From Ammu to Amma: The Iron Lady of Unique Mettle of Tamilnadu

Geethanjali, who met the cine star, Jayalalithaa, as a child, pays a soulful tribute to the fiery, feisty and the proverbial Iron Lady of Tamilnadu, endearingly called ‘Amma’ by one and all. In her pinafore days, as student of Bishop Cotton Girls’ School, Bangalore, she was affectionately called ‘Ammu’. Her long and arduous journey from Ammu to Amma – her real life is far more exciting than all her blockbuster movies, her reel life. A loner in real life, she touched the hearts and souls of countless people. A voracious reader, she more than made up for the loss of her formal school education. Like her mentor, MGR, she became larger than life. The writer recalls her brief interaction, when she was barely 10, with Amma; her adoration and affection has stayed with her. A poetic tribute, My Sore, sums up what the writer-poet feels about Amma. Here’s her personal account, exclusively in Different Truths.   

An amalgamation of a precious mettle – a rare combination of beauty and brains, Ammu, as she was called didn’t know in her pinafore days of Bishop Cotton Girls’ School, Bangalore, and later a star student of Church Park Presentation Convent, Madras, who stood school first and topped in the district too, that she would be a phenomenal leader leading the masses of Tamilnadu, India.Jayalalithaa was a legend beyond compare. Destiny warped and twisted her fate to vistas she never conjured in her conscious awareness.

Jayalalithaa was a legend beyond compare. Destiny warped and twisted her fate to vistas she never conjured in her conscious awareness.

Her thwarted and aborted tryst with education did not deter her pursuit of knowledge and she educated herself imbibing knowledge from life and experience. She insisted in later years through messages to women that beauty grows only with self-education and self-sustenance.

Thrown into the limelight of stardom, a firmament where she shone and outshone many of her contemporaries, Jayalalithaa charmed her
audience with her versatility in the performing arts and acting, in Tamil cinema.

In 1984, when she entered politics as a party worker and propaganda secretary in Anna DMK, which was more than a cult in this region, no one would imagine that she would lead the millions within a decade.

Her sharp intellect and ability to lead soon placed her as Chief Minister on a rung she carefully scaled. Touching the Tamil speaking diaspora in particular and winning several admirers from the political arena in other states in India, she was nothing less than a lioness in her den. Her charisma, focus, resilience, determination, and observation of political climates kept her seat embellished with her presence six times, as Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.

Her dream was to see India as a super power in the future.

Hardly brought up by her father Jayaram, a lawyer, who passed away when she was just two, Jaya or Ammu, led a lonely life missing her widowed mother Sandhya (Vedavalli), who was already in an acting career in Chennai, then Madras. Her childhood without her mother in Bangalore, where she schooled, soon brought her to her mother, in 1958, for better days to follow.

Although academically brilliant she was left without much of a choice to continue formal education in college, but her challenge to encounter life as it came to her made her a leader beyond compare. Alienated from her family members and also her brother Jaykumar, due to pressures of political winds, Jayalalithaa, trod the wild with the conviction that she would emerge victorious despite resistance from the opposition.

More than anything she merged with the people of Tamilnadu, touching the hearts of the downtrodden, empowering women and piloting her party like the lighthouse beacon of choppy seas of the Bay of Bengal!

Her dream was to transform Chennai into a beautiful city and she coined her pet project as ‘Singaara Chennai’.

I dedicate my following experience with the Diva turned leader in this article as also my tribute to this Iron Lady of Tamilnadu, the Late Selvi J. Jayalalithaa (1948-2016), someone I have ever admired, especially for her inherent qualities of leadership, confidence, tenderness, individuality, and self-righteousness that she emanated as an inspiration to so many of us. Amma will ever be remembered as the Universal Mother, especially in Tamilnadu.



She was in a salmon pink chiffon sequined saree, radiant, and dazzling, a diva for sure. I was just 10 years, all eyes and wondering if anyone Gararacould look this charming!

The twilight added to her peachy countenance. I was in a maroon garara (a fancy looking styled pair of trousers of the 70’s) that caught her eye! Appa had it made for me especially that year, for my birthday, and the gold motifs on it with that matching kurta was just a head turner.

As I was gazing at her about a few feet away talking to other celebrities, mesmerised at her aura, she called me, “Come here.” In my excitement, I almost tripped on my flared trousers. I went gingerly and she held both my hands and how soft they were!! My eyes never felt bigger!

“Where did you get this dress made and what’s you name child?” She chimed.

“Geethanjali,” I murmured. “Such a lovely name and you look so beautiful in this dress. What’s it called… again?”

I dare not go wrong. “Garara,” I spurted! “Lovely,” she crooned in her refined voice, “In my next film you’ll see me wearing one too.” I almost screamed in me!

I actually had a tëte à tête with a star, a future chief minister of Tamilnadu!

Then she drifted like a vision from the lawn of her Poes Garden home in Madras where she personally gave a guided tour of her newly built home! My family was invited for her house warming, for grandpa was with Vijaya Vahini Studios. I was totally floored by her library of her fabulous home, among other tastefully done up areas of her home. The walls of her private library that she says was the most favourite place on earth, were embellished with an array of beautifully leather bound books. Mint green wall to wall carpet and pure white delicate steel furniture and cozy couches in green, all velour, reflected her fine taste in the aesthetics. My childhood fantasy to be in that library sits in my head even now! We all know what a voracious reader she was!

That was my little conversation with her. She touched my cheek and said, “Come see my house.” When I snapped out of a reverie…

Today, she is gone. I’ve admired her for my own reasons. I always admire a lone lioness in a jungle, where wolves prowl. Where just her presence is a roar enough to establish order.

She will ever remain the victorious one! JJ, her name resounds with the victorious! Jayalalithaa Amma. Moms are all about winning everything over!

Tamilnadu will ever cherish your charismatic presence! Sixty eight years of your karma on earth well played!  Now, your board folded up and you have fled to be a star ever in the firmament.

May your soul rest in peace, Amma!


My Sore

Now what can you dedicate to me,

Float a tribute or sing me a eulogy??

Me who now looms a pure light ray that your eyes receive for sight,

Watching myself deified, glorified, stupefied?

I will be the eye of the storm that the bay waltzes with my presence where I reigned supreme,

There where rivers were sadly turned to gutters and ditches,

Where I enacted ‘Paanchali’, disrobed of my dignity, lineage and aristocracy,

What can you give me now apart from fragrant perishable garlands, wreaths, and tears?

Me whom you slandered and called names,

Mocked at my legit wealth, accolades, and achievements,

For you could never digest my triumphs,

I mastered the act of role playing, became a She-wolf among vampires,

I proved that class is never acquired by mundane money,

And that all you could do was to expose my fancy footwear to the world that was my mere accessory in my glittering day to day life!

You fools!!

I who married a commitment of fluttering black and red in silhouettes of fiery sacrifices,

What can you confer upon me now?

A title that can never name the real me?

Bury it with me now!

For I will drift infallible, invincible and indelible from where I now stand,

A pedestal you can never embellish,

Here I am in every flower girl’s voice in the canopy of a pagoda,

Where virgin lotuses garland His lotus feet, and Her cosmic bosom,

Where the river runs divided but merged as a cloud with a silver lining over two states that are meant to unite.

They will!

I am the heat and warmth of a fire you cannot touch,

You may not ignite my pyre for I was left without a choice,

But burn I will with the Rising Sun in your every morn on the Eastern horizon,

Where a city will be called ‘Singaara Chennai’, in history books and epic tales!

‘My sore’ will be cleansed, sanctified, healed with the very nectarine waters that brought me to earth,

And my immortality will etch itself in your memory birth after birth!

The universal mother that Destiny carved out of me, never barren,

Feeding millions and breathing with them within my smock,

Knowing of hunger, squalor, and indignity,

Now tell me what souvenir can you make out of me?

A poem?

©Geethanjali Dilip

Photos  from the Net. 


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