A SAD TALE
A fictionalised narrative of the life of J. Jayalalithaa
Once upon a time, a halfdressed starlet batted her eyelashes all the way to the seat of power. She elbowed her way into a political party rooted in the Dravidian self-respect movement and left it literally prostrate. She terrorised the press. She took corruption to new peaks. She equated governance with emptying the treasury. Worst of all, she turned a proud and industrious people into serfs grovelling for free rice. We thought this story would never end, but a mercifully early death closed it last December.
Who was the bright spark who then decided the world needed a remake of this unedifying spectacle? Anita Sivakumaran’s The Queen, based on the life of Tamil Nadu’s late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, is likely to please no one. Those who gritted their teeth through Jayalalithaa’s many terms in office will not find anything they haven’t read in old profiles from The Hindu and Aside. Her breast-beating devotees went home as soon as the TV cameras were gone. And for any reader outside the borders of a long-suffering Tamil Nadu who may care, this book is only a rehash of her life. The woe-is-me class topper who, like most dropouts, was going to be a doctor but was forced into the movies. The modest woman reluctant to step into politics but feverishly contesting every election. The autocrat who delegated to no one but somehow didn’t know where all those disproportionate assets came from.
The character Kalai Arasi is cold, driven by status and money and ever-conscious of her white skin. When she looks out at the hordes waiting to hear her speeches, always described as dark and sweaty, we understand the thoughts are in Kalai’s head, not the author’s—but the effect is still ugly. It would be impossible to feel for such a creation, even if the writing had been less pedestrian.
There are many questions we have about Jayalalithaa. What happened to the householders whose land and homes she appropriated? Where are the stories that editors put aside for fear of her aggressive defamation suits? Will her riches be swallowed by her fellow conspirators or come back to the state? And how did she die? What we don’t need is the story in The Queen. It was bad enough the first time around.
CLOSE TOO COMFORT FOR is This book a essentially of Jayalalithaa’s rehash life