#RIPAmma – What Amma meant to people

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;

On 13th May, 2011, with the rumble of the crackers celebrating Amma’s victory serving as the background score, The Hero and I sat outside the IIT Madras guest house after dinner, weighed our options and spontaneously decided to move to Chennai.

“A kick-ass female C.M., a winning IPL team and filter coffee. What more do we want to be happy?”, I joked. We moved to Chennai for good in September and Amma has been part of my life since.


Three years later at the peak of the Modi wave my first ever vote went to Amma . I chose to vote for Amma not because I wasn’t sure of Modi (topic for a different post) but because in a country swept away in an obsession for one man, and an opposition in ruins, I put my faith in Amma to oppose him if needed. Turns out that a lot of others did the same resulting in the AIADMK picking up 37 Lok Sabha seats in one state compared to the INC’s 44 across the country. That was Amma for you. I couldn’t find it in my conscience to vote for her again after the administrative mismanagement of the Chennai floods but there was no viable alternative really, and she was back again.

Why did people love her so much? I have just two stories to tell. One is my former cook’s, the other my former maid’s. Both these women were BPL, uneducated and divorced. As divorcees they received a stipend of a couple of thousand rupees a month. This subsidy, my maid later told me, acted as an incentive for some women to legally divorce their abusive husbands as opposed to just living separately from them.

My cook’s daughter was a reasonably bright student. When she got an admission into a good college she accepted a gift of some of my lightly worn clothes but not of my lightly used laptop – Amma had given her one of her own.

My maid’s son, similarly, refused a new backpack for school when I offered him one. Amma had given him one of his own. With some help from me and subsidies from Amma, he got a decent push for education.

Freebies like griders, mixies, fans, and TV’s allowed my maid and cook to enjoy a reasonably comfortable middle-class lifestyle. They are not cash rich, neither will they likely ever be. But they felt empowered to use the machines they saw in the homes they worked in.

It wasn’t just the women, my fruit seller and I once joked about the fact that even his pen was Amma branded. He sheepishly admitted that he got the bright white dhoti he was wearing as a gift for attending one of the numerous rallies held across the city.

A lot of cab drivers have told me how they eat at Amma canteen. Amma canteens provide not just subsidized food but also dignified employment to women. P told me how their family’s maid quit domestic work to serve food in an Amma canteen instead.

It didn’t end with freebies and food. My cook used to buy vegetables and medicines for her arthritis at Amma stores. My maid used to get a bunch of other freebies using her BPL ration card. All in all, they were happy and they kept voting for Amma. Contrary to what some might believe, the subsidies didn’t make them “lazy”, they helped supplement the family income.

Of course the AIADMK cadre’s obsession with branding came at a cost. People were disgusted when volunteers during last year’s flood were not allowed to distribute supplies without slapping on an Amma sticker first. But that’s besides the point. The point is, the impact of these subsidies was very real for many people – mostly women. It’s easy for me with all my advantages of education and employment to judge the laptops and mixies being distributed as luxuries. But to the women who received them they were necessities.

Here’s some very creative accounting to put the numbers in perspective. The best estimate I can dig up for the freebies is INR 5,600 crore in the 2015 state budget. Even if that were doubled to about INR 12,000 crore to count all subsidies, compare that with the income generated by TASMAC (state controlled liquor stores) – around INR 16,000 crore in 2015-16. So in effect what Amma did was transform the revenue generated from alcoholic husbands into freebies for their (oft-abused) wives and daughters. At least that’s how the two women who worked in my house saw it.

I haven’t made up my mind yet whether subsidies and freebies are good or bad but it’s worth noting that when the Nordic countries implement elaborate state funded programs we ooh and aah over them and share the story of why Sweden is special on Facebook.

Subsidies are not the only reason people loved Amma, of course. She was intelligent, articulate, an iconoclast, and an inspiration. Her courage and determination are legendary. I miss her too.

TGIF! – I am so special!

(just like the other 172,063 others who like this word porn)

“You’re like an onion”, The Hero said the other day as we were talking about ourselves.

“You mean I stink?”, I replied.

He gave up. When we’re both quoting an animated movie from 15 years ago, we know we need a break. He’s right, though. I am multi-layered and complex. I’m the mysterious black magic woman Santana warned you about.

Look, here’s  some word porn to prove how different I am…

If someone thinks I’m as mysterious as all that, I’d never argue with them. Why should I? It’s  like disputing a good horoscope.

How about this one? Look how sensitive I am:

How profound. It absolves me of complete responsiblity for killing a relationship. I don’t just like it. I love it. I’m so sensitive I should have a special allowance for passive aggressive bleepiness. 

You can sometimes couple this stuff with some pseudo-scientific psycho-mumbo-jumbo.

Again, I’m so special and sensitive, see?  If I have an unhealthy approach to conflict it’s  only because it’s in-built and I’m the  rarest of the rare personality types.

It doesn’t matter that the framework is widely debunked and unreliable.

By God I am speshul. Word porn tells me so.

My zodiac sign tells me so

 Being a woman is an automatic ticket.

Being a mom makes me super duper, duper special

I don’t know if any generation has ever endured this level of onslaught of motivation and reassurances of being special. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to be special. I don’t need to be reassured how amazing I am. Firstly, being unique means nothing

Secondly, everyone and everything can’t be special. Here’s the dictionary meaning of special:

distinguished by some unusual quality; especially :  being in some way superior 

Special is literally going the way of literally. It’s getting to the point where the word has no meaning anymore

of Illusions

A slightly weird post written for the purpose of self indulgence. Please to excuse.

We all live in worlds of our own creation. This is maya. Maya is the magic of being wrapped up in something so personal and so subjective that we are willing to stay ensconced in our little bubbles and live and die in them and torture ourselves with horrors of our own creation than breach the boundaries of our personal reality. Maya is what makes us defend our truth so fiercely and so passionately that we are willing to not just live and die but kill for what we perceive to be the truth.

Within our minds we can build complex truths. We can choose to be whoever we want to be: victor or vanquished, loved or spurned, scintillating or drab. We can choose to assign whatever motives suit us to those who cross our path. We can even control who we incorporate into our worlds.

This world I create is mine. I control it. I choose the building blocks. I set the boundaries. I even frame the laws in existence within this world. All cognitive biases and all irrationality are allowed within my world. I construct elaborate truths that keep me safe from the outside world whose dangers steadily magnify in my mind. Like Zaphod’s very own Total Perspective Vortex, I never need fear insignificance when safe in my own mind. I need no sense of perspective. After all, what does the real world hold? The nihilist recognizes no truths beyond the truth presented by his or her own senses.

Sometimes, though, our little worlds become toxic. Even though we build our worlds for ourselves, they are ultimately a reflection of one self worth. What if I value myself  so little that I build a world designed to torture myself? what if I can’t conceive of a better reality? What if over the years I only retain the worst of what I have experienced? How do I escape from a world of my own creation that no one but my own self holds me in?

I don’t know. I wish I did, though.

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