
She did not just waltz her way to reign an entire state.
The ladder was filled with slut-shaming, insults, an attempt to pull her clothes away in the legislative assembly, virginity debacles and continuous questioning about her personal life.
She was also pulled into one of the most excruciating situations a woman can ever be in – the situation where she was the ‘Other Woman‘. In other words, a seductress, mistress or a homewrecker is what she was called and she was not even allowed to attend the funeral of her mentor.
Yet she turned it around. An upper caste woman (I say this for political relevance) who was accused of being an adulteress went on to lead a Dravidian party to victory. And that is why it is rightly said that her life was more dramatic than any script she starred in.
And no matter what happened, there were two things she kept intact – her poise and her sense of humor/wit.
When she walked out of her house, waiting to be arrested by policemen, she flung her fingers high in the air and said, “Naalai Namadhe” promising a better tomorrow not just for herself but for the state as well.
When she walked out of prison without any special treatment she laughed and said, “My prison was almost like a zoology class with rats and cockroaches!”
Her diplomacy, assertiveness, ability to handle any situation with grit are textbooks for anyone and for every woman.Women in our country are taught to be less ambitious, to smile a lot and be like-able. But if you are a woman and you are not pissing anyone off, you are probably not doing enough.
And our chief minister who leaves a big vacuum in Tamil Nadu politics stood as a clear example for this and with her demise, let women be inspired to climb to the standards that have been set.
Why be a princess when you can be a queen? And why be a queen when you can be a Khaleesi?
And why be a Khaleesi just out of a book when you can be like one of these inspiring woman who have paved the path for us and tamed bigger dragons?
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Top image is a screen grab via Youtube