The movements of Jayalalithaa, and the arrangements for her swearing-in tomorrow as the chief minister, brought traffic in Chennai to a grinding halt today. Fortunately I did not have a flight or train to catch or an important meeting to attend.
But I did miss work. I got into a cab this afternoon and had travelled barely 500 metres when, on
G.N. Chetty Road, I
found myself in a traffic jam. After 10 minutes of waiting on the road, the
driver began to get impatient and suggested that I take an autorickshaw. I
stayed put: autorickshaws don’t fly. But soon I figured that at the rate the
traffic was moving, it would take me two hours to get to work — a distance of
less than 6 km — and asked the driver to drop me back home.
Relieved, he turned into the first lane leading out of the road but soon, on
Thirumalai Pillai Road, we again found
ourselves in a jam. I decided to walk back home and got off the cab. Soon I
found myself walking past a red building — a typical two-storey bungalow. I
The old-fashioned bungalow has always been almost a stone’s throw from my home. In the 14-plus years that I have lived in Chennai, I have gone past the building countless times and occasionally thought of stopping by, just to take a look inside, because it always looked deserted and accessible. It was in this bungalow that K. Kamaraj, Tamil Nadu’s tallest Congress leader, lived after he became the chief minister — and died. It serves as a memorial now.
Today, I found the gate open and walked in. Not a soul in sight. I could have been the first visitor of the day — or, who knows, the first visitor in months, maybe years. The house has been preserved the way Kamaraj left it: a room with sofas and a single bed; another room with bookshelves and an easy chair at the centre; the hall with a dining table and a show case. A simple man’s bungalow. In a small room by the hall sat two men, perhaps the caretakers, who were chatting away. I looked at the enlarged black-and-white pictures hanging from the walls, obviously placed in the recent times, showing Kamaraj with dignitaries from across the world (including the king of
The captions seem to have been written by a semi-literate man: Ethiopia is ‘Lenin Grat’. Leningrad
The walls of the bungalow separated two worlds. Outside, the noise preceding Jayalalitha’s oath-taking ceremony; inside, the orderly silence at the home of a man who took oath thrice as the chief minister. Outside, the noise generated by Dravidian politics, where personalities tower over principles; inside, the gentle calm of the Nehruvian era. Outside, a woman was being deified (‘Amma, you are god!’); inside, a silence brought about by death — not just the death of its one-time occupant, but also the slow death of his ideology. To understand where the Congress stands today in Tamil Nadu, one should have spend this afternoon at Kamaraj’s home, like I did.