From roadside tea shops to businesses, from shops to all offices, from hotels to cinema theatres, from petrol bunks to picnic spots, from private and public transport to educational institutions it was shutters down all across the sprawling city.
And the outpouring of grief in homes and on the streets was genuine. Irrespective of who they may have voted for in the past, most people in Chennai felt Jayalalithaa, 68, had a premature death and that she deserved to live some more years.
“It is still difficult to accept that Amma is no more,” K. Nagalakshmi, who delivers milk to homes, said. “This was not the age for her to die. She could have lived for some more years,” the humble woman said. For Nagalakshmi, who comes from a poor family, Jayalalalithaa would be the leader who cared for the underprivileged. “The freebies introduced by Jayalalithaa helped my daughter. She got a laptop in school. And the free rice scheme and housing scheme were a boon to the poor,” she added in a choking voice.
Jayalalithaa, the political successor to AIADMK founder and her mentor M.G. Ramachandran or MGR, enjoyed a huge following in Tamil Nadu on account of her generous funding of social welfare schemes. Flower vendor P. Harikrishnan’s first party of choice is the DMK. But on Tuesday, he too shed tears for the departed AIADMK supremo. “I also feel Jayalalithaa should have lived for some more years,” he said.
Harikrishnan admitted that her government’s free rice and other schemes benefited his and numerous other families. “And the free insurance scheme came to the rescue of my sister when she underwent an operation.” Chennai is where Jayalalitha lived as she catapulted from a successful actor to being one of the country’s most popular politicians.
A.D. Bhaskar, a private sector employee, was clear that Jayalalithaa was truly a mass leader. “I saw such a massive crowd at MGR’s funeral (in 1987). And I am seeing it now.”
Normal life was derailed on Tuesday in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa died just before midnight on Monday after battling for life for 74 long days in a hospital. While supplies of essential items such as milk were not hit in the morning, there was a total shutdown across the state as the day dawned. No state transport corporation buses and auto-rickshaws plied in Chennai. The roads were deserted and most people remained indoors. Only private vehicles were on the roads, that too in small numbers. Shops in the busy commercial area of T. Nagar and other localities here were closed. So were petrol pumps, hotels and cinema theatres. Many factories remained closed too.
A person working in the Call Centre of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board told IANS that the employees did not get food on Monday night as hotels were shut down after Jayalalithaa’s death was beamed on the TV channels. “We are continuing in the morning shift as our replacements have not come for want of public transport,” the official said. The Tamil Nadu government has declared a three-day holiday for educational institutions. There will be a week-long mourning. Passengers who arrived at the railway stations and airports found it difficult to reach their destinations. They had to opt for radio taxis or the suburban railways that functioned.