All good short stories have a major twist in the tale. Tamil Nadu legislative assembly is seeing fantastic twists and turns, perhaps forcing Annadurai, MGR and Jayalalithaa to twist in their graves- all located within 50 metres of each other and within 1 km from the state’s seat of power- Fort St George.
The factual part is shaming all Tamils incessantly. The fictional part of this tale has an almost unbelievable climax!
The truly unbelievable nature of Tamil Nadu’s recent political events takes one’s breath away. Till she was alive, J Jayalalithaa, India’s most enigmatic woman politician was hailed as ‘the permanent Chief Minister’.
The third calendar month after her passing is yet to begin. The permanence of Jaya’s memory has been reduced to near nothingness. The person, who succeeded in doing that through a vain attempt to capture power vide a slightly ajar backdoor, is the late CM’s former servant maid, Sasikala Natarajan. She is currently languishing in prison.
Utterly shameless sections of Chennai-based media milled around Sasikala, wrote highly in her praise and worse, accorded wide publicity to the outrageous claims made by Natarajan, Sasikala’s criminally inclined husband. The man had the temerity to say that it was he and his wife who had created the legend of invincibility around the persona of Jayalalithaa by guiding her political career. This man had been jailed when Jaya was alive.
None would have dared to do such things, had another person – a personal friend to most Indian politicians and also their harshest critic – Cho S Ramaswamy been alive. Cho passed away within 48 hours of Jaya’s demise.
Turning the clock back in real life is impossible. Fiction based on real life events gives one that opportunity.
What would the scenario be, had Jayalalithaa and Cho remained alive in 2021 – by when the woman would complete serving her prison term?
The parameters of the situation have been set by the recent ruling of the Apex Court, convicting Jaya on charges of amassing wealth disproportionate to her known sources of income. Posthumously, the female revolutionary leader has been convicted.
Resurrection of Jayalalithaa’s political career is out of the question. If she had been alive, the portly ex-CM would have had to spend 4 years in incarceration. Upon release, she would have had to spend 6 years in a state of political non sequitur. That would have rendered her a pale shadow of her former self if she had continued to live.
I have had the privilege of having fought with her in press interviews. Whatever be her faults, she was one determined woman.
I imagined what could happen if Cho and Jayalalithaa – old friends since their start of their acting careers – met at Chennai’s Marina Beach – the very venue that can be viewed clearly from the state’s police headquarters. Some 500,000 miscreants had been allowed to congregate to hold the state to ransom for 10 days in January 2017. The state police discreetly gave everyone to understand that the brouhaha over Jallikkattu had taken place “unexpectedly” and due to the infiltration of non-state actors of the anti-social kind.
If that yarn was unbelievable, the one that follows would be more so.
Cho is having a cup of coffee in the restaurant behind the Gandhi Statue – in the evening – around 6-30 p.m.
The date: December 5 2021.
The shadows have lengthened. A mild wintry nip in the air accords the scene a slight eerie look.
Jayalalithaa alights from her car on the eastern side of the restaurant.
Noticing her, Cho takes a few steps towards her. Jaya’s male servant brings in an ornate chair for the lady to sit comfortably. A police constable on duty to guard Cho brings a plastic chair from the restaurant and places it next to the table.
“So, Cho…” Jaya begins hesitantly.
“As you sow, so you reap, goes the adage. You had sowed the wind, the whirlwind showed up and hit you.” Cho replies adding his customary mischievous smile.
“Why am I being led to think that you wantonly used the word sow? The word also means a fully grown female pig.” Jayalalithaa smiles as she utters the sentence, but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes.
“Had I wanted to pun on the word, I would have rather compared you to a gold bar. A sow also means a metal ingot created by pouring molten ore through a mould. That is what you are – a hard shrewd shrew as hard as hardened molten ore, which is still hot. Your hard-heart is so fastidious that it can hardly be pleased. That is why, politics of this state has shooed and ‘shoed‘ you off!”
“You haven’t lost your sarcasm. You are punning better than before.” This time, Jaya laughs out loud and her mirth reaches her eyes.
“Those are gifts from sins of a misspent youth. Some of those years were spent with you and several others like MGR, Shivaji Ganeshan, Jai Shankar to name just three… on garish movie sets. The resultant public image of a smart Alec wise-cracking wiseguy helped in according me a little fame … and aided the takeoff of my magazine Thuglak. Else, I am only left with the puns whose fun quotient is getting less and less these days. As far as the sarcasm goes, well, who cares about it is a question that haunts me. Few politicians, cops and journalists agree with most of what I say and write. The common public say that my ideas are so good that they are impractical.”
Cho shrugs his shoulders to express frustration and retrieves his smoking pipe.
Jayalalithaa seems aghast.
“You shouldn’t be smoking, Cho! I remember seeing you in Apollo and you were supposed to stop all kinds of bad breath. Smoking is one of them.”
“You need to change your spectacles, Jaya. You can notice that my pipe is without tobacco. I just use it as some kind of prop and draw air when memories haunt me.”
“Thank God! For a moment…”
“You are not a beach-comber. You obviously arrived here by design.” Cho says this with mischief making his eyes crinkle.
“I came to meet you.”
Jayalalithaa’s voice is flat and without emotion.
“I thought as much.”
“Your weekly deadline ended this afternoon. I was informed that you secretly spend time at the seashore … perhaps to imbibe the rich, ozone filled air.”
“If you are able to suss that out, it can’t be much of a secret. Say your piece, please. I am all ears.”
“My political life …or what is left of it …is over. I only have bitter, distant memories.”
“I want to serialise my memoirs. I thought of doing it in Thuglak. Remember, I once wrote in your magazine.”
“It would be a good idea.”
Cho signals the waiter. He brings a cup of coffee and leaves it in front of Cho.
She takes a sip, wrinkles her nose expressing dissatisfaction at its taste.
“It isn’t poison. On sets, we have drunk worse coffee.”
“Don’t skirt the issue. Will you publish my memoirs?”
“Of course, I will. But, if you write something controversial, I will add my comment at the bottom to set the record straight. You know the drill.”
“Of course, I do. But, my memoirs are bound to create a sensation. I am going to reveal how Sasikala robbed me of most of my wealth, convinced me to earn money for the sake of members of her extended family and why I had to suffer in prison for it. The worst part is that she tried to kill me. I am getting even and will clear my name, if that is the last thing I do. I will leave nothing to chance.”
“You can’t be serious. That would need evidence or else … it would be libel.”
“I have all the evidence at home. Why don’t you come to Veda Nilayam now? I will give you the first 4 episodes right away.”
Jayalalithaa says this in an excited voice.
“You go ahead. I will reach there in some 10 minutes. I am expecting someone here.”
“Okay. I will get really good coffee made for you at home.”
Jaya leaves. Her assistant picks up her ornate chair and the car is driven away.
Cho’s driver rushes in with a mobile phone.
“You had left it for charging in the car, sir. It is ringing!”
Cho sees a familiar number and flicks the button to speak. He says loudly, “Yes!”
“Sir, TSV Hari, here. Just now, television channels are showing that the former CM Jayalalithaa’s home Veda Nilayam is on fire…Fire tenders have been rushed, but initial reports indicate that she may not have survived.”
Cho begins talking with incredulity dripping from his voice. He suddenly notices that the coffee on the table is left untouched. Puzzled, he gets up, takes a short walk around the table. There are no marks of a chair having been placed or those of the footprints supposed to have been left when Jaya had departed.
The waiter approaches.
“Shall I take away that coffee you ordered sir? It has been some 20 minutes since I left it there. Perhaps you had forgotten that you had ordered it.”
“I had ordered it for …my guest!”
“But there was no guest, sir. You suddenly got up and came to this table, so I moved the coffee cup. Perhaps … inadvertently… you forgot about this coffee.”
Cho speaks into the phone.
“Hari, are you sure of the fire?”
Hari replies in the affirmative.
“I was in the vicinity of Poes Garden when this happened. I am standing in front of Veda Nilayam. The fire is huge. Whoever was inside perhaps had no chance to escape alive, is what the fire fighters are saying,” Hari responds.
“Was there anyone else inside…some servant or…”
“Apparently, Sasikala was released from prison today on parole and she entered some 30 minutes ago, according to eyewitnesses. None saw her leave.”
“OK. You come to the office. I have something fantastic to tell you.” Cho cuts the connection.
He gets up, looks at the spot, where he had seen Jaya seated and sadly shakes his head.
“As far as I am concerned, old girl, you did it all in one go. You got even, got your name cleared with me, and, in a strange way, left nothing … to chance!” Sadness writ large on his face, Cho murmurs the sentence under his breath. He walks towards his car flanked by his guard and driver.