(Published in Sify.com on 17th May, 2011, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-amma-is-the-odd-one-out-news-columns-lfrqIxfahae.html)
It’s a time for single women to cheer – well, at least the ones who believe Single Woman is a secret sorority, and any of their sorority sisters who achieves, let’s say, the Chief Ministry of a state, has somehow made all their lives worthwhile, and vindicated their stand in saying “we don’t need men!”
They can now feel empowered by the fact that a trio of spinsters – Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee – have the reins of three states in the South, North and East in their hands. If only yesteryear siren Rekha were to focus on politics now, the compass would look so pretty, eh? She’d even bring the glamour to a Sis and the City series.
But that is where we encounter a problem.
It struck me that while these three ladies may be single and female, Jayalalithaa is really the odd one out. No, I’m not talking about her clothes – though, on the subject, she does have a larger and more expensive wardrobe than either of the others. And maybe, having a few million reels of celluloid stored away does away with the craving to seek immortality in marble. There may have been less debate, too, if a cop had felt compelled to clean her shoes – they’re usually pretty.
However, the oddity I’m referring to is that we can’t really say ‘sis’ – while Mamata is ‘Didi’ and Mayawati is ‘Behenji’ (‘Baganji’ in some parts of India, but never mind that), Jayalalithaa is ‘Amma’.
Why does the state, and the country, want to attribute motherhood to her, when the other two maidens are accorded sisterhood?
Worse, Jayalalithaa has been ‘Amma’ since she first took over as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, at the tender age of 43, which right now, is roundabout the going age for Amul Babies.
I didn’t realise at the time that a grave injustice was being done to Jayalalithaa. In my defence, 43 seems rather ancient when your own age is in single digits, as mine was a couple of decades ago.
But the magnitude of the, shall we say, relative profiling of Jayalalithaa strikes me now. I mean, Pranab Mukherjee is still Pranab-da! Nehru was chacha forever. And Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, at an age when he could have spawned great-grandchildren, was titled The Father of the Nation.
Well, let’s not bring feminism into this – in all fairness, Rajnikanth is still a hero, when Revathi, a good twenty years younger than he, has turned Mommy – but the only other woman politician who’s been granted maternity of the nation is Sonia, and even that’s restricted to Tamil Nadu, which calls her Annai Sonia. And, really, she has her Amul Baby and an Amuller Baby too.
If I were Jayalalithaa, I’d be feeling a whole lot more bitter about those morphed movie covers that read ‘The Mummy Returns’, given that there was no ‘Sister Act’ cover for Mamata – or for Mayawati, when she first assumed power.
The only people entitled to a bigger grouse than she is are the three ladies who ran/run their own nurseries, in a manner of speaking.
First, there was Mother Teresa, who built a congregation from the destitute, by turning the gutters of Kolkata into breeding grounds for conversion. Jayalalithaa has visited the sick, especially those of her party workers who’ve been wounded in fistfights with rival party workers, but she is yet to establish a charitable mission that changes the lives and religions of these people.
Then, there’s the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Some people may compare the mentoring of Aurobindo to that of MGR, but then, there are no reports of Jayalalithaa communicating telepathically with him, even in the movie roles they essayed together.
Finally, there’s Mata Amritanandamayi, the Hugging Saint. But while Jayalalithaa has gone so far as to tease her heroes with an almost-hug on celluloid, hugs from her in real life are rather rare.
All things considered, it seems inappropriate to refer to Jayalalithaa as ‘Amma’ at present. We could perhaps promote Didi to Ma status, and Mayawati to Mataji status. But then, we would still be offending the spiritually inclined women we have spoken of.
So, how many in favour of a motion to change Jayalalithaa’s epithet to ‘Akka’?