Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jayalalithaa 1948 - 2016

Many will say 2016 was a brutal year, a year in which many beloved figures were lost. Prince, David Bowie, Fidel Castro (maybe not so beloved by many), Leonard Cohen, the King of Thailand, Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, the guy who crawled into a metal cylinder and rocked back and forth as he 'played' R2-D2, Justice Scalia, Janet Reno, Nancy Reagan, Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Snape in the movies, and, last but certainly not least, Mohammed Ali.

All great lives. Some more influential than others. Arguably, Castro had a greater impact on people's lives than Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer did. Everyone feels the loss differently. Elise was upset when Prince passed away. My mom, when Jose Fernandez.

I tend not to get too upset when celebrities pass. I didn't really know them and few have had a large impact on my life. I'm sad for the loss of others. I worry about what can happen to communities when loved ones are lost. Especially communities I care about.

We commemorated Oscar Niemeyer's passing in 2012 on the blog, because his architecture was such a defining, if unconscious, feature of our time in Brazil. Similarly, not a day...a minute, really, went by in Chennai when we did not see Jayalalithaa's face. She was, very literally, omnipresent. Her cult of personality was all-encompassing, her picture was everywhere, on every billboard, road barricade, backpack and water bottle. She was Tamil Nadu's most beloved leader, and I know many are upset, distraught, genuinely worried, confused, and fearful since her passing.

Regardless of your political leaning, this is a huge loss for Tamil Nadu.

When we heard of her heart attack, we worried, and feared for those we knew and cared about, co-workers, colleagues, and friends, those who loved her. When she passed, I knew it would be hard for Chennai. But I know India to be a resilient place, and Indians to be a resilient people. There will be mourning, people setting themselves on fire and flinging themselves onto the hoods of automobiles in spasmodic orgies of grief.

I remember going outside the wall surrounding our office building when she was acquited of corruption charges and released from house arrest. She toured the city in her Amma-mobile, in a victory parade, past throngs of followers in all-white garb, waving palm fronds and beating on drums. I stood with my Indian co-workers hoping to get a glimpse. It was a moment of South Indian history.

Goodbye, Amma.

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