Far from the cameras that beamed live images of J Jayalalithaa’s final journey all through Tuesday, the strain of a mournful song wafted through the air on to the Chennai-Trichy highway near Ayuragram village in Villupuram.
It came from a bus stand on the fringe of an SC colony, 180 km from Chennai, camouflaged by a giant cut-out of the departed leader and temporarily converted to a mourning centre. Inside, three elderly women held a microphone and sang paeans to Jayalalithaa’s populist schemes even as a group of younger women huddled together on the floor, wailing.
It was quiet, as if even the highway had fallen silent to mourn the death of Amma — the only traffic was that of cars and SUVs carrying AIADMK flags, ferrying party cadre to Chennai for the last rites.
At villages all along the highway, temporary shelters had appeared to pay tributes to Jayalalithaa. At some places, percussion bands thumped out tunes near photographs of the leader; at others, people sat in front of giant posters and watched the live broadcast of the funeral from Marina Beach.
“There will never be another Jayalalithaa. There cannot be another like her. She gave us power. Her death is the equivalent of us losing power. MGR gave us a lot but Jayalalithaa gave us twice as much,’’ said Muthulakshmi, a 58-year-old woman at Villupuram.
“She gave our children jobs in the police force, in the electricity board, without us having to pay bribes. She gave our children free laptops, cycles to go to school and free rice to ensure we don’t go hungry a single day. She made us feel empowered,’’ said the farm worker.
The women of Ayuragram were effusive in their praise of Jayalithaa, the men remained silent on the sidelines.
“This morning, all the children here lit candles in their homes because they had got free supplies of stationery, books and uniforms in the schools, thanks to Amma,’’ said Sharadamma a 45-year-old resident. “There will not be another Amma in a long time.’’
The mourning at the village had been sponsored by SC leader M Shekhar, who is linked to the AIADMK and who claimed to have taken care of the expenses for the arrangements.
“The bigger leaders were not too interested in funding this since Amma is gone and there is no one really to impress in Chennai now,” said Shekhar.
“The death of Amma is a big loss for all sections of society, especially for us. With our meagre earnings, we could not have afforded many of the things that she gave us through her schemes. She gave sheep and goats, she gave us mixies and grinders, she gave us plenty of rice,’’ he said.
At other villages, the traditional way of mourning saw youths, many with tonsured heads, dancing in front Jayalalithaa’s posters to the drummers’ beats.
“I would not have tonsured my head if my own mother had died but I did it for Amma. She was like a mother to all of us,’’ said Robert S, a 24-year-old at the Thiruvan Mavattu village in Villupuram.