A fic­tion­alised nar­ra­tive of the life of J. Jay­alalithaa

India Today - - LEISURE - by LATHA ANANTHARAMAN who is the au­thor of the mem­oir Three Sea­sons

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

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