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August 31, 1999


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India Speaks/ Vanaja

'Even now they get carried away by Jayalalitha's red cheeks!'

I still remember those terrifying days. We used to be in such a hurry to catch a bus and reach home. The working hours in the factory was from morning till 5.30 in the evening. Even when you waited for the bus, you would only be thinking of what to prepare for night. Except my first daughter, the other three were young and studying in school. So, I knew they would be waiting for me to reach home and cook supper. In the ordinary days also, by the time I reached home, they would be very hungry. My husband also came home very late. With so much work to do at home, you would be ready to push people around to get into a crowded bus.

Suddenly, without any warning, everything would stop and buses wouldn't come for hours. No, no, don't think it was a flash strike of bus drivers or conductors. It was just that the roads were blocked for the chief minister to pass by. And how did she become a chief minister? Only because people voted for her. Yes, I am talking about Jayalalitha. Don't think the stopping of vehicles and buses occurred only one day. It was a regular affair and some days, we ladies used to walk 10, 12 kilometres to reach home.

We are poor people and we have to buy provisions and vegetables every day from our daily earnings. Only then we cooked for the night. And, as time passed by, we used to get tense and tired. I had heard some of the women construction workers shower abuses at her. They were not scared to swear but I was scared. Those were the days!

I used to curse myself for having voted for her party. I had always been a very politically aware person and in my house, I grew up hearing my father and brother discussing Anna, Nehru, Kamaraj, etc. I had seen Nehru as a little girl when he passed through my village but I still remember the way he stood up and waved at us. I have seen Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also, but I never voted for the Congress.

By the time, I could vote, I was influenced by MGR and his party AIADMK. He acted in the movies as a kind man who felt for the poor people. In real life also, he was kind and good to the poor. He might have behaved badly to his political rivals but not to the poor. I know all the inside political stories as I read newspapers daily.

So, by the time I was ready to vote, I was married and had come to Madras. In those days, you could vote only if you are 21. And I voted for MGR because I had seen him help those who were very poor, who were poorer than us. Our situation was not that bad as both my husband and myself worked and he did not touch alcohol.

The only blunder I did in my life was, I went on producing babies because my husband wanted a boy. See, instead of one boy, we have four girls now. I should not have listened to him. I should have gone to a hospital and sterilised myself. Anyway I cannot do anything about it now. But I am happy that I have only girls. They bring water home, help me cook in the mornings and then go to school. By the time I am back, they may have finished cleaning the vessels and home and even washed the clothes. I am sure if I had a son, he would have just loitered.

I have always felt that our government should bring a law restricting people to have only two children. No government would do that as I think, all politicians want us to remain poor and illiterate. They think that only then they will get our vote.

I am surprised when I see my village and villagers looking the same even after so many years. Because I live in the city, I am aware of many things. But the villagers are very, very ignorant and innocent. Even now they get carried away by Jayalalitha's red cheeks! But whenever I meet them, I describe the sufferings that people like me had because of Jayalalitha.

Just imagine I too had voted for her party. So, my vote also contributed for her becoming the chief minister. It was only because I believed in MGR that I voted for her. So, in the last assembly election, I voted for Karunanidhi and now he is the chief minister. I don't think he is doing a very good job. But not bad too. At least we can move around without facing any hardships. We have freedom and we do not have to see so many cutouts.

I know this election is for the central government. I know Delhi politics also as my youngest daughter and myself always watch the eight o'clock Sun TV news unfailingly. I also listen to the morning radio news. My husband and the other three girls are wasters. The girls are only interested in films and my husband is not interested in anything.

In the 1998 election also, I voted only for the DMK candidate because I could not bring myself to vote for a party which Jayalalitha asked us to. Then, I didn't know a party called the BJP and till Vajpayee became the prime minister, nobody in our locality also knew him. You won't believe, he is a hero in our area now. People used to talk about the war in Kargil as we see it daily on the television. They said, it was only because of Vajpayee that we won the war. He appears to be a nice man.

Anyway, I know this much that we cannot afford to have elections every year. It is very, very expensive and if they had spent that much money for the poor, our lives would have improved. All of us know that we have this election now only because of Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi. Yes, I have heard a lot about the tea party on television. I also saw that Vajpayee lost by one vote. These two ladies and that Swamy should be punished for forcing an election on us.

Now that Karunanidhi is with Vajpayee, I will vote for the DMK or the BJP this time. But I will never vote for a foreigner. And, she is a foreigner. Won't the whole world laugh at us if we vote for a foreigner? See when we have our own leaders, why should we go behind a foreigner?

We got freedom from the British only in 1947. I cannot understand why people are after her. I really cannot understand. I feel we should have pride in our people and our country. I am a poor woman and I don't meet any foreigner. Still, I feel there is a pride in having an Indian as our prime minister.

Vanaja, 43, used to work in a garments factory in Madras. As told to Shobha Warrier.

India Speaks

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