Friday, December 9, 2016

A State weeps for its Amma

Much much before I learnt of Planck's constant, I knew of 2 political constants in Tamil Nadu - 2 constants which couldn't be more dissimilar but which periodically, meticulously exchanged places once every 5 years. And now, with one of those constants gone, it feels surreal, unbelievable almost.
Amma was always...just...there...lurking in the shadows when her bête noire was the Chief Minister and at all other times, she loomed large - the quintessential administrative head of her State. There are so many layers to her that one wonders if there is anyone who has been able to peel through all of them. Yet, it feels so inadequate and wrong to see many from outside Tamil Nadu oversimplifying her simply based on 2 data points - her disproportionate assets case and her stentorian control over her party.

I wonder how many know what she had to face that dark day in March 1989 when her modesty was outraged, in the Assembly of the State, no less!
I wonder how many know what a staggeringly well-read person she was and the depth of knowledge she brought to the table for any conversation.
I wonder how many know how she had complete grasp of administration in its truest sense - how well-prepared she would be for every meeting with bureaucrats.
I wonder how many know the insecurities she faced - from being a fair-skinned Brahmin woman not born in Tamil Nadu, in a patriarchal, caste-crazed, social milieu at a time when women were, forget being politicians, not even a side story in the political set-up.
I wonder how many know the dire poverty she was born into that pushed her to take up acting, to make ends meet for her family.
I wonder how many know her indefatigable love for reading and her regret at not being able to pursue academics.

It is a pity that all that most of the non-South/non-Tamil media, both national and international, can refer to her schemes is as "populist" - an adjective that does gross injustice to her larger administrative acumen. Yes, there were the mixies and grinders and laptops that no doubt proliferated the freebie culture, but to identify her administration by this alone is patently unfair.

Jayalalithaa did more for feminism than most west-educated liberals demanding freedom for women to go to pubs and wear whatever they wanted, ever conceived.
Her achievement in increasing higher education in Tamil Nadu, her tuition assistance to first-generation learners, her cradle baby scheme for kids abandoned by their biological parents (that single-handedly did more to eradicating female infanticide than most other schemes put together), her conceiving all-women police stations - all have done immeasurable good to the emancipation of women in the State. She leaves behind a State with India's highest rate of industrial employment and lowest rate of crimes against women. Though it would be unfair to rubbish the contribution of the grand old patriarch who kept the administration & development of the State running after he took over, credit for much of the social sector schemes ought to go to Jayalalithaa.

And what to say about the confidence in the government when(ever) she is in power! As Jey Dee eloquently says, the aam junta simply *knew* that under her, power cuts would be less, PDS would be better and the big daddy of them all - that Law & Order would be impeccable.

An aspect of L&O that we easily tend to overlook - for all talk of administration, we are selfish in the sense that we generally only talk about how we, the recipients, feel about it. But how does it feel from the other side - the enforcers. It's no secret that under her, the cops of the State felt truly empowered - which goes a long way in ensuring proper L&O.

What is incredible is not that she had no godfather (MGR was, by all means, her political godfather), but the way she built the party after she was sidelined in the immediate aftermath of his death. It is also said that MGR had begun to shun her towards the last few years of his rule when he began to perceive her as becoming more ambitious.

The immense sense of personal loss that people from all walks of life feel now - cutting across social and economic divides, is to be seen to be believed. These are absolutely apolitical people from totally middle class backgrounds who feel deeply aggrieved.
As a friend put it simply, never again will Tamil Nadu elect someone of her class, fortitude, intelligence, sophistication and charisma.

In a way though, the manner of her passing is a befitting tribute to the iron lady that she was - going at the peak of her powers. She passed away not as a powerless bystander but as a lady very much in control of her State & her people, having just won a historic re-election.

Rest well, Amma, much it is that you have done to the State and its people.
This is a void that will take some time to fill, if at all.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Thalavali da!

The trailer was awesome. The Neruppu da track was yet another high point. 21st July was probably the highest point. And then, it was all downhill. I thought, at its worst, Kabali would be a Mankatha - an average storyline that would ride on the hero's star-power & charisma to deliver a winner. The premise was grand - an ageing don who gets out of jail and is confronted with a hostile environment. We were smacking our lips imagining how this was a story-line tailor-made for someone like Rajni for his age. We were so happy that Rajni wouldn't be doing any of those atrocious running-around-trees with actresses half his age. We thought after the mindless splurging of money on sets by the likes of established directors like Shankar, a new young director would infuse a breath of fresh air and bring out the by-now-lost histrionic capabilities of the Superstar. And how wrong we were! There wasn't even an excuse for a storyline. What was the main theme - Kabali re-establishing his hold in Kuala Lampur or searching for his presumed-dead wife, I'm still wondering. One of the top moments in a Rajni movie is, of course the "intro scene" and that turned out to be a damp squib as well. Whatever charisma he exhibits in the movie was shown in the trailer, with little else left in the movie. Apart from Rajni, there was little else anyway – no matter how talented Radhika Apte might be. I hate to admit this, but as much as Baahubali was a symbol of pride for all Telugus, Kabali is an embarrassment for Tamils, especially after all the humongous hype and hoopla that preceded its release. Sorry Thalaiva, but you've let us down. Federer might not win Grand Slams, but at least it's still a joy to watch him play. :-(

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"One" of a Kind

He was one of the few guys who I took a liking to within a few instances of having come across, which were mostly TV interviews. But more importantly, this guy turned out to be all of it and more. He might be my batch mate but the awe remains. I’m still unsure if it’s his disarming and super-affable nature or the fact that he comes closest to me as far as backgrounds go, but there is this genuineness and sincerity about his persona that struck me that has stuck on. To me, he represents how a civil servant should be. Now I don’t know him personally and I sure as hell hope I’m not wrong in what I say of him, but based on what I’ve got to hear of him, both from his IAS batch-mates and elsewhere, turns out he’s every bit the gem I think of him to be.

His almost 35-minute speech in this video will attest to what I say here. And the deepest connect I share with him is the passion & emotion with which he spoke about impacting the lives of the poor and delivering justice to the common man, and I was moved to the point of tears – both by how sincerely he conveyed the point and the fact that that was what I set out for but will not be able to do.

Irrespective of all the practical/honest answers that people will give you these days (and you get them a lot once you’re inside the service), for the sincere guy, this impacting the life of the rural poor and causing positive societal change – irrespective of how clichéd it might sound, is among the primary things civil service is all about. Now being in the Revenue Services, I’ve seen enough to know there is much I can contribute and cause positive change, but this connect with the poorest of the poor, this delivery of justice to the Kamla Devis & Kishan Lals of India – far away from the humdrum of an airport or a Central Excise office – is something I will never get. And though I do have an attempt left, you know when you’ve moved on, leaving a tiny bit of you behind.

But to Gaurav Agarwal – that tiny bit of me that prompted me to leave the financial by-lanes of Chicago and return to India, not very unlike you, will remain with the likes you. The calm demeanour, the earnestness of approach and sincerity of purpose – I hope these remain with you all through your 30-year-career, Gaurav, as I hope they do with me, and hope the winds of destiny blow us onto the same path sometime in the future, as we build a better India.