Thursday, July 02, 2015

The "double-chinned Mona Lisa" of Tamil Nadu is the Tamil "Mutti"

Some writers are gifted and they string together words that are simply charming, like this one:
You know you’ve entered Tamil Nadu when you begin to see Jayalalithaa’s face everywhere: a double-chinned Mona Lisa, her long, dark hair pulled back in a demure chignon. 
I will never again think about the Mona Lisa without associating that portrait with Jayalalithaa ;)

It is to the NY Times' credit that they have run a lengthy piece on "The frenzied, fanatical politics of Tamil Nadu, India."  How many readers will be interested in the politics of some place called Tamil Nadu, right?  We might blog, tweet, and snapchat, but all those cannot take the place of a NY Times or the Economist or the, well, you know my favorites ;)

To an insider like me, there is nothing new in that essay.  To a complete outsider, there are many names--multi-syllables at that--of people and places and the complex inter-relationships.

Tamil Nadu, which is where I am from, is a fascinating setting for all kinds of reasons.  Tamil, the language of that area, is the oldest living language in the world with a rich literature past.  Most old-time politicians, including the 92-year old Karunanidhi who is discussed in that essay, are well-versed in that literature and can be masterful orators too.  Jayalalithaa is everything that Karunanidhi is not--a woman, a Brahmin, fluent in English and Hindi--but otherwise there is no difference in their politics.
The two of them rule as if in a melodrama, having each other arrested, dropping snide insults and wild accusations, destroying each other’s pet projects.
One of the fascinating things about the politics in Tamil Nadu is this: the state has prospered despite all the antics of these politicians.  Not merely these two, but--and definitely--including the third and the biggest of them: MGR, who is extensively discussed in that NY Times piece.
You would think that given all this emotional mayhem, Tamil Nadu would be a mess, but in fact it’s one of the best-run states in India. Jean Dr├Ęze and Amartya Sen, in their book ‘‘An Uncertain Glory,’’ an analysis of economic development in India, single out Tamil Nadu as a paragon of administrative innovation among Indian states, ranking it best in the country for the quality of its public services. Under Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi’s governance, Chennai has gained a reputation as the Detroit of India (in the car-manufacturing-hub sense, not in the bankrupt-and-abandoned sense). Her raw instinct for political survival was enough to put her in office. Once there, she revealed a surprising talent for administration. ‘‘She schooled herself, and to that extent one has to salute her,’’ the journalist Sadanand Menon told me. ‘‘She has worked to understand procedures, rules and regulations, policies.’’
If this cinematic and melodramatic politics with unprincipled and corrupt politicians makes for "one of the best-run states in India," one needs to worry about the worst of the states in India, right?

MGR and Jayalalithaa from an movie still, in the NY Times piece
To some extent, the presence of such a strong woman who is adored by mindless millions--men and women alike--has immensely strengthened women in Tamil Nadu.  Even the poor do not think twice about educating their girls or sending them to college.  Jayalalithaa is a good role model for female empowerment!
Sometimes I feel that the reason women in Tamil Nadu enjoy Jayalalithaa in power is that they see how she controls men, keeps them at a distance, falling at her feet.’’
Jayalalithaa was the "mother" well before Germany's Angela Merkel was nicknamed that.  The world is becoming ok, finally, with the idea that women too can be political leaders, and can be as good as, or as corrupt as, the men.  So much so that we are apparently ready to even have grandmothers as leaders, argues this essay in the Atlantic:
modern life seems to be suggesting another possibility for older women. Lately, a group of prominent 60-somethings—Janet Yellen, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, and Angela Merkel among them—has begun forging an alternate path: whatever the reason older women were put on this Earth, their example suggests, maybe the time has come for them to run it.
A modern day Leonardo da Vinci will have quite a few political Mona Lisa portraits to paint--some with double chins too, just as the male leaders had and do ;)

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